Chichilnisky proposes an even more ambitious approach, using a network of much larger facilities to take back almost all of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. She estimates that it could cost $1 trillion to $2 trillion to get such a project off the ground, but then little or nothing to keep it running because of money earned from carbon sales. Carbon-capture advocates also propose widely deploying the technology at coal or natural gas power plants, sidelining CO2 before it reaches the atmosphere.
Such blue-sky promises alarm some environmentalists. Christopher Field, director of Stanford University’s Woods Institute for the Environment, worries that governments and industry will use the promise of carbon removal tomorrow as an excuse to avoid the hard job of reducing emissions today.
“This is an unacceptable gamble with the planet’s future,” he says.
Yet Field is surprisingly bullish on direct-air capture, provided we do it quickly and balance it with major investments in renewable energy, efficiency, and forest protection: “To the extent that we can deploy carbon capture in the short term," he says, "we decrease the need to deploy massive amounts in the long term.”
A trillion dollars may seem like a lot, but it’s pittance compared to the likely costs of climate disruption if we don’t clean up our act.
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