Reducing our emissions is neccessary, but for just cutting emissions we are too late. Simultaneously cleaning up the invisible waste mountain above our heads is now a matter of life and death.
There are many people who are against directly capturing CO2 from the air, afraid to intervene in natural systems. And we should have been afraid to do that, but we did intervene by using the atmosphere as a waste bin. The consequence is that therefore the CO2 blanket, which used to keep our Earth a planet we could thrive on, is not a balanced natural system any more; we have disrupted it.
What if CO2 had been red, or brown; we would have seen the air becoming darker and dirtier and be alarmed, knowing we were doing it, just as when we became alarmed by the black sooth coming from autos the katalysator was invented. One of the problems is that we do not see CO2, and therefore we still can tell ourselves it is part of a natural system.
Many climate activists are also afraid to start extracting CO2 from the atmosphere because it would soothe major polluters into carelessly emitting CO2 again. Although that certainly is what they would do, we cannot afford to wait any more; we have to start extracting at the same time as doing something about the major polluters. Moreover, who are the richer countries to say that the poorer countries would not have the right to first stabilise themselves economically, and come at a par with the richer countries, who are and were the major polluters in the first place.
The question the activists should ask themselves how many people they are prepared to sacrifice in order to try to convince Big Oil and the fossil fuel supporting money lovers of this Earth, who are not (yet) in danger personally, unless we finally start to criminalise them for knowingly and willingly endangering our lives. The answer must be that there are no acceptable numbers of casualties, and that we have to start immediately. Especially the rich countries have to start now; we have to clean up the mess we polluted the world with.
There have been estimations about the number of machines we need to extract the legacy CO2 from the atmosphere, and a billion is not in any way a bad estimation. Beforehand assuring these machines will not use water in the process, and work on solar power because the sun is our only sustainable power source, if we want to have them operational in ten years we will have to start now, on a very large scale. For so many machines to come into production many processes have to be set up, and because it is in no way possible to completely stop emitting today, the only feasible thing is starting today.
Because we do not have any choice any more. We have missed the opportunity to clean up by natural means; in some hundred and fifty years we have blown into the air what Nature had stored during millions of years. We geo-engineered us into trouble, we have to geo-engineer us back. Whether we like it or not.
and we have to start extracting now, even though we do not know yet what to do with it. If the money lovers of this Earth allow nuclear plants being built without knowing what to do with the waste, let the common people not be more righteous about stored CO2 which is far less dangerous, and many lives are now at stake. When we do not drown from rising seawater, or be washed away by too much rain, or lose our harvests because of draughts and fires, we have enough time to think about good use for the CO2 in storage. And, different from the enormous nuclear waste and various other problems, feasible and less feasible ideas are springing up everywhere.
What if we would bring our legacy CO2 to the Moon to supplement the lunar CO2, enabling the future colonies to grow food.
Happily, more practical ideas about how to use the captured CO2 are being developed, but even storing it for now would be acceptabe; we simply have to start extracting before we hit the tipping points.
If governments react too slowly to the threat from the sky, and allow some people to become filthy rich, let us combine these two detriments into our rescue; let the rich of this world come into action, and start, next to the Space Race, the Earth Race: who will become the person who saved the world.
Freely fantasizing about solutions helps to clear up the barriers in our thinking
At the same time as extracting the CO2 surplus from the atmosphere and searching for ways to store it permanently, we have to stop emitting it in the amounts we emit it now. Whether by cutting down CO2 emissions or starting to recycle it. To my happiness, ever since (but doubtless already long before) my 2020 Norway-climate panic caused by experiencing the high winter temperatures myself, ever more clever ideas are launched to reduce our CO2 emissions. One such an idea, perhaps as unpractical as my ideas above, are algae biopanel windows. But unpracticality is no problem, perhaps they will soon find solutions, and what is even better, freely coming up with ideas, however unpractical or undoable, helps to erase barriers in our thinking. We are running out of time so we desperately need that.
Cutting down emissions
Suggestions for cutting down emissions often use 1990 levels to compare with. That is arbitrary because also then glaciers were retracting already, and we therefore ultimately need to reduce to much earlier levels, but it is good to start with a goal which can be reached. If 1990 is also chosen for determining the surplus of CO2 in the air, from this atmospheric CO2 graph we take the 2021 level as 418 ppm, and that of 1990 as 354 ppm; then we have a surplus of 62 ppm.
This surplus of CO2 in the atmosphere is the legacy CO2, the fossil CO2 which was safely stored for millions of years, but we used it and dumped it into the atmosphere, as if that was an infinite waste bin. Because a large proportion of CO2 will stay in the atmosphere for hundreds of years we created a greenhouse blanket which is much thicker than it used to be.
The Earth needs such an atmospheric greenhouse effect; it is necessary to protect us from the cold of the universe. But the CO2 blanket has now become so thick, and CO2 stays in the atmosphere so long, that even if, theoretically, we would reduce emissions to zero today, the weather would remain as erratic as it is now, and the ice still would keep melting. We simply lost the luxury of just having to reduce emissions.
But a trait of humanity is that we can deplete almost all raw materials. Let us use that normally unfavourable trait to clean up the atmosphere.
So capture the CO2 where you will use it,then recycle it into the bubbles in your soda,
and store it in CO2 containing bricks.
If we start now we may be just in time to save ourselves.
