The Dirty Secret of the Global Plan to Avert Climate Disaster

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In 2014 Henrik Karlsson, a Swedish entrepreneur whose startup was failing, was lying in bed with a bankruptcy notice when the BBC called. The reporter had a scoop: On the eve of releasing a major report, the United Nation’s climate change panel appeared to be touting an untried technology as key to keeping planetary temperatures at safe levels. The technology went by the inelegant acronym BECCS, and Karlsson was apparently the only BECCS expert the reporter could find.

Karlsson was amazed. The bankruptcy notice was for his BECCS startup, which he’d founded seven years earlier after an idea came to him while watching a late-night television show in Gothenburg, Sweden. The show explored the benefits of capturing carbon dioxide before it was emitted from power plants. It’s the technology behind the much-touted notion of “clean coal,” a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow down climate change.

Karlsson, then a 27-year-old studying to be an operatic tenor, was no climate scientist or engineer. Still, the TV show got him thinking: During photosynthesis plants naturally suck carbon dioxide from the air, storing it in their leaves, branches, seeds, roots, and trunks. So what if you grew crops and then burned those crops for electricity, being sure to capture all of the carbon dioxide emitted? You’d then store all that dangerous CO2 underground. Such a power plant wouldn’t just be emitting less greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, it would effectively be sucking CO2 from the air. Karlsson was enraptured with the idea. He was going to help avert a global disaster.

Wonderful but horrifying longread about the truth of the theoretical effectiveness of the Paris Agreement. The short: if we’re going to keep global temperature rises under a “bad” 2°C rather than closer to a “catastrophic” 4°C, we need to take action, but the vast majority of the plans that have been authored on how to do that rely on investment in technologies and infrastructure that nobody is investing in and that might not work even if we did. We’re fucked, in short. See also this great video about greening the Sahara in an effort to lock carbon into plants (another great idea that, surprise surprise, nobody’s investing in).