Climate-change fiction is fast becoming scientific fact

Fortunately, a large number of people accept the reality and the danger of climate change, while believing that humanity can escape most of the threat without the need for dramatic decreases in quality of life. This will require a combination of innovation and regulation — technologies to make prosperity less dependent on carbon, and policies, such as carbon taxes, to discourage releasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Renewables not enough

However, as wonderful as renewable energy is, it probably won’t be enough to avert severe climate change, for several reasons.

  • First, it will be decades before renewable energy reduces carbon emissions to low levels, even with a boost from carbon taxes. During that time, much more carbon will be belched into the air, which will stay up there for many years.
  • Second, cheap renewables also make humanity richer, causing people to consume more energy — a phenomenon known as the income effect. This might work against cutting carbon pollution, because it could mean burning more fossil fuels in the places where they’re still in use.
  • Third, renewable energy won’t readily replace fossil fuels in some applications, such as aviation, meaning the economy will probably never eliminate all carbon output.

For all these reasons, even if renewables allow governments to keep their current pledges, it will still probably lead to large increases in the Earth’s temperature.

Feasible option

But a third option may have just become feasible.  Direct air capture is a crucial piece of the puzzle in lowering carbon levels. There’s really no other way to get rid of the carbon that’s already in the atmosphere, other than waiting the decades or centuries it takes to go away on its own.

But carbon capture is now at least moving out of the realm of science fiction and into the realm of the possible.

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