2 December 2023. The World Meteorological Organization writes, “2023 shatters climate records, with major impacts”; this year is set to be the warmest on record, and finally it seems that hardly any one is doubting any more. Yet the problem is that even if we stop emitting any CO2 today, the greenhouse blanket in the atmosphere is still too thick for us to survive. We need it in order to protect us from the cold of the Universe, but at the same time, we have to keep it as thin as possible. Therefore, what else is there to do except clean up the atmosphere which we used as if it was an infinite waste bin, and resolve to never misuse it in such a way again.
The total weight of the atmosphere is about 5 billiard ton (US 5 quadrillion), and if now the amount of CO2 is about 420 parts per million or about 400 ton per million ton of air, the total amount of CO2 is about 200 milliard ton (US 200 billion). In the year I was born, 1958, the measurements at Mauna Loa began, and the level of CO2 in the atmosphere then already was 315 ppm. It had been below 280 ppm in the period between a million until 10,000 years ago, and then around 280 ppm until the mid-1700s. The latter period was a time of climate equilibrium, in which most of mankind as we know it now evolved. So if we want to reduce the level of CO2 to 280 ppm again, about two-third of what it is now, we have to extract about 130 milliard ton (US billion ton). Then Nature can play with it again, in an always slower pace than we managed to change it, and therefore in any case easier to adapt to.
How to extract the CO2 is not the problem any more, yet the problem what to do with it is far from solved. There are ever more good ideas however. One of them is to use concentrated sunlight to split CO2 + H2O into CO, H2 and O2, and use the CO and H2 to produce synthetic fuels. But that is still recycling, and what we need is both recycling in order to reach net zero emissions, and annihilation of CO2 in order to clean up. To achieve the latter, it would be best to split the CO2 into O2 and C directly. The problem is that that would need temperatures of around 6000 Kelvin, and even solar furnaces do not reach such temperatures. Therefore, for now it seems that we need every safe mineralisation plan we can come up with.
A very nice one certainly is baking CO2 negative bricks. Assume that the claim, that a metric ton of such bricks stores 60 kg of CO2, is correct, and that an average brick weighs around 2 kg. An average-sized house is built with about 10,000 bricks, which means that these bricks would store 1200 kg CO2, or about one metric ton per house. If, as was also claimed, in the coming years around 100,000 houses are needed every day, or about 35 million per year, the total amount of CO2 stored is 35 million metric tons. That number sounds quite high, yet the total yearly emission of CO2 is estimated at around 40 billion metric tons. The bricks therefore would not seem to be very significant, but it is CO2 that never enters the CO2 cycle any more; we just need many more of such good ideas.
July 2023 was hottest month on record. And I was surprised, because my usually highly valued popular magazine for science and technology was writing about how the climate can be “hacked.” All sorts of ideas passed the revue; all meant to cool the planet but costing a lot of money. Like creating bubbles on the surface of the oceans to making them more white and therefore reflecting more sunlight back into space; placing mirrors in space to prevent two percent of the sunlight to reach the Earth’s surface; scatter iron sulphate into the oceans hoping the algae will grow extremely rapidly and sink to the bottom.
It shows that there are people who think it is a good idea to spend billons in some currency to cool off the planet, and accept the death of life in the oceans as collateral damage, but who do not consider the most simple idea of just taking out the CO2 we have dumped into the atmosphere. Just as some people talk as if we can get used to the hotter weather, as if we will reach some new equilibrium which is just a bit more inconvenient that what we were used to. But there will not be a new equilibrium; until our emissions have gone to zero, climate change is increasing. And even if we reach zero emissions, the blanket around the Earth formed by the CO2 in the atmosphere is way too thick.
Using all these billions to thin the blanket by capturing the legacy CO2 directly from the air does seem by far the most effective idea. And looking at photos of July’s extreme weather shows that we do not have time for all those other megalomaniac ideas. If you wake up at night because your blanket is too thick and you feel uncomfortably hot, what would you do? Turn on a ventilator or paint your house in lighter colours, or would you just take a thinner blanket? That is how simple it is.
But in a way, this simplicity is also alarming. The danger of climate change was known already in 1959, and understood and explained very well by Shell in 1991, but it only led to their denial of the problem. Instead of searching for solutions, Big Oil set up large PR campaigns to prevent us from using simple logic and recognise the danger we were in. And now the same thing seems to be happening again. The most logical solution, extracting the CO2 surplus from the atmosphere, is staring us in the face, yet it hardly ever is mentioned in public contemplations about the dangers we are facing. The question is why, and the answer may again be simple.
Making use of our growing fears, multinationals can earn enormous amounts of money with megalomanic plans to “cool the planet,” and it therefore can safely be assumed that again like forces are at work. The goal being to discourage us from solving the problem, it does not even seem too far-fetched to assume that lobbyists have entered political parties, media and climate activist groups to ensure they keep believing that direct air capture will mainly cause problems. Writing headlines that it “could spark big rise in food prices” and only mentioning late in the article that that does not have to be the case, or turn us against each other by whispering that “the others” will take advantage and instead of also cutting emissions will live luxurious lives at our costs.
Indeed, if we would spend all our money on solving the problem, Big Oil and the multinationals will not only earn less, but even face the risk of being accused of having endangered our lives. Saving us with expensive and megalomanic solutions will not only make them even richer, but will also make them seem the heroes instead of the criminals.
It is May 2023 now, and the polar ice is melting even more rapidly than was expected. The IPCC acknowledged that CO2 levels in the atmosphere have to be brought down; not only do we have to cut emissions, but we also have to remove the extra CO2 which has been and still is wasted into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels. “CDR is not a substitute for deep emissions reductions, but it is an important tool that should be deployed in tandem with other mitigation methods.” But still nothing in the media, and politicians are completely silent.
