What “whale poo” coverage says about mainstream reporting on CDR

The Guardian news outlet in the UK recently released an article titled:

“Why whale poo could be the secret to reversing the effects of climate change:

I have been at the wrong end of a defecating sperm whale: it smells, it’s nutrient rich, and could just save the world”
A defecating sperm whale off the coast of Sri Lanka.
Source: The Guardian
While it is great that mass media sources are picking up on the role that healthier marine ecosystems can play in mitigating climate change, the reporting misses one of the actual report‘s (gated unfortunately) key conclusions:
“The contribution of whales to global fluxes of C and nutrients is relatively small…”
The paper estimates whales’ ability to sequester carbon is on the order of 1 million tons per year. Compared to human-caused carbon emissions on the order of 10 billion tons per year, “relatively small” might be an understatement. It certainly doesn’t merit the hope of “reversing the effects of climate change” or “saving the world” given by the article in the Guardian.
Such hyperbole about the ability for “whale poo” or any other specific CDR strategy to fix climate change detracts from productive conversations around real solutions for mitigating climate change. Mitigating climate change will likely require the deployment of many CDR approaches — both biological (like whale poo and more “traditional” approaches such as afforestation) and chemical (like direct air capture and enhanced weathering) — in combination with each other.
The most general conclusion we can probably make is that “managing ecosystems to enhance natural carbon sinks provides one of the secrets to reversing the effects of climate change (and also provides myriad additional environmental and economic benefits).” It is certainly more difficult to turn this conclusion into a catchy headline when “whale poo reverses climate change” is the alternative, but it is worthwhile for our journalists to start getting the right message on climate change solutions out to their readers.
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