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Beyond saving carbon – We need to get the genie back into the bottle.

Beyond saving carbon – We need to get the genie back into the bottle.

Markus Appenzeller

BEYOND PEAK INDIFFERENCE #2 – In the last 250 years since the start of the industrial revolution, mankind has doubled the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. More than half of this was added by us in the last 50 years. The Paris climate agreement seeks to limit our impact on the climate. But the carbon that already is in the atmosphere will still be there in the future. Tree planting programs will help to reduce it by storing it in the form of trees and other plants. However – unless we use the wood to construct houses this storage is only temporary and will return to the atmosphere as soon as the wood rots or is burnt. All our efforts therefore will only more or less fix the status quo. It will not help to revert the temperature increases we already experience now, and it will not stop the vicious cycles of permafrost dew, species extinction or reef bleaching.

To bring back the effects, we need to lower temperatures to pre-industrial levels, returning the CO2 to where we extracted it from – subterranean oil or gas fields, coal mines and other caverns.  We already have the technology to capture carbon and store it. The problem – it needs suitable storage space and it needs a lot of energy. Siberia for example has huge basalt caves that would provide enough space to store all carbon of the industrial age and with atomic energy we have a source of power that can is carbon neutral and can be provided in almost any condition, independent from sun hours or wind conditions. Of course the problem of atomic waste remains an issue that needs to be dealt with but in the face of the climate change challenge, this might be a manageable problem. If we use latest reactor technology, then we can even use today’s nuclear waste for a long period of time. Furthermore, new technologies make Chernobyl and Fukushima type disasters impossible.

In the face of climate change we need to step up. We need to challenge ourselves and think big. Bigger than ever. Why not having another “landing on the moon” pledge, similar to Kennedy’s speech of September 1962. At the time only few of the means to achieve that were available. It sparked unprecedented technological development and unleashed huge financial resources. Considering what is at stake there should be little discussion about economic resources and thinking big is a necessity when having to deal with the 2000 Gigatons of Carbon dioxide our species extracted from mother earth.

Marina Dubova, Pierce Myers and Brian Wolff, three graduates of Strelka Institute in Moscow propose exactly that. They show us, that we need to embrace scaling up and to accept that – next to a change in lifestyle – large scale technology is a necessary ingredient in solving the climate change problem. That was not exactly what Richard Buckminster Fuller was referring to in his book ‘Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth’, published in 1969. But his idea of our planet as a mechanical vehicle that needs maintenance is more valid than ever before. We constantly do that when cleaning our sewage, when filtering particles from diesel engine exhausts, or when re-naturalizing damaged ecosystems. Why not doing the same with the carbon in our air?

by Markus Appenzeller

title picture: Marzin Jozwiak

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