Of course, knowing what to look for it is easily found, but nothing urgent in the headlines, telling people what can and should be done. Whenever I talk with people about CO2 extraction, why it is needed, and that it can be done already, there is amazement. Which means that within the CO2 extraction bubble people believe everyone knows, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Wondering what is going on, I searched on the BBC's Sience and Environment, and too easily found an article from 20 March 2023, Five things we've learned from UN climate report with the claim, “Coming back from overshooting will need expensive, unproven technology to pull CO2 from the air, something known as carbon capture.” Searching for like remarks there are plenty, and not only in articles by the BBC, which was just an example. Just claiming in some sentence that direct capture is “expensive and unproven” will not help conveying the urgent message to the public.
Next to loose unfounded claims, another problem is that in such articles the CO2 extraction and what to do with it afterwards is mixed into one vaguely problematic story. We have to unravel that: we have to start extracting now, on a huge scale, and in the meantime think about solutions. Why would we allow nuclear plants to produce energy without a solution for its extremely dangerous waste, but wait with extracting CO2 until we have something beautiful. The world cannot wait any longer.
Not so much news but a contemplation is that writing about climate change I more and more become aware of the generation problem. Many people at the top of big oil, and the filthy rich money lovers who support them, are of my generation or older. Speaking generally, and in averages, we grew up in the times before we knew big oil was lying to us; times we thought the Earth was “makeable”. If it had been up to my mother, no slanting little blade of grass would have been allowed to grow on the neat berms of the fifties and sixties, and my father happily used the flitspuit while we, curious, were looking over his shoulder to see the nasty ants die. (Only now I see that the flitspuit was filled with ‘flit’, a product made by Esso. Really. We undoubtedly can find deliberately concealed reports already warning for the dangers before the DDT was found in our food.)
Again speaking in averages, the view of nowadays’ youth is very different. Because the climate is now in acute danger, they are aware that we are connected to our surroundings, that how we live influences Nature. I do hope that they will take over soon enough, most likely repeating many mistakes we made, but at least starting to live more in equilibrium with the Earth as a whole.
Frightening news is that the Earth is dimming due to climate change; less energy is reflected back into space. Naturally, the energy the Sun gives us remained the same, meaning that the Earth stores more energy and becomes even warmer. At the same time there the solution becomes even more obvious: we evolved because of the Sun’s energy, and we should return to that state; every form of energy production other than sunlight uses Earth systems and is capable of disrupting them. We have to use solar power to live a life in balance with Nature, and stop all other forms of energy production wherever and whenever we can.
Something strange is that searching for how to store CO2, in itself a useful product but not as garbage above our heads, I was looking again at frozen CO2 on the Moon. In an article mentioning that, frozen CO2 was compared to “dry ice you can get in a supermarket.” It indeed is called dry ice and I knew it from physics experiments, but I had never thought it would be sold in a supermarket; it appears that it can be put in drinks.So now there are bubbles of CO2 in drinks, and extra chunks of CO2. Very strange indeed. In any case, it means recycling CO2 is becoming even more attractive for businesses, and therefore we can use it to start up large scale direct air capture more easily. Because the starting up on a large scale is still a problem; people will not largely support it if they do not see its usefulness. That was, for me, a reason to suggest my university to build or buy such a direct air capturing machine, and then teach the public what it does and how it works, while preferrable standing next to the machine (solar powered of course). As a useful implementation of valorisation.
Totally unnecessary news is that at the German Oktoberfest, held in September 2022, there will not be enough beer: because there is not enough CO2. Apparently, the CO2 is taken from fertilizer producers, and because of the high prices of fossil gas less fertilizer is produced.
Organisers of the Oktoberfest: there is an enormous surplus of CO2 above your heads: free to use and at no costs. Why would you neatly recycle your plastics and glass, but not the bubbles in your beer? Make a good investment and buy some machines. The bubbles will never be your problem again, and there will be enough beer at every Oktoberfest.
Very scary news in September 2022. While a third of Pakistan is flooded with devastating consquences, further dangers, and clearly caused by climate change, a German documentary called ‘The Great Draught’, states that the Rhine is drying up, every year losing an amount of water comparable with the yearly use of the city of Frankfurt. Of course, with sluices and dams the water can be kept from streaming into the sea too fast, but that does not alter the source of the problem, that less rainwater and snow feed the Rhine. And if we do not start now to clean up our mess, it will become ever worse; more countries will drown, and more countries will dry up.
In August 2022 a short but terrifying article was placed on the website of the KNMI, the Royal Dutch Meteorological Institute: the broadest glacier in the world, the Thwaites glacier in Western Antarctica, shows cracks. The melting Thwaites glacier already contributes ten percent of global mean sea level rise, and if it melts the mean sea level along the Dutch coast will rise by two metres. It is stated by the ENW, the Network of Expertise of Water security (translated by Google to ‘the Science’ ??) that one metre is within the boundaries of what our dikes and dunes can withstand, and also two metres is still possible, but with great consequences for nature and how we use the land. The advice speaks about an accelerated sea level rise in 2050, and about costs and choices, but it was written without taking the melting of the glacier into account. If a rise of two metres will happen in only a few years, as has become a real possibility, we are in very serious trouble.
