Carbon capture could help limit the effects of climate change.Carbon capture could help limit the effects of climate change.
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The Green New Deal resolution that was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives in February hit a wall in the Senate, where it was called unrealistic and unaffordable. In a Washington Post article titled "The Green New Deal Sets Us Up for Failure. We Need a Better Approach," former Colorado governor and Democratic presidential candidate John Hickenlooper framed the problem like this:
"The resolution sets unachievable goals. We do not yet have the technology needed to reach 'net-zero greenhouse gas emissions' in 10 years. That's why many wind and solar companies don't support it. There is no clean substitute for jet fuel. Electric vehicles are growing quickly, yet are still in their infancy. Manufacturing industries such as steel and chemicals, which account for almost as much carbon emissions as transportation, are even harder to decarbonize.
"Amid this technological innovation, we need to ensure that energy is not only clean but also affordable. Millions of Americans struggle with 'energy poverty.' Too often, low-income Americans must choose between paying for medicine and having their heat shut off. ...
"If climate change policy becomes synonymous in the U.S. psyche with higher utility bills, rising taxes and lost jobs, we will have missed our shot. ..."
The problem may be that a transition to 100% renewables is the wrong target. Reversing climate change need not mean emptying our pockets and tightening our belts. It is possible to sequester carbon and restore our collapsing ecosystem using the financial resources we already have, and it can be done while at the same time improving the quality of our food, water, air and general health.
The Larger Problem -- and the Solution -- Is in the Soil
Contrary to popular belief, the biggest environmental polluters are not big fossil fuel companies. They are big agribusiness and factory farming, with six powerful food industry giants-- Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, Dean Foods, Dow AgroSciences, Tyson and Monsanto (now merged with Bayer) -- playing a major role. Oil-dependent farming, industrial livestock operations, the clearing of carbon-storing fields and forests, the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and the combustion of fuel to process and distribute food are estimated to be responsible for as much as one-half of human-caused pollution. Climate change, while partly a consequence of the excessive relocation of carbon and other elements from the earth into the atmosphere, is more fundamentally just one symptom of overall ecosystem distress from centuries of over-tilling, over-grazing, over-burning, over-hunting, over-fishing and deforestation.
Big Ag's toxin-laden, nutrient-poor food is also a major contributor to the U.S. obesity epidemic and many other diseases. Yet these are the industries getting the largest subsidies from U.S. taxpayers, to the tune of more than $20 billion annually. We don't hear about this for the same reason that they get the subsidies they have massively funded lobbies capable of bribing their way into special treatment.
The story we do hear, as Judith Schwartz observes inThe Guardian, is, "Climate change is global warming caused by too much CO2 in the atmosphere due to the burning of fossil fuels. We stop climate change by making the transition to renewable energy." Schwartz does not discount this part of the story but points to several problems with it:
"One is the uncomfortable fact that even if, by some miracle, we could immediately cut emissions to zero, due to inertia in the system it would take more than a century for CO2 levels to drop to 350 parts per million, which is considered the safe threshold. Plus, here's what we don't talk about when we talk about climate: we can all go solar and drive electric cars and still have the problems the unprecedented heat waves, the wacky weather that we now associate with CO2-driven climate change."
But that hasn't stopped investors, who see the climate crisis as simply another profit opportunity. According to a study by Morgan Stanley analysts reported inForbes in October, halting global warming and reducing net carbon emissions to zero would take an investment of $50 trillion over the next three decades, including $14 trillion for renewables; $11 trillion to build the factories, batteries and infrastructure necessary for a widespread switch to electric vehicles; $2.5 trillion for carbon capture and storage; $20 trillion to provide clean hydrogen fuel for power, cars and other industries, and $2.7 trillion for biofuels. The article goes on to highlight the investment opportunities presented by these challenges by recommending various big companies expected to lead the transition, including Exxon, Chevron, BP, General Electric, Shell and similar corporate giants many of them the very companies blamed by Green New Deal advocates for the crisis.
A Truly Green New Deal
There is a much cheaper and faster way to sequester carbon from the atmosphere that doesn't rely on these corporate giants to transition us to 100% renewables. Additionally, it can be done while at the same time reducing the chronic diseases that impose an even heavier cost on citizens and governments. Our most powerful partner is nature itself, which over hundreds of millions of years has evolved the most efficient carbon sequestration system on the planet. As David Perry writes on the World Economic Forum website: