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SNS: The Great Carbon Reversal

SNS: The Great Carbon Reversal


In This Issue
Vol. 26 Issue 33

The Great Carbon Reversal
How pulling carbon can save our world, and how to do it

  • It’s Us
  • The Scope of the Issue
  • Planting Plants
  • Building Plants
  • Really Big Goals


In this great summer of our discontent, one factor has ruled perhaps beyond all others in the media cycle: climate change. Regular readers will notice that we have now pushed through a number of major aspects of the current and coming climate battle in our reports this year. First, back in February, I outlined ways in which we can reduce our carbon footprint faster than we think.

In early August, Berit Anderson took us on a wild ride in A Near-Term Climate Cataclysm? highlighting the urgency of the issue and making clear that we need to aim for getting back to atmospheric carbon levels of around 300 ppm, a point emphasized this summer by all the wildfires, flooding, heat waves, and Hurricane Ida.

The following week we had Getting to Zero, wherein I described the many budding technologies that will help us take our annual emissions (as a globe) from their current roar to the neutral emissions we’ll need to stop making the problem worse.

But “stop failing” only goes so far, both for the planet and for our human inspiration to act. With worsening weather patterns, dangerously shifting ocean currents, and the ongoing burning of our forests and melting of ice caps, we need to actively make things better as well, starting yesterday.

It’s Us
“Hard pressed on my right. My center is yielding. Impossible to maneuver. Situation excellent. I am attacking.”

– French Gen. Ferdinand Foch at the Battle of the Marne

Enter carbon capture. With a panoply of tipping points rapidly arriving at our doorstep, it is painfully obvious that not only will we need to stop emitting greenhouse gases immediately, but we also have to remove a large amount of the carbon we’ve already pumped into the air we share.

One of our greatest curses when it comes to climate change is the sheer number of human beings struggling to live a comfortable life on this planet. This curse is in some ways also a gift, however, as our numbers allow so many of us to work on cooperative, if disparate, aspects of these tasks.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the SNS membership. As an example, after we published the abovementioned “Getting to Zero” issue, SNS member and NASA Langley chief scientist Dennis Bushnell sent in his thoughts on how best to pull carbon (see details below). Illinois Institute of Technology professor, mentor, and consultant Robert F. Anderson offered his insights on the importance of, and ideas about, pulling carbon out of the oceans. Longtime member and VC Rick LeFaivre wrote in about a company in his portfolio capable of manufacturing plastics with sequestered carbon. Serial entrepreneur Philip Vafiadis in Australia described some of the full-systems solutions being employed Down Under to green entire neighborhoods in one go.

Meanwhile, SNS has been conducting a series of carbon roundtable meetings this year (stay tuned for a report-out), with the final product to be a Cabinet-level briefing on how to take the United States to net-zero. Member Andrew Himes continues his work (some of which began with the SNS Carbon Trifecta project) on embodied carbon in buildings, member Elon Musk continues to crank out electric cars, member Bill Gates is working to open the first small nuclear-energy-converted plant in the United States, and member Yishan Wong works to plant a large chunk of the trillion-odd trees we’ll need.

Why is all of this relevant? First, the existing and new technology required to solve these issues requires a large group of technical experts and systems thinkers to build and deploy them. Yeah, it really does take a village – and then some. Second, those people cannot succeed without the ability to network, collaborate, and point out missing pieces to one another (special thanks to Bob Anderson for noting how much carbon really is in our oceans compared with that in the atmosphere). Third, this kind of networked, motivated, well-informed group, working together, is probably the only way we can save the planet.

Does such a group sound familiar?

However, the good news is also the “bad news”: when we look around at who might tackle the hairy issue of climate change, the answer is: It’s us. (Or: “You’re lookin’ at ’em,” as Mark Anderson would say.)

The good news, again? We’re capable, and we’re already doing it.

Ok, pep talk over. Let’s dive in.


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