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A climate change solution slowly gains ground

For the original Washington Post, story, click here. Screen Shot 2019-04-22 at 9.58.46 PM   HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - At the end of a cul-de-sac called Fresh Way, two bright green structures the size of shipping containers gleam in the warm sunlight, quietly sucking from the air the carbon dioxide that is warming the planet. One structure houses computer monitors and controls. Atop the other, large fans draw air through slabs made of honeycomb-style ceramic cubes. The cubes hold proprietary chemicals that act like sponges, absorbing carbon dioxide at room temperature. Every 15 minutes, the slabs rotate and the cubes are heated, releasing a stream of 99 percent pure carbon dioxide into a shiny steel pipe.

This is Global Thermostat, one of just three companies at the leading edge of the hunt for ways of skimming carbon dioxide from the air. It is a tiny step, but a hopeful one, toward reducing global warming. Amid a steady drumbeat of grim news about climate change, more and more people are captivated by the idea that a feasible process can help offset decades of damage to the atmosphere. Some big deep-pocketed corporations - including oil companies - are looking, too. They are lured not so much by the virtues of fighting climate change but by the prospects of making money. Though long a prohibitively expensive technology, carbon capture has become a tantalizing possibility thanks to technological advances - and new generous government incentives. There's little time to spare. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has written that any hope to meet the 2 degree Celsius goal for global warming "will require measures to reduce emissions, including the further deployment of existing and new technologies." For a decade, the three companies - Carbon Engineering, Climeworks and Global Thermostat - have experimented with technologies such as the shape and chemical makeup of the spongelike membranes in an effort to reduce the towering cost of capturing carbon dioxide directly from thin air. Now their work is poised to move beyond the lab tables and prototypes.
"Our business plan is to show that cleaning the atmosphere is a profitable activity," said Graciela Chichilnisky, a Columbia University economics professor and one of the co-founders of Global Thermostat who estimates that CO2 could become a trillion dollar market. Over the past several years, the firms have vied to make technological progress. The cost of carbon capture has fallen from $600 a ton to as low as $100 a ton - and lower if a cheap or free source of heat or energy is available. Federal subsidies are just as important. New U.S. federal tax credits provide as much as $50 for every ton of carbon dioxide captured and stored underground in well-sealed geological formations.
Oil companies can use the credits to pay for turning captured carbon dioxide into transportation fuels, essentially recycling the CO2. That would help Big Oil meet California regulations requiring lower amounts of carbon in motor fuels. And the oil giants can also claim a $35-a-ton credit for enhanced oil recovery - injecting carbon dioxide into the ground to increase well pressure and boost oil production in old fields like the Permian Basin in west Texas. Oil companies currently extract natural carbon dioxide from natural reservoirs before pumping it back into the ground. The federal tax credits, known as 45Q credits, were slipped into the 2018 federal budget in the wee hours of Feb. 9, 2018, after a nine-hour government shutdown. It attracted support from both parties, with leading roles played by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., whose state relies heavily on oil, gas and coal production, and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., who has spoken almost weekly on the Senate floor about the urgency of climate change and the danger of burning fossil fuels. One reason they agree: It's politically more appealing to give away money through a tax credit than it is to impose a carbon tax that takes money away. A carbon tax is levied on the carbon content of hydrocarbon fuels such as coal, oil or natural gas that emit carbon dioxide and it raises prices for products such as gasoline or electricity. Environmentalists are divided on the tax credits. Most want to bury captured carbon dioxide in geological formations underground rather than using it to produce more fossil fuels. "We concluded that it was not possible to square it with our work to end fossil fuel subsidies," said David Hawkins, director of climate policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council, which stayed neutral on the measure.
