How to Clean Up the Carbon Mess

How to Clean Up the Carbon Mess

Editor's Note: This is the latest episode of Energy NOW!, A video program dedicated to energy and environmental issues. You can see the full video at the bottom of this post, and archived episodes are online at EnergyNow.com.

First up this week, is it possible to burn coal without putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere? Coal accounts for almost half the electricity generated in the U.S. and up to 80 percent in rapidly growing countries such as China and India. Scientists have warned that carbon dioxide from coal, and other fossil fuels, is heating up the planet and changing the Earth's climate. Correspondent Dan Goldstein takes a look at a new technology for washing out the carbon before it can get into the air.

This week's energyTHEN takes us back to 1947, and a documentary that cast coal as the hero in America's post-war industrial boom. The film refers to coal as a "black treasure from the Earth" and portrays black smoke and fumes as signs of production and prosperity.

Then, Special Correspondent Josh Zepps explores innovations for cleaning up the carbon dioxide that's already in the atmosphere. Scientists at Columbia University have developed a kind of "artificial leaf" that can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere faster than actual trees. It can be re-purposed, for carbonated drinks, dry ice, even a replacement for gasoline. Can this new technology be deployed on a large enough scale to help the fight against climate change?


Next up in "The Mix," Bruce Nilles, national coal campaign director for the Sierra Club, and Evan Tracey, a senior vice president at the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, debate the future of coal. Nilles says his organization's "Beyond Coal" campaign is trying to close one-third of U.S. coal-fired power plants by 2020, and replace it with renewable energy such as wind turbines and solar panels. But Tracey says even with government subsides, the cost of renewable power is still too high for U.S. consumers. Nilles and Tracey also debate whether carbon capture and storage technology can cut back on coal's contribution to climate change.

Finally, on the "Hot Zone," an unhappy anniversary of sorts, as Los Angeles marks the 68th anniversary of its first "big smog." We look at the first photos taken of the smog-shrouded city on July 26, 1943. It was the middle of World War II and some residents thought the air pollution was a chemical-weapons attack. They later realized the smog came from the smokestacks of industrial plants and tailpipes of cars.