Large Scale Carbon Capture Without The Technology

We humans are in something of a pickle, as we’ve put too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and caused climate change that might even wipe us out. There may still be people to whom that’s a controversial statement, but knowing something needs to be done about it should be a position for which you don’t necessarily have to be a climate change activist glueing yourself to the gates of a refinery.

It’s obvious that we can reduce our CO2 emissions to tackle the problem, but that’s not the only way that atmospheric CO2 can be reduced. How about removing it from the air? It’s an approach that’s being taken seriously enough for a number of industrial carbon capture solutions to be proposed, and even for a pilot plant to be constructed in Iceland. The most promising idea is that CO2 from power stations can be injected into porous basalt rock where it can react to form calcium carbonate. All of which is very impressive, but is there not a way that this can be achieved without resorting to too much technology? Time for Hackaday to pull out the back-of-envelope calculator, and take a look.

With So Much CO2 In The Air, Is Removing It Feasible?

Carbon dioxide emissions by source since 1880
This graph helps illustrate the scale of the problem. Efbrazil, CC BY-SA 4.0.

First of all, whether to gauge the scale of the problem or to demonstrate the futility of trying to deal with it, it’s worth quantifying how much CO2 we release. There are several slightly different figures depending where you are prepared to look, but most of them agree that humans are responsible for somewhere above 40 billion tons of CO2 per year. Viewed on a per-capita basis, Americans are each responsible for 15.52 tons, Canadians for 18.58 tons each, and on the side of the Atlantic where this is being written, Brits each account for 5.5 tons. It’s worth repeating these figures in order to demonstrate the futility of imagining that a few carbon capture plants can scrub the air of CO2 and make a significant difference, because the sheer scale of the problem is such that even the most prolific industrial expansion would find it difficult to keep up.

The first and most obvious way to capture and store large amounts of carbon by non-industrial means is of course in the form of biomass. Growing trees which become enduring forests sounds attractive and on the face of it is pretty easy to do, but how practical is it to make a dent in those emissions? According to National Georgaphic’s reporting of an ETH Zurich study published in 2019 an area the size of the USA covered in new forests could reduce atmospheric CO2 by 25% over a hundred years, which makes for a great soundbite, but it’s hardly as though there’s a handy USA-sized piece of land ready to plant trees on. If the global will to plant was there this might be an achievable target, but aside from lip-service on the part of politicians it’s difficult to imagine much movement on such an ambitious project until the waters of Chesapeake Bay are lapping at the front steps of the White House. It’s clear that while forests will play a part in dealing with our CO2 problem, they can’t solve it alone.

A piece of basalt rock
Could basalt hold the key to reducing atmospheric CO2? Amcyrus2012, CC BY 4.0

Another intriguing idea comes to us via a Sheffield University study, that proposes the UK could reach 45% of its net-zero emissions target by so-called accelerated weathering. CO2 is naturally absorbed by rocks as they are weathered by the weak acidic effect of CO2 dissolved in rainwater, and this idea proposes amplifying this effect through farmers applying powdered rock as a soil dressing.

It’s an on-the-surface take on the basalt injection idea, where the huge surface area of rock involved would cause much more CO2 to be extracted from the air as it weathers. The CO2 is thus locked away, with consequent offset of emissions. Basalt rock is common enough to make it feasible on paper, but they acknowledge the scale of the operation would require careful handling. Are we ready to lose entire mountains of rock in the service of offsetting climate change? Maybe not yet, but yet again the waters of the Thames estuary lapping around Number 10 Downing Street might sharpen attention.

It’s clear that there’s no magic solution to climate change that will allow us to continue emitting CO2 as though nothing is amiss. There’s no super-forest we can plant, no clever factory we can build, and no magic soil dressing that will scrub the air clean. However what does emerge from reading up on these technologies is that each could play their role in offsetting a portion of emissions, and alongside a meaningful effort to reduce emissions in the first place, might help us achieve the coveted net zero. The question is, do we have the public and political will to do it?


213 thoughts on “Large Scale Carbon Capture Without The Technology

    1. Yeah, it sort of makes sense that we can’t plant trees fast enough to absorb the carbon we’re currently releasing to the atmosphere. Consider how long it likely took the ecosystem to lay down all the biomass that became the coal and oil we mine and burn every year. A three foot thick seam of coal might have taken tens of thousands of years to grow as plant matter. Just try to imagine how long your lawn would take to create a solid three feet of soil…

    2. Of course they do. There have been times in the past when carbon levels were higher than they are now. There were times when the globe was warmer than now and those were times of prosperity. A good way to learn about the climate is on YouTube. Watch The Climate Nexus and The Climate Roundtable from the Heartland Institute.

      1. No, youtube is NOT “a good way to learn about the climate.” Youtube pays creators based on how many people watch a video. So the incentive is to make more people watch the video. If the creator makes more people watch a video by posting outright lies, clickbait, or fabricated controversy, they still get paid.

    3. Not the trees that are cut and burned and not being replaced. And it takes many years to replace the large trees. As a sapling can only do 1% or less what a large tree can hold. Look at the size difference.

    4. Yes they do, without lowering atmospheric O2. Sequestering CO2 in rocks is insane when you can just have vegetation supply biochar production to enhance soils, a far more pressing, and real, need.

    1. One theory is that most carbon was locked away during the carboniferous period (dead forest burial on a global scale), before nature eventually evolved and learned how to break into and release the energy stored in lignin (Permian period came after the Carboniferous with Basidiomycetes fungi, which requires 5% oxygen but can breakdown lignin). These days whatever carbon was captured by plants during their growth, will typically be re-released again once they die and decay.

      The carboniferous period was roughly 60 million years of nearly perfect carbon capture that was, let be very generous, mostly re-released over the last two centuries. So recapturing that carbon that was released with plants might take a little while. Unless of course mainly extra fast growing biomass is used for the carbon capture.

      The same level of carbon capture can not happen again in nature, we would need desiccate the plant matter (which requires additional energy for fast desiccation, or additional time for slower desiccation using less energy) before moving to long term storage. This is ultimately to slow down the decay process and keep the carbon captured as long as possible. Moving the captured carbon in desiccated biomass to long term storage would also require additional energy. Old salt mines come to mind as a good place to cheaply inhibit the decay process of desiccated biomass.

      1. You hit partly on a great point there – fast growing biomass used as carbon capture. Which is something we can do a really great deal of AND still get useful to human products out of it

        – the Hemp/Flax type plants grow stupidly fast, are hardy and make great fibre for a great many tasks – perhaps instead of FibreGlass or Carbon-Fibres all the composite materials fill sheets could be Flax? Maybe even large portions of the resins themselves can be sourced from plant waste over fresh oil (though I don’t object to fresh oils being used for enduring objects, its not carbon capture, but its not really release either).

        – Bamboo is another obvious one, grows fast, can be used in place of more traditional woods, and can be processed to make rather decent fibres

        -Balsa is another amazing plant, doesn’t store all that much carbon for the volume any finished product made with it fills, but its really quite impressively strong and very very light so very useful. While growing so fast its rather mind boggling.

        There are of course others, but these 3 are highlights for me as between them they can all grow well across the entire globe – so little plantations to capture and turn to useful products can be put anywhere, hopefully near the consumers…

        Doing so is somewhat like desiccation and preservation of the plants, except the energy expended turns some portion of the plant into a useful material we can use in place of yet more oil and will last for prolonged periods because the users are keeping it preserved in an enviorment good for them not plant matter decay.

        1. The burbs and garbage dumps are the current destination for much industrial carbon.

          By the time it’s decomposed/burned, technology will have moved along (to fusion or wood fires depending on how things go).

          How many square feet does the average American need to add to his house per year to offset his car driving? Assume stick construction.
          Now do Germans. Assume German style, bomb proof bunker, ‘crete home construction.

          Putin is sinking tons of carbon building his palaces!

          1. Its only sinking if you don’t use more carbon based energy in the creation than you actually stored in the structure, concrete magic as it can be for eco building is generally very bad at that.

            The better things to create are not more living space to heat and cool for no reason but smaller scale bits – why does my monitor/tv/speaker need a plastic case, why make bags from plastic when hemp/flax fibre is great for that job, why use metal for bicycle frames when bamboo and wooden ones are actually really durable and supposed to be more pleasant to ride (no personal experience) etc.

        2. You may also want to add to your list Macrocystis pyrifera – Giant Kelp. It can grow over a foot a day in proper conditions, can be used for a variety of food stuffs or materials (largely for its gelatin content) but more importantly has a profound impact on the ecology around it.

          Kelp forests are the core their food ladders, and the shelter they provide attracts hundreds of species, many of which are in dire need due to habitat destruction and over fishing.

