In February, oil giant Shell trumpeted a scenario in which the world pulls global warming back to 1.5 ˚C by 2100, even as natural gas, oil, and coal continue to generate huge shares of the world’s energy.
Among other things, Shell’s pathway involves rapidly installing carbon capture systems on power plants, scaling up nascent machines that can suck carbon dioxide directly out of the air, and planting enough trees to cover land nearly the size of Brazil in the hopes of absorbing billions of tons of the greenhouse gas.
This plan might be transparently self-serving, but Shell’s outsize ambitions for carbon removal are far from anomalous. A growing number of companies are setting up programs to create or trade carbon offsets, using tree planting, soil management, and other means to purportedly balance out emissions elsewhere. Meanwhile, numerous corporations and nations are announcing “net zero” emissions plans that rely upon these programs, and rapidly proliferating carbon-removal startups are highlighting what some consider overly rosy projections in their investor pitch decks.
The noise, news and hype are feeding a perception that carbon removal will be cheap, simple, scalable, and reliable—none of which we can count on.
Image credits: Selman Design