Some people find objections to performing, promoting, or exploring the potential of carbon dioxide removal. These objections fall into three main categories:
- CDR is irrelevant (denial)
- CDR is unethical (moral hazard, unjust)
- CDR is impractical (expensive, ineffective)
Ethical objections to CDR focus on the potential for bad social outcomes despite well-intended efforts. The bad social outcomes might include that corporations profiting from the economic externality of carbon dioxide emission will continue to create emissions; or that societies will spend money on CDR that would have been more wisely spent another way such as decarbonization efforts. It is true that actions can have unintended consequences, but that is more likely when actions are taken in ignorance - knowing these moral hazards, we believe well-conceived public policies can let us realize the critical benefit of CDR and avoid the pitfalls.
The idea of CDR is pretty new, so like any nascent technological effort, it may not seem Practical. Although at least a few scientists have suspected the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could have adverse consequences for many decades, nobody investigated the idea of removing carbon dioxide from the air on a large scale until very recently. There were various confined-habitable-space air rebreather technologies dating back to the 1950s or earlier: undersea operations like diving and submarines, and manned spaceflight - but they were expensive and nobody would dream they could be expanded to planetary size. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established by the United Nations and the World Meteorological Organization in 1988 as broader awareness of the potential risk of carbon dioxide accumulation became apparent. As IPCC reports brought the problem into clearer focus, more and more individuals and organizations have become focused on potential solutions. Because the “known” solutions were expensive and small - there seemed to be a great technological barrier. And yet, natural systems continuously remove and recycle carbon. So just because NASA could not take a forest into space, or the rate of CO2 transfer into seawater was not fast enough for use on the scale of a submarine; it seems that the barrier is not insurmountable. Processes like these natural systems, and also some new technological innovations, seem worth evaluating - especially because NOT removing carbon dioxide from the air has such tragic consequences (and because we are moving so slowly toward decarbonization).