          1. Hmm you are correct I didn’t list any sea plants, mostly as I was thinking construction of the products humans use and that defaults to land based plants – most of them used for millennia, but absolutely a valuable addition, and some seaweeds should probably be on the list too being fast growing and good mineral rich feed.

        3. – the Hemp/Flax type plants grow stupidly fast, are hardy and make great fibre for a great many tasks – perhaps instead of FibreGlass or Carbon-Fibres all the composite materials fill sheets could be Flax? Maybe even large portions of the resins themselves can be sourced from plant waste over fresh oil (though I don’t object to fresh oils being used for enduring objects, its not carbon capture, but its not really release either).

          this is a great thought, one problem though it is about 1/2 the strength of regular fiberglass and takes more resin to fully saturate. I forget exactly where i read the study but it has been done on this subject and the crux of it was that any benefit you might get from using the hemp is offset by the amount of resin you have to use sadly. However I will say this i really like the looks of a hemp structure compared ot a fiberglass one it really has a nice look to it.

          1. If the point is to get something useful and sequester carbon away for prolonged periods the material being weaker like for like isn’t often going to be important – you can make objects thicker if needed, often don’t need the full strength of the other options anyway, and the production of the resins does not need to be particularly bad environmentally.

            So there is still a gain in there for the right uses, just not going to be an always beneficial universal replacement. Though from what I can see its still a good net sink at 3x maybe even 4x the resin consumption, as the resins are not that bad (at least what little info I can find) and the processing of flax vs the creation of glass fibre or carbon fibre is a very one sided fight, two sink no atmosphereic carbon, take significant industrial capacity and energy so likely produce yet more atmospheric carbon, the other is just expending a bit of energy to process captured carbon, nature did almost all the work for you.

        4. Interesting thoughts, I hope you don’t mind my comments, or thinking out loud. Yes agree that sounds consumer and earth friendly. Some hiccups might be soil erosion and depletion already have negative consequences on sustaining nutritionally viable crops, then add wars and conflicts into the equation. The few examples hemp and cane you gave sound a good idea, maybe others like rubber, soap nuts and cork if they don’t use up agricultural or fragile tropical forest land? We don’t have much time to affect changes in given window. Human biowastes have polluted much of US soils with forever chemicals. The processes and transport of natural products in probability decrease the benefits. It makes me think all are worthy, as is changing habits but some big over reaching ideas are needed now, sorry I wish I was that kind of thinker. Some of the very simplest ideas to implement could be what’s needed to borrow time, i.e. reduce speed limits to fifty, try to achieve it globally. Stop wood burner use in developed countries or only use least polluting options pellets etc. Develop sustainable and more efficient fuel use in third world countries. Just a few thoughts.

          1. I’d hope soil erosion would be a non-issue with the plants I suggested, but its a great point that might come up, particularly when you add in other useful plants and of course it will matter where you grow this stuff, and how – go making a massive block of pure industrial x farm and you probably will destroy the soil, maybe not by erosion, though its certainly in the mix as a possibility.

            Never heard of soap nuts before myself, seems like it could be a good crop, at least for those it grows locally enough to.

            Cork and rubber are both certainly useful to humans, not looked into them enough to really form any opinion on their usefulness as a carbon sink, though they must have some, and really that is all that matters.

            While wood burners can be problematic they are very capable of being the greenest way to add significant heat – if you coppice your own local woods its all locally sourced so in and of itself carbon neutral, and the coppiced woodland you get your energy from is likely going to be at least a small carbon sink despite your fuel use, and probably more than that.

        5. Another thing to think of is seagrass. A recent article shows that seagrass sequesters more carbon than any other biomass. It stores sugars in the soil. Plus restoring seagrass could save the manatees.

          1. Indeed I’ve read a great deal on sea grass, doesn’t seem to have any further use for humans or our farm animals though – which is not to say it shouldn’t be restored as much as possible, just its easier to sell folks on a more gradual change to their life, and to pay for stuff that still benefits them in some way than it is to restore and protect a great carbon sink that other than help solve our past mistakes doesn’t do anything for us… Humanity as whole does tend to short sighted and is frequently rather self interested…

      2. This may hurt a lot of eco-warriors, but the great plastic-soup garbage patch is a very effective carbon capture sink. Like lignin before, plastics are very difficult to break down and thus will eventually, over centuries, settle down at the ocean bottoms and get swallowed up in the subduction zones.

        1. It’s not going to be a mystery where it’s fixed, but it might be an awful contest or 300 where AI that are oil explorers are competing with ones trying to make big stadium events where human carbon can be buried.

      1. Actually the science on plant growth rate versus carbon dioxide availability is very much up in the air in many respects. If it does accelerate plant growth rate there are scientists concerned this leads to “cheap plant matter” that is nutrient deficient, leading to concerns about the ability of animals, including us, to intake and retain sufficient vitamins and minerals. That would affect the entire biosphere in bad ways. Us too. But maybe (hopefully) you are just being ironic? If not these kinds of naive comments really need more thought.

      1. No.
        Only new forests sink carbon.

        Places like the Amazon basin are net zero for carbon. All they absorb is released by decomposition on the forest floor. ‘Lungs of the planet’ is a lie.

        1. Not entirely, though new is definitely a much shorter time to sink the same mass – even long established forest can continue to be carbon sink, increasing soil depth etc – eventually they reach a point of local equilibrium – everything is only growing to the available resources and there is no excess of CO2 anymore, so the bio mass of the region is really saturated, but even then presence of the forest can provide for more distant ecologies (for instance berry and nut eating migratory fish/birds) so actually sinks some carbon remotely, as well as through geological process (and no doubt many more oddities) mean they can remain sinks to some smaller extent…

          1. Define ‘excess’ CO2?
            There is nowhere on earth where growth is constrained by CO2, excepting perhaps badly designed indoor pot grow spaces.

            There are very few places currently putting down potential ‘hydrocarbons’. The Amazon is mineral constrained, if the trees didn’t decompose the next generation wouldn’t survive.

            On a planet balance account, the uplift of the Himalayan mountains are responsible for geologically ‘recent’ CO2 level drops. Exposed limestone is the key chemical.

          2. Putting down Hydrocarbons in the way oil formed is basically impossible now, as nature has moved on a great deal since then and plant matter is now rather widely digestible, but that doesn’t mean you can’t put down vast quantities of biomass!

            CO2 can be a growth constraint – particularity when you have very seasonal growing conditions for other reasons. However in the case I was talking about I was thinking about the the total biomass – so soil depth etc reaching an equilibrium of capture to release (the rate of which will be dependent on how much CO2 there is to be added) – not the best phrasing I admit…

  1. What happened to the the idea of a freighter full of rust seeding the ocean for a plankton explosion triggering a spike in Co2 utilization? I remember the article proposing this would sequester so much Co2 a mini ice age might result.

    1. IIRC(I can’t find the article on the subject) he was looking to get an algae bloom that would then sink to the bottom of the ocean but apparently what happened was that something ate the algae/plankton and everyone immediately declared that a failure despite the fact that there was so little known about what went on.

    2. When I studied geology in the 90s they mentioned this. IIRC the problem was that the numbers disn:t work out – to make a difference to atmospheric CO2, you’d need something like 10x the annual global iron ore production, every year for a century.

    3. Yeah defs not. I read last year there was a trick to getting the plankton to grow densely enough to sink before it was eaten. In case you want to sail 44 500 T freighters of ore a year to sea and that’s cool by iron production.

    1. Estimates for how long CO2 will remain in the atmosphere if we cut all emissions today are thousands of years, possibly hundreds of thousands before we see pre-industrial levels again. “a century, or less” is slightly optimistic.

    2. What do you consider to be a more normal level? During the last “glaciation period” it fell to 180ppm – only 30 ppm above end-of-life-on-Earth-as-you-know-it. One of the reasons (in the UK at the moment) why bottled CO2 is in short
      supply is that commercial growers have been using it to improve growth-rates in greenhouses. Some are boosting to
      800ppm to increase the food supply (not to mention their profits)

    1. Forestation has increased by 15% since 1985 and population is decreasing everywhere but Africa. But don’t you need plate tectonic subsidence zones to sequester CO2 naturally? Trees are just part of the carbon cycle. Planctonic snow falling to the ocean floor and diving under plates won’t be seen until it comes out a volcano. Maybe you could shoot trees down into the mud/clay at the edge of the continental shelf.

        1. See, now nuke waste is useful… heh… no but seriously, if you bury a lot of waste wood with what waste has to be buried, then it keeps it from rotting, that would be a bonus.

      1. I mean, you can compress timber and build with that, but of course growing anew takes more watershed care than it used to. So I’m going no wtf use technology, you don’t scale halfassedly and expect to make progress or plonk your whole kitty on being 50,000 X lucky at the natural horizontal gene transfer casino.

