3 options for carbon removal: There is always a big BUT

Dear Reader:

The world is on track for increasingly destructive heat waves, floods, and storms. To avoid an apocalyptic future, the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine reports that, by mid-century, carbon removal may need to be scaled up to 10 billion tons of carbon per year. [1] An article by National Public Radio[2] sets out the current options:

Option 1: Use leftover biomass to make energy and capture the emissions

Some power plants use waste from agricultural crops, forest harvests or food waste to generate electricity.  A handful of these plants are working on capturing the carbon that is released during the process and storing it underground. It’s known as “bioenergy with carbon capture and storage.”

BUT scaling it up would be difficult. Growing the biomass needed to pull 1 billion (let alone 10 billion) tons of carbon dioxide out of the air would require land the size of California.

Option 2: Pull it out of the air with big machines

Big machines, kind of like vacuum cleaners, could suck carbon dioxide emissions out of the air and store them underground. It’s a process known as “direct air capture”. Facebook and Google are planning to spend almost $1 billion on this new strategy. (That kind of says something, right there.)

BUT the technology would be expensive. And, one analysis showed that, the energy required to capture a ton of carbon, produced an equal amount of carbon. If the energy used were not renewable, the net effect would be zero.

Option 3: Use nature to absorb carbon emissions

This would include planting forests, restoring wetlands, and encouraging agricultural practices that store carbon in the soil. Planting trees and vegetation, along with topsoil, “has the technical potential” to absorb 157 parts per million of CO2.

This option would be, by far, the cheapest, and, it is not an untested technology that may or may not work. It has been proven to be effective.

Maybe it is not either/or. Maybe it’s both/and. Maybe we will need to do all three. Maybe these, together with reduced emissions, can make a difference. For our part, we, at the Climate Change Permaculture Project, will work on Option 3.

[1] https://nap.nationalacademies.org/catalog/25259/negative-emissions-technologies-and-reliable-sequestration-a-research-agenda

[2] Sommer, L. (2022) Vacuuming carbon from the air could help stop climate change. Not everyone agrees. https://www.npr.org/2022/05/02/1095097566/carbon-dioxide-removal-climate-emissions?t=1651513255732. Viewed May 2.


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