Carbon capture technology, which includes ocean fertilization, enhanced weathering and carbon capture and storage, has become a center point of the conversation around solutions to mitigate the effects of climate change. Oil companies are pushing to further research and invest in carbon-capture technology. While research has progressed the development of carbon capture technologies, it must get cheaper and more efficient to be effective.
However, climate scientists and advocates have been wary of promoting carbon capture research. They express concerns including the possibility that the technology is seen as a sort of guaranteed insurance against climate change, which may promote less climate-conscious behavior, ultimately establishing a moral hazard. A moral hazard is when an individual engages in riskier behavior because they have the safety net of insurance. Carbon capture causes moral hazard because people, corporations and politicians may not address climate change because they believe that an easy technological fix will eventually solve the problem of global warming.
In 2020, 40 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide were released into the atmosphere worldwide. This number needs to be cut to zero by 2050, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. Politicians have so far been pressured to address climate change through regulation, improving technological efficiency and shifting from carbon-producing energy sources to renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power. However, when the IPCC modeled 116 possible scenarios for limiting warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, 101 of the scenarios relied on carbon capture technology to produce negative emissions.
According to a 2018 Carbon Engineering study, carbon capture has the potential to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere for less than $100 per ton, making carbon capture technology a more reliable way to mitigate global warming. It is still uncertain, however, whether negative emissions technologies will be large-scale and efficient enough to rely on in such a high-stakes crisis. Politicians and business leaders can use the possibility of carbon capture as an easy technology fix to push off policies that would promote near-term solutions such as the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.
Carbon capture researchers and advocates must continue their work while also raising awareness that carbon capture is not enough to solve global warming on its own. The public and politicians should not be off the hook for climate change just because they support carbon capture research. Carbon capture does offer the possibility of stabilizing the climate with an affordable technological fix. While it is a critical step against climate change, it should not decrease the pressure on people and corporations to shift behaviors and energy sources. Ultimately, global warming must have a multi-pronged solution that includes immediate solutions along with longer-term technological fixes.
Lizzy Peppercorn is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at email@example.com.