    2. It says right there in the article that a forest the size of north America would take 100 years to absorb 25% of current atmospheric carbon.

      Trees are not, in any way, a feasible solution if we want to see any kind of measurable effect before the oceans rise. They’re too slow, and on top of that, once the plants die or drop leaves, the decomposing biomatter will release the carbon back into the environment.

      We’d have to cover the entire US in trees *today* and collect and store *all* dead biomatter as soon as it drops, and all for 0.25% of current Co2 levels per year. I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I doubt that that amount would even offset current emissions. We’d still be adding more carbon to the atmosphere than an entire continent of trees are removing.

      Trees are not the answer. Not even remotely close.

    3. DainBramage, it’s like you did’t read the article! Hi first and main point was that even if you covered the whole USA with trees it would not be nearly enough. I am wondering : Why did you make your comment?

  2. And oh, Jenny. Fully agree. It’s a complex challenge which requires a complex answer.

    I do hope we find the political will before the Thames finds its way to 10 Downing Street.

    1. Unfortunately that process requires more energy to convert the CO2, than was generated in the first place when the CO2 was created. So it’s not a solution, just an interesting lab trick.

      1. It’s more than this. There are a variety of Power-to-X technologies around and I think they will be an important part of achieving net zero. They involve synthetically converting power from a variable, renewable source such as a solar panel or wind turbine and CO2 into useful products. As well as power-to-carbon, power-to-methanol, power-to-methane, power-to-ethylene and power-to-ammonia are in varying stages of lab development or prototype deployment.

        Power-to-methanol and power-to-methane allow us to continue using liquid fuels while converting them to a carbon-neutral cycle instead of releasing fossil carbon.

        Power-to-ethylene replaces fossil carbon in the production of many plastics.

        Power-to-ammonia replaces fossil carbon and fuels in the production of many synthetic fertilisers.

        These are all significant producers of CO2 that are otherwise difficult to replace with carbon neutral energy sources, and have the bonus of capturing CO2 out of the atmosphere. The challenge with them is that the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is low enough to make the process efficiency naturally very low.

        1. But you need sufficient renewable power for any power-to-x technology to work. If you have the power, the best first use for it is to replace burning carbon. Once we’ve done that, and have excess clean energy, only then does it make sense to start taking carbon out of the atmosphere. That is a long ways off.

          1. We desperately need all those chemicals that were developed out of petroleum, so using renewable power there will directly displace burning carbon as well. In fact, since these chemicals are more valuable than direct electricity, it can make economic sense to build solar panels and wind turbines solely for the purpose.

            The high peak-to-average output ratio of renewable power means that there will be plenty of “surplus” that can’t be used directly anyways.

          2. It doesn’t need to be renewable, just low(er) carbon. Nuclear fission (maybe not in it’s precise existing format) is the only source of energy that is practical on the scale that we need it to be.

            Best get to it.

          1. Methanol has been painted as the big scary by competing interests. You’ll be messed up if you drink a pint of gasoline, or are near a tank of H2 when it lets go. Risks somehow we are prepared to deal with, unless it’s dum dah dummm… methanol!!! noes, not the methanol. Better ban fruit if it’s that bad.

          2. No, methanol and ethanol as fuels are nasty, and it isn’t even about the direct toxicity. They are also rather poor fuels that don’t work well at low temperatures (starting problems) and have lower energy density (worse mileage).

            Incomplete combustion of methanol and ethanol produces formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, which are directly contributing to smog and lung cancers, and asthma. This happens every time you start the car, before the catalytic converters heat up, so cars are actually belching up a ton of them up the sky.

          3. So you’re telling me that the expensive halfass bandaid slapped on the problems of petrochemicals also doesn’t work on methanol, color me amazed. God forbid you actually tailor the solution to the new problem. Noes, it doesn’t work with the old halfassery, throw it out, new problems must be insoluble.

            And again, those chemicals are given off by ripe fruit, if they’re that bad ban fruit.

          4. Ripe fruit have microscopic amounts.

            Ethanol blended fuels emit 2 – 12 g/kWh acetaldehyde, which is a lot. It’s like throwing a pint of the stuff up in the air every 100 km. Compared to unblended gasoline, adding just 10% ethanol or methanol increases aldehyde emissions by 40%.

          5. >Yah, so don’t put gasoline anywhere near it, nasty stuff.

            Aldehydes are produced by partial combustion of alcohols. Gasoline is not an alcohol.

            >”Brazil burns significant amounts of ethanol biofuel. Gas chromatograph studies were performed of ambient air in São Paulo Brazil, and compared to Osaka Japan, which does not burn ethanol fuel. Atmospheric formaldehyde was 160 per cent higher in Brazil, and acetaldehyde was 260 per cent higher.”

          6. gasoline?
            Dude you really sticking with IC?
            Power to ethanol/methanol
            Ethanol/methanol directly to fuel cell
            Power in Power out, with easy to tank fluid storage in between.

      2. Why?

        That study reports “92 percent efficiency in converting a ton of CO2 as described, using just 230kWh of energy.”

        And, if we look at carbon footprint of energy generation :
        “each kilowatt hour of electricity generated over the lifetime of a nuclear plant has an emissions footprint of 4 grammes of CO2 equivalent (gCO2e/kWh). The footprint of solar comes in at 6gCO2e/kWh and wind is also 4gCO2e/kWh.

        In contrast, coal CCS (109g), gas CCS (78g), hydro (97g) and bioenergy (98g) have relatively high emissions,
        Carbon footprint of solar energy is 6gCO2e/kWh and wind is 4gCO2e/kWh”


      3. > more energy to convert the CO2, than was generated in the first place when the CO2 was created

        For oil and gas, most of the energy comes from the hydrogen in the molecule, not the carbon. It is technically possible to convert the CO2 back to carbon and still have energy left over – just not very sensible to do so.

        1. Energy is stored in bonds…in hydrocarbons mostly between C and H…how do you attribute the majority to the H?

          Schrodinger’s equation was a long time ago, I’m likely wrong.

      4. I agree with Tom; if you source your 230kWh / ton of CO2 from a non-emitting source then it’s a carbon negative process. And hopefully there is a large demand for these carbon-containing products for use in durable goods. Even consumables like ammonia for fertilizer is better than the current fossil source, as it closes a loop, but ideally captured carbon goes into long term products that even when reaching the end of their useful lifespan can still be solid enough to sequester.

        Kelly is right that this only becomes attractive when clean energy supply is in excess of ability to use or store. In the same vein replacing fossil carbon consumable with those captured from air might be viable sooner under the umbrella of reducing the draw on non-renewable carbon.

        1. > when clean energy supply is in excess of ability to use or store

          In other words, right about today.

          It’s not a matter of having too much clean energy – just that it’s too difficult to use otherwise.

  3. I know the science daily article is a bit light on technical information, but it does say that it uses existing infrastructure to get to that point. The crushed rocks being already mined and used for other thing already so the impact is less than minimal, and should account for a reduction in pollution.

  4. “We humans are in something of a pickle, as we’ve put too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and caused climate change that might even wipe us out. ” Or it might be the best thing ever. The amount of livable/farmable land could increase tremendously, like 40% increase in agricultural land. If it isn’t used for livestock, the tundra will double world wide farming. Not to mention the amount of carbon in forests that are not frozen most of the time. This isn’t counting Greenland, which is three times the size of Texas.

    1. That’s assuming that land remains arable with the chaotic climate, and that rolling heat waves don’t make large portions of the equatorial region uninhabitable for humans.

      I don’t think releasing the permafrost will be carbon negative, there’s LOTS of methane in it that gets requested when it thaws.

      I can only hope you’re right, at least in part, but as a frequent wearer of rise tinted glasses myself I felt I had to provide a counter weight.

      1. One would not expect uninhabitable heat. But one might expect some changes in housing and living style, like the difference between Glasgow and Cairo. And some changes in coastlines.

        Then there is the carbon locked up in the frozen tundra. It is natural carbon that was once part of the atmosphere. Is it fair to keep it locked away?

        We are all at risk all the time of the methane disaster if something like a volcanic eruption on the ocean floor has the scale of old school basalt flows that cover vast areas and continue for thousands of years. A cascade of methane hydrates melting…..hope and change.

    2. Yep, because arable land is the clearly most important resource in the modern world. There’s a lot of human and animal death between now and your agricultural utopia that’ll last for a few decades before the temperature rises enough to start dropping crop yields in Canada

      1. Why do you suspect that rising temperatures would cause lower crop yields in Canada? Don’t longer growing seasons increase crop yield. I think the weather in Iowa yields more crops than Canada.