I do realise that I had to see warm Norway for myself before becoming very worried, and I also realise that that holds for most of us; what we do not see does not exist. If CO2 had smelled badly or had had an ugly colour, or if the plastics had heaped up in our meadows instead of in the oceans, everything would have been different. Yet it still is terrifying to read articles containing reassurances as, “it will not become that bad, although perhaps we do have to relocate some low lying and densely populated areas.” Or even, “the people of Tuvalu know they have to relocate because their island will disappear, but they are strong people and they can start a new life in New-Zealand.” Many people seem to think there will be a new equilibrium, somewhat hotter, with a somewhat higher sea level, and then after some relocations, within our own countries of course, we live happily ever after.
But that is not what will happen, unless we take action and start to clean up the atmosphere. The technology to do it is ready and growing, but we have to start on very large scales; buy and distribute many machines and set them to work.
And yes, it is a very good idea to force Big Oil to paying substantial parts of their enormous profits to finance these clean ups; we do not have time any more to develop nice finance plans. Big Oil aggravated their mess even after they already knew what they were doing, but they withheld the information from us, and even hired the best, and most unscrupulous, PR people to delude us. It was, and still is, criminal behaviour, as simple as that.
Summer 2022: Energy storage in sand as the way to reach net-zero CO2 emissions worldwide.
Marvellous supernews is that in Finland people came up with a revolutionary simple idea: Store Wind and Solar Power as Heat in Sand. What an idea. We all know how hot sand can become on a sunny day, and if this technology can work in the Finnish winter, it certainly can in our nights. Within our limits and time frame it truly feels like the ultimate solution; it stores clean energy, which unavoidably comes in fluctuating amounts, in a clean way, sand is abundant, and then compare the CO2 emitted during construction with building nuclear power plants!
Because also solar panels are becoming ever more effective and less toxic, this certainly seems to be the most feasible solution for storing clean energy in the dark hours, and frees us from having to rely on enormous chemical accus, as seemed to be the only way to provide a stable level of energy supply.
Storing energy in sand might allow us all to stop using fossil and nuclear energy, and become CO2 zero-emitters. And then we can devote all our strength to cleaning up the planet. Extract the largest surplus of CO2 in non-toxic ways and store it in non-intrusive ways, and find effective ways to extract the other surpluses of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Yet of all the greenhouse gases CO2 is the most problematic one because it stays in the atmosphere for so long, so if we finally begin to extract it on a very large scale, we might in any case survive our dirty years.
Remarkable, my panic started in Norway, and the best solution until now comes from Finland. It is a nice touch that we might be saved by the people who know best what it is to live for weeks without seeing any sun, by a company called Polar Night Energy. I would say, spread the word, and release the world from money consuming and toxic fake solutions.
Very good news is that in May 2022 the world reached the predicted first terawatt of installed solar energy generation capacity. Zonnepanelendelen.nl (Sharing solar panels) comments: "The global annual production of all those panels is comparable to what 500 nuclear power stations as the one in Borssele would yield during the same period."
At the moment there are 439 nuclear power plants in the world. Using the Wikipedia data about 435 units, the total capacity is roughly 388,000 MW; with Borssele having a capacity of 482 MW, 500 times Borssele is 241,000 MW, or 62% of the total nuclear capacity. Because the solar capacity grew with 21% in 2021, it can be expected that very soon solar capacity will surpass nuclear capacity.
At some earlier times nuclear energy may have looked promising, yet the transition which should have gone hand-in-hand with it was impaired by the people earning staggering amounts of money in the fossil industries. The folly of still believing that nuclear energy can solve any of our current, pressing problems becomes apparent if the costs of an 21% increase of nuclear capacity, as was the increase of solar capacity in 2021, is considered. Such an increase would mean building 91 new plants; building one plant takes at least five years and costs at least five billion dollars, and therefore 91 plants would cost half a trillion; about one and a half times the total expenditure of the Dutch government. If in five years that amount of money would be used to solve the energy and distribution problems of solar energy we are far more likely to succeed in staying alive than if we spend it on nuclear capacity, which would even cost a lot more if the enormous and still unsolved nuclear waste problem is taken into account.
Something else might be nuclear fusion which reached a small but major breakthrough. Yet it would not become available on a large scale before 2025, and it is obviously preferred that by then we already achieved a completely adequate and sustainable energy supply.
The by far most simple way seems to be to just catch and transport sunlight itself using solar fiber optic systems. At the moment they are used for indoor sunlight, but the optical fiber cables can be as long as we need them to be. So simplifying and vastly extending these systems, they can be built wherever sunlight is plenty, and having enough plants around the world, sunlight will always be available from somewhere. If we can transport oil all over the world, and send data around all the time, we certainly can transport light all over the world. Countries which can sell sunlight will become as important as oil producing countries were and we will close contracts with them; every night we buy sunlight from places at the other side of the world for our night systems, which are built in such a way that no light leaks out while using it to generate solar energy locally. There would hardly be need for accus to store solar energy; we would have access to solar energy all the time, with the advantage that we can also use it for illumination of buildings where people work in night shifts. The advantages would be that it can be a fair trade, no water or chemicals are used, and there is no toxic waste.
And even though I think satellites sending bundles of sunlight to the Earth’s surface is an exciting idea (yet also a bit frightning), transporting light around the world seems to be far more easy to accomplish on a very large scale.
Totally insane news is that at the moment, Summer 2021, there is, again, a CO2 shortage. According to the article CO2 is used for hundreds of products: to carbonate water, soft drinks and alcoholic drinks; to dispense drinks and beers in pubs; to promote the growth of plants - such as cucumbers - in greenhouses; to stun pigs and chickens before slaughter; for packaging meats, baby foods, fresh foods and baked products (CO2 extends shelf life by preventing bacteria); to keep food fresh in transport (CO2 is used in the form of dry ice and snow).
