“Carbon dioxide should be regarded the same way we view other waste products” – Klaus Lackner and changing minds on carbon

This Elizabeth Kolbert article from the New Yorker on carbon capture is a few months old, but still well worth reading. It is sobering to read how many of the more optimistic climate-change scenarios depend on a technology largely unproven. There is also the question of whether planning for a technological fix like this is a form of moral hazard, although the consensus of those quoted seems to be that while it probably is a moral hazard, it is one we can’t avoid.

One early passage, quoting Dr Klaus Lackner, caught my eye. It deals with a shift in how we view carbon and those who create carbon – less moralistic, more pragmatic. It reminded me, oddly enough, of the shift in how we view the planet and natural environment Peter Reason seeks to model in his ecological pilgrimages, or the shift in viewing the oceans as as resilient ecosystems (while fully aware of the threats) championed by the #OceanOptimism movement:

The way Lackner sees things, the key to avoiding “deep trouble” is thinking differently. “We need to change the paradigm,” he told me. Carbon dioxide should be regarded the same way we view other waste products, like sewage or garbage. We don’t expect people to stop producing waste. (“Rewarding people for going to the bathroom less would be nonsensical,” Lackner has observed.) At the same time, we don’t let them shit on the sidewalk or toss their empty yogurt containers into the street.

“If I were to tell you that the garbage I’m dumping in front of your house is twenty per cent less this year than it was last year, you would still think I’m doing something intolerable,” Lackner said.

One of the reasons we’ve made so little progress on climate change, he contends, is that the issue has acquired an ethical charge, which has polarized people. To the extent that emissions are seen as bad, emitters become guilty. “Such a moral stance makes virtually everyone a sinner, and makes hypocrites out of many who are concerned about climate change but still partake in the benefits of modernity,” he has written. Changing the paradigm, Lackner believes, will change the conversation. If CO2 is treated as just another form of waste, which has to be disposed of, then people can stop arguing about whether it’s a problem and finally start doing something.

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