During summer, the village of Lytton, British Columbia, hit 121°F, breaking Canada’s all-time high-temperature record. Lytton was destroyed by a wildfire the next day.
The tragedy in Lytton serves as a stark reminder that climate change has arrived. It demonstrates how critical it is to reduce carbon emissions now, as failure to do so will result in more frequent and severe calamities worldwide.
It also demonstrates that reducing emissions is a woefully inadequate solution to climate change. Carbon pollution can last for decades in the atmosphere. We are condemning current and forthcoming generations those residing in a zero-emission society–to the terrible repercussions of climate change unless we start to clean up residual carbon emissions from the past industrial activities.
As a result, it is increasingly critical to support carbon removal technologies that directly capture and store CO2 from the atmosphere. Even though a variety of options show promise, such as tree planting, sequestering carbon in the agricultural soils, and creating direct air capture equipment, climate programs have thus far ignored carbon removal. As a result, the most promising carbon removal paths presently cost 10 – 100 more than the traditional offsets and have only been applied at a demonstration-scale. Accounting and oversight issues have plagued forestry and agriculture projects, making it difficult to confirm that the carbon removed is as declared.
To get carbon-reduction solutions off the ground, we should take a leaf from the playbook that drove expensive and specialty technologies such as electric vehicles and solar energy into the mainstream. Beginning in the late 1970s, the combination of government financing for innovation and economic incentives (such as state-level regulatory mandates and federal tax credits) allowed the first generation of renewable energy startups to gain a stronghold in the market and ultimately out-compete their pollution-heavy incumbents solely on price.
With increased money to spur innovation and implementation, carbon removal may continue this route. The Congressional funding for innovation has lately expanded from zero to more than $90 million per year, while venture capital and philanthropy activities such as the $100 million XPRIZE have arisen. In the reconciliation bill and infrastructure package, Congress has a chance to drive demand by boosting the value of 45Q tax credit for seeding investment and direct air capture in carbon storage hubs throughout the US.
However, the clean energy plan alone is unlikely to be sufficient. While other clean energy technologies compete for trillion-dollar international markets for transportation and electricity, carbon removal requires a buyer ready to pay for clean air–and there is no better customer than the United States government.