When Climate Policy Isn’t Enough

As the climate crisis worsens, read one writer’s take on innovative technology that offers new ways to reverse climate change.

Cole Stallone, Deputy Opinion Editor

Nearly 300 activists were arrested in London yesterday for taking part in the Extinction Rebellion, a movement dedicated to using nonviolent tactics to bring an end to the climate crisis. The group has been active since November and its name emphasizes the gravity of the situation. While climate change hasn’t brought us to extinction just yet, the so-called Rebellion — and other actions, like the Youth Climate Strike in New York last month — shows the dissatisfaction many around the world feel toward the solutions currently being offered to fight climate change. In fact, a Gallup poll from last year showed that more than half of Americans were dissatisfied with the quality of the environment — for the first time in a decade.

In light of this growing dissatisfaction, some of the most interesting research that explores possible solutions for climate change focuses on the various ways to reverse it. Supporting the development of new technology to help reverse the causes of climate change is extremely important, as it provides us with an opportunity to undo the mistakes of the past. With that said, development in and of itself is not enough; it is crucial that these technologies remain accessible — in terms of both affordability and availability — to all.

One of the ways scientists would like to reduce the impact of carbon emissions on the environment is by simply removing them from the air — a process known as direct air capture. Various direct air capture companies and projects exist, but all hope to achieve the same goal with their products: the capture of carbon dioxide and its separation from the air which is then either reused or safely stored underground. Ranging from carbon management plants to synthetic fuel, each method invites its own prospects and challenges. While there is plenty of room for enthusiasm for each of these projects, there must also be room for criticism.

Given its relative infancy, the cost for direct air capture is projected to be extremely high: in 2011, estimates were as high as $600 per ton of carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere. Recently, the cost has fallen by about a third, reaching an estimated high point of over $200 per ton. As exciting as direct air capture may sound, until cost can be further reduced, it is unlikely to be implemented on a large scale.

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Regardless of the current cost, exploring and creating these reversal technologies is fundamentally important. With more time and research, the costs can be reduced. However, only through widespread accessibility can the technology become impactful for us all. Therefore, all innovations should focus on making sure that new climate solutions are innovative but also realistic. Ultimately, technological development is how we expand the toolbox we use to solve the problems we face. As climate change continues to worsen, it remains one of the most important problems in the world. Through technology, perhaps we can develop the right tool for the job.

Cole Stallone is a sophomore in CAS majoring in History.

“Cole’s Climate Dispatch” will focus on the fact that climate change is the most important issue of our time. Scientists have given us a little more than a decade to prevent the worst of the crisis from coming true. Given the sense of urgency, dedicated commentary is needed to continue the conversation about this challenge. “Cole’s Climate Dispatch” will focus on the institutional response to climate change as well as major events that affect the political atmosphere and the ways in which students can have an impact.

Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.

Email Cole at [email protected]

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