“Net Zero” Is A Dangerous Illusion, Say Top Climate Scientists

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Net zero. The entire fate of humanity depends on those two words. Why? Because they are the glue that holds all the promises made by the world’s nations in Paris in 2015 together. Oxford Languages defines net zero this way: “A target of completely negating the amount of greenhouse gases produced by human activity, to be achieved by reducing emissions and implementing methods of absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”

The first part is hard enough. Humans have learned to base their entire existence on the energy contained in fossil fuels like oil, natural gas, and coal. Unfortunately, when they are burned, carbon dioxide is produced. Too much of it causes the atmosphere and the oceans to heat up. All that extra heat leads to melting of the frozen tundra in Alaska and Siberia, which releases more carbon dioxide, which makes the world hotter still. It’s a vicious circle that feeds on itself. Left unchecked, it will make the Earth too hot for humans to survive.

The second part is even harder. Removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere will require extraordinary breakthroughs in technology and the cost will be astronomical. And yet, the politicians and scientist blithely assume it will be done because the consequences of not doing it are too awful to even contemplate. And so, beginning with the COP 21 agreements in Paris, the world community has proceeded as if carbon capture will somehow magically occur.

Robert Watson is no slouch when it comes to climate science. He is a former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Today he is a professor of environmental science at the University of East Anglia. Watson, together with James Dyke, a senior lecturer in global systems at the University of Exeter, and Wolfgang Knorr, a senior researcher of physical geography and ecosystem science at Lund University, has penned a startling article for Inverse. In it, the three scientists acknowledge being duped by the allure of the “net zero” concept, calling it “a trap.”

“Collectively we three authors of this article must have spent more than 80 years thinking about climate change. Why has it taken us so long to speak out about the obvious dangers of the concept of net-zero? In our defense, the premise of net-zero is deceptively simple – and we admit that it deceived us,” they write at the beginning of their paper. Here are three chilling statements by the authors.

“Relying on untested carbon dioxide removal mechanisms to achieve the Paris targets when we have the technologies to transition away from fossil fuels today is plain wrong and foolhardy. Why are willing to gamble the lives and livelihoods of millions of people, the beautiful life all around us, and the futures of our children?” — Robert Watson

“Over the years doubt has developed into dread. This gnawing sense that we made a terrible mistake. There are now times when I freely admit to a sense of panic. How did we get this so wrong? What are our children supposed to think about how we have acted?” — James Dyke

“It came to me as a real shock that I must have contributed personally to the net-zero trap. In 2008 the G8 countries declared a voluntary target by reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 50 percent by 2050. Back then I responded by publishing computations I had performed specifically to show the need for net-zero in the long run, stating that any remaining carbon dioxide emissions by human activities would have to be balanced by an ‘artificial sink’. But since none of our study’s co-authors was an expert, we did not consider how much of that artificial sink would be needed to sustain our economic system, or if it was even technically possible to create.” — Wolfgang Knorr

Shock? Dread? Panic?

Scientists in general do not allow emotions to rule their work. But here are three internationally recognized climate scientists using words like “shock,” “dread,” and “panic.” Clearly, this is well outside the normal boundaries of their work. What they are saying is that the people of the world have been sold a bill of goods about global heating and they have unwittingly been part of the process. Here’s more from the Inverse paper.

“The threats of climate change are the direct result of there being too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. So it follows that we must stop emitting more and even remove some of it. This idea is central to the world’s current plan to avoid catastrophe. In fact, there are many suggestions as to how to actually do this, from mass tree planting to high-tech direct air capture devices that suck out carbon dioxide from the air.

“The current consensus is that if we deploy these and other so-called “carbon dioxide removal” techniques at the same time as reducing our burning of fossil fuels, we can more rapidly halt global warming. Hopefully, around the middle of this century, we will achieve “net-zero”. This is the point at which any residual emissions of greenhouse gases are balanced by technologies removing them from the atmosphere.

“This is a great idea, in principle. Unfortunately, in practice, it helps perpetuate a belief in technological salvation and diminishes the sense of urgency surrounding the need to curb emissions now.

“We have arrived at the painful realization that the idea of net-zero has licensed a recklessly cavalier “burn now, pay later” approach which has seen carbon emissions continue to soar. It has also hastened the destruction of the natural world by increasing deforestation today, and greatly increases the risk of further devastation in the future.”

The authors go on to give a detailed analysis of how the “net zero” concept wormed its way into climate science and policy decisions, beginning with the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, continuing with the the Kyoto Agreement of 1997, Copenhagen in 2009, and ending in Paris in December of 2015.

“We struggle to name any climate scientist who at that time thought the Paris Agreement was feasible,” the authors write. “We have since been told by some scientists that the Paris Agreement was ‘of course important for climate justice but unworkable’ and ‘a complete shock, no one thought limiting to 1.5° C was possible’. Rather than being able to limit warming to 1.5° C, a senior academic involved in the IPCC concluded we were heading beyond 3°C by the end of this century.

“Instead of confronting our doubts, we scientists decided to construct ever more elaborate fantasy worlds in which we would be safe. The price to pay for our cowardice: having to keep our mouths shut about the ever-growing absurdity of the required planetary-scale carbon dioxide removal.”

Carbon capture is the fool’s gold at the heart of the “net zero” lie. Believing we will someday “science our way” out of any calamity that may be waiting for us on the road ahead, we humans knowingly, deliberately, and willing continue our quest to locate, extract, and burn every molecule of fossil fuel available on our planet. Our great conceit is that we are too smart to ever let things spiral out of control. An attitude like that will practically guarantee things do spiral out of control.

A Grand Charade

Carbon Capture Technology. Image credit: European Union

Net zero is a charade, a convenient smoke screen we hide behind so we can tell ourselves all is well. It’s not. To address global heating effectively, we must stop burning fossil fuels. Full stop. Anything else is just eye wash designed to protect the profits of the mega-corporations that have gotten us into this mess. As things stand now, on the headstone for the late, great human race, there will be only one word: Greed.

Will it be necessary to remove some of the carbon dioxide from the air in order to keep our planet from getting too hot for humans? Yes, it will. But we must bear in mind that carbon capture technology has never proved viable in any application anywhere around the world as of yet. Carbon capture may never happen, which leaves us to utilize the one avenue we have available to us — eliminate fossil fuels.

Will the transition to renewables be wrenching and cause a lot of people to seek employment in new fields? Yes, absolutely. But the alternative is the death of us all, the end of humanity…forever. The time for happy talk is over. Top scientists are using words like shock, panic, and dread. Perhaps we should listen to them?

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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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