So what can we derive from this realisation? What can we do when we accept the fact that a world with high concentration of CO2 for long periods of time is the most likely future we are heading towards?
We can first acknowledge that political wrangling at the global level may not be the most optimal way of obtaining the results we need, i.e. reaching this general plateau as soon as possible and then bring down again the level of CO2 in this bathtub which is the Earth’s atmosphere, all while disrupting to the minimum economic development. Nor are we likely to obtain them by a cumbersome taxing mechanism, which can easily turn into a system of global lying and deceiving.
We can secondly come to terms with the fact that we will live in an atmosphere with a higher level of CO2 in it, for long periods of time, despite our best efforts, and we can focus a great deal of scientific work on what does that exactly mean, beyond just climate change, to the fauna and flora, to the level of acidity of the oceans, and to biodiversity in general. In other words, we need to develop solid mitigation plans to defend quality of life and ensure that we do not have a mass extinction of species on our hand down the line.
Third, we can work aggressively on ways to make accessible means of energy production as clean and as efficient as possible. As an example, instead of bedevilling energy production from coal, and instead of spending large amounts of time and effort figuring out how to tax it, we can rather concentrate our effort and money on making ‘clean coal’ energy production economically attractive. Coal is an abundant source of energy on our planet, and the nations that need energy the most to fight poverty and increase economic prosperity (such as China and India) have it easily accessible in their own territory. We then ask, what is more realistic and productive, bullying these nations into not using coal when they are really struggling with energy issues or figuring out new ways (which are scientifically possible) of using this coal with a lower environmental footprint?
And fourth, we can continue to expand energy-efficient equipment and processes around the world, from energy-efficient cars, to more efficient ways of transmitting, distributing, and storing electricity, to energy-efficient household equipment, to smarter ways of providing public lighting.
The third and fourth measures in the above fall in the category of helping reduce the increase in CO2 emissions down the line – they are unlikely to be enough to reduce CO2 emissions in absolute terms given the requirements for economic development of the world’s population and the percentage of that population who is still under the middle-class line. Hence, the most hopeful and effective way of really addressing the problem of net addition of CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere over the long-term lies in devising better technological ways of absorbing back some of this CO2 released in the atmosphere. Reabsorption of CO2 by oceans carries with it negative effects if done in excessive manners, including a general increase of the acidity of seawater and its impact on fragile coral reefs and some of the marine life. But reabsorption of CO2 by rock and land, if carefully done, can be more long lasting – this is what is called in technical terms ‘artificial carbon sequestration’. The key unit in such a sequestration process is what is commonly called a ‘CO2 pump’ which has essentially as role to absorb some of the CO2 present in the atmosphere and convert it and store it back in land. It is worth noting that the term ‘CO2 pump’ is more of an umbrella term, and there exists different chemical and mechanical ways of absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere and transforming it.
From the behaviour of human beings who largely oppose giving up a certain acquired convenient lifestyle or making sacrifices unless under clear and pressing threat, and from the general nature of world affairs, it seems to us easier politically to agree on a way of sequestrating back some of the emitted CO2 rather than policing every nation into limiting its emissions. But it is not something easily achievable politically nonetheless. There is a cost associated with setting up and operating such large scale sequestration infrastructures, and it is likely that the different nations around the world will give themselves to the game of trying to pass on the cost of such an infrastructure, if it existed and were economically viable, from one to the other. And so we see that our only salvation from the problem of perpetual increase of CO2 in the atmosphere seems to be technological, but mostly on the CO2 absorption side rather than the CO2 emission side, but not without some minimal form of international political agreement. This may likely be easier in the case of CO2 absorption as it does not require as much of a sacrifice of lifestyle or economic development for the sake of reducing CO2.