A number of organizations have charted a path to a decarbonized world by 2050 and broken down required action into four areas or “pathways.” In recent posts, we discussed the first three pathways — decarbonizing electricity, electrifying everything, and using energy efficiently. We also discussed how individuals can take part in, and move the needle on, these global and local strategies. Today’s post covers the final pathway, which can be controversial — carbon sequestration.
Carbon sequestration, in which CO2 is removed from the atmosphere by natural or artificial means, is an important part of any climate stabilization plan. Most of the pathways the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has outlined to keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius call for substantial amounts of carbon sequestration in the coming decades.
Pathway 4: Sequestration
There are many types of sequestration, including: 1) artificial carbon capture and storage and direct air capture (where machines pull carbon dioxide from the air); 2) natural climate solutions like reforesting, regenerative agriculture; 3) enhanced weathering (where crushed up rocks are spread on fields to capture CO2 more quickly); and 4) even sequestration in the oceans.
Sequestering carbon can be controversial because there’s a risk that spending our energy trying to remove carbon will keep us stuck in a fossil fueled world and delay action on reducing emissions. Defenders of sequestration counter that it is one pillar of the plan and the other pillars call for steep emissions reductions. No one should advocate for sequestration alone to solve the climate crisis, but at the same time, virtually all plans call for some level of sequestration given that we are already beyond safe levels of CO2 in our atmosphere and have legacy emissions (those already in our atmosphere) to address.
Many think of sequestration as something that occurs on large scales and is driven by governments or corporations. This is true to a large extent, but we find it empowering that sequestration can also happen at the individual level. Individual sequestration could simply involve planting trees at home or in the community or buying cheap land and planting a mini forest. It could include regenerative agriculture in our gardens, or supporting nascent, crowdfunded direct air capture sequestration programs. Sequestration at all scales can also benefit us and our communities in ways beyond emissions reduction, like restoring habitats, providing more space for wildlife, cooling urban heat islands, and mitigating and filtering stormwater.
Carbon sequestration also offers a way to offset emissions from currently hard-to-decarbonize areas of our lives (like food production or long-distance travel). By funding forestation or artificial CO2 capture to counteract those emissions, we take responsibility and make up for some of our impact.
Sequestration for Our Family
While most of the discussion about sequestration centers around large-scale solutions, our family has used sequestration to reduce our family’s carbon emissions and offset those that we can’t easily or reasonably tackle, and improve our quality of life. We’ll go in depth on each of our strategies, and their estimated impact, in upcoming posts, but here’s the short story:
1) We started our own family sequestration project a few years ago when we bought cheap land to reforest and planted 800 ponderosa pines with help from the US Department of Agriculture EQIP program and Mount Adams Resource Stewards.
2) We’ve planted over a dozen native and fruit trees at our urban home and are experimenting with the right balance between cover crops and no-till gardening.
3) We subscribe to crowdfunded direct air capture carbon sequestration plans like Climeworks.
4) We buy into a few local and verified carbon offset programs (Electrify Everyone, Renewable Juneau, and Seeds for the Sol, if you’re curious) that have the benefit of both reducing emissions and helping low-income people save money and electrify.
In addition to the climate benefits, all of these things improve our lives. We get shade and natural beauty at home and delicious food. We can claim a piece of rural land with beautiful mountain views that also doubles as a pretty good investment. And we have now planted hundreds of trees that will sequester carbon over the next crucial decades, and far off in the future may provide sustainable timber harvesting revenue for our grandkids once the trees are at the end of their most productive sequestration period.
Phew! We’ve finished introducing the four pathways of global decarbonization and how they translate to individual action. Next we’ll dig into why individual actions matter. After that we’ll get to the focus of Decarbonize Your Life with detailed posts on each individual-scale solution that both lower carbon emissions and improve life quality. Stick with us as we continue to decarbonize!
This article is part of a new series called Decarbonize Your Life. With modest steps and a middle-class income, our family has dramatically reduced emissions and is sequestering what remains through a small reforestation project. Our life is better for it. If we can do it, you can too.
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