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Cleaning Up The Carbon In Our Skies

When a cleaner footprint is no longer enough on climate change. Scientists now say we need negative CO2 emissions. Cleaning carbon from our skies.

For years we’ve been told we’ve got to cut back on carbon emissions, CO2, or face dire consequences as burning fossil fuels changes the global climate. Last week, a new heads-up: Scientists say we’ve now polluted and dawdled long enough that it’s going to take more than cutting back emissions. We’re going to have to take CO2 out of the atmosphere. Trees can do that. Soil can do that. Giant machines might, but at a staggering cost. This hour On Point: Sweeping up CO2. — Tom Ashbrook


James Hansen, professor at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, where he directs a program in Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions. Known as the “father of climate change awareness.”

John Niles, director of The Carbon Institute, which works with universities and governments around the world to measure and manage carbon dioxide. Guest lecturer on climate change policies and technologies at University of California San Diego.

From Tom’s Reading List

Earth System Dynamics: Young people’s burden: requirement of negative CO2 emissions — “The rapidity of ice sheet and sea level response to global temperature is difficult to predict, but is dependent on the magnitude of warming. Targets for limiting global warming thus, at minimum, should aim to avoid leaving global temperature at Eemian or higher levels for centuries. Such targets now require ‘negative emissions,’ i.e., extraction of CO2 from the air.”

MIT Technology Review: Sucking Up CO2 Will Cost Hundreds of Trillions — “Unless we start cutting carbon dioxide emissions soon, it’s going to cost today’s young people as much as $535 trillion to clean up the atmosphere by 2100, according to a study published on Tuesday evening. By way of context, that’s around seven times the size of the entire global economy.”

Popular Science: Protecting our children from climate change might take more than just cutting emissions — “Rarely is a negative seen as a positive. But a new study in the journal Earth System Dynamics argues that negative emissions might be our only hope. Led by James Hansen—the so-called father of climate change awareness—along with researchers from around the globe, the study says that it’s not enough to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. If we want to avoid saddling young people with the worst impacts of climate change, and a climate debt of 576 trillion dollars, we have to work to get some of those excess greenhouse gasses out of the atmosphere.”

What Carbon-Cleaning Machines Look Like


U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions

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(U.S. EPA Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report: 1990-2014)
(U.S. EPA Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report: 1990-2014)
(U.S. EPA Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report: 1990-2014)
(U.S. EPA Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report: 1990-2014)