In September 2021 the BBC wrote, “The UK’s food industry has been told it must pay five times more for carbon dioxide in future.” They explain that CO2 is used for farming, drinks, and packaging. Would this then finally lead to the very positive side-effect that it will be cheaper to buy some direct capture machines from ClimeWorks, place them on the factory premises, and be over with this ridiculousness? The businesses using the CO2 are recyclers, which is good for the climate, and capturing it on their own premises means they do not have to buy it, and it does not have to be transported. Moreover, the stockpile is infinite, because they recycle it; the blanket abouve our heads cannot become too thin by recycling. The direct-captured CO2 from the waste gases of the chemical industry, which is used now, can be stored on their premises, until someone builds a neighbouring factory for baking CO2 bricks, for instance. Doubtless, the chemical industry will come up with more clever solutions for using it, helped by the “nascent CCU industry.”
If we then remove unavoidable and fossil CO2 from the air in a safe and permanent way by clever ways of using it, and we start doing that now, we might just make it after all.
Very very very good news is that Scotland is preparing for CO2 removal.
Good news, or for me it was news, is that urban farming is finally off the starting blocks. Farming on rooftops without using soil and much less water will be one of the ways to make room for nature again. If many of us live in high-rise buildings, and do not use land for farming wherever that is possible, nature can again recuperate. Forms of this kind of farming are hydroponics and aeroponics, either on rooftops or in indoor vertical farms. The differences between hydroponics and aeroponics are for instance described here and here.
The beauty in the video about indoor farming is at 6:40, namely when using optical fiber cables to channel sunlight directly indoors is mentioned. One of the problems of all greenhouse farming is of course that it seems that in these conditions all plants can grow throughout the year no matter what the weather conditions, but people in colder climates profit from eating the vegetables of the season. Moreover, plants need their rest. So if you use real sunlight, through cables to prevent illnesses and therefore chemicals, we have the best of both worlds.
The dangers of misusing new technologies and trying to force nature are as old as the world, or, actually, humanity. Especially when money comes in, as in the palm oil industry and biomass plants, but even when all is meant well; quick fixes are very often harming nature.
Again very bad news is that Earth’s declining ice is “without doubt one of the biggest casualties of climate change.” In June 2021 ESA stated that new research shows that sea ice in key Arctic coastal regions is thinning almost twice as fast than previously thought.
Alarming news is that the oceans, lakes, and rivers are losing oxygen. “The open oceans are losing oxygen because of climate change, whereas dead zones in coastal waters and seas are caused by excessive nutrients, which promote excessive growth of algae and eventually oxygen depletion.”
There are in fact two messages in these devastating observations. For the oceans it is imperative that we clean out the World Wide Waste-bin above our heads by removing the CO2 surplus, while for the lakes and the rivers we have to change the way we eat and farm. One of the reasons that actively taking out CO2 from the atmosphere is not supported by many environmental organisations, is that they fear it will hamper the efforts to reduce our emissions because people will believe everything is easily solved when we take out the CO2 surplus.
The reason why therefore this dramatic overview of dying water is at the same time amazingly positive is that it shows that actively removing the CO2 surplus does not mean we can go back to our former lifestyles; to bring the rivers and the lakes back to life we have to change our farming and our diets. Therewith it is the most vivid, dramatic, urgent call to do both, without delay. To save the waters, we need to clean up and change, and that change is precisely the change we need to reduce our emissions.
We have to start to live with nature again instead of above it, while at the same time cleaning up the mess we made.
What we did with the atmosphere, and what we would do without extracting CO2 on a large scale, can be compared with a home. Suppose that one way way or another, your household ran out of your control and you live in an ever messier and dirtier home. Some day you suddenly realise what you have been doing; the graduality meant you did not really notice until you were hindered in your movements. You make yourself a promise: from now on I will tidy up again after having used something. A month later you find to your amazement that your house did not become dirtier, but also not cleaner. Then you realise that changing your behaviour was not enough, somehow you also have to clean up the mess you made earlier.
And if the mess in your home was a result of a good plan to build something, like an extra room, and you used cars to bring it to your house but you never executed your plan, you have to use cars again to bring it to the garbage dump or recycling center.
This is of course exactly how we have to deal with Nature. We are mess makers, which is no problem if we realise that we have to clean up regularly. And that in times when it gets a bit out of hand, as it did now because Shell and the other big oil companies fooled us and polluted gradually so we did not notice in time, we have to have a big clean-up, with all technical methods we can think of. Especially the fossil mess was made with machines which became ever larger, so we also have to clean it up with machines, whether we like it or not. It took the Earth millions of years to bury all that CO2, and we blew it back into the atmosphere in less than two hundred years.
The Earth is our home, and taking care of it is exactly the same as taking care of our domestic homes. Big polluters have to clean the bulk, or if necessary pay people to do it for them, but everyone helps to keep it clean.
(I was tempted to say, without the cleaning products, but that is not even true. No one would use a cleaning product which bites into the furniture, or kills the fish in the aquarium. So we should make the same decisions when cleaning up the mess we made in Nature.)
Very bad news is that large scale shoreline retreat is happening already; as ESA writes in March 2021, “A substantial proportion of the world’s sandy coastlines are already eroding owing to increased storm surges, flooding and sea level rise.”
Very good news is that ClimeWork’s technology is modular and therefore scalable, so the machines can be placed almost everywhere.