But of the 65 million tons of carbon dioxide that is pumped underground in the United States every year, about 60 million tons is for enhanced oil recovery, said Sally Benson, co-director of Stanford University's Precourt Institute for Energy. And demand is growing. Whitehouse said "at this point, the only revenue proposition for carbon capture is enhanced oil recovery." "As angry and frustrated I am at the behavior of these companies," he said, "if that's what it takes to save the planet I'm willing to make that investment." And Republican senators joined in the name of "innovation," and seemed unbothered that by putting a price on the credits they were flouting the Trump administration's effort to stymie any form of carbon tax. "People now understand the need for addressing climate change," Carbon Engineering's chief executive Steve Oldham said in an interview after testifying before a Senate committee. "When you don't have a solution, it's a scary thought." "We're trying to get the message out that there is a solution here," he added, "and it is not forcing everybody to buy a new car or stop taking airplanes." --- Oldham himself is a sign that carbon capture is closer to becoming a business. He only recently took the helm at the 10-year-old Carbon Engineering, which has built a prototype on a scenic spot near an old lumber town about 30 miles north of Vancouver. Oldham wasn't an expert on carbon capture, but he had worked at a big Canadian tech company raising money from government and commercial sources for complex projects such as large satellites and robotics. Carbon Engineering "has been R&D focused," Oldham said. "Now, they need a different skill set." The Squamish, British Columbia-based firm's early investors included Bill Gates. And Carbon Engineering recently raised $68 million with investments from tar sands financier and Calgary Flames co-owner Murray Edwards, Occidental Petroleum's Low Carbon Ventures, Chevron Technology Ventures, and BHP, an international mining and resources giant. Oldham said the firm will use the money to design a full-size commercial plant and that it has already identified fives sites in the United States and two in Canada. Drawing on research at the University of Calgary and Carnegie Mellon University, Carbon Engineering converts carbon dioxide into transportation fuels. It does that by combining CO2 with hydrogen - creating a carbon neutral cycle. That could help oil companies meet California's requirement to reduce the carbon intensity of motor fuels by 20 percent by 2030. Harvard University engineering and public policy professor David Keith, acting chief scientist and a board member at Carbon Engineering, estimated in a paper last year that using current know-how and existing components, the company could capture carbon dioxide at $94 to $232 a ton. Even if Carbon Engineering's technique is expensive, it might still be cheaper than alternative methods of meeting the California standards. In addition, by producing fuel, Carbon Engineering could make air travel carbon neutral without having to turn to biofuels or electrification that would be difficult to use in aircraft. "It gives you choices," Oldham said. --- Climeworks, based in Switzerland, was founded by two engineering graduate students, Christoph Gebald and Jan Wurzbacher. It became the first company to extract CO2 from the air and sell it to a commercial customer, albeit on a tiny scale. It sells about 900 tons a year - the equivalent of emissions from 200 cars - to a commercial greenhouse near Zurich that grows vegetables. The company has erected a vertical array of 18 fans, each the size of a full-grown adult that helps speed the capture process. The CO2 increases the greenhouse's crop yields by 20 to 30 percent. Climeworks has also forged an agreement to sell carbon dioxide to Coca-Cola HBC in Switzerland for sparkling drinks. Economics could drive future decisions. Last year Europe suffered carbon dioxide shortages when some British fertilizer plants that produce CO2 as a byproduct unexpectedly closed down for maintenance and Coke's CO2 supplies were threatened. Like Global Thermostat, Climeworks traps CO2 simply by exposing a filter to air. The filter contains amines, a derivative of ammonia. Once the filter is saturated, it is heated with steam past the boiling point of 100 degrees Celsius, hot enough to free the carbon dioxide so it can be pumped into pipes or storage tanks. Currently, the Climeworks uses free waste heat from a local incinerator, reducing its costs. --- Global Thermostat has a somewhat different model than the other two. The company is the brainchild of two Columbia University professors: Chichilnisky, an economist and mathematician who took part in the 1990s climate conference in Kyoto, and Peter Eisenberger, an applied physicist who has worked at Bell Laboratories, Exxon, Princeton and now Columbia University. With his flyaway hair, he bears a passing resemblance to Dr. Emmett Brown from the film "Back to the Future." "When Peter and Graciela first talked about this, people thought it was crazy," said Miles Sakwa-Novak, the plant's young engineer. He says that Carbon Engineering essentially takes two mature processes and combines them in a new way, but that Global Thermostat is developing something new. "We literally farm the sky," Chichilnisky says in a company video. The company's early