Is Technology an Important Part of Climate Change Prevention?

Carbon dioxide is being sucked out of the air in Iceland. Should this technology be further developed? Could Carbon Dioxide removal (CDR), or negative emissions technologies, be an essential part in keeping impacts of global warming near 1.5 degrees Celsius?

In the summary for policymakers section of the IPCC report there are some important insights about CDR.

The IPCC report explains the following:

1. Every projection with the goal of staying within or slightly exceeding 1.5 uses CDR.

2. The two main ways removal happens are afforestation and Bioenergy Carbon Capture and Reliance (BECC).

Afforestation or reforestation has large potential because it is the easiest form of CDR. Many people can understand the value of planting trees. It easy to teach and learn.

The topic of reforestation reminds me of a documentary I recently watched called: Taking Root the Vision of Wangari Maathai. Throughout this film there is a compelling narrative describing Maathai and her reforestation efforts in Africa. She founded the Green Belt Movement which encourages the planting of trees and provides support for rural women. The film is a good starting point for understanding reforestation and how communities can work together to make large improvements over time.

In a blog post written for Grist, Nathaniel Johnson details the need to immediately begin investments in CDR. He explains the costs associated with some of the CDR methods.

“Most of these methods would cost less than $20 per ton of carbon. That’s about what polluters are charged for carbon emissions in California and the European Union.”

When described in this manner, CDR becomes a very reasonable option. He also explains some of the benefits of reforestation and afforestation.

“Some 10 gigatons of carbon could be removed from the air each year — about a fifth of all emissions — simply by growing more trees and taking better care of soil.”

Based on this information it seems there needs to be more active work on reforestation and growing trees. Reforestation can sometimes be overlooked, but it is an essential part in keeping the planet near 1.5 degrees Celsius.

In a post written for the New York Times, Henry Fountain describes an excellent overview of the current methods of CDR available. In his analysis he details five major approaches:

  1. Plant more forests
  2. Crush a lot of rock
  3. Burn plants for energy and capture the carbon dioxide
  4. Sprinkle iron in the ocean
  5. Suck carbon dioxide out of the air

I learned about b. and d. in my reading of this post. Both options are not as scalable compared to a. and d. I will explore these options further in my next blog post. Fountain also describes some of the main challenges with CDR.

 “There are major questions about scale, cost, speed and energy requirements. In most cases, the carbon dioxide that was removed would have to be buried underground indefinitely — and carbon storage technologies have only been deployed on a small scale so far.”

I have already noticed one of the big challenges of CDR is cost and scale. I did not consider the speed and energy requirements. The high cost associated with some CDR methods can be attributed to how new the technology is. Most technology begins at a high price and slowly becomes cheaper as it gains traction over time. The way to encourage this process is to spread awareness and emphasize the value of these technologies.

The CDR is happening in Iceland through the company Climeworks. They use the “sucking carbon out of the air” method called direct air capture. Their website provides information on Carbon Dioxide Removal and storage. I learned how their methods use less water compared to reforestation.

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