Really bad news is that we in the Netherlands, as the result of having been governed for many years now by mammon-worshipping political parties, cause the largest area of deforestation of all European countries; a staggering 18 m2 per year per capita. But of course not in our own backyard.
Very good news is that, early in 2020, Microsoft has declared that the company will be carbon negative by 2030, and will have cleaned up their contribution to the waste mountain in 2050. Also very good news is that they see ClimeWorks' direct air capture technology as a key component of their carbon removal efforts.
Not so happy is the way they will store it; large-scale storage will do more harm than good. These plans show that the new methods of non-intrusive recycling and storage as supported and advocated by CO2value must be developed as quickly as possible; to recycle and store CO2 emissions yielding useful products such as chemicals and synthetic fuels (recycling) and building materials (storage). As well as every other very good idea such as for instance storage by using olivine. We must at least prevent the melting of the permafrost, and we therefore are in a hurry.
Why nuclear energy is not one of the good ideasEven though nuclear energy is CO2 neutral, using it is not a good thing to do. In an attempt to ease the public, in 2021 it was written on the website of the World Nuclear Association, “Only a small volume of nuclear waste (~3% of the total) is long-lived and highly radioactive and requires isolation from the environment for many thousands of years.” Also from this website, “About 400,000 tonnes of used fuel has been discharged from reactors worldwide, with about one-third having been reprocessed.” That means that 266 million kilos have not been reprocessed, of which 8 million kilos have to be stored for many thousands of years, and that is what we produced until now, in a mere seventy years (since 1954). If to fight climate change we will build more plants there will be more waste, even when the reprocessing becomes more effective. And who thinks that is not a problem should contemplate for a moment the state of human kind in say -10.000 years; about the time of the Neolithic Revolution, or the building of the Göbekli Tepe. We usually think that Stonehenge was built a long time ago.
Apparently, many people have problems with the idea of using technology to extract CO2 from the air, afraid that it will soothe (other) (rich and powerful) people so much that they will not aim to reduce emitting greenhouse gases any more. Until some years ago that seemed to be a valid argument, but unfortunately the surplus of CO2 is now so large that we do not have any choice left.
For any last person still in doubt despite the fires, storms and floods, and otherwise because of its vivid instructiveness, this is how fast we did it: xkcd’s Earth Temperature Timeline.
Turn the rich and famous into major cleaners
The rich and famous people of this earth are and have always been the major polluters, yet we can turn them into major cleaners in very simple ways. The 99% has, after all, more members than the 1%; the famous need followers, the rich need consumers.
What we should do first is convince the good people amongst them to start cleaning up their own mess. Taking into account the possibility that these people still do not realise what they are doing to the rest of us, perhaps thinking that ‘Nature’ is changing its climate instead of humanity, and still believe they can escape our common fate, we have to educate them. That should suffice to convince the good people amongst them to take action and, who knows, help clean up more than just their own mess.
Then it is time that we acknowledge that there are many very selfish people living amongst us, and that some of them are amongst the richest people on Earth. Some of them are known as persons, but many hide themselves behind big companies. We therefore have to realise even better that companies cannot think and decide, people do that. The state of the Earth has now clearly shown us that trying to convince these people to start caring for others, and wait with drastic measures until they will come into action themselves, will cost most of us our lives. The 1% way-too-rich people will be able to survive much longer than the average person, so waiting for them will be our death sentence. What we can do is criminalise their actions because they play with our lives, and force them to invest in cleaning up: we simply demand that all their plans and ways of living have to be extended with clean-up plans. The famous can be shamed into action, the rich can simply lose all cooperation if they do not present cleanup programs with their ventures.
So all the insanely rich people would be forced to have any plan for space or cars or whatever be accompanied by a cleaning up program: if you want to place 100 satellites in orbit, you have to take out the complete CO2 emissions of the production processes, together with an equal amount of pieces of space junk; ESA, NASA, JAXA, UAESA, Roscosmos, CSNA, ISRO etc. can easily make that a part of the permission processes and cooperation plans. And if the riches want to make electric cars, however useful in our transition, next to boasting about the CO2 not emitted while driving the cars they have to have a CO2 extraction plan for the production process, just as for the recycling processes of used materials. Countries for instance can simply make it a part of the permissions for new factories.
And generally, if they for instance fly in their (private) jets they have to take out as much CO2 out of the atmosphere than they spilt into it. That should not be regulated by ‘fair taxes’ because such taxes always hit the poorer people harder than the rich, and the honest people harder than the deceivers; we have to target the rich directly and make it a simple rule: we know who are the major polluters, and we know their plans. They may continue to play but they have to learn that, as every child knows, cleaning up is part of their playtime.
The reason to start with the insanely rich is simply because they are the big polluters, and they have the means to start cleaning up on a very large scale; a process that otherwise will take much time to evolve, time we do not have any more. So let us not squabble about details, it is completely obvious who have to be the first to come into action. Needless to say that also the rest of us has to adapt; only if we all do what we can we will survive. Yet we also have to acknowledge that emissions will not stop any time soon; many poorer people do not have any choice, and there are too many nasty persons amongst the riches and powerful of this world. The time is taken from us, by, yes, the rich people of the Shell companies of this world, to be able to wait until everyone agrees on what to do. We have to start as soon as possible on immensely large scales, before we reach, in the very near future, one of the tipping points.