investors included the Canadian tycoon Edgar Bronfman and the utility NRG, one of the biggest U.S. emitters. The company's process uses devices called monoliths that look like sponges to maximize surface area. That area is covered with amines, the nitrogen based chemical that naturally absorbs carbon dioxide from the air. The monoliths are similar to those used in catalytic converters and Chichilnisky says that the manufacturer Corning has provided key materials. The next step - prying the carbon dioxide loose - is harder and more expensive. Yet Global Thermostat only needs to heat up its amine cells to 80 degrees Celsius, less than what it takes to boil a cup of tea, lower than its competitors and thus relatively cheaper. This is the dark secret of virtually all carbon capture techniques: They tend to use large amounts of energy, which adds to carbon emissions and costs. Some say they can be combined with solar installations. So far, Carbon Engineering has tapped into cheap Canadian hydro power. Many analysts wonder why the direct air capture companies don't place their devices near the exhaust of a natural gas or coal plant. Chichilnisky explains that sometimes lower concentrations work better, just as gasoline in a combustion engine needs oxygen. She said that their process requires less energy and works best at concentrations found in the air at 400 parts per million, 300 times more diffuse than in power plant smokestacks. The compact size of the Global Thermostat project could be part of its appeal, Chichilnisky says. Companies with modest CO2 needs - such as soft drink bottlers or oil field service firms - can move Global Thermostat's equipment to a site without having to worry about building pipelines. Global Thermostat is already in talks with a soft drink maker and a major oil company. --- Chichilnisky is optimistic about Global Thermostat, but she's worried carbon capture will be too little too late. "The real problem with climate change is time," she says. Time and scale. The carbon capture enterprises are minuscule compared to the global crisis. In 2018, mankind pumped about 37.1 gigatons of carbon dioxide into the air. One of Global Thermostat's container size units would capture just 4,000 tons; to offset all global emissions would take 9 million of the units. Climeworks says it can manufacture 100 to 150 CO2 collectors a year, each one capable of sucking up the emissions of 250 cars. A unit with six Climeworks filters would fit in a shipping container. In order to meet its goal of capturing 1 percent of growing global emissions, Climeworks would need to fill up 750,000 shipping containers. Arguing that is doable, Climeworks notes that it is equal to the number of shipping containers that pass through Shanghai harbor every two weeks. Carbon Engineering is planning on much bigger projects, each costing close to $600 million, about the same as a coal-fired power plant. Oldham estimates that it would take 5,000 of his company's plants to offset U.S. carbon emissions - 5.3 gigatons - at a cost of $3 trillion. That's why, he says, "the real answer is a combination" or cutting emissions and building carbon capture. What that means, Chichilnisky says, is that the fight to reduce emissions must continue. The danger of progress on carbon capture is that people will see it as a reason to relax their efforts. Until now, carbon capture has been a bad bet financially. Since 2010, the Energy Department spent about $1.1 billion to help nine carbon capture and storage demonstration projects, the General Accountability Office said in a report. Private industry chipped in $610 million. But most found the cost way too high and abandoned the projects; only one power plant was still active at the end of 2017, GAO said. Many coal companies see the federal carbon credits as a new lease on their lives. "The coal lobby was always in our office" seeking credits, said a former Energy Department official from the Obama administration who spoke on the condition of anonymity. But, he said, "carbon capture and storage makes coal more expensive, not less." Dan Kammen, professor of energy and public policy at the University of California at Berkeley, says that carbon capture is diverting attention from cheaper and more scalable ways to taking carbon dioxide out of the air. "The prices [of carbon capture] would have to fall a huge amount for it to be part of our near-term portfolio, meaning 2050 or sooner," Kammen says. Carbon capture from the air "can be an arrow in the quiver," he says. But he adds that changing land use and forestry, using known techniques for taking CO2 from the air and storing it, "would be the best investment in carbon capture today." "I recommend the boring Charlie Brown strategy," he says. "When is the best day to plant a tree? Yesterday. Second best? Today." New carbon capture technology is "the shiny new object on the table," he says, but "with the 30-year clock more than ticking we have to scale up technology. We absolutely need to invest in carbon capture because we will have to do a good deal more of it."

