Engineering Global "Cooling?"

by kespeland on December 18, 2008

Researchers in the journal Nature argued this week that one of the most effective ways to tackle global warming will be to take carbon dioxide right out of the atmosphere. CO2 is a greenhouse gas, and one of the leading causes of global warming.

The scientists note several technologies already under development to coax carbon out of the atmosphere. You can read about the methods here. Basically all of them involve chemical reactions that trap CO2 or bind it to another substance. Challenges remain, though: the processes are expensive, and then there’s the issue of what to do with the carbon once you’ve sucked it out of the atmosphere.

News of these developments made me think of a recent blog post from New York Times environment reporter Andrew Revkin . Revkin posed the question: Global Warming: Pollution Problem or Technology Problem? Then he asked scientists and policy gurus to respond. Most say, of course, it’s both. But it will be interesting to see where President-Elect Obama’s newly named energy and environment officials focus their efforts. Will it be more about curbing pollution, more about funding technological innovation, or both?

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{ 6 comments }

Chris Wright December 18, 2008 at 7:48 pm

We have an inexpensive and extremely effective device for carbon sequestration readily available for wide deployment immediately. You may well have seen one in action in your neighborhood. It is called a tree. No reason to fuss about with any other technology.

W.F.Polk December 21, 2008 at 12:47 pm

I agree with Mr. Wright in his pointing out the effectiveness of trees in sequestering carbon. Additionally, the production of a tree (or any other plant) does not require the burning of fossil fuels. I would guess that the building and the operation of the plants that operate the new technologies described in the original Nature article require massive consumption of carbon-based fuels for their operation.

Kristin Espeland December 22, 2008 at 4:09 pm

You’re both absolutely right that trees are an inexpensive, effective way to store carbon. But if that’s our only method, we have to step up our game. Deforestation is wildly outpacing reforestation and a growing world population will only fuel that pace. From the United Nations Environment Programme’s Billion Tree Campaign Web site:

“World population currently stands at 6.5 billion people. It is projected to grow to 9 billion by 2042. The expansion of agricultural and industrial needs, population growth, poverty, landlessness and consumer demand are the major driving forces behind deforestation. Most deforestation is due to conversion of forests to agricultural land. Global removals of wood for timber and fuel amounted to 3.1 billion cubic metres in 2005.

Worldwide, deforestation continues at an alarming rate, about 13 million hectares per year, an area the size of Greece or Nicaragua. Africa and South America have the largest net loss of forests. In Africa it is estimated that nearly half othe forest loss was due to removal of wood fuel. Forests in Europe are expanding. Asia, which had a net loss in the 1990s, reported a net gain of forests in the past five years, primarily due to large-scale forestation in China.

Forest planting and the natural expansion of forests help to reduce the net loss of forests. The net change in forested area in the period 2000–2005 is estimated at 7.3 million hectares a year (an area about the size of Sierra Leone or Panama), down from 8.9 million hectares a year in the period 1990–2000.”

Given those numbers, should we still throw our lot in with only reforestation, or do we need a multitude of approaches to reduce greenhouse gases?

W.F.Polk December 23, 2008 at 1:56 pm

Ms. Espeland raises an essential point which indicates the depth and complexity of some of the difficulties in reforestation. I believe we need a vast multitude of approaches, but discussion of our options is often limited to the kind of technological fixes that the above article describes. These fixes may or may not be effective, I don’t know.

Regardless of that, I believe that the most effective way of presenting solutions to the challenges that now face us globally is to look at the tools we now have available and to make responsible and sustainable choices from amongst those tools. To wait for the development of a technological panacea (such as “clean coal” or a practical hydrogen cell) is at the least irresponsible if the science on climate change is even partly right.

Norman December 25, 2008 at 11:09 am

This is the craziest idea I ever heard.

We should all be concerned about air pollution and toxic waste, but CO2 is not pollution.

CO2 is only 0.038 % of the atmosphere, and only about 5 % of that is man made. There really is not much CO2 in the air. 95% of the greenhouse effect is caused by water vapour.

CO2 is natural and good: We all produce CO2 every time we exhale. Trees take in CO2 and produce oxygen from it. If we somehow removed all the CO2 from the atmosphere(“carbon sequestration”) all plants would die the same day, and human extinction would follow.

Merry Christmas

Tom McDougald December 25, 2008 at 5:19 pm

Ms. Espeland states that “co2 is a greenhouse gas, and
one of the leading causes of global warming”. She does
not “know” this to be true. But she says it is as a fact.
We can now add another b.s. artist to our list. Opinion
becomes a fact when printed by a man-made global
warming kook!

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