The dawn of a new climate industry

The dawn of a new climate industry

Robinson Meyer writes:

What does the new American climate policy look like?

Last week, we got a better sense. On Friday, the Biden administration unveiled a massive investment — more than $1.2 billion — that aims to create a new industry in the United States out of whole cloth that will specialize in removing carbon from the atmosphere.

As President Joe Biden’s climate law hits its one-year anniversary, the investment shows the audacity, the potential, and — ultimately — the risks of his approach to climate and economic policy.

If successful, the investment will establish a new sector of the American economy and remake another one, while providing the world with an important tool to fight climate change. If unsuccessful, then the investment could set back an important climate technology and forever link it to the fossil-fuel industry.

The investment’s centerpiece is two large industrial facilities in Louisiana and Texas that will remove more than 1 million tons of carbon from the atmosphere every year. But the program is much broader than those hubs, encompassing more advanced and experimental approaches to carbon removal, or CDR, than the government has previously funded. The government has unleashed old industrial policy tools, such as advanced market guarantees, toward the nascent field.

Although Biden is implementing this policy, the approach will almost certainly outlive his administration. America’s support for carbon removal is strongly, perhaps surprisingly, bipartisan. The new hubs and the other policies announced last week were funded by the bipartisan infrastructure law or by other bipartisan legislation.

Given all that, it’s worth it to spend some time on these investments to better understand how they work and what they might mean for the future of the American economy.

Do We Really Need Carbon Removal?

Let’s start here: Yes, we will probably need carbon dioxide removal, or CDR, to meet the world’s and the country’s climate goals.

This wasn’t always clear. When I started as a climate reporter in 2015, carbon removal was taboo, something that only climate deniers and other folks who wanted to delay decarbonization brought up. An influential Princeton study from earlier in the decade had concluded that carbon removal — especially capturing carbon in the ambient air, a strategy called direct air capture, or DAC — would never pencil out financially and that it would always be cheaper to reduce fossil-fuel use rather than suck carbon out of the sky.

But in 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made a startling announcement: So much carbon dioxide had accumulated in the atmosphere that it would be virtually impossible to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius without carbon removal. [Continue reading…]

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