KQED Newsroom with Thuy Vu — Climate Change Solutions.

On KQED Newsroom, October 12 - 14, 2018 Dan Kammen & Thuy Vu, cal (Rhetoric) and host of KQED Newsroom Climate Change Goals This week, a new United Nations report sounded the alarm over worldwide climate again, warning that the most severe effects of climate change -- increased flooding, drought, wildfires and heat waves -- could start being felt as early as 2040. To avoid these crises, global carbon emissions would need to be slashed by 45 percent by 2030, according to the report. We talk with UC Berkeley professor of energy Daniel Kammen about what can be done to reach that goal. The IPCC 1.5 Degree Report is the focus of the conversation.   To watch, click here:

Declaration of the Health of People, Health of Planet and Our Responsibility Climate Change, Air Pollution and Health Workshop

This declaration is based on the data and concepts presented at the workshop: Health of People, Health of Planet and Our Responsibility Climate Change, Air Pollution and Health Organized by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences Casina Pio IV, Vatican City, 2-4 November 2017, Casina Pio IV   Statement of the Problem With unchecked climate change and air pollution, the very fabric of life on Earth, including that of humans, is at grave risk. We propose scalable solutions to avoid such catastrophic changes. There is less than a decade to put these solutions in place to preserve our quality of life for generations to come. The time to act is now. We human beings are creating a new and dangerous phase of Earth’s history that has been termed the Anthropocene. The term refers to the immense effects of human activity on all aspects of the Earth’s physical systems and on life on the planet. We are dangerously warming the planet, leaving behind the climate in which civilization developed. With accelerating climate change, we put ourselves at grave risk of massive crop failures, new and re-emerging infectious diseases, heat extremes, droughts, mega-storms, floods and sharply rising sea levels. The economic activities that contribute to global warming are also wreaking other profound damages, including air and water pollution, deforestation, and massive land degradation, causing a rate of species extinction unprecedented for the past 65 million years, and a dire threat to human health through increases in heart disease, stroke, pulmonary disease, mental health, infections and cancer. Climate change threatens to exacerbate the current unprecedented flow of displacement of people and add to human misery by stoking violence and conflict. The poorest of the planet, who are still relying on 19th century technologies to meet basic needs such as cooking and heating, are bearing a heavy brunt of the damages caused by the economic activities of the rich. The rich too are bearing heavy costs of increased flooding, mega-storms, heat extremes, droughts and major forest fires. Climate change and air pollution strike down the rich and poor alike. Principal Findings
  • Burning of fossil fuels and solid biomass release hazardous chemicals to the air.
  • Climate change caused by fossil fuels and other human activities poses an existential threat to Homo sapiens and contributes to mass extinction of species. In addition, air pollution caused by the same activities is a major cause of premature death globally.
Supporting data are summarized in the attached background section. Climate change and air pollution are closely interlinked because emissions of air pollutants and climate-altering greenhouse gases and other pollutants arise largely from humanity’s use of fossil fuels and biomass fuels, with additional contributions from agriculture and land-use change. This interlinkage multiplies the costs arising from our current dangerous trajectory, yet it can also amplify the benefits of a rapid transition to sustainable energy and land use. An integrated plan to drastically reduce climate change and air pollution is essential.
  • Regions that have reduced air pollution have achieved marked improvements in human health as a result.
We have already emitted enough pollutants to warm the climate to dangerous levels (warming by 1.5°C or more). The warming as well as the droughts caused by climate change, combined with the unsustainable use of aquifers and surface water, pose grave threats to availability of fresh water and food security. By moving rapidly to a zero-carbon energy system – replacing coal, oil and gas with wind, solar, geothermal and other zero-carbon energy sources, drastically reducing emissions of all other climate altering pollutants and by adopting sustainable land use practices, humanity can prevent catastrophic climate change, while cutting the huge disease burden caused by air pollution and climate change.
  • We advocate a mitigation approach that factors in the low probability-high impact warming projections such as the one in twenty chances of a 6°C warming by 2100.
