Can we engineer our way out of this?
Why we might need help from an unlikely source
Welcome back to another edition of the Restored.cc newsletter.
This week brings the release of episode 5 of the Carbon Removal Show, where we dive into some of our most controversial topics yet - storage, BECCS and the role of big energy companies.
Let’s start by saying that giant oil companies have a lot to answer for and thus far, in my opinion, have done very little answering. I’m not sure they’ve even acknowledged the question in most cases. And that can feel skin-burningly, hair-tearingly, scream-into-a-cushion-until-I-cry frustrating. Truly. I more than understand the desire to cancel big oil altogether and restructure our lives and our economies to move on without them. We are strong, independent humans after all and we don’t need no multi-national fossil fuel companies taking all our money and polluting our atmosphere.
Oh man, I’m almost afraid to say it. I do truly want the post-fossil fuel utopia. I dream of it. I hang so many of my hopes on it.
I just think that maybe Big Oil has to come with us to get there. They are, after all, in the carbon business. They have resources and infrastructure and expertise with which they have built lucrative empires. It’s true that their business model so far has been extracting forms of carbon from its natural habitat and selling it to be burnt, consequently causing unimaginable damage to the natural balance of our atmosphere. But can you imagine what we could achieve if those immense resources were turned on their head and used to clean up the mess they created in the first place? I’m not just talking about financial resources, although that is a huge contribution and Big Oil has to take that responsibility seriously. Even the physical infrastructure used in this industry is an important component in carbon removal and storage. We have to get the carbon back underground somehow and what better way than straight back down the wells through which we pulled it out?
I know what you’re thinking: Emily, if we start cleaning up the mess that fossil fuels made while they’re still throwing oil all over the place, that’s not exactly solving the problem! And I agree. Carbon removal CANNOT be an excuse to continue emitting at our current rate. This is where trust comes in. We have to find a way to stop the mess-making AND start the clean-up simultaneously. We have to convince Big Oil that committing to just one side of this mission is not enough. We have to hold them accountable and we have to collaborate.
I know it’s difficult to swallow. Collaborating with the enemy goes against all my instincts. And I’m not suggesting we forgive Big Oil for the social and environmental destruction they’ve caused and the mistakes they continue to make. I’m not saying we sweep it under the rug and pretend it never happened. I’m saying that we collectively need to deal with this mess, all of us, before it’s too late. Realistically, I don’t know what that looks like and maybe it’s as much of a dream as a post-fossil fuel utopia. I imagine that regulation, policy, accountability, and public pressure will certainly be big parts of this picture, and I for one hope they do the trick. In the meantime, although Big Oil has always been the target of my rage, I’m starting to realise that I might need to move my bullseye and consider what role trust will play in the future carbon industry.
The conversation continues on episode 5 of The Carbon Removal Show.
This episode's guests
Many thanks to our excellent guests in this episode:
Dr Katherine Romanak, Research Scientist at the Bureau of Economic Geology, University of Texas
Steve Oldham, CEO of Carbon Engineering
Have you checked out our website yet? We have reading lists for each episode we’ve released so far, with transcriptions to follow later this week. If your interest has been sparked by the show and you want to learn more, this is the perfect place to start. Thanks also to Patch for sponsoring the show.
See you next week!
The Restored.cc team.