First it was The New Yorker and then The Economist on "negative emissions." Here's how the Londoner puts it:
The Paris agreement assumes, in effect, that the world will find ways to suck CO2 out of the air. That is because, in any realistic scenario, emissions cannot be cut fast enough to keep the total stock of greenhouse gases sufficiently small to limit the rise in temperature successfully. But there is barely any public discussion of how to bring about the extra “negative emissions” needed to reduce the stock of CO2 (and even less about the more radical idea of lowering the temperature by blocking out sunlight). Unless that changes, the promise of limiting the harm of climate change is almost certain to be broken.Yep, if the CO2 that is piling up cannot be sucked out of the sky, well, your grandkids are in for some deep trouble!
The New Yorker's treatment of the subject is an awesome essay by the Pulitzer winning Elizabeth Kolbert. She writes quoting Klaus Lackner:
The way Lackner sees things, the key to avoiding “deep trouble” is thinking differently. “We need to change the paradigm,” he told me. Carbon dioxide should be regarded the same way we view other waste products, like sewage or garbage. We don’t expect people to stop producing waste. (“Rewarding people for going to the bathroom less would be nonsensical,” Lackner has observed.) At the same time, we don’t let them shit on the sidewalk or toss their empty yogurt containers into the street.Of course CO2 is a waste product. We have been allowing factories and cars to throw the waste into the air that surrounds us. So, what does Lackner suggest? What is the paradigm shift that he wants us to think about?
One of the reasons we’ve made so little progress on climate change, he contends, is that the issue has acquired an ethical charge, which has polarized people. To the extent that emissions are seen as bad, emitters become guilty. “Such a moral stance makes virtually everyone a sinner, and makes hypocrites out of many who are concerned about climate change but still partake in the benefits of modernity,” he has written. Changing the paradigm, Lackner believes, will change the conversation. If CO2 is treated as just another form of waste, which has to be disposed of, then people can stop arguing about whether it’s a problem and finally start doing something.I am all for it. The guilt talk does not work. It is way more practical to talk about trash removal. Except, removing this trash ain't easy!
If we keep adding CO2 to the atmosphere, what will the story be? Like I said, adopt the fetal position, and suck on your thumb!
The I.P.C.C. considered more than a thousand possible scenarios. Of these, only a hundred and sixteen limit warming to below two degrees, and of these a hundred and eight involve negative emissions. In many below-two-degree scenarios, the quantity of negative emissions called for reaches the same order of magnitude as the “positive” emissions being produced today.Are you all curled up yet? No? Ok, then read on:
“The volumes are outright crazy,” Oliver Geden, the head of the E.U. research division of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, told me. Lackner said, “I think what the I.P.C.C. really is saying is ‘We tried lots and lots of scenarios, and, of the scenarios which stayed safe, virtually every one needed some magic touch of a negative emissions. If we didn’t do that, we ran into a brick wall.’ ”
Early last month, the Trump Administration announced its intention to repeal the Clean Power Plan, a set of rules aimed at cutting power plants’ emissions. The plan, which had been approved by the Obama Administration, was eminently achievable. Still, according to the current Administration, the cuts were too onerous. The repeal of the plan is likely to result in hundreds of millions of tons of additional emissions.So, what is Elizabeth Kolbert's bottom-line?
As a technology of last resort, carbon removal is, almost by its nature, paradoxical. It has become vital without necessarily being viable. It may be impossible to manage and it may also be impossible to manage without. ♦Boy will the grandkids curse us all!