For years, I have been hearing people talking about the problem of climate change. However, I never got the chance to dig into it, until recently I read Ryan Orbuch’s post on Carbon removal. This book was briefly mentioned in the post. I decided to give it a read because of the credibility of the author (MIT researcher spent 30 years in this field). This book is also my first stab at the climate tech rabbit hole.
Climate change is happening because we have emitted too much CO2. There are many ways to address it: mitigation (don’t emit as much CO2), adaption (just change our lifestyle to deal with this rise of temperature), Carbon Dioxide removal (trying to capture CO2 in the atomsphere), etc. The author suggests that mitigation would be the most effective way in the long run.
There are many mitigation techniques. The two most popular ones are (1) moving towards renewable energy sources such as Hydro, Nuclear, Wind, Solar; and (2) lowering the CO2 emission of existing fossil fuel energy plants using the technique of Carbon Capture.
The book primarily focuses on Carbon Capture. The first half of the book provides an overview of the history as well as the current state (as of 2018) of the Carbon Capture technology. I learned the different ways of capturing CO2 from the flue gas produced by the coal plants, as well as how we would store these captured CO2.
The book also briefly touches on NETs (negative emission technologies). The author suggests that currently NETs are not scalable enough. CO2 is extremely diluted in the atmosphere, and capturing it would be very costly. The most popular NET is planting trees, but it is still orders of magnitude away from the target.
The second half of the book discusses the current political climate around addressing climate change. There are two ways for policy makers to address this issue: “market pull” and “technology push”. Market pull is about implementing carbon tax. The author thinks it is the most effective approach because we could just let the market decide what would be the best technology to address climate change. However, this strategy is not favoured by politicians because carbon tax might impact their reelection. For example, they might lose votes from people who have long commutes by car. Also it is not fair since many states (eg. Washington) have geographical advantages to build hydro plants, but many states do not have this advantage so they have to rely on fossil fuels (eg. West Virginia). On the other hand, technology push is about government giving out grants to fund R&D that would address climate change. However, it would be up to the government to pick who would receive the grant, which could be biased.
The author also argues that we should not soley rely on renewable energy, since solar and wind plants are not very reliable; not every region can build hydro plants; and nuclear is controversial. In addition, since the majority of the power plants are fossil-fuel-based, implementing Carbon Capture is significantly cheaper than migrating them to renewable energy plants.
Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book. It fed my curiosity and I learned a lot about the current landscape of addressing climate change. However, I suspect that the author might be biased towards “Carbon Capture” over other mitigation technologies. I would recommend anyone who wants to learn more about state-of-the-art climate technologies to give it a read.
I also learned that the climate challenge is extremely political. The technology seems to be ready. But the bottleneck is public policies, which are influenced by the economy and the culture (how the voters perceive this). I wonder what we can do to contribute to this problem.