Thursday, November 23, 2023

Carbon Emissions? Don't Worry, Be Happy

With yearly carbon dioxide emissions of 14 tons per person, Canadians lead the world in driving climate change. Yearly carbon dioxide emissions attributable to the average Canadian family of four, if frozen solid, would yield a cube of dry ice ten feet on a side, and weighing 56 tons.

But then there are the forest fires, which, to date, have added more than 50 tons of carbon dioxide emissions for every Canadian citizen and are still burning. At a rough estimate, therefore, we can say that Canadian carbon emissions in the current year will total something like 250 tons for a family of four.

How does that translate to national terms? There are 38.25 million Canadians occupying a country of approximately 10 million square kilometers, which means there is approximately one quarter of a square kilometer, or 250 thousand square meters, per person. The atmosphere weighs about 10 tons per square meter, so for for every Canadian resident there are 2.5 million tons of air located over the Canadian land mass. Thus the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere each year as the result of human activity and forest fires raises the carbon dioxide content of the air over the Canadian landmass by one part in fifty thousand, or 20 parts per million. Continued at that rate for twenty years, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide would double in 20 years.

This trend is counteracted in part by natural processes that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. These include both biotic and abiotic processes that result in the deposition of atmospheric carbon dioxide in both dead plant and animal matter accumulating in swamps and peatlands, in limestone rocks and in some disgusting ooze at the bottom of the oceans. Mostly, however, thanks to the global atmospheric circulation, carbon dioxide generated in Canada simply blows away, to be shared by all humanity.

As a long term solution, sharing our pollution with the world is clearly problematic, which fact drives development of technology for extracting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and pumping it into exhaused natural gas fields or other suitable repositories. In particular, we have in Canada Carbon Engineering, a government and charity funded company building a plant that will use renewable energy in the direct capture and sequestration of one hundred million tons of atmospheric carbon dioxide per year. 

So once Carbon Engineering's plant is in operation, we'll just need 19 more the same size to handle Canada's total emissions. Which sounds crazy but need not be, depending on where the cost of large scale direct air carbon capture bottoms out. If, as some estimate, the cost could fall to as little as $15 - 20 per ton (15 to 20 cents per kg), then financing recapture of atmospheric carbon emissions becomes entirely bearable. It would mean, for example, a carbon capture charge of around 50 cents a litre for gasoline. So yes, don't don't worry, be happy. 

Rev'd Nov 24, 2023


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