  5. I’m sure billions of tones of rock have already been run through ball mills in the last century to extract high value metals and I’m guessing that at least some of that was buried as a useless waste product in various countries around the world.

    1. Problem might be finding trees which can stand the drought at all the places where it wasn’t that dry for centuries. Here in Germany they started watering!!! huge trees in many cities in summer because they won’t survice otherwise… And I mean not sprinkling them with water, but hundreds or thousands óf liters…

      1. Might be because places like California are irrigating deserts. Here is the Midwest we are getting TONS of rain. Not everywhere is seeing droughts, you have to be careful about projecting local problems to global ones.

      1. Last time I looked at a fire, it left lots of carbon behind. Forest fires are a natural process, just think of how large they were before there was anyone here to try to extinguish them. New growth rapidly starts in fire cleared areas often replacing trees that were at a very mature level where growth slows. News flash is that most trees have productive life span.

    2. It says right there in the article that a forest the size of north America would take 100 years to absorb 25% of current atmospheric carbon.

      Trees are not, in any way, a feasible solution if we want to see any kind of measurable effect before the oceans rise. They’re too slow, and on top of that, once the plants die or drop leaves, the decomposing biomatter will release the carbon back into the environment.

      We’d have to cover the entire US in trees *today* and collect and store *all* dead biomatter as soon as it drops, and all for 0.25% of current Co2 levels per year. I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I doubt that that amount would even offset current emissions. We’d still be adding more carbon to the atmosphere than an entire continent of trees are removing.

      Trees are not the answer. Not even remotely close.

        1. I don’t agree. It’s not as useful to shoot down an idea without providing an alternative, but supplying information shouldn’t carry additional requirements.

          I’ll submit one though: algae. It grows FAST, eats carbon and other pollutants (like fertilizer runoff), and can be transported however you want.

          People just don’t like it as much cause it smells bad.

          “Algae, when used in conjunction with AI-powered bioreactors, is up to 400 times more efficient than a tree at removing CO2 from the atmosphere.”

          1. It’s always useful to shoot down bad ideas, because trying to implement them by the excuse that you have no better ideas will only lead to worse outcomes.

            When there’s nothing you can do for the moment, do nothing. Problem is, when people hear that, they try to DO nothing which is missing the point.

          2. Ok, I researched this a bit: Chlorella is a micro algae that would make an excellent candidate. It needs a few minerals, CO2, sunlight and water. People know it from aquaria that turn green, it is not difficult to cultivate. For every kg dry algae it takes 2.7kg of CO2 out of the atmosphere. A production system could produce up to 0.4 grams per liter water per day. So what would it take to bind the amount of Co2 is produced per year per capita(person) in the world? In the western world about 10-12 tons of CO2 per capita per year. So we would need to produce around 4000kg of dry algae per person. We might be able to pump this back into old oil wells to permanently reduce CO2, but we can also just turn it into usable biodiesel or food, reuse it and keep the current levels.
            Per day per person we would need to produce 11kg of chlorella. This would take a volume of at least 27500 liters of water. Note that the water is not wasted entirely. Just a small amount is used for pumping algae out and evaporation etc. A whole system (bioreactor) to ofset the footprint of a person could be build inside a 40ft seacontainer. Power consumption for pumps (Air needs to be pumped in) and electric light is not free, also the minerals need to be resupplied. The cost by my very rough estimate. 1 kg algae would produce 500ml of biodiesel so about 80 times (without taxes) the price of the regular stuff we pump up… Also in terms of space, we would need to figure out where to put a few billion of these containers. Or we would have to dedicate a number of shallow lakes. At a cost of 16000 euros per person per year. Can anybody improve my numbers?

          3. Oeps, it should be 4 euros per kg to amount to 16.000 euro (and 8 times the amount of the price of diesel in this example). I estimated a power budget of around 250 Watt per 1000 liters for light and pumps. If we can get “free” solar/wind energy, operational cost would come down more, at additional investment cost… Still worth it to see if this can at one point be economically feasible.

  6. I can’t make stuff add up, because according to my figures you can’t get the basalt from more than 50 miles away from where you are using it, you only absorb as much CO2 as it takes to move it 50 miles. That’s not even taking CO2 emissions of extraction and crushing into account. Basalt near the surface comes from formerly volcanic areas, which tend to be a bit lumpy, not full of flat field agriculture, so it’s probably gotta travel a minimum of 10 miles or so to the nearest field.. Anyway, there isn’t gonna be millions of square miles of farmland to apply it to, just a few bullseye patches around basalt sources..

    1. That is definitely going to be somewhat of a balancing act – but then as many if not all of these areas will have railways to transport the products they sought that generated the mountain of basalt ‘waste’ in the first place I don’t think it will be as bad as you suggest – it can be brought to very close to the destination at very low energy cost – maybe even a significant energy gain as many mines are uphill of the arable land I would suggest.

      1. Sub 50 miles though you’re basically into the “first mile” “last mile” allowance of getting it onto rail cars, barges, or bulk freighters, even if those move for free.

        1. True enough, assuming of course the transport costs of those last miles is as high as you expect – which with ever more EV and renewables in the not too distance future it might not be.

          Being honest though I’m more interested in what it will really do to the soil – seems like a fairly substantial change to its composition in a very short time – that could have rather large knock on effects for everything living in the soil.

          1. What I’m getting is that the carbonic acid contributes to making nutrients available and carbon is already captured when the rainwater is allowed to soak into the land. Turns into calcium carbonate. So, yeah, seems like, “let’s replace the natural carbon capture, with carbon capture” whereas the real problem would be all the runoff rainwater from impermeable surfaces like concrete etc, not soaking into soil and having it’s “carbonation” fizz out before it can get bound to anything.

          2. Additionally, I think many temperate zone farmers won’t like that a pale colored mineral will stop the soil heating as early or staying warm as late, might shorten the growing season a week or two either end.

      1. Well nix the farmland and we might have a plan, apart from people on volcanic islands might not like the island to be made any lower with a threat of higher sea levels and increased storm surges. However, very low tech, low carbon sailboat delivery of bulk rock sounds like it could be part of the solution. But not to spread on farmland which may already be capturing carbon in the soil, but maybe to make sinks and catchbasins for rain runoff in urban and developed areas to get rainwater into the soil to get the dissolved carbon out of it, instead of running it away in rivers where it will gas out again.

  7. Transform agriculture. Currently soils are basically comatose on a lifeline of pesticides and fertilizers. Generative agriculture can restore soils and make agricultural plots productive year-long, which would go a long way towards drawing carbon down. Also, use bamboo and other woods for infrastructure. Fast growth and slow release.

      1. Uk co2 emissions around 350 mill tonnes [wikipedia]
        Uk food thrown away 900 mill tonnes per year [bbc]
        Est 70%water
        Call the rest sugar c6h12o6
        Est 40% carbon
        Call that 100 million tonnes of carbon

  8. There are just too many humans on this planet. Everything we do is unsustainable.

    Apart from drastic means to constrain future human fertility, so the population naturally dies off, and is not replaced, tech is not going to save us.

    Building a billion heat pumps and electric vehicles is going to put manufacturing and mining into overdrive, just worsening the situation.

    I cannot see an easy way out of this predicament apart from preventing the unconceived from being conceived.

    1. >There are just too many humans on this planet.
      Not really, the problem isn’t the current population, or even a greater population is unsustainable, though a reduction in population would most definitely work – the real problem is how very wasteful and destructive SOME of the population of the planet is, with a change of lifestyle for those of the very most destructive the planet could easily support much greater populations than it does. And things like Heatpumps and EV’s are a step in the right direction there…

      Also as your life becomes more ‘developed’ world the fertility of the population drops in effect if not medically (though medically also seems to be somewhat true) – there is a reason much of Europe, Japan, the US have aging populations and its largely cultural because adults no longer have nothing better to do all the time (or a way to prevent the consequence of doing) and the need for 5-10 children to cover the high child and young adult mortality rates just so they might have some help once they get too old to do everything for themselves.

      > going to put manufacturing and mining into overdrive, just worsening the situation.
      Again another valid but not entirely true point – you can make without destruction, and mining despite the terrible rap sheet it has doesn’t have to making the environment worse in a meaningful way – for a tiny period a mine is a very unnatural and not ‘good’ but then if you have the will it becomes an environmental mecca for endangered species and habitat once its played out – as long as you tidy up after yourself and don’t turn too much of the surface of the entire planet into a giant opencast mine at once its not always a bad thing to mine!

      That said we SHOULD be mining less, as we already have vast stockpiles of extracted material sitting in waste piles that should be recycled.

      1. It sounds like you believe that but can’t quite say why.

        How many people are “some”? Because I’d count about two and a half billion living in countries that are industrialized. Probably more.

