In the November 20th edition of “The New Yorker,” Elizabeth Kolbert asks if carbon-monoxide removal can save the world:
Carbon-monoxide removal is, potentially, a trillion-dollar enterprise because it offers a way not just to slow down the rise in CO2 but to reverse it. The process is sometimes referred to as “negative emissions”: instead of adding carbon to the air, it subtracts it. Carbon-renewal plants could be built anywhere, or everywhere. Construct enough of them and, in theory at least, CO2 emissions could continue unabated and still we could avert calamity. Depending on how you look at things, the technology represents either the ultimate insurance policy or the ultimate moral hazard.
Is this technological innovation our last chance? Or is it foolhardy to put faith in a “quick fix”–simply because it would require immediate action on a global scale?
One of the reasons we’ve made so little progress on climate change he (the physicist Klaus Lackner) contends, is that the issue has acquired an ethical charge, which has polarized people. To the extent that emissions are seen as bad, emitters become guilty. “Such a moral stance makes virtually everyone a sinner, and makes hypocrites out of many who are concerned about climate change but still partake in the benefits of modernity,” he has written. Charging the paradigm, Lackner believes, will change the conversation. If CO2 is treated as just another form of waste, which has to be disposed of, when people can stop arguing about whether it’s a problem and finally start doing something.
If carbon monoxide were viewed as just another waste product such as sewage or garbage, we could turn this mental deadlock around. After all, “We don’t expect people to stop producing waste. (‘Rewarding people for going to the bathroom less would be nonsensical,’ Lackner has observed.) At the same time, we don’t let them shit on the sidewalk or toss their empty yogurt containers into the street.”