Dr. Graciela Chichilnisky has been fighting to save the planet for a very long time. She is the creator of the Carbon Market of the UN Kyoto Protocol, as well as the formal theory of Sustainable Development. A world-renowned economist, Dr. Chichilnisky has written more than 17 books and over 330 scientific research papers on subjects such as the economics of climate change and globalization. She acted as the Lead US Author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which won a Nobel Prize in 2007 and has pioneered the concept of Green Capitalism.
In 2010, Dr. Chichilnisky co-founded Global Thermostat, a company specializing in “Carbon Negative Technology,” which captures CO2 from the air and repurposes it to be sold commercially. From the bubbles in champagne to synthetic fuels or water desalination, the CO2 is sold to various industries to be used for a myriad of purposes.
This week, Dr. Chichilnisky is speaking at the 2019 TRANSITION Forum, where global movers and shakers are gathering to discuss and find innovative solutions to the world’s climate emergency. Ahead of the Forum, we asked the economist a few questions to learn more about her work today.
You created the Kyoto Protocol which was signed by 192 parties in 1997 and was a very hopeful moment. How did it impact global emissions? Do you still feel optimistic about our situation today?
I was and still am very proud of what the Kyoto Protocol was able to accomplish. The nations that signed in 1997 were able to decrease their emissions of CO2 by 30% which was a huge success for the carbon market. However, since then the rest of the world has increased emissions and severely augmented the detrimental effects of global emissions. I am still optimistic about our situation today, if all the nations will actively participate in the Kyoto agreements and work together to reduce global emissions.
In countries that are reluctant to acknowledge or act on the climate crisis, such as the United States, what is the best way to incentivize change? With an economic approach? A moral appeal?
You look at developed nations, such as the United States, and you see historically that economic stimulus with government support have been the most successful to precipitate change over time. While the economic approach is the best way to get people invested and motivated for change, you also need the support of large institutions and influential entities to have a major impact.
Do more economically developed countries have a greater responsibility to address climate change?
I do agree that more developed countries have a greater responsibility to address climate change as they are the ones that emit more emissions than under-developed countries. Just as they have a greater impact on the global economy, the developed nations have a greater influence and effect on climate change. In an ideal world, all nations should work together to address this global issue that really affects every living thing on our planet.
You founded Global Thermostat, a company specializing in direct air capture — taking CO2 out of the air and then selling it to companies for various uses. Can you tell us a bit about the process and how you commercialize it?
By utilizing its breakthrough direct air capture technology, Global Thermostat can transform carbon dioxide from a global catastrophe into a profitable business solution. Our technology can economically capture and filter through clean carbon dioxide to be repurposed for a variety of uses in many industries, while reducing harmful emissions in the environment and help close the carbon cycle. The resulting carbon dioxide can then be utilized for industries including food and beverages, greenhouses and biofertilizers, plastics and polymers, building materials and water desalination, as well as synthetic fuels and many more.
Global Thermostat’s carbon capture and utilization plants can produce unlimited amounts of carbon dioxide at low costs and on-site, eliminating the need for long pipelines and/or transportation costs. The custom equipment and technology are based off proprietary amine-based chemical sorbents that are bonded to porous, honeycomb ceramic monoliths which together act as carbon sponges. These carbon sponges efficiently absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, smokestacks, or a combination of both. The carbon dioxide is captured using residual heat from existing plants, resulting in 98% pure carbon dioxide at standard temperature and pressure. During the process, only steam and electricity are consumed without the creation of additional emissions or other effluents which makes this whole process mild, safe, and truly carbon negative.
How much CO2 do you remove from the atmosphere per year?
Currently, Global Thermostat is removing thousands of tons of CO2 with plans to rapidly increase that amount up to gigatons in the coming years.
You will be speaking at the 2019 Transition Forum. What ideas or substantive solutions do you expect will come out of the forum?
I believe there will be a lot of solutions presented at the forum that will necessitate immediate action on large scales. Specifically innovative solutions that are two-fold such as carbon removal to reverse climate change while fostering economic progress.