        1. Its somewhat nebulous as even living the lifestyle of the most of the Western European nations the entire worlds population could be supported at that level – would take drastic reduction of things like food and electronic waste, some improvements in energy consumption – so better insulation, more efficient building design in general, etc but in the mythical back of the envelope perfect world the resources produced to consumed could be made sustainable at that sort of level per person…

          In the real world with the inability to really prevent all food waste etc some reduction in their consumption would I think be needed to bring all the worlds population up to that level. Though you also have to ask if that is required/desired – we might love the idea of equality, and everyone joining in with the free markets democratic type stuff, but if their local culture isn’t ready or outright doesn’t want to live the way we want them to do we have any right to dictate it?

          Its a very complex issue you could study and write an enormous tome or ten on and still only find some of the potential solutions, but still not the right one as there isn’t really any one singular correct answer when dealing with humanity – to many cultural difference, or the world at large – ecology globally very much changes how resources are consumed and created.

        2. Hopefully the more in depth response will get through eventually, but in short its “Some” because saying anything more specific is just one of many possible definitions on the shape the world could/should/would be.

      2. > how very wasteful and destructive SOME of the population of the planet is

        Most of the world is living in energy poverty, unable to maintain high social complexity and high level of technology because of the lack of basic productive capacity. If the “wasteful some” were forced to downgrade to that level of energy consumption, the entire world would fall backwards 200 years. That is an unsustainable situation, because then we would be both destroying the environment through unchecked overpopulation AND become totally incapable of doing anything about it.

        The problem isn’t how to make the developed world consume less energy – the problem is how to elevate the rest of the world to the same standard.

          1. The power consumption per capita in India is around 1,200 kWh per year. It’s about 128 Watts average – that’s approximately worth a fridge and a light bulb. This is to a large extent because a significant part of the population doesn’t even have access to electricity to consume in the first place.

            Silly people hold this state of affairs something to strive for.

        1. The trick is that the total fertility rate shoots up with falling economic productivity:

          Societies that are higher up in social and technological development produce fewer children because child mortality is low and there’s greater sense in investing into quality of life rather than mere survival by any means. Poor societies do the opposite: make more babies in the hopes that some survive to adulthood and become useful workers for the parents. Living hand to mouth, you eat whatever you can get.

          When there’s so much surplus resources at once (the discovery of coal and oil) that the population growth can’t keep up, the society takes a rapid leap of technological and social progress. Maintaining that social complexity starts to take up all the extra energy: once you reach the higher social complexity, that becomes the new minimum – otherwise you’re a bum on the street.

          For lower complexity societies that never got over the hump, being a street bum is the normal because everyone’s borderline destitute anyhow and there is no surplus left over to keep up technology and society. You can’t progress gradually because any small additions in productivity are soon consumed by more people.

          That’s why trying to restrict the energy consumption of societies artificially under some sort of “humanity regulation” scheme is going to backfire hard. It’s going to be a total dictatorship that rations everything, and then fails miserably in a social collapse that tumbles all the way back to middle ages. The only way forward is up – more cheaper energy for everyone.

        2. And I never said otherwise, but you have to do both – you can’t just bring the developing world to the full on throwaway everything, consume more resources than their entire extended family currently does per person of the developed worlds worst offenders. You must also make the developed world less destructive and inefficent – which as I said EV and heatpump are step in the right direction, as are things like plastic bag charges, pushes to use reuseable drinking bottles, paper packaging all small fry individually – no doubt lots more changes are needed but all progress takes time and starting at the relatively easy bits to do isn’t a bad idea – you have to start somewhere, might as well start with the easiest steps.

          1. > you can’t just bring the developing world to the full on throwaway everything

            Obviously you don’t give them steam engines if you have fusion power – but you can’t dictate how they would use their resources because they have to go through the social revolution that the potential of unlimited consumption gives you.

            Otherwise you’re back in the old Malthusian trap, or with a small elite consuming all the goods and the rest of the people still living in abject poverty and breeding like rabbits.

          2. >You must also make the developed world less destructive and inefficent

            That’s what naturally happens when the society hits the limits of productivity. First we are wasteful but very innovative, then things stop getting better as we run out of resources and progress slows down, then we improve efficiency to maintain living standards against the growing population.

            > as are things like plastic bag charges

            Takes more energy to make a single-use paper bag…

          3. Perhaps everyone could have an erector set kit of parts that they could reconfigure into a washing machine, vehicle, etc as required… a paradise, a Niven-na ;-)

          4. Takes more energy to make a single use paper bag, maybe maybe not – really depends on the type of bag, how far you are shipping them, how much recycled paper content is involved etc.

            But the bag charges mean folks are frequently bringing their own bags, so its not single use anymore anyway! Which was the entire point – to stop burning lots of energy to create a single use item that can so easily be replaced by a nearly infinitely reusable bag that didn’t actually take much extra energy to make, paid its creation cost back in a week? two?..

          5. It’s been on the topic for quite a while now, and it takes tremendously more energy to make the paper bag, and about ten times more energy to recycle it vs plastic. It’s not even a competition – the only point is that the paper bag is bio-degradeable when people inevitably throw them into the environment.

            And paper bags are by their nature more or less single use. They tear, they soak through with liquids, they break down in the rain… paper packaging for everything would waste a ton.

          6. > the bag charges mean folks are frequently bringing their own bags

            Not really. It just means the shop gets to charge 5 cents extra or whatever. You’d have to be extremely stingy to factor it into your purchasing choices. It’s rather the constant public propaganda and the fact that you can no longer simply take the bags that stops people from picking up extras and then throwing them away.

          7. I see a great many folks bringing their own bags, the bag charge and publicity around it seems to be working rather well…

            Also on paper packaging I wasn’t talking about bags specifically, though there are defiantly scenarios where they are cheaper energy wise than plastic and they can be very durable as well (as with everything its not universal cut and dried – heck there were paper bags for some things long before this became an issue because they were the better choice for the situation at hand!), what I was thinking is all the packaging moving away from vast quantities of single use cut/molded plastic foams to that egg carton style card, or folded cardboard – not only is the card packaging generally lighter while doing the job just as well (maybe even better), it is also easy to make from recycled paper fibre, and easy to recycle itself without huge energy cost as its packaging material it doesn’t need to be super fine and bleached. Where all the plastic packaging is either endurance environmental damage when dumped as waste or burned for yet more green house gas..

          8. Even with cardboard, it still takes about 10 times as much energy to recycle with all the washing and cleaning. That’s because the packaging is printed on, it has plastic coatings for water-resistance, it has glue, it has staples, plastic labels, bits of food and oils stick into it, dirt, RFID tags, etc. that all have to be removed before you can actually do anything with it.

            >not only is the card packaging generally lighter

            Not really. It’s generally heavier than the equivalent blister pack, and it takes up more space in transit. It’s also more complex to manufacture since it can’t be simply blow-molded, so that takes more energy as well.

            Plastic takes less energy to make, less energy to handle, less energy to recycle, but in the end it’s still wiser to burn it for energy and make new plastic to save all that bother. The only problem of plastics is the fact that they’re made out of petroleum, and certain plastics like PP/PE take 40 years degrade in the wild.

          9. For one thing blister packs are not even remotely suitable for everything, and with my talk of replacing FOAMS with card I’d have though the area I was highlighting was pretty clearly not something blister packs are even plausible…

            For another the cardboard in packaging tends to be just cardboard, and doesn’t need to be anything other than structurally sound, its easy to make and recycle into more of itself as it doesn’t need to the level of processing done to recycle to the high quality paper products.

            Also blow molding vs assembling of a flatpack cardboard box/insert at the blister pack sort of scale really isn’t as in favour of plastic as you suggest, depending on exactly what you are trying to hold of course. But thin card mass produced into the right type of boxes with simple folded construction or perhaps a single glue seam is damn cheap to create energy wise, almost certainly takes up vastly less space in the process of creation and shipping around empty – which means the transport costs of your blow molded plastic packaging are likely higher, and/or the creation cost is as the facility doing the creation isn’t able to operate with so much benefit of scale – your giant packaging factory can ship a vast quantity of card in a very small space, the limit is more likely to be mass, and will end up with less waste even in plastic as they are running the machines continuously for many jobs.

    2. Looking at a graph of our population, from tool use until now, makes that incredibly obvious. Without nuclear technology, genetic engineering, terra forming and serious space capability we are pretty much doomed running though resources at a rate we have no ability to replenish or discover.

      1. Debatable – there are cultures that thrived and expanded in knowledge without the destructive tendencies that the pursuit of profit and progress above all that created the industrial revolution have, and usually without as far as I can tell from history much change in the local population, very very slow growth if growth there was.

