It’s hard to imagine what a world not powered by fossil fuels would look like.
Sure, generations of humans have navigated the world without factory plants emitting carbon dioxide (CO2) into the skies and air-polluting cars weren’t at their disposal. And yet, the disbelief and delay to enact change doesn’t stall the climate change effects shown in the high-tide flooding resulting from rising sea levels or the rampant wildfires. And how many times must we witness the video of the starving polar bear, before we realize that melting sea ice is not just a human problem?
But what if we didn’t have to revert to our modest beginnings and instead were able to keep doing what we’re doing while siphoning CO2 emissions from the sky? A team of scientists from Harvard University and Carbon Engineering have reimagined a world where CO2 is the answer and are aiming to counter human’s carbon footprint by 2021.
Carbon Engineering announced in June that they have found a method to cheaply extract CO2 pollution out of the atmosphere. The process consists of making liquid fuel from the CO2 that’s been extracted out of the atmosphere and combining it with hydrogen from water. Essentially, this would mean the Canadian company–who are backed by Microsoft Founder Bill Gates–recycling emissions back into the fuels that generated it.
Pulling carbon dioxide directly out of the air isn’t new. The idea of extraction has been a part of the climate change policy over the past five years in terms of geo-engineering and direct air capture, also known as DAC. However, Carbon Engineering scientists have made it more realistic and attainable by cutting down the costs of such a process.
According to Klaus Lackner, the director of the Center for Negative Carbon Emissions and a professor in School of Sustainable Engineering at Arizona State University, “the [company] has taken a ‘brute-force’ approach to drive down costs using known technologies.”
He goes on to say in the interview with Nature, “They are coming within striking distance of making this interesting economically.”
Until this past year, the costs of CO2 extraction was considered to cost upwards to $600 per ton. The number has dropped exponentially, estimating below $100 for each ton of CO2 removed from the atmosphere according to the company. The cut in costs makes CO2 extraction realistic for major countries like China a realistic method to curb their emissions output, which in the past two years saw an increase in carbon dioxide emissions despite the country’s increased in 2017, according to a report from Columbia Center on Global Energy Policy. It also, makes the method more realistic for countries like Syria or Nicaragua who signed the Paris Agreement in the past year.
As it currently stands, the United States is the only country in the world that has rejected the Paris Agreement when President Trump withdrew it’s pledge to the reduce country’s carbon footprint in June of last year. This is in spite of the United States ranking 11th when it comes to carbon dioxide emissions, according to The World Bank report.
Though it would seem almost obvious that the answer to the world’s climate problem is to not emit CO2 into the atmosphere or at the very least, reduce our consumption. Of course, we wouldn’t be able to reverse the clock back to before we were callous to the earth’s decay And yet, the modest and cheapest solution of the two is not on the table.
It’s almost as if we learned nothing from Former Vice President of the United States Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth documentary or even the squirrel from the Ice Age franchise. It’s critical to sustain the environment and the planet we have now because the alternative is unimaginable.