Proposed Solutions We declare that governments and other stakeholders should urgently undertake the scalable and practical solutions listed below: 1. Health must be central to policies that stabilize climate change below dangerous levels, drive zero-carbon as well as zero-air pollution and prevent ecosystem disruptions. 2. All nations should implement with urgency the global commitments made in Agenda 2030 (including the Sustainable Development Goals) and the Paris Climate Agreement. 3. Decarbonize the energy system as early as possible and no later than mid-century, shifting from coal, oil and gas to wind, solar, geothermal and other zero-carbon energy sources; 4. The rich not only expeditiously shift to safe energy and land use practices, but also provide financing to the poor for the costs of adapting to climate change; 5. Rapidly reduce hazardous air pollutants, including the short-lived climate pollutants methane, ozone, black carbon, and hydro fluorocarbons; 6. End deforestation and degradation and restore degraded lands to protect biodiversity, reduce carbon emissions and to absorb atmospheric carbon into natural sinks; 7. In order to accelerate decarbonization there should be effective carbon pricing informed by estimates of the social cost of carbon, including the health effects of air pollution; 8. Promote research and development of technologies to remove carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere for deployment if necessary; 9. Forge collaboration between health and climate sciences to create a powerful alliance for sustainability; 10. Promote behavioral changes beneficial for human health and protective of the environment such as increased consumption of plant-based diets; 11. Educate and empower the young to become the leaders of sustainable development; 12. Promote an alliance with society that brings together scientists, policy makers, healthcare providers, faith/spiritual leaders, communities and foundations to foster the societal transformation necessary to achieve our goals in the spirit of Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’. To implement these 12 solutions, we call on health professionals to: engage, educate and advocate for climate mitigation and undertake preventive public health actions vis-à-vis air pollution and climate change; inform the public of the high health risks of air pollution and climate change. The health sector should assume its obligation in shaping a healthy future. We call for a substantial improvement in energy efficiency; and electrification of the global vehicle fleet and all other downstream uses of fossil fuels. Ensure clean energy benefits also protect society’s most vulnerable communities. There are numerous living laboratories including tens of cities, many universities, Chile, California and Sweden, who have embarked on a pathway to cut both air pollution and climate change. These thriving models have already created 8 million jobs in a low carbon economy, enhanced the wellbeing of their citizens and shown that such measures can both sustain economic growth and deliver tangible health benefits for their citizens. Acknowledgements We especially thank the global leaders who spoke at the workshop: Honorable Jerry Brown, Governor of California, Honorable Governor Alberto Rodríguez Saá, the Governor of San Luis, Argentina, Honorable Dr. Marcelo Mena, Minister of Environment of Chile, Honorable Kevin de León, President Pro Tempore of California Senate, and Honorable Scott Peters of the US house of representatives. We also thank the contributions of the faith leaders: Rev Leith Anderson, President of the National Association for Evangelicals, USA; Rev Alastair Redfern, Bishop of Derby, UK; Rev Mitch Hescox, CEO of Evangelical Environmental Network, USA. We thank Dr. Jeremy Farrar, CEO of the Wellcome Trust for his contributions as a speaker and for thoughtful edits of the document. We acknowledge the major contributions to the drafting of the declaration by Drs: Maria Neira (WHO), Andy Haines (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine) and Jos Lelieveld (Max Planck Inst of Chemistry, Mainz). For a list of speakers and panelists at the symposium, please see the agenda of the meeting attached at the end of this document. We are thankful to the sponsors of the workshop: Maria Neira of WHO; Drs Bess Marcus and Michael Pratt of Institute of Public Health at the University of California at San Diego; Drs Erminia Guarneri and Rauni King of the Miraglo Foundation. End of Declaration What follows is a summary of the data and concepts on air pollution and climate change as described at the workshop; the last IPCC report published in 2013; and the new data that were published since 2013, including several reports by the LANCET commissions and WHO. The full declaration with author names can be found here.
SIGNATORIES (Pontifical Academy of Science members underlined)
  1. Monsignor Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo (PAS Chancellor)
  2. Joachim von Braun (PAS President & UOB)
  3. Veerabhadran Ramanathan (PAS & UCSD)
  4. Partha Dasgupta (PASS & CU)
  5. Peter Raven (PAS & MBC)
  6. Jeffrey Sachs (UN SDSN)
  7. Edmund G. Brown Jr. (Governor of California)
  8. Kevin de León (President of the California State Senate)
  9. The Rev. Mitchell C. Hescox (President/CEO, The Evangelical Environmental Network)
  10. Werner Arber (PAS)
  11. Yuan T. Lee (PAS)
  12. John (Hans Joachim) Schellnhuber (PAS)
  13. Ignacio Rodríguez Iturbe (PAS & Distinguished University Professor and TEES Distinguished Research Professor, Texas A&M University)
  14. Francis L. Delmonico (PAS)
  15. Dr. Wael Al-Delaimy (UCSD Institute for Public Health)
  16. Fonna Forman (UCSD Center on Global Justice)
  17. Erminia M Guarneri (President Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine, Treasurer Miraglo Foundation)
  18. Howard Frumkin (University of Washington School of Public Health)
  19. Ulrich Pöschl (Max Planck Institute for Chemistry)
  20. Daniel M. Kammen (Professor of Energy, UC Berkeley)
  21. Nithya Ramanathan (Nexleaf Analytics)
  22. Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco, UCLA Wasserman Dean & Distinguished Professor of Education
  23. Bess H. Marcus (Dean, Brown University School of Public Health)
  24. Jonathan M. Samet (Dean, Colorado School of Public Health)
  25. Glen G. Scorgie (Professor of Theology and Ethics, Bethel Seminary San Diego)
  26. Conrado Estol (Director, Heart and Brain Medicine -MECyC, Buenos Aires, Argentina)
  27. Edward Maibach (George Mason University)