        And the developed worlds population is largely not expanding anymore, if anything the indigenous populations of the developed world are shrinking – all aging populations because with low child mortality rates and so much else to do family sizes are dropping. The population of the nation as a whole often isn’t changing much though, as so many migrant from the less developed world arrive (which you can in some way blame on all the external aid they received that caused excessive population survival rates far faster than the cultural changes that would go along with achieving lower child mortality for themselves, which creates a requirement for them to seek pastures new, as there isn’t enough for them all at home).

          1. Extinction is something that will happen to every single culture eventually – as at some point you stop calling it by the same name as all cultures must evolve anyway – might be internal changes, might be external but at some point you stop being the same as you were – the magna carta for instance is a pretty big change in the basic structure of society and culture.

            And some of these cultures DO continue to exist, no longer masters of their own lands the way they were perhaps, but they are still there.

          2. The point is, there’s other cultures that do not limit themselves, and are not limited by their circumstances, and will overtake and replace you anyways. The culturally advanced knot-tying writing techniques of the ancient meso-American indians become rather irrelevant when you’re flying around in rocket ships.

            You can’t do any good wearing a hair shirt and throwing ashes onto yourself as a culture and a society. The paradox is that if the “enlightened people” limit their own population and consumption to some small numbers, they become effectively powerless and diminished by the “destructive profit seeking people” who do not.

            In the end, it’s the “destructive” people who will also invent the means to greater efficiency and sustainability, because they have to. Those societies which never grew past their environmental limits don’t have the need – they solved the problem of population by killing every tenth baby and subjugating the rest under an oppressive religious authority etc. etc…

          3. All cultures limit themselves – its what makes them a culture over pure anarchy.
            What form those limits take and if it has any impact of your technological potential or ability to endure/dominate other cultures is a question you can’t really answer…

            But it seems to me nothing prevents a culture from stumbling across rocks that contain metals and accidentally figuring it out, as long as those rocks exist. Pick any ancient people and assume they found such things out first, so where ahead of the rest – their cultures would no doubt have developed somewhat differently, and put priority on different technological developments to each other, but they are all human – There is nothing wrong with their ingenuity or cultural starting point that would prevent them becoming the most technologically advanced people of the world at the time had pure luck spread the required materials and initial discoveries of them out in different ways.

            And once you are leading the pack then its still down somewhat to pure luck as if you can keep it – invasion of the comparatively primitive can still be lost despite a technological advantage, even with a cultural advantage to military tactics etc – it just takes the odd decisive moment where luck goes against you – perhaps your well trained and educated officers happen to get ill or killed by a stray arrow/stone/bolt at a bad time so the command and control of the whole army falls apart etc.

            Or maybe some ‘act of god’ type natural event catches you out, hard to recover from a massive earthquake etc.

          4. >once you are leading the pack then its still down somewhat to pure luck as if you can keep it

            Cultures advance by continuous paradigm shifts. New culture replaces old culture, it splits into others and combines back to one seamlessly without clear definite boundaries – so it doesn’t even make sense to say you “keep your advantage”. Who’s keeping it? Rather, if you try to stick to some particular model or system by force, all you’re doing is damming up the next paradigm shift and building up social tensions that lead to conflict. You’d be creating aristocracies and oligarchies that try to conserve some ideal state of affairs.

            That’s why the idea that some “ancient wise utopian society” would have advanced technologically if only their volcano hadn’t exploded, is wishful thinking. If they ever saw the need to innovate, they would have advanced by having a social revolution and then a new system that rewards innovation instead of stagnation, and you would have described that as “greedy destructive profit seekers” as you did earlier.

          5. Dude you can make huge technological progress with different core beliefs, “greedy profiteering” isn’t the only model that can make progress, just and still only arguably the currently most ‘successful’ if the current state of the world can be called success…

            And the very nature of culture is limits – the what is virtuous or evil – to drink alcohol or not, concepts of marriage, monogamy, slavery, gender roles, social hierarchy and mobility, the value placed on shiny bits of round metal, or pretty stones, to barter or just just bully and take, how and what to worship, do unto others, etc – a culture is entirely the set of rules the folks living in choose/are born into and never question, and that is by its very definition a set of limits on what is and is not acceptable!

          6. >Dude you can make huge technological progress with different core beliefs

            Of course, but such progress happens because someone wants something – which you would then describe as “profit seeking”. If you have no motive to progress, it happens entirely by accident and that has nothing to do with any core beliefs.

            >And the very nature of culture is limits – the what is virtuous or evil

            Now you’re confusing limits with values.

            >a culture is entirely the set of rules the folks living in choose/are born into and never question

            That’s just half of it. What you’re talking about is an abstraction of culture, not culture itself. A culture in the real world is everything the people do, including the fact that they often break their own rules. There’s a saying relating to this: “The map is not the territory.”

          7. And everything people do is shaped by their culture, may still be hypocritical and not follow the cultural ‘rules’ but you don’t get massive outliers to the cultural norm which is effectively “the rules”, as being that tends to result in being burned at stakes, thrown in prison, etc.

            Especially though history were US vs THEM was so very much more part of life, but you only have to look at how long in a society that largely doesn’t care what anybody else does in private that things like being of unusual sexual orientations is taking/has taken to become acceptable, or the not that old no blacks or Irish signs everywhere… A ‘limit’ and a ‘value’ when it comes to dealing with a culture are basically the same damn thing, as while there is some wiggle room around the edges in that grey area that is all you can get away with…

  9. There’s a great book called Climate Solutions Beyond Capitalism by Tina Landis that I recommend people read. They encourage planting trees, but they also talk about other biomass, like kelp in the oceans and peat bogs. They’re both excellent ways of capturing and storing carbon.

    The trick with any of these is that we have to keep the carbon *in* the biomass. If we destroy a peat bog or burn wood, we are releasing that captured carbon.

  10. As temperatures increase it will be possible for trees to flourish in the northern extremities, land that’s currently unavailable.

    It’s just that civilization might have destroyed itself by then.

  11. As a species, we need to accept that we are in charge of this planet. We need to move away from concepts like “natural” and towards concepts like balanced and sustainable. This planet, and everything on it, is our right and our responsibility.

    If we want to just use the planet up now for our own convenience and enjoyment that it what we can look forward to. This isn’t a technological problem at its core, it is an ethical and sociologal problem. We’re like a kid who has suddenly been given a old house. We can maintain it, we can accept responsibility for repairing and even pgrading it, or we can just live here until we can’t live here anymore.

    It’s time to grow up.

  12. To capture carbon don’t just plant a tree. Bury a tree. Then plant a new one.

    Forests are great and all but once the trees reach a certain size they aren’t going to capture nearly as much carbon as when they are small, young and fast growing. I once saw a documentary where someone was suggesting growing trees just to cut them down and bury them in a landfill where they wouldn’t be exposed to water or oxygen and so would remain a long time without rotting. Then plant new trees and repeat.

    I like this idea except.. To keep them from rotting does the landfill need to be in the desert or something? Or would just capping it with enough hard clay suffice? Of course trees need water to grow so if they have to be grown in one environment then shipped to another for land-filling then I’m not sure this is going to be a net carbon negative.

    But if that idea does work then why trees? Maybe Bamboo or Hemp would be better. Just plant whatever grows fastest.

      1. No way! Are you crazy? We can’t have more houses or all those whiny millennials might manage to buy some. We can’t let that happen! Their natural habitat is their mom’s basement, firmly planted directly in front of the X-box. No new houses until Gen Z is ready to buy! It’s the natural order.

    1. > but once the trees reach a certain size they aren’t going to capture nearly as much carbon as when they are small

      I’ve been told that’s not true if we compare individual to individual. The giant trees on the western coasts of North America put on more wood per year as they grow bigger.

    1. Thanks for the article. Basically follow the gravy train off the cliff (follow the money), never let a crisis go waste, and continue the hysteria to keep the money coming in. Nice circle to be in, if you don’t have a conscious. :) Makes sense.

  13. Biochar isn’t mentioned anywhere in the article or comments. Here’s how it works:

    Grow a tree.

    Cut it down, make a fire out of half the tree, and restrict the oxygen to the other half. Cook it until it turns to charcoal which is mostly pure carbon.
    You can use the wood gas and extra heat generated for various things, meanwhile. But the real prize is the carbon.

    Throw it in your garden. It soaks up nutrients and water, preventing them from leaching out. The pores are also home to fungus and roots, breaking up the soil.

    This sequesters carbon for hundreds or thousands of years, and makes soil fertile again.

    When you compost green waste, it is a carbohydrate that nourishes the soil for a few years, then evaporates as carbon dioxide. Biochar is very long-lived.

