Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Science v Politics - Real Carbon Capture

With the news that new land-clearing in Queensland and other states will wipe out Australian Government Direct Action carbon ‘savings’ (which we’ve already paid $670 million for) in just three years [Guardian Australia, 29 February 2016], it’s time we considered carbon-reducing activities that actually work.

At the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, everyone agreed to cap global warming to 1.5 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial averages. Most scientists believe we’re well on the way to smashing through that limit in the next few decades. But if we can wind things back to below that level by the end of the century, we may be able to avoid the worst effects of the rise.

CO2 was at 280 parts per million (ppm) before the Industrial Revolution. It’s currently at 400 ppm and global temperatures for 2015 showed a 1 degree average rise. To keep things to a 1.5 degrees increase, we need to stay below 430 ppm, which seems hopeless given recent approvals in Australia alone for new coal mines and oil and coal seam gas installations.

To have any hope of dropping back below 430 ppm, the world needs to be carbon neutral by 2050. That means changing the way we do things, including transitioning our entire carbon-hungry transportation industry to renewable energy. But how do we capture the carbon Catpthat’s already in our atmosphere? Planting trees isn’t enough. For a start they take up too much of the land we need to be turned over to food production for our burgeoning population.

One elegant solution is to create vast floating microalgae farms in the ocean. Trials are currently taking place off the Australian coast, and it’s estimated that a 50 million hectare expanse of ocean surface could suck in up to 25 gigatonnes of CO2 every year while producing feed for livestock. On its own that wouldn’t be enough to capture all the carbon necessary to meet our target, but it’s a start.

It’s this type of innovative thinking the Australian Government should be pouring money into, rather than the recently announced National Energy Resources Australia (NERA) Centre, which aims to drive development in – you guessed it – coal, oil, gas and uranium. Like Direct Action, that’s just throwing good money after bad.

Science: one | Politics: nil

This article originally appeared in the 'Science v Politics' section of Beyond, my free newsletter for lovers of science and science fiction. Sign up here - http://eepurl.com/btvru1

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