WASHINGTON DC – Faced with the daunting task of rapidly curbing global warming to reduce the most devastating effects of climate change, humanity finds itself confronted with something akin to a “bathtub” problem: Just because you turn off the faucet doesn’t mean that the water instantly goes down the drain.
In the context of climate change, this means that even if we can dramatically reduce carbon dioxide emissions, the high levels we’ve already emitted and the future emissions we can’t avoid will keep us well above 2 degrees Celsius of warming compared to the pre-industrial era. At this point, humanity needs to increase the size and speed of the atmospheric carbon dioxide drain, removing billions of tons of carbon dioxide each year and securely transforming this greenhouse gas to a solid-state.
So, just how will this new atmospheric plumbing feet be accomplished? Many ideas have been proposed and to some extent tested, including deep injection of carbon dioxide in the planet’s deep rocks, giant machines that capture carbon dioxide and convert it to stable non-atmospheric forms, and natural climate solutions such as tree planting and carbon farming by feeding microbes in the soil. No solution is without its set of issues. There is no free lunch when it comes to carbon dioxide removal.