Last week, I was invited to an event about climate change. Part of it was a panel discussion with experts in the field, started off by a presentation held by one of them. In her presentation, the expert mentioned among other things that technologies that not only prevent carbon dioxide and equivalents from entering the atmosphere in the first place ("carbon capture"), but actively remove existing particles ("carbon removal", "carbon negative emission"), play a big role in all expert calculations an what we'd need to do on a global scale to not miss the major goal of a temperature increase of less than 2°C.
At the same time, these technologies that need to be in effect around the world in ten years or less, don't even exist yet!
Comparing myself to friends, acquaintances and colleagues, I'd say that I have an above average awareness when it comes to this whole topic of climate change or crisis. Still, this was news to me, and the matter-of-fact way with which the expert explained not only this but also the consequences of a potential temperature increase beyond 2°C really hit me - and, to be honest, I've had a rough time since.
Since then, I've seen this mentioned both here on Cake and elsewhere, for example in the recent panel conversation with @DrJamesDyke: "I think most people would be surprised - perhaps shocked - at how much we are relying on future Negative Emissions Technologies to ensure we stay withing 2°C. All policy makers effectively gave up on reducing emissions in time, so the fall back position has been we will have to figure out how to suck out potentially huge amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere for many decades. Given the urgency to develop this, you may assume that governments and private organisations were all over this, but the progress has been very limited with some pilot projects demonstrating viable approaches, but nothing like the scale that is needed."
Or, just today, in a conversation request by @apm: "Carbon capture technology is probably less than a decade away from being scalable if they can get the price down to $50 a ton. The real problem is what do you do with it? According to the MIT Technology Review (Mar/April), “converting 20% of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere into carbonate rock would generate a layer of rock 50 centimeters (20 inches) thick covering a million square kilometers (390,000 square miles)—an area the size of Egypt.”"
In both cases, I tried joining the discussion but didn't because I wasn't quite sure what to say. I've deleted two attempts at starting this conversation for the same reason - and I'm still not sure what I even want this conversation to be. So, to make my above rambling even worse, here's a list of random questions that keep popping up in my head since last week:
1. Generally speaking, what can I do to help with this situation? I understand the common suggestions are to eat local and mostly meat-free, but I also wonder about raising awareness and other things.
2. Why aren't technologies to capture or remove CO2 ready yet? Why is artificial photosynthesis not a thing? What are the current areas of research, and how long really before any of it gets implemented?
3. What if it doesn't work? As the expert in her presentation put it, we're not in the position to either radically change our way of life or don't - the position we're actually in is one of having to radically change our way of life one way or another, and we can either choose what that new way is now, or have that decision be forced upon us if we don't and end up living in a +3°C (or even worse) world.
4. At what point will someone have to start deciding undemocratically, and who will that be? With nationalism and right-wing craziness on the rise, can we really expect someone to be there to do this, or will we eventually end up in some sort of Mad-Max scenario?