Published in Yale Environment 360: Taking the Long View: The ‘Forever Legacy’ of Climate Change

Taking the Long View: The ‘Forever Legacy’ of Climate Change Climate change projections often focus on 2100. But the geological record shows that unless we rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we will be locking in drastic increases in temperatures and sea levels that will alter the earth not just for centuries, but for millennia.  By ROB WILDER AND DAN KAMMEN Click here to read directly on Yale Environment360. Screen Shot 2017-09-13 at 6.55.42 AM  

ERG student compiles data on climate change — right outside the President’s window! [Japan’s cherry blossoms signal warmest climate in more than 1,000 years]

From the April 4 Washington Post: and developed by  ERG PhD student Zeke Hausfather: For more than 1,000 years, emperors, aristocrats, governors and monks have chronicled the flowering of Japan’s famed cherry trees in the city of Kyoto. But bloom dates have shifted radically earlier in recent decades, a sure sign that the region’s climate is warming and warming fast. Yasuyuki Aono, a professor of environmental sciences at Osaka Prefecture University, has assembled a data set that compiles blossom-flowering dates in Kyoto all the way back to 800 A.D. It shows a sudden and remarkable change in the past 150 to 200 years. From roughly 800 to 1850, the blossom flowering time was fairly stable. While the bloom dates bounced around quite a bit from year to year during April, the long-term average hovered between April 10 and April 17 (the 100th to 107th day of the year).   Screen Shot 2017-04-05 at 3.56.57 PM Screen Shot 2017-04-05 at 3.59.35 PM   (Invert plot to see the Hockey Stick!)

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