What to do with the extracted CO2
Suppose that we succeed, and CO2 is taken from the atmosphere in large quantities, then despite all good intentions, mineralising it all may not be able to be done fast enough. Recycling and using the extracted CO2 for for instance building materials are sound ideas, but when the amounts of CO2 taken from the atmosphere really begin to be of some sensible amount we have to do something more drastic, and it is no problem that then a solution is only temporary. When we have cut emissions, and have brought the CO2 levels back to sustainable ones, we can focus again on recycling.
It is widely known that our huge amounts of toxic or radioactive waste cannot be disposed of by shooting it into space because any accident during launch could cause the very wide environment to become inhabitable. But that does not hold for CO2. If we send it to space in manageable amounts, packed in for instance canisters of recycled plastic, and something goes wrong, we just did not reduce CO2 levels.
An idea would be, using solar power, to catapult the packages into the Sun. The Sun can easily take on the whole Earth, therefore, whatever we shoot into it will be destroyed nicely. Yet it is difficult to really shoot something into the Sun because it will rather end up in orbit around the Sun, although for canisters containing CO2 that is not really a big problem. Still, we can make use of the CO2 itself, by using it as its own rocket fuel having applied exhaustion valves to the canisters; there is again not any problem with losing CO2 in space, it is neither toxic nor dangerous. I do not know how to prevent or control unexpected rotations of the canisters, but that can undoubtedly be solved.
What we can also do is catapult or shoot the canisters to the Moon. It appears that there is solid CO2 on the Moon, which together with the water ice at the poles can be used for future Moon colonies. But instead of the future Moon colonists having to collect the ‘dry ice’, it may be much simpler if CO2 is already there. Again, there is not any problem, if we send too much they can simply let it evaporate again, space will not care much for our relatively tiny bit of CO2. It would be nice to see if canisters can be shot to the Moon; it would be fun to try, and not a problem if every once in a while something goes wrong. We could learn a lot from it, especially if it was found that shooting goods to the colonists is easier than bring everything by using rockets. And if we then collect water from the rings of Saturn, we are finally growing towards Asimov’s future.
In the middle of the nineteenth century it was discovered that the intensity of the sun’s radiation, directly linked to the number of sunspots, varies in cycles of eleven years. In the 1960s the idea dawned that sunspot cycles were correlated to variations of the Earth’s temperature, and in the 1970s such a correlation was found between periods of lower activity of the sun or even near absence of sunspots, and periods of colder temperatures in Europe, called the Little Ice Age, lasting from the early 14th century to the middle of the 19th century and shown in many famous paintings. Also for longer periods in the past correlations between weather and sunspots were found.
But at about the same time that it was discovered, in the 1960s, the correlation disappeared because the CO2 effect took over. As can be seen in the figure below, from about 1900 the number of sunspots had increased on average, and from about the 1960s it decreased again. But as can be seen in the second figure, instead of decreasing with it the temperature rose further, as we now know because of the greenhouse gases.
If the sun is quiet and only a few sunspots can be seen, the intensity of its radiation is relatively low; when there are many sunspots the intensity is higher. As can be seen below in the left figure, these cycles can easily be recognized in photos from the SOHO satellite, here showing 1996 to 2020, solar cycles number 23 and 24. In these photos the sunspots, and places of high activity, are brighter than the surface; as seen from the earth sunspots look like spots indeed, and darker than their surroundings.
This means that for now the sun gave us a little respite, because of the cooling effect. But if in the near future the sunspot maxima will raise again we have a real problem, we thus have to solve the CO2 problem before the sun will become more active again.
We have been given a little respite by the Sun. But that will not last long, so let us gratefully use our extra time
The CO2 problem
There are several greenhouse gases; next to CO2 there are for instance methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and larger molecules such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). All these gases contribute to the warming of the earth in different ways; what varies is mainly their ability to absorb energy and, once emitted to the atmosphere, the time they remain there. There are very many details to tell about all the greenhouse gases, but some stand out.
All the other greenhouse gases can absorb more energy than CO2, and their effect on warming the earth is therewith stronger than that of CO2. Because of these large effects on the climate it is very important to reduce their emissions as much as possible, or capture the greenhouse gases at the sources, preventing them to escape to the atmosphere.
But what sets CO2 apart is its lifetime and abundance. While the other greenhouse gases stay in the atmospere for roughly a hundred years, once emitted CO2 will remain there for between 300 and 1000 years. The other problem is that we already emitted it in abundance by using fossil fuels.
Fossil fuels are the remains of plants which died millions of years ago, taking all that time to transform into coals or oil. All organisms or lifeforms, including plants, are full of so-called carbohydrates, organic molecules such as sugar, which are used to store energy in the organisms, hence the name organic molecules. Carbohydrates are mainly built from carbon (C), hydrogen (H) and oxygen (O).
Burning means, generally, reacting with atmospheric oxygen, O2. When the remains of the plants, the fossil fuels, are burnt deliberately to be able to use them as energy sources, O2 combines with the hydrogen, H, to form water, H2O, and with the carbon, C, to form CO2. These reactions take place while releasing much heat, and that is the enery we use, and have used, in abundance. The water entering the atmosphere is pure and thus poses no probem at all. But the CO2 produced is also emitted into the atmosphere; because no one could see it or smell it, until the 1970s hardly anyone realized that something was wrong.
