Technology is what’s responsible ultimately for today’s climate anomaly. Yes, anomaly; that’s what some are calling it. Many are saying that technology is what it’s going to take to resolve it.
When we talk about technology applied to changing climate or weather, what we’re really talking about is the concept of geoengineering. Geo what? Geoengineering.
So, let’s have a closer look, shall we?
Scientists have determined that global average or mean surface air temperature (GMST) has undergone a relatively steep rise climbing roughly 1.1 degrees Celsius (C) or, in Fahrenheit (F), about 2.0 degrees since pre-industrial times. In absolute terms, Earth’s average surface air temperature in 2022 was approximately 57 degrees F or 13.9 degrees C. It is this accelerated rise that is cause for concern. For more on this see: “A brief look at Earth’s unstable and (mostly) predictable climate history.”
Okay, so since we know what’s responsible for the rapidly warming GMST and by what degree GMST has risen, it’s time to shed light on some remedies that can be employed to quote-unquote try to normalize planet GMST.
According to a cohort of atmospheric scientists, climatologists and meteorologists, every effort to limit end-of-century warming to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F), preferably, the rise to be held to a maximum 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F), hopefully, will help ensure the Earth is spared of at least some if not many of climate’s worst impacts.
How to best achieve that though is the question. Many have their own ideas as to how to go about this. Going about this both effectively and intelligently, might I remind you, quite literally, can make all the difference in the world. To that point, there has, so far, been incomplete agreement in terms of what approach or approaches will work most effectively. Among the more popular ones being tossed around are carbon capture and sequestration or storage (CCS) and carbon removal and reuse (CRR). Then there are the far-fetched ideas of introducing vast quantities of sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere, the thinking behind this being if a large enough quantity of such sulfate aerosols is introduced – the aerosols excellent at disrupting incoming sunlight and scattering that light; much of it back into space – then this action will facilitate cooling of the surface air temperature.
So, now that the stage, in a manner of speaking, is set, let’s see what some of the potential implications of geoengineering in general would be on people, the planet and pollution.
Regardless of geoengineering approach utilized, there is potential for some type of risk to occur. But there could also be benefits. The big question here is: Do the potential benefits to be gained outweigh the potential risks and by what degree? In implementing any such remedy, considerations such as these must be taken into account absolutely.
Okay, so one of the most popular geoengineering strategies these days is CCS. The premise is a simple one. Though the premise may be simple, the process of pulling carbon from the air is not. Just to be clear, this discussion deals with only the premise part. Discussion of the process part, on the other hand, is reserved for another day.
Really simply, in a carbon capture and storage scenario, air is sucked into a chamber of some description, the carbon dioxide in it separated out, the air returned to its natural place with the sequestered carbon dioxide then injected into the ground where it can be stored. In the case of CO2 being injected into subsurface basalt, for example, the carbon finds its way into cavities within the basalt itself thus forming calcium carbonate, where it is held steadfast to become rocklike in consistency. The process involved in capturing the air containing the CO2 is known as direct air capture, its acronym being DAC.
Meanwhile, this is not the only strategy. Another removes atmospheric carbon dioxide only to take the gas and direct, inject or pump (take your pick) into, say, an oil well in essence filling the void left by the extracted oil. But, it’s also entirely possible that in certain scenarios, not only is the injected CO2 filling the void left in the extracted oil’s wake, but if injected into the well in question at high pressure, such could be effective at getting additional oil to flow out. What we’re talking about here are potentially bigger extracted oil-well yields compared to just employing the more commonplace oil-extraction methods. It is my understanding that only when CCS or CRR CO2 extraction and processing costs are $100 per ton or below, then it is deemed to be economical.
Furthermore, in CRR, the difference between it and CCS is that in the case of the former, the recovered CO2 is directed or designated for reuse, as in feeding or forwarding to greenhouses, using it to go into making materials like plastics or even to facilitate in the making of transportation fuels.
So this raises a couple of concerns.
First, in removing carbon dioxide from air, limits in how much can be removed in a given year need to be defined. How is removal going to be monitored making doubly sure that the amounts identified for such are not exceeded? Just so you know, there is potential here for abuse.
A second concern has to do with the very idea of atmospheric carbon removal itself. If the primary focus is just on pulling GHGs out of the air while leaving all manner of other, more health-harming pollutants behind, in so doing air could continue to be polluted indiscriminately and unnecessarily.
My take on all of this is as follows: Being that combusted greenhouse gas emissions result from burning fossil and other fuels, by reducing fossil-fuel burning, it follows that GHGs released from said processes would also be lowered. In only removing CO2 and other GHGs from air to the exclusion of other pollutant emissions, this would, in my view, be both detrimental and a mistake.
That said, the best all-around approach to limiting global warming and, by extension, lessening the negative impacts of that warming, would be just to limit the whole of pollution entering the air, is how I see it.
In an earlier version it was wrongly stated that at $100 or less, the associated costs of CO2 CCS or CRR extracting and processing was deemed to be economical. The sentence, as written, had key information missing. The clarifying information has since been added and the sentence is now correct.
Last updated on Apr. 2, 2023 at 10:00 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time.
– Alan Kandel
Corresponding, connected home-page-entry image: NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies