Is carbon removal a realistic climate solution?

“The 360” shows you a variety of perspectives on the main stories and debates of the day.

What’s going on

People have pumped so much carbon into the air that climate experts now believe that even a dramatic reduction in fossil fuel emissions will not be enough. They say we should too that is already in the atmosphere if we want to prevent the worst effects of climate change.

Plants do this naturally, but most scientists say that the large amount of carbon that needs to be sucked out of the air means that simply planting more trees will not be enough. This view has led to huge investment in potential technologies that – if proven effective and used on a massive scale – could help achieve global climate goals in the coming decades.

In recent years, huge sums of money have been invested in what is known as (DAC), a controversial new process that uses giant fans to move air into facilities that use chemical reactions to extract carbon from the air and store it – either in the ground or reused to create certain products.

There are currently about 20 DAC factories operating around the world. Together they are capable from the air annually, a tiny fraction of 980 million tons that will be needed annually by 2050, according to an estimate by the International Energy Agency.

Last month, the Department of Energy announced a plan the construction of four new DAC factories in the United States. It was too including Google, Facebook, Tesla owner Elon Musk, and a long list of major investment firms.

Why is there a debate

Despite the terrible predictions of what will happen without carbon sequestration and the potential promise of the technology, there is a deep division among experts on whether Direct Air Capture is a legitimate response to the world’s climate challenges.

Activists say that even though the industry is in its infancy, DAC is the only proven method we need to pull out of the air the carbon that is needed to meaningfully change the course of climate change. They point to the huge investment in new plant development as a sign that there is a strong desire on the part of both governments and businesses to accelerate carbon sequestration efforts and argue that the process will become more significantly efficient and affordable over time as more companies joins. the industry. Others argue that while there are reasons to doubt that DAC optimists ’dreams are achievable, the climate situation is so dire that we must do everything in every solution that seems even remotely possible.

There are a lot of skeptics, though. Some scientists argue that it is unlikely that there will ever be enough DAC plants to make a significant dent in world coal production – one expert has estimated that the can only catch in one year. Another thing, they say, is that carbon sequestration may never reach the level of sustainable investment that other green technologies have because it does not produce a final product that can be sold for profit.

Others are concerned that the promise of carbon sequestration may be used as an excuse to delay the transition from fossil fuels, which is widely viewed as the most important step in curbing climate change. There are also practical concerns about the damage that could be caused to the environment and vulnerable communities by the existence of hundreds of DAC plants around the globe.

Perspectives

Optimists

Coal removal should be a key element of any plan to meet our climate goals

“Even if we stop making the problem worse, we will still have to clean up the mess that has been made so far. Environmentally friendly carbon sequestration is perhaps a powerful tool that can help stop the worst effects of climate change by removing hereditary emissions from the atmosphere. “- Jasmine Sanders,

Coal removal may fail, but we have no choice but to try

“I don’t think carbon capture is a silver bullet because there is no silver bullet. “We will need everything, especially since we are too late for our goals.” – Nadine Mustafa, researcher in energy technology, al

The only way to know if DAC plants will work on a scale is to build them

“The only way to really know how these systems work is to build them,” said David Victor, a public policy researcher.

Coal removal will fail if it is controlled by for-profit companies

“Public coal mining is the clear choice. The federal government can begin this transition now by ensuring that any infrastructure built using the billions of federal dollars coming out is owned either by the government or directly by communities.… We can collectively build a public model centered on justice and labor to deploy this climate-critical infrastructure. ” – Andrew Bergman,

Skeptics

Right now, the business model for carbon sequestration is unproven

“All of these efforts are facing a sharp problem: No one wants to buy these things. Philanthropists and government agencies have long offered awards for various carbon leakage benchmarks. And initial efforts are underway to turn stored carbon dioxide into something economically viable. to sustainable business. That may change, too. ” – Writing,

It is dangerous to assume that coal mining will work

“I support it, but only a fool would bet the planet on it. … The problem isn’t that the technology sucks – it’s probably getting better (although there are thermodynamic limits on how much better). The problem is that policymakers include it in climate ‘planning’ as if it were already working. That’s beyond dangerous. “- Climate scientist

Pledges for future carbon sequestration could be used as a pretext to curb green energy transition

“There will be a risk that fossil fuel companies and others will use carbon sequestration as an imaginary way not to change their business models, provided we do not have a master plan to stop fossil fuels.” – Holly Buck, Environmental and Sustainability Researcher, al

Stopping the consumption of fossil fuels is the only proven climate solution we have now

“Right now, the only guaranteed way to avoid the climate crisis is to prevent pollution first.” – Justine Calma,

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Photo credit: AFP for Getty Images

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