Carbon Capture or… just plant more trees?
Scientists all agree that carbon emission in our atmosphere is one of the leading causes of climate change, and policymakers around the world are actively working towards producing less of it. Let’s say we transition overnight to 100% electric transportation powered by solar and wind, while eliminating coal, fossil fuel, and natural gas power generation sources. The world is saved, right? Well...yes and no. You see, even if we were able to completely stop polluting tomorrow, there is already plenty of CO2 floating around in the air, acting as a greenhouse to trap in heat. To truly stop global warming, we need to capture the carbon and bury it back into the ground.
Carbon capture and carbon removal require high amounts of energy (almost one quarter of our global energy use) and lots of money (billions of US Dollars). Carbon Capture is the process by which carbon created from fossil fuel powered industries is extracted and stored. One type of carbon capture machine will collect air with a fan and filters material until it’s full of carbon. The temperature in the compartment is increased and the new highly concentrated carbon dioxide is collected. Another type of technology involves using direct air capture machines and mixing carbon dioxide with water before pushing it underground where it cannot escape and eventually will turn to stone.
It is estimated that capturing just one ton of carbon dioxide would require 250-300 kWh of electrical energy. Unless it is truly powered by 100% renewable energy, the process of capturing carbon may actually release more carbon into the air than it takes out. The lower the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the more expensive this process becomes. There is some pushback against these methods since these expensive technologies are not entirely proven to work and carbon storage is still a major issue.
That’s why many are suggesting that we plant more trees. Yes, forests really can absorb carbon dioxide. In fact, they can absorb nearly 10 million tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Unfortunately, with wildfires and the constant cutting down of trees, it is not an entirely viable solution either. As climate change progresses, more wildfires are in sight due to droughts and warmer temperatures. Additionally, there is a higher demand for materials such as paper causing more trees to be cut down than ever before. Even if this did not happen, trees require land and water, both precious resources. There is a suggested initiative called the “One Trillion Trees Campaign” which could make an impact. Yes, planting trees will help but it, too, comes with downsides.
Although it would be amazing to stop emitting any further emissions, the extent of climate change now would still prevent the planet from being completely back to “normal”, unless, of course, we created a viable carbon-erasing solution.