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Analogies and ecoraps for more carbon removal

On Monday March 12th, Ross Kenyon and I brought on Noah Deich, Executive Director, and Giana Amador, Associate Director of the Center for Carbon Removal to the Reversing Climate Change podcast.

The Center for Carbon Removal is a non profit that packs a punch way above its weight class. It’s filling an important void to ignite action to accelerate an economy that on net is removing more carbon dioxide that it emits. They see their role as a as a catalyst that builds the ecosystem of public, private and civil support to support the creation of many pieces that are missing to make that economy a reality.

Left to Right: Christophe Jospe (Nori), Rory Jacobson (CCR), Noah Deich (CCR), Giana Amador (CCR), Ross Kenyon (Nori)

As Noah Deich puts it, there are three legs to the stool.

  1. Research and development. There are many open questions on different ways to pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. These range from fundamental research to practical engineering questions. Getting a new carbon economy up as envisioned by the Center for Carbon Removal requires an Apollo-scale effort devoted to coordinating knowledge across universities and national labs. In the absence of government support, the center is able to fill the gap.
  2. Commercialization. The second piece of the challenge is commercialization. Start-ups that can advance pathways to capturing, using, and storing carbon dioxide are able to take many of the ideas from universities and national labs. To achieve this goal, the center is standing up a technology incubator specific to carbon. It’s called Carbon Recycling Labs
  3. Policy. There’s a lot of work to be done to spread awareness to policy makers. Policy can help with tax incentives, loan guarantees, and regulation to ensure that the government isn’t actively impeding. With these elements in place, there can be an even greater market pull so that people who are removing carbon can get a fair return.

As they talked about standing up stools, it became pretty clear to us that Noah and Giana like analogies to help explain complex ideas related to carbon removal. We like analogies too. Here were some of our favorites that came up.

The climate ship

The way we are living today is a ship that’s headed in the wrong direction. The wrong direction is the 53 billion tons of CO2 equivalent that the world emits each year. We need to turn the ship around to be headed in the direction pointed toward zero, and then net negative.

The weight loss regime

The world has put on too much carbon weight. In order to lose the weight, we need to eat healthier, and in general, less (lower our emissions with carbon mitigation from 53 billion CO2e to 0). We also need to exercise to burn off the weight we’ve already gained (taking carbon out of the air on the order of 750 billion tons or more).

The bathtub

The excess carbon (water) that we add into the atmosphere (the bathtub). The outflow is the planet’s natural way to cycle the carbon through the biomass, oceans, and minerals. The overflow point of the bathtub is disastrous climate change. An optimal point for the bathtub is to have the inflow match the outflow. I took the analogy one step further. As water flows into the tub, the drain also clogs up because the planet gets less effective with dealing with absorbing CO2. The oceans for instance, which have already acidified, are not able to work as hard. Carbon removal that can improve those planetary processes increases the size of the drain — or creating a second drain entirely with new technological approaches to enable rapid bathwater drawdown.

The carbon removal icing on the mitigation cake

To balance the carbon books, we already need a mix of mitigation (stopping & slowing the flow of carbon to the atmosphere) and carbon removal. Mitigation is the cake. Carbon removal is the icing. Building the cake is what needs to come first because it is less expensive, and also cheaper. It is the world’s interest to do as much cake building as possible to minimize the amount of icing that is needed. I tried to push back with the logic that for every ton of CO2 we emit, another one must go away. Paying to put it away with expensive icing should motivate you to not put it there in the first place, or find cheaper ways to bake it into your cake.

At the end of the podcast, Noah threw down the gauntlet and asked me to do an ecorap. I was caught off guard. Ask and you shall receive, Noah.



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