    Biochar (as opposed to briquets made from coal, paraffin, and God knows what) has been made for thousands of years, called terra preta in some places. Making it is a backyard activity, although it can be made efficiently in large retorts.

    1. I have heard that coppicing is good for charcoal production, and elsewhere that it was almost as good as young trees at carbon sequestration… so I wanna say we should look at coppicing for biochar.

  14. In an effort to be helpful, I try to lead by example, sharing my failures and successes.

    Since 1985, when I became aware of the problem, I reduced my carbon footprint by 1) replacing my car with a bike, 2) replacing my disabled wife’s ICE car with a hybrid, 3) installing solar panels on her house, 4) reducing meat consumption to the lowest healthy level for both of us, 5) minimizing food waste and 6) placing remaining food waste in our compost pile which goes into our garden.

    None of this was easy and I made lots of mistakes but the result was well worth the effort.

    We saved ~ $ 86,000, reduced our carbon footprint from ~15.5 ton (US average) to ~1 ton and improved our health substantially. Imagine a world in which we had all done that. Fortunately it is not too late to make that kind of difference . . . but it soon will be.

    Now we plan to 1) replace our typical lawn with xeriscape, 2) replace our gas water heater with an electric one, 3) add a few more solar panels with a power wall battery and 4) replace our gas furnace with an attached greenhouse supplemented with a heat exchanger to let us to go beyond Net Zero since we will supply power to the grid for others to use. I am actively looking for ways to do better.

    Check out the Rocky Mountain Institute at to meet Amory whose accomplishments far exceed my small gains; no, this is NOT a commercial.

    Full disclosure: I am a retired 77 year old electrical engineer with no political agenda. I am only interested in doing my part to leave my five grandkids with a habitable world. Please do what you can for yourself and those you care for. I refuse to vote for any politician who fails to understand the existential threat we face with the current pace of climate change; no, this is NOT a partisan position.

    I am actively looking for ways to do better so please share any successful action you have taken but be mindful that arguments and criticism are a waste of time and effort, both of which are in short supply. I post my name because I value integrity over privacy.

    1. Thanks. I’m another OG. Put solar thermal on my woodworking shop with 2 greenhouses off the south side. 1999. Had an outdoor wood boiler we harvested dead wood and saved it for the 6-8 weeks of dead cold winter. Otherwise solar also fed the farmhouse radiators I salvaged from an old hotel. 34 acres in Wisconsin.
      I’m now building a hyper insulated pole barn house on 20 swamp acres in MN. Ground loop cooling, solar thermal for in floor heat and hot water. PV also. But I’ll be doing a biomethane digester feeding it swamp muck and cuttings. The methane will be burned in a NG Genset to provide CO2 and heat for the plants, and electric.

  15. Not trees. Not forests. Kudzu.

    It grows unbelievably fast, grows over just about anything – fields, forests, buildings, parked cars, possibly slow-moving people and unwary children or pets. Develops carbon-storing woody vines and runners and large leaves, inhales CO2, is easy to plow into the soil. It can even be used as a (somewhat poor) feed for cattle and goats and, with some manipulation, people.

    Also, we need 75% of the world population to die ASAP. And the rest need to stop reproducing. More is better.

    We’re a plague.

    1. “Also, we need 75% of the world population to die ASAP. And the rest need to stop reproducing. More is better.”

      People say that way more often than I like to hear. They also all seem to mean “75% of OTHER people need to die.” Somehow no one ever counts themselves in that part of the population that is too much.

      The population is set to drop in the next years. The birth rate has been dropping for decades. When the folks who didn’t have kids start dying of old age, we’ll get a drop in population.

      The difficulty with a shrinking population is loss of skills and knowledge. We are set to lose a lot of things as the population starts to drop.

      1. >The population is set to drop in the next years

        The previous population boom generations (WW2 and green revolution) are now dying off. Fewer new people were born while these generations took up all the resources (population overshoot), so we get an oscillation in the world population trend. This happens when the population grows beyond the carrying capacity, then it collapses, then it builds back up again.

        We’re still trending towards the carrying capacity limit where there will be exactly so many people as the planet can sustain. If all is divided equally, the people will simply increase to consume each other into poverty.

    2. I’d tell you people and carbon emissions aren’t homogeneous, but you’re there holding a people homogenizer and a cookbook for kudzu… Obviously you have dates to go on.

  16. Use more bioplastics! Use it for all kinds of one-time-use product (like straws ;)). Instead of burning the waste, but it into a landfill. Most of them are non-compostable or need very specific conditions to be composted. It will take mother earth some million years to come up with a critter than can digest it. It is comparable to how coal formed when no one was able to digest lignin.

  17. What about learn how to eat plant based food? That is large scale enough right?
    To get 1kg of pork you need aprox 10 kWh of energy. On the other hand, for 1 kg of legumes you need approx 1 kWh of energy.
    One cow produce approx 400L of methane every day. Slaughter industry make 40% of global emision of mehtane which have global warming potential 34 compared to CO2 (which is 1).
    Just dont be silly and lazy and learn how to eat just plant based food. Its healthy for your body, conscience, and earth.

  18. Great article, certainly sparked a lot of debate. Most people are not thinking very practically, just trotting out their favourite carbon sink, which in some cases isn’t even a sink. Truly this is urgent and critical. Disaster really is looming. We need to think and work in an organised way. You addressed some low tech solutions. None of which are sufficiently scalable to make a big impact, as you pointed out. So what to do? I think it is widely accepted that stopping emissions is the most practical partial solution. Great eco-budings such as passiv houses are quite easy to construct and no more expensive than conventional buildings. In most countries they can be made from wood frames and pu foam (mostly air), so they actually lock away some carbon. Every government should urgently change their building codes to make all new buildings passive (requiring little or no fuel for heating or cooling). And embark on major demolition / renewal projects, it’s not like we haven’t done it before, (slum clearances), we can do it again, just requires the will. Steel and concrete are major CO2 emitters (in their manufacture). Governments should strongly discouraged their use in buildings by taxing them. Then think about removing CO2 from the atmosphere. An international panel of scientists should decide which technologies are worthwhile and get on with implementing them.

    1. Not sure I can agree on Steel or Concrete, they are absolutely polluters of note at time of production, but then the building lasts, where other building methods you would have to keep investing more and more energy to upkeep/rebuild, and with steel and concrete you can build to do a great deal more in a much smaller footprint than other methods – which leaves more space for your forests and farming, makes centralising infrastructure for efficiency easier etc.

      That one isn’t cut and dry by any stretch.

      I do however agree that new builds really should be if not really passive houses by design at least designed along the lines that they can generate large portions of their energy/resource consumption – may well in many areas be cheaper and more efficient to build more to capture solar/tidal/wind/rain than worry about hitting passive house insulation standards with the active building air management that requires etc. But I do agree that sort of law tailored to the location really should exist.

      1. Your views on concrete are interesting foldi one. I have found it hard to come to reject such an almost miracle material, myself. But we are releasing 4 billion tons of CO2 per year (I think I got that number right). Our ability to suck that back are currently pitiful. Most of the releases result from heating, transport, farming, and heavy industry. If we don’t tackle these 4 head on, we are not going to win this battle to save our planet. (Well, save it in a form we can exist peacefully on). I am no expert on building methods but I believe wood can be used in much more structural ways than we currently employ. I think that here on Hackaday was featured, the Swedish firm making wind turbine towers from wood, (just a handy example). Also, we are already planting massive numbers of trees to combat global warming, it would be most helpful to have a purpose for the resulting timber which does not involve burning it. As for longevity, true concrete wins, but there is a social dilemma , the majority of concrete building are demolished after a few decades , not because the concrete has failed but because the owners (broadly that’s us) have decided to reconfigure the built up area. Probably wood in a well engineered building would outlast our use of the building.

        1. Really good point on when and where to use it, though there are a great deal of old concrete and steel builds that have lasted far beyond what a timber frame could, and are of far greater size and durability than any wooden build could be.

          For instance if you built your tornado ally house largely in concrete, then it would probably never need anything other than minor repairs, which is borne out in how well the bigger high rises and industrial buildings tend to survive extreme weather, and those buildings are generally reconfigurable without any real destruction as the majority of the internal space is not structural, something you just can’t do in wood, can’t create strong enough joints, its not stiff or strong enough for such a span – so while wood is certainly a great construction material the structural limits do mean concrete and steel aught to remain in use at least sometimes…

  19. >Are we ready to lose entire mountains of rock in the service of offsetting climate change? Maybe not yet

    Then what exactly would you say open pit mining is doing all across the globe. Two of the key problems in large-scale mining operations are handling of the tailings and management of surface / ground water.
    With Basalt, surrounding layers as a whole may need to be removed, but then all of the mined basalt can be used – unlike mining of ores with base metals where the actual product is a concentrate.

  20. The fix for ALL OF THIS is energy. With energy we can capture carbon, reform it into synthetic fuel, cut way back on fossil fuel consumption, desalinate water and restore the wilderness to what it was before we started screwing with it.

    Green energy is one way, the other is to use what we have learned and build Gen IV fission plants and thorium based reactors. That radioactive material is going to decay whether we use it or not. Might as well use it to help us fix the planet.

    With energy we can use refrigeration to create blocks of CO2 ice that we can use a spinlaunch type system to push the ice to escape velocity and permanently get rid of the problem.

    I’m rather annoyed at the fact that humanity is trying to find out how to profit from fixing the problem INSTEAD of fixing it on multiple vectors.

    We’ve changed the water cycle for our growing land use. Causing forests to run dry and then wonder why wildfires are increasing in frequency and severity. California lets gigatons of water wash into the Pacific instead of collecting it and putting it into reservoirs….then have the audacity to blame the rest of the world for their water mismangement. They’re sitting next to the largest body of water on the planet!!! Use energy to generate water for drinking and irrigation.

    May the odds be ever in our favor. But if we don’t stop worrying about what things cost and continue to look at this in a “what’s my cut?” mentality, we’ll get nowhere.

  21. Long time reader of Hackaday here.

    When I first loaded this article there were only about 2 comments so far, with one of them disagreeing with the idea of Anthropogenic Global Warming.

    Now that I come back a day later that comment is removed, and about 160 comments remain which I have looked through and I only found 1 that doesn’t tow the party line of AGW.

    Is this level of agreement with the global warming narrative representative of the entire Hackaday audience or is it simply curated by censoring any comments that go against the narrative?

    I’m not going to say anything against the global warming narrative in my comment here in the hope that it doesn’t get censored as well.

    But I believe that we should be able to have open discussion free from censorship. Sure, personal attacks etc. can be moderated in order to not create a toxic environment. But the ideas themselves do not need to be censored. Good ideas will stand up for themselves if they really are good. False ideas or “misinformation” will fall by itself if it really is false.

    We don’t need a “ministry of truth” to censor things for us and tell us what is true and what is not true. We can be presented with ideas from both sides of the argument and make up our own minds based on our own logic and reasoning.

    Recently there has been a huge influx of censorship on all the social media plaforms for other issues/debates that I won’t mention but you probably know what they are. It’s disappointing to see that level of censorship also make it’s way onto Hackaday, the site that many of us go to in order to get away from all the political BS that’s going on today.

    1. I believe the report button can get comments out of view also, so if someone doesn’t want to present a balanced intelligent response and refute the points of a post they might just hit that.

    2. Winston Smith. I don’t know whether the anti AGW (anthropogenic global warming) comment was censored or removed some other way (by author?). But really calling for open debate with all the crankiest theories given space is just a sure way to stop people bothering to read the comments. AGW is proved beyond reasonable doubt. If you don’t believe me just ask the vast vast vast majority of legitimate scientists in the field. I don’t want to write anything disrespectful, but some people, for their own good reasons, chose to believe or profess to believe in things that are now considered beyond reasonable credibility. (Flat earthers parapsychologists etc etc). We haven’t the time or inclination to consider all their “contributions”.

    3. I support free and open debate, but there are times when the flat earthers and perpetual motion advicates need to shut up and let the grown ups talk. Exactly when this occurs, and on what platform, is a moving target :-)

      BTW I have advocated many times for a moderation system like on slashdot. The crazies and trolls aren’t silenced, you can still click through and see their lunacy if you want to, but it gets hidden from the main thread. Up-modding is capped at 5, so you don’t end up with a place like Reddit where it seems like only memes and groupthink get hundreds of up-mods.

    4. It’s not a party line when it’s the only one with legit evidence 🧾. Do your self work (plumbing facts and likely outcomes that work together after the logic, not before.)

  22. Even better and possibly the least expensive is Carbon-removing sand made of the mineral olivine added to the ocean. There, the sand dissolves, countering ocean acidification and permanently removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. see aka “Project Vesta” undergoing real world testing aiming at gigaton (billion ton) carbon capture. Since 1950 when about 290 ppm of CO2 was in the atmosphere, earthlings have pushed it past 410 ppm and at 7.8 gigaton/ppm, the additional 120 ppm equals 936 gigatons of CO2 that need to be removed in order to BRING DOWN the temperature, instead of watching it trap heat and increase the world average temperature. See for a 45 minute YouTube video conference presentation on this argument or simply view the last 400,000 years of CO2, temp, and sea level to be convinced this is a vital solution:

  23. This may have already been covered – I didn’t read all 167 comments – but it seems to me that a vital step in addressing the issues around anthropogenic climate change is identify the most polluting processes involved in the things that we simply can’t do without and then address those as part of the solution.

    Perhaps the most obvious of those necessities is housing (with concrete being one of the largest global sources of atmospheric co2). One alternative is the product known as hempcrete, an alternative made by mixing hemp shiv with lime mortar which is then used to infill around a timber frame in much the same way as wattle and daub once was in European houses. What results is sustainable housing that is actually carbon negative – not only is carbon dioxide locked in during the growing process for both timber and hemp, but lime mortar sequesters co2 from the atmosphere as it cures.

    There are of course some cost implications but, firstly, they only stand if we continue to separate direct costs (to the producer/consumer) from the indirect costs (to the environment). And, secondly, the superior thermal performance of hempcrete offsets much of the initial cost over time.

    There are two obvious problems with this – firstly the land required to grow the hemp. Currently the small scale in which this technology is being used is adequately catered for by the byproducts from the medical hemp industry but to scale up production in a meaningful way would soon lead to a supply side issue that would require that land be dedicated to the production of hemp at a time when the pressure on agrarian land is causing vast swathes of a very limited resource to be lost to soil erosion.

    The problem is not insurmountable – there have to be other natural products that share the same physical properties as hemp but which could be perhaps sourced from marginal land. I have one such in mind currently which could, if I am correct, potentially revive a nearly extinct national industry and easily supply the building industry without encroaching on agricultural land.

    The second problem is less easy. As they say in Yorkshire ‘where there’s much, there’s brass’. The vast vested interests involved in the traditional, polluting industries (fossil fuels, petrochemicals, concrete production etc) are a perennial elephant in the room in any discussion aimed at reversing global warming. The fact that a few people are making huge fortunes from destroying the planet should not hamstring any efforts to combat global warming but if our experience over the last thirty years has taught us anything, it does.

  24. I honestly think we should be bringing back the home garden. These days, you can compost and garden even in an apartment with a tiny balcony. I have designed and built the tech to do just that. What this does is basically stores whatever carbon you purchase as food, or paper waste, etc and turn it into carbon that is stored in the ground or the planters I build. And if ya plant beans, they add nitrogen to the soil, so you don’t need to purchase industrial nitrogen to get your garden going. i know people are gonna say “that’s a tiny amount of carbon”… however, you are incorrect. There is an offset in the food you grow out of the garden vs. buying from a store. Furthermore, every scrap that would otherwise be trash gets fed to the worms and bugs and the carbon then gets trapped in the soil. If you multiply the actual amount of carbon you can store by the amount of households, the numbers are not insignificant.

    having said all that, if we shut down one cruise ship or military vessel, we don’t have to worry about how many cars we have on the road. Those things are a terrible waste.

    Furthermore, we need to stop destroying our ocean wildlife… aquatic plant life and the ecosystems they are part of gobble up most of the worlds c02.

    and to be honest, i’m not so worried about c02 itself, as we have solutions, and on a world wide scale, the plants are reacting and growing more greenery. I’m more concerned about the myriad of other toxic chemicals that we dump that there is zero solution for. A little bit of carbon dioxide is no challenge compared to the world wide birth defects of chemicals of the teflon type.

    1. You could be first to properly automate a home garden 🏡 and all the bug 🪲 squishing using those few-dollar Risc V USB stick size boards and like, productize that globally… ,🍻

  25. This has been all very interesting. However, nobody has raised the point that North American farmers produce a surplus of maize using fertilizers derived from oil and pesticides likewise, together with transportation costs (also oil dependant). Solving the climate crisis, as politicians well know, will require balancing the need for people to earn a living with the necessary changes in lifestyle. I’m sorry, but I don’t see it happening in time.
    I will make some predictions: Climate change will increase the movement of populations. Pressure on resources will increase conflicts. Despite statements on this forum about the world populations decreasing, the world population continues to grow. I’m afraid that we are heading for a classic Malthusian population crash and after that, who knows?

  26. … and ridiculously inefficient as well compete for energy/food/water resources.
    You can eat a trees but you definitely won’t.
    There are more efficient crops and technology to grow it.

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