some, not all, of the carbon brought out of the ground will be captured. And some additional carbon will be brought out of the ground to provide the energy necessary to capture and store carbon.
5. Carbon management is not a winner-take-all strategy.
We have a whole portfolio of options for achieving major changes in the global energy system. And we will need many of them. Two options, at opposite ends of the spectrum in readiness for deployment, are: (1) improved energy efficiency; and (2) the direct capture of CO2 from air.
Those of us who have worked on improving energy efficiency have been frustrated that many good ideas have not been implemented. We still build buildings as if energy were practically free. Most of the relevant institutional issues were identified back in the 1970s but have still not been addressed.
David Keith and Klaus Lackner are investigating ways to pull CO2 directly out of the atmosphere and concentrate it (e.g., using the reactions CaO + CO2 → CaCO3 and CaCO3 → CaO + CO2). Could machines, located wherever we wish, remove CO2 from the atmosphere as fast as we put it in, or maybe even faster?
6. Carbon management confronts us with ethical issues.
Carbon management is intended to avoid dangerous interference with the climate system. “Dangerous” to whom? To what? Carbon management is, simultaneously, environmental technology and survival technology. As environmental technology, it is directed toward minimizing the impact of human activity on the biosphere. As survival technology, it is directed toward maximizing human welfare. The two objectives are not necessarily at odds, but they are distinct.
Engineering is the profession most closely associated with maximizing traditional measures of human welfare. Earth systems engineering is a name often given to attempts to take charge of the Earth and organize its processes for human benefit. “Stabilization,” our newly articulated goal for future CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, is a word borrowed from engineering, specifically from control theory.
Trying to take charge of the planet via Earth systems engineering is rather like trying to take charge of our own bodies via genetic engineering. We need rules for both activities. One difference is that we can choose not to modify the human genome, but we are already changing the planet week by week.