Dear Umbra,

Most people think that we must stop emitting so much carbon dioxide. But even if we stop today, what will happen to the carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere? Don’t we have to stop generating emissions and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at the same time?

These onerous obstacles make it difficult to eliminate carbonization

Too many dears,

I can almost hear the fatigue in your voice, it resonates. We are talking about the biggest challenge of reducing emissions-this already requires our entire economy to burn fossil fuels, adapt to existing climate threats, and do it in a way that at least does not increase emissions to the burden of already marginalized communities. It is hard to imagine that there is more to be done. Apart from all these tasks, can we really extract carbon from the atmosphere?


It is not that we can return to pre-industrial carbon dioxide levels by simply flipping a switch. Zachary Byrum, research analyst for carbon removal at the World Resources Institute, likes to compare our atmosphere to a bathtub that fills up quickly. “Even if we turn off the tap, we still have a bathtub full of carbon dioxide,” he said. “It may evaporate, but it takes a long time. You have to drain water so that the water or the carbon dioxide in this metaphor can flow somewhere, and removing the carbon is the means to achieve this.”

There are many types Carbon removal, But they all involve removing existing carbon from the atmospheric cycle, for example, by planting new trees, improving soil quality, or using technology to suck it directly from the air and inject it into the ground. Byrum said, “No world does not need carbon removal” to avoid climate catastrophe.

This sense of urgency is because our atmospheric bathtub has Really Close to “overflow”.According to the latest readings from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the United States, our current atmospheric carbon content is about 419 parts per millionOr ppm, and continue to rise. Long before the industrial revolution-when we discovered that we could dig fossil fuels from the ground, burn them, and use the energy produced to power machines on a large scale-the carbon dioxide figure was more like 280 ppm. Since then, it has been growing at an alarming rate. The International Panel on Climate Change estimates that 430 ppm marks a threshold at which the climate will rise by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels—a limit set in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

But some experts say that even the 430 ppm carbon dioxide threshold is too high, and many systems on the planet are not functioning properly.Climate scientist James Hanson It has been assumed that 350 ppm (the benchmark we passed in 1986) is a more reasonable level for planetary health. Some climatologists believe that if we want to ensure a truly healthy planet for future generations, we have a moral obligation to return to pre-industrial levels (280 ppm).

To say the least, looking at the climate crisis from a hard-number perspective is deeply disturbing, but if you can, please be patient. We still cannot “turn off” the carbon dioxide tap. As a planet, we emit about 4 to 50 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year.Except for 2020, this number will increase year by year, when the global COVID-19 restrictions This resulted in a decrease of about 8% in emissions.I don’t think I need to tell you that the 8% reduction is not a lot, or it’s a global pandemic. Not a good solution to the climate crisis.

Even if all mankind immediately wanted Do everything you can to avoid climate catastrophe, and it will take time to shut down all carbon emissions. Billions of people around the world still rely on fossil fuel-powered infrastructure and agricultural methods that emit greenhouse gases for their livelihoods. The decarbonization transformation is in progress, but it is far from complete.

This brings us back to the issue of carbon removal. Importantly, it is not exactly the same as carbon capture, which usually occurs at a point source of pollution. For example, if you have a natural gas-powered power plant, you can install some kind of carbon capture mechanism on the power plant itself to collect emissions before they are released into the atmosphere.

Some environmental activists criticized this form of carbon capture as being detrimental to the communities located near these factories. They also claim that this is a band-aid technology that can keep fossil fuel infrastructure running normally, rather than completely eliminating it and replacing it with cleaner energy forms such as wind and solar. In contrast, carbon removal refers to a natural or engineering process in which greenhouse gases are removed from the air and stored in a form of carbon sink that is desired to last.

There are many natural carbon sinks, such as forests and oceans, which absorb about half of the carbon dioxide we dump Into the atmosphere. Trees are very good at storing carbon. In recent years, there have been many voices saying that planting all Johnny apple seeds on the earth and planting billions of trees is the golden ticket to save all of us, and there is no need for greater adjustments.However, this noise has Generally debunkedOn the one hand, many trees are burned to ashes in huge wildfires every year-this is partly due to climate-driven heat waves and make it worse Recently ravaged the Pacific Northwest — It means that all the carbon they have stored for decades or even centuries will be directly sprayed back into the air. Damn!

This risk is one of the reasons why some scientists say that once carbon is removed from the atmosphere, we need to find innovative ways to store carbon for a long time. “We can’t put these things back on the surface of the earth,” said Julio Friedman, a senior research scholar at Columbia University’s Center for Global Energy Policy. “We have to put it back underground. Trees cannot hold it-there is not enough land or biomass, even if we return to some Jeffersonian agricultural utopias, we still don’t have the storage capacity of the earth’s surface. If we extract 20,000 from the ground Billion tons of carbon dioxide, we must put 2 trillion back into it.”

One option is to inject purified carbon from carbon removal or carbon capture processes into the depths of the earth, where it cannot escape. There is even a way to store it in rock formations using chemical processes. Although this seems crazy, the researchers say that injecting carbon into the ground is a very promising strategy. Scientists estimate that our carbon storage capacity far exceeds the ability of humans to release into the atmosphere throughout human history.

There is an argument in some environmentalist circles that investing in carbon removal technologies will hinder our willingness or urgency to decarbonize our energy and infrastructure, as well as everything else-the “moral hazard” argument. However, the link between this argument and carbon removal is far less than carbon capture or carbon offset, which is directly used to justify “bad” climate behavior.

Decarbonization is not a passport to free us from other carbon emission reduction obligations. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change itself has stated that Ways to heat up 1.5 degrees Would “strike[e] Reduce the different balance between energy and resource intensity, decarbonization rate, and dependence on carbon dioxide removal. “Many forms of carbon removal technology are still in their infancy and are relatively small in scale. The question remains how it will work at the necessary level, for example, processing billions of tons of carbon dioxide each year.

“The reality is that we have no time,” said Jennifer Wilcox of the Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management at the Department of Energy, adding that at this point, any and all climate solutions need to be on the table. “We can’t put all our eggs in one basket-we can’t help but do things that didn’t seem to be a responsible way forward 10 years ago. We are in a position where we need all the tools in the kit, but we need to be truly responsible Way to use them.”

This brings us back to people who care about the climate like you and me. There are too many.So how do we deal with all this emotionally-knowing that we not only want to decarbonize our economic system, reform our political structure, but, oh, rethink Whole built environment, But we still have to extract a lot of carbon from the air?

This is a daunting task, but Friedman of the Columbia Center for Global Energy Policy recommends focusing on the world as much as possible. “The most valuable contribution is a positive vision. We have a wealth of clean energy. We choose to cherish the natural world and restore it in a real way. We invented the tools and abilities we had to make. That’s real. We do this. To make it fair,” he said. “And all of this is within our control.”

Take a deep breath, too much. As I said before: what has been done must be done, there is no real solution, so we might as well roll up our sleeves-use the metaphor that best suits you.




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