12 things I believe about carbon removal: June 2015

Next month marks the one year anniversary of Everything and the Carbon Sink. Having watched the carbon removal field develop over the last year, I’ve decided its time to synthesize my views on the topic, in hopes of revisiting and updating these beliefs as I get new information to strengthen/disabuse me of these notions. Without further ado, 12 things I believe about carbon removal:

  1. Preventing catastrophic climate change is a moral and economic imperative.
  2. Preventing catastrophic climate change requires that we limit the global mean temperature increase to 2 degrees C from pre-industrial levels.
  3. A portfolio of traditional greenhouse gas mitigation measures (renewable energy, energy efficiency, avoided deforestation, etc.) and a portfolio of gigatonne-scale carbon removal solutions (both biological and chemical) are necessary to limit temperature increases to 2 degrees C if we also want to avoid geoengineering.
  4. In the future, the portfolio of large-scale carbon removal solutions will include: re/afforestation, ecosystem restoration, carbon sequestering agriculture, biochar, bioenergy with carbon capture and sequestration, direct air/seawater capture and sequestration, mineral weatherization, “blue carbon” strategies, and likely other techniques not yet proposed/published.
  5. Geoengineering is worth avoiding, as its risks outweigh its potential benefits.
  6. Developing sustainable and economically-viable carbon removal solutions will require significant investments in research and development.
  7. Once developed, commercializing promising carbon removal solutions will require the development of markets that demand carbon removal — carbon removal as a co-benefit alone will not be enough to reach gigatonne scale removal levels.
  8. In order to catalyze development of carbon removal technologies and markets, leaders from industry, policy, NGOs, philanthropies and the general public need to engage in dialogues about the best ways to develop carbon removal solutions — information and discussion is needed before effective action occurs.
  9. Armed with information about the opportunities and challenges of carbon removal, a broad coalition of business and environmental interests will emerge to support the development of carbon removal solutions — no entrenched interest gains from keeping carbon in the air, so no entrenched interests have an economic incentive to fight the development of carbon removal solutions.
  10. Opponents to carbon removal will mostly object to the specifics of how carbon removal is accomplished/implemented, not to the overall need for carbon removal to fight climate change.
  11. The few opponents that do object to carbon removal writ large will do so on grounds that A) carbon removal will lead to a moral hazard that delays action to reduce emissions and/or B) carbon removal solutions are too expensive and slow working to implement at scale.
  12. Carbon removal solutions will not lead to moral hazard around reducing emissions, as carbon removal solutions will not develop quickly enough for companies to continue emissions at large scale so long as they remove more than they emit, rendering the moral hazard argument largely a distraction.

One thought on “12 things I believe about carbon removal: June 2015

  1. Hi Noah,

    Thanks for writing these. I’ll comment by the numbers:
    1) I agree wholeheartedly.
    2) I think to be safe and mor ecomfortable we should limit warming to 1.5C.
    3) I agree, but for clarity let’s call it Solar Radiation Management (SRM); some may conflate CDR into ‘geoengineering’.
    4) I wonder if ‘blue carbon’ includes large-scale ocean iron fertilization in the southern ocean and other iron-limited ocean pastures.
    5) I think SRM is worth avoiding – it would reduce crop growth by shading, possibly starving the poorest. I hope to initiate a computer simulation, or forecast, of many CDR and SRM proposals using the Multiscale Integrated Model of Ecosystem Services (MIMES).
    6) Agreed.
    7) I wonder if some iron fertilization efforts will rebound fisheries to a self-supporting extent – otherwise I agree.
    8) Agreed.
    9) I hope you’re right, and agree that no entrenched interests will oppose CDR.
    10) Interesting. I’m unsure. Naomi Klein has spoken against iron fertilization pretty categorically.
    11) Agreed.
    12) I wonder if ocean iron fertilization of HNLC regions may, in some cases, like the Southern Ocean’s newly expanding krill fishery region, be so quickly implementable and effective as to support moral hazard arguements.

    Thanks again,


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