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This Is CDR Episode 19: CDR and Environmental Justice

This Is CDR is an ongoing series of online events to explore the range of carbon dioxide removal solutions that are currently in development. But this week, we zoom back...

This Is CDR is an ongoing series of online events to explore the range of carbon dioxide removal solutions that are currently in development. But this week, we zoom back from looking at specific CDR operations to the broader topic of environmental justice, which will be critically interwoven with any climate-change mitigation efforts we take on as a species, CDR or otherwise. Our guest and guide is Professor Holly Jean Buck, author of Ending Fossil Fuels: Why Net Zero is Not Enough.

As Professor Buck observes, environmental justice is often defined in response to environmental harm. But it’s just as important that we pay attention to environmental justice in the context of environmental restoration, and make sure that more vulnerable communities don’t have to disproportionately bear the costs of those efforts, especially when those communities have often suffered disproportionately from the effects of fossil fuels in the first place.

For example, let’s say we’re successfully capturing large volumes of CO2 from the atmosphere and piping it to a site where it can be safely sequestered. CO2 leaks are dangerous. Are those pipelines running through disadvantaged communities? Are they carefully maintained?

Similarly, several past This is CDR episodes have covered enhanced rock weathering, a carbon removal process in which CO2-absorbing dust is spread in agricultural areas or along coastlines. But who does the spreading? What happens if you breathe in the dust?

And on a larger scale, given that we all share one atmosphere, which countries bear the most responsibility for removing carbon? By all rights, it should be rich countries like the U.S. which have profited the most from fossil fuels. But those decisions won’t just make themselves.

Then there’s what you might call the moral hazard question: if we develop technology to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, will fossil fuel companies treat it as a blank check to continue the behavior that got us here? It’s not a hypothetical, since one of the main uses for captured CO2 today is Enhanced Oil Recovery – using captured CO2 to pull yet more fossil fuel out of the ground. Not surprisingly, this fact leaves a lot of environmental activists feeling skeptical about carbon removal entirely. Those of us who believe carbon removal is an absolutely necessary step are going to need as much popular support as possible, so it’s crucial that we take these concerns seriously.

Professor Buck touches on all of these points and more in her important presentation. Please check this one out, and be sure to come back next week for more This Is CDR. For more, you can watch the whole This Is CDR series on our resources page.

Peter Malamud Smith Peter Malamud Smith is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn.

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