When talking about climate change, the conversation usually takes a depressing tone. It always seems to focus on the ever-increasing evidence that we are killing the planet and for younger generations this can become a stress-inducing point. It is always clear that we will have to deal with the consequences, but it is also clear that, short of school strikes, we have little opportunity to change things for the better.
Recently however, some good news has started to shine through. Iceland has now launched the world’s largest carbon capture plant, Orca, capable of drawing 4,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide out of the air each year. Carbon capture technology has been lauded as the ‘saviour’ of the planet. This is because machinery, such as the Carbon Capture and Storage machines (CCS) unveiled in Iceland, can supposedly help reduce carbon emissions without forcing ordinary people to make massive changes to their lifestyles. CCS does this by drawing carbon out of the air before it can cause damage to the ozone layer and atmosphere, often by artificially replicating the same process that trees use naturally to capture carbon, and then storing it in stone or soil, sometimes even the ocean.
At first glance, this seems amazing. With machines reducing our carbon emissions for us, we can take that 8-hour flight without worrying about our carbon footprint. Or we can continue to buy from companies that are deforesting the Amazon because we won’t need these trees to absorb carbon dioxide when we have enough machines doing it artificially. But this is like putting paint on a crumbling bridge. We’ve covered the cracks and continue to drive all over it and if we walked on it, the bridge would be fine. But it’s easier to drive and we can’t see the cracks anymore so the bridge must be fine, right?
CCS can only do so much and if we stop all other green policies, it will not be enough. It’s an amazing step forward that can make the transition to greener lifestyles easier but it does not mean we can continue as normal. Governments still need to push environmental laws policies, especially ones that make it easier to live a green lifestyle, like subsidising renewable energy so that it is cheaper and more accessible than coal and gas.
Along with CCS, policies like these can make a notable difference towards reducing climate change, but this is also not enough. Going back to the metaphor before, these policies are like the signs put up saying ‘weak bridge’ meaning some will take a different route. This doesn’t make much difference when an armada of trucks carrying overweight elephants take the bridge full speed. The bridge will collapse, as will the earth’s climate control if the companies driving the metaphorical trucks, like Gazprom or ExxonMobil, continue to pump most of the world’s carbon emissions into the atmosphere.
Governments must crack down on these companies. There is no alternative but enforced law to prevent them from poisoning our air, seas and earth. Bribes will not work, neither will appealing to their desire to save the planet, not least because they have no desires beyond turning a profit. These are the same companies that knew their actions were harming the planet and covered it up in the 1970s with campaigns that said melting ice caps were natural. They chose profit then and they will choose profit now. In fact, the danger of CCS is that such companies can use these technologies to justify cuts to any green policies they have already instituted. Until governments stop pandering to these companies, they will continue to destroy the planet for their own gain and nothing we do, either as ordinary citizens or states with CCS technology, will make a difference.
Once again, the conversation has become depressing. This makes it seem like the death of life on Earth is inevitable and unstoppable. That is not the case. CCS is amazing and is a great step for climate action, but we mustn’t become complacent because of it.