From Air to Earth : Carbon Sequestration to Achieve Net Zer0
Our planet is facing a monumental challenge right now: mitigating the effects of climate change. From wildfires to rising sea levels, the consequences of global warming are becoming increasingly clear. Many countries have started committing to net zero emissions, including countries that have barely contributed to greenhouse emissions to countries that are largely responsible for it. Net zero means that countries would have to cut their emission to zero.
While it is necessary to work towards reducing emissions in the first place, some industries or processes cannot eliminate emissions entirely. Further, though we have become vocal about this global crisis, by the time the entire human race comes together as a collective conscience to fight this crisis, it would be too late.
The urgent demand for actions and brainstorming has led to the inception of “negative emissions.” It refers to the unique idea that we can reach net zero, while still emitting greenhouse gases. Have you ever heard of the term "carbon dioxide removal"? The idea behind it is simple: find ways to remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and store it elsewhere, for example, in soil or plants.
Imagine you’re in a room on a hot sunny day with the air conditioner turned off. The room is getting hotter and more uncomfortable by the minute, and you know that you need to do something to cool it down. Similarly, carbon emissions are causing our planet to heat up at an alarming rate, making it uncomfortable and unsafe for us to live in. Carbon-capturing technologies are like air conditioners that help cool down the room. Just as switching on the AC can help modulate the temperature in the room, carbon capture technologies can help regulate the carbon emissions in our atmosphere. Thereby, ensuring a safe and sustainable environment for us and future generations.
There are several unique ways organizations across the globe have adopted to reduce carbon from the atmosphere. I got the opportunity to interview Dr. Jefferey Creque, co-founder of the Marin Carbon Project and the Carbon Cycle Institute, where he serves as Director of Rangeland and Agroecosystem Management. He provides senior leadership on carbon farming and land management. Carbon farming refers to a set of agricultural practices that aim to sequester carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the soil or vegetation.
When asked about the future of this incredible and powerful technology, here is what he had to say –
“We see a lot of industrial efforts to engage in mechanical carbon dioxide removal through Direct Air Capture (DAC) or Carbon dioxide Capture and Storage (CCS). These technological strategies have not yet been proven functional at scale, they are being tested and developed as we speak. It may be, that they will become functional at a scale that could make a difference. We don’t see that yet, but meanwhile, we have our natural systems, which have been doing exactly this work for 3 and half billion years or so.
So, we have a lot of research and development behind us in that category and given that human beings have several hundred if not several thousand years of destroying our natural ecosystems. We have the opportunity right now, to restore our natural ecosystems, and even perhaps do a little better in terms of their ability to capture carbon. So, restoring our forests, integrating trees and woody crops into our agricultural systems, restoring our watersheds, increasing our solid’s organic matter, all these strategies that are very well understood and have been in practice for decades, we aren’t deploying them at scale.”
However, carbon sequestration has its challenges, this technology is still nascent and requires in-depth research and development. There is still a lot of ground to cover in terms of spreading awareness amongst farmers and the general public. This is exactly what Mr. Creque and his cohorts at Carbon Cycle Institute and Marin Carbon Projects are working towards —
“I think the biggest challenge and the work we’re involved with is mostly education, so we work with farmers, and what we have in the United States are known as conservation districts. So, in every county in the country, we have a conservation district. They are technical services providing entities that work with local producers to help them understand conservation practices on farms. Through our work, we train those conservation districts in the idea of carbon farming, helping them work with producers to scale this work across every conservation district in California. We have 96 conservation districts in California and we’re working with about half of them now.”
What fascinated me about carbon sequestration methods was their simplicity. The idea of composting, for example, has been around for quite some time and now, it's the very thing that can help us win the battle against global warming –
“This is a very ancient technique there is nothing new about it, but for me, the process of making using composting is very exciting. This technology goes back at least 4000 years, maybe more. Understanding that we can capture and conserve the organic materials that we produce on farms, recycle them through the compost environment, and then introduce that material to our agricultural soils and build our soil’s carbon bank. We have so much organic waste material that is not being well used at this time. In California, for example, we have an estimated 56 million metric tonnes of organic material generated every year across the state of California. That material can all be used to build soil fertility, and soil carbon in our agricultural production systems.”
While carbon dioxide removal technologies are not a silver bullet solution to the climate crisis, they can play an important role in mitigating the effects of climate change and creating a more sustainable future. By combining carbon dioxide removal with emissions reductions and other sustainable practices, we can work towards a more resilient and healthy planet for generations to come.
Written by Nishtha Sehgal
This solutions-focussed article has been written by a student journalist as part of the April'23 cohort of the Re-Imagining Program.