Data source: NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). Credit: NASA/GISS
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What’s new?

A recent article in the magazine IEEE Spectrum reports on a new facility to be built in Texas to capture and sequester carbon dioxide (CO2), “doing the air-scrubbing work of some 40 million trees.”

What does it mean?

NASA has a clear explanation of the causes of global climate change. Greenhouse gases (including water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, chlorofluorocarbons) in the atmosphere trap the sun’s warmth in the greenhouse effect, leading to global warming and global climate change. NASA cites “the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC], a group of 1,300 independent scientific experts from countries all over the world under the auspices of the United Nations” for the conclusion that there is a greater than “95 percent probability that human activities over the past 50 years have warmed our planet.” The reports of the IPCC can be found here.

NASA also describes the probable effects of global climate change, including a continued rise in temperature, lengthening of the growing season, changes in precipitation patterns, more droughts and heat waves, stronger and more intense hurricanes, a rise in sea level of 1 to 8 feet by 2100, and an ice-free Arctic Ocean before 2050.

NASA states: “Humans have caused major climate changes to happen already, and we have set in motion more changes still. Even if we stopped emitting greenhouse gases today, global warming would continue to happen for at least several more decades, if not centuries.” Efforts to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases will eventually have effect, but some people are working to act take greenhouse gases (especially carbon dioxide) out of the atmosphere using methods called Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage (CCS).

What does it mean for you?

I am a fan of the word “and” – rather than “or.” Sometimes a situation demands picking one alternative, but often a solution to a problem may be made up of various components, all contributing to the solution. “And” reduces the risk of relying on one approach.

However, I am also a fan of actually solving a problem and not literally burying it in the ground. But, on the third hand, the global climate crisis is real and critical, so burying carbon dioxide buys us time. Read here journalist Ira Flatow’s discussion of how science works and why a one-handed scientist is not the answer.

My most hopeful view of carbon capture technology is the idea that these technologies can create a circular use of carbon dioxide. The IEEE Spectrum article mentions the development of technologies to use the captured carbon dioxide to produce synthetic fuels. Carbon dioxide can also be used in carbonated beverages or desalination plants.

Reducing the trash we produce (greenhouse emissions, plastics, etc.), capturing the trash we have already produced (see, for example, this technology to clean up plastic in the ocean), AND designing human activities to be sustainable, even regenerative, are all parts of the solution. We must do them all.

Where can you learn more?

I recommend highly the NASA website on climate change and the IPCC reports. The former is accessible, clear, and easy to read. The latter is more challenging to read, but I urge you not to let others tell you what the IPCC says without actually checking to see what they actually said.

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