Doing Something About Global Warming Is Cheaper Than Doing Nothing

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The rallying cry from conservatives for the past 40 years is that doing something about our overheating planet is just too darn expensive. Better to do nothing and continue marching into the future using a business as usual approach than actually address the climate emergency. That’s the horse puckey spewed billions of times by rapacious fools who are in thrall to Charles Koch. Any lie repeated often enough becomes the truth, which basically explains the business model of Fox News.

Koch and his acolytes have built what amounts to a religion based upon the idea that humans have an obligation to extract and combust every available drop of fossil fuel. That quaint notion has taken its place alongside other current quasi-religious movements that preach how Democrats want to confiscate our guns, black males are all homicidal maniacs who must be incarcerated or killed to preserve law and order, and a woman’s reproductive system is the property of the state.

But as Mark Twain once observed, “What you don’t know won’t hurt you near as much as what you do know that t’aint true.” A recent article by the Washington Post suggests we can do something about our changing climate and it will cost a lot less than the measures already taken to address the scourge of the coronavirus. The Post talks about carbon capture technologies that are being offered today by companies like Canada’s Carbon Engineering and Switzerland’s ClimeWorks. Both sequester atmospheric carbon and bury it underground where it reacts with minerals to create limestone. Those processes cost between $94 and $230 a ton. Multiply that by the billions of tons needed to be removed and you have a very expensive proposition.

There may be other ways, however. Locking carbon inside of plants and trees is one, yet it takes decades for a tree to reach its full growth. The world doesn’t have time to wait while a few billion trees mature. One possible answer could be massive kelp beds, according to inventor Brian von Herzen. He tells the Washington Post, giant kelp forests are carbon sinks that grow up to two feet per day. Unlike terrestrial forests, kelp forests don’t burn and re-emit their carbon. When they die, most sink to the bottom, keeping their carbon out of the atmosphere for centuries or even millennia.

Marine permacuture arrays
Credit: Climate Foundation

Von Herzen’s idea is to build marine permaculture arrays (see picture on right) that can be towed out to sea where they will create new kelp forests. They are equipped with pumps (presumably solar powered) that circulate sea water to nourish the kelp. He says MPAs can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at a cost of about $80 a ton but that doesn’t take into account the economic benefits they also provide. Kelp forests promote the growth of fish stocks. As some parts of the Earth get hotter and drier, traditional agriculture may not he able to provide enough food to avoid mass starvation among the people of the world. Aquaculture could replace food that can no longer be grown on land.  In addition, the kelp has economic value of its own.

Von Herzen estimates the return on investment in MPA would be around 15%. He believes growing new kelp forests in just 2 percent of the oceans would sequester enough carbon to restore the climate, — yes, that means returning the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 250 parts per million, the level it was at prior to the Industrial Revolution. It’s not a magic bullet however. The world would still need to drastically reduce the amount of  new carbon dioxide spewing into the atmosphere every second of every day. Before you go, “uh-huh” and move on, name one other potential carbon sequestration strategy that has an ROI of 15%?

The Time Is Now!

Stanford/RFF climate change survey
Credit: RFF

Researchers at Stanford University, Resources for the Future, and ReconMR have just released the results of a survey conducted between May and August asking Americans about their attitudes regarding climate change. The poll included 999 people. It found nearly half of Americans think addressing climate change will help the economy while only 29% believe it will have negative economic consequences. Speaking to Time magazine about the Republican mantra that addressing climate change is too expensive, Jon Krosnick, a Stanford social psychologist professor and lead author of the report says, “It’s just an argument that doesn’t work. The argument has never convinced even a majority of Republicans.”

The report finds significant majorities support tax incentives, carbon pricing, and regulations as means to reduce emissions. More than 80% of Americans believe the U.S. should offer tax incentives for utilities that make power with renewable energy. More than 80% support key U.S. commitments under the Paris Agreement. And nearly two thirds support a requirement for all cars to get at least 55 miles per gallon by 2025. “It’s not like 52-48 or that kind of thing,” says Krosnick. “There are clear leanings.”

Time says the report finds concern about climate change is driven less by personal economic considerations and more by broader societal interests. Concern that climate change will significantly harm future generations is a better predictor of support for action on climate change than concerns it would harm someone personally. “It’s not about the pocketbook,” says Krosnick.

A previous report from Stanford and RFF found the percentage of Americans who care passionately about climate change has risen dramatically in recent years from 13% in 2015 to 25% in 2020. It finds three quarters of Americans believe they have seen the effects of climate change and 80% say they support more stringent building codes to adapt to the effects of climate change. Oddly enough, despite the findings of such reports, not one question about climate change will be asked during the upcoming presidential debates that begin in a few days.

An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll released Sept. 19 shows climate change is one of the top concerns for Democratic voters along with the coronavirus pandemic and the economy. A June poll from Pew Research Center found that nearly two thirds of Americans want more aggressive action from the federal government on climate change.

The Take Away

Americans are concerned about climate change. Carbon capture and kelp farms could do something about it. So why is the US government sitting on the sidelines, twiddling its thumbs, and doing nothing about the situation? Once again we have to turn to the wisdom of George Carlin to explain the unexplainable. His monologue has some language that may be offensive, so guide yourself accordingly. But it some colorful language stands between you and understanding the global cataclysm that is bearing down on all of us, there’s no hope for you anyway. Go back to sleep. Go watch Fox News until your eyeballs fall out. Just don’t interfere with the hard work the rest of us are doing to save you from a self-inflicted disaster that destroys your world.

The Washington Post ends with this analysis: “If we can spend trillions to fight the coronavirus, we can do this. Building the needed capacity over a 30-year period would require some investment, ranging from $50 billion per year for manufacturing limestone to $250 billion per year for MPAs. But that money would produce a 15 percent return, and even the high end is a small price to pay for a fully restored climate in this century.

“The main hurdle isn’t financing or technology; we have enough of both. It’s expanding our thinking beyond half-measures and committing to outcomes we want. We know that restoring public health in the pandemic requires bold action and international cooperation. Restoring a healthy climate and a livable planet requires no less. But it’s within our grasp if we’re willing to reach for it.” The question is, are we willing to do what needs to be done to keep our planet habitable for humans? Nothing else really matters if the answer to that question is no. And that starts with voting in the next election. Vote as if your life and the lives of your children and your children’s children depends upon it, because it does.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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