The climate is changing very rapidly now, we are running from record to record. Reducing CO2 emissions, and measures such as re- and afforestation, are needed badly but it will not be enough. The atmosphere behaves as a blanket around the earth; a blanket which is necessary because without it we would freeze. But because not any large scale action was taken in the last decennia of the previous century, and the detrimental effects of the surplus of CO2 in the atmosphere started to be generally recognized only slowly early in this century, we now are living under an atmospheric blanket which has grown far too thick, and makes the ice on the poles melt. We therefore have no choice if we want to prevent the rising of the sea levels; we have to clean out this world wide waste-bin. What we brought into the atmosphere in the last fifty years could also be cleaned up again in fifty years. But we have to start now, or countries will have disappeared already, engulfed by the oceans.
Reduction and a bit of history
Reducing CO2 is an intricate problem. Changes of lifestyles are necessary, but if people have the feeling they almost have to stop living while big industries can simply continue polluting, motivation to change comfortable and familiar lifestyles is very hard to maintain.
Especially the large oil and gas companies have had a damaging impact, because they have inhibited and forestalled much-needed changes. We now know that already in 1959 also Shell knew, and in in 1991 was fully aware of what was happening, and also, that the seemingly well-founded doubts about climate change were orchestrated by the oil companies. Fortunately, in 2020 Shell has been brought to trial, yet the fact that they could continue for such a long time has caused an enormous delay in cleaning up the atmosphere. And looking at Shell’s own website, it can easily be seen that there is not any hope they will take responsbility for what they did, not even after trials.
The magnitude of the problem only became known to the general public when the atmosheric CO2 levels started to run out of hand; 2020 was again one of the warmest years on record, and disasters are happening already, even in the Netherlands.
About positive, non-intrusive ways to capture, recycle and store CO2
To keep people motivated and hopeful it is important that ways are found to work on the energy transition in a non-harmful way, for both the people and the earth. Changing lifestyles is important, but the emphasis should not just be on changing them so drastically that people feel they will lose their self-determination. More emphasis should be given to making publicly known, and developing further, ways of capturing CO2 from the air, recycling the CO2 which is emitted now, and storing the CO2 that was emitted in previous years.
To store and recycle CO2 it must first be captured. One way to do that is called “direct capture”; the CO2 is simply extracted from the open air, see for instance Climeworks and how it works. The beauty of this method is that it does not need water or chemicals, and the energy can come from solar panels. The technology is modular and scalable, and it does not matter where the CO2 is captured because it rapidly diffuses throughout the whole atmosphere. That also means that not everyone has to cooperate; it is as if you bought a dirty house and have to clean up, but the previous owner is not there any more. Of course, spreading false information in the ways the oil companies did should be punished, and emitting CO2 now has to be disencouraged strongly in order to prevent further excessive emissions, but anyone can start with cleaning up today. If we delay it until trails are won we will be too late.
* It might seem trivial, but taking on average 25 mg CO2 per liter soda, and assuming that four billion people each drink 100 liter per year, a short calculation shows that that amounts to a hundred tousand tonnes per year. If the new Climeworks plant can store four thousand tonnes per year (leaving aside what we think of their method), we would need twenty-five of these plants to just account for our bubbles. And then beer has not yet been included, neither is transport of the CO2.
In the meantime, the CO2 as a by-product of industrial processes can be captured and stored. There are many ideas about how to store CO2; put it in empty gas fields, salt caverns, or let it be absorbed by rock in the earth’s mantle to form calcium carbonates. But most of these techniques are very intrusive; they have huge impacts on the earth and may have harmful side effects. Forcing the earth is, just like forcing people, hardly ever a sustainable idea. When I started to search for less harmful ways to store CO2, I recalled reading on the Climework’s website about storage in bricks, and adding that to my search words I found a little pdf on the web, CO2 mineralisation, which to my amazement was exactly what I had been looking for. It appeared to be a folder written by the above-mentioned group called CO2Value, a “think-and-do-tank, dedicated to Carbon Capture and Utilisation (CCU).” They discuss many ways of recycling and storage, and I think one of the best ideas is to use it in the building industries. People build very very much, and absorbing the CO2 surplus into bricks and concrete means permanent storage in a non-harmful way. If all around the world these methods would be used we could be quick enough to prevent catastrophes. A really encouraging news item was about the building of a footpath in Ghent, made from industrial waste and captured CO2; “1 m3 of carbstone bricks stores a net 350 kg of CO2.” If such ideas, including the making of furniture or even shoes, would catch on very quickly, we really have a chance. As we know by now humankind can deplete anything; there thus is no reason to assume that we cannot deplete the surplus of CO2 and thin the blanket around the earth. It would be the first time that our tendency to deplete everything would save us.
Sharing solar panels is marvellous for people who want to buy solar panels, but who do not have their own roof, or a lot of money. I joined this Dutch initiative in May 2019 because solar energy is the only really sustainable energy.
This is how much solar energy is produced within the project until December 2023. Called ‘Zonnepanelendelen’, literally ‘Sharesolarpanels’, in this project anyone can ‘buy’ ‘parts-of-panels’; 34 parts equal one solar panel. Although Google translate is getting better by the year, what it says in Dutch is that in the past year, in total, sufficient electricity was produced for 169,828 households. For previous achievements, see June 2020, June 2021, June 2022.
In the last days of 2019 and the first weeks of 2020 my brother and I visited north Norway. We drove there in my brother’s Tesla, model 3, going from supercharger to supercharger. There were enough Tesla chargers to enable us to go north, from Malmö via Skellefteå in Sweden to the Lofoten in Norway where we visited the Polarlightcenter in Straumnes, Laukvik, on the island of Austvågøya, then to the most northern Tesla supercharger in the world, which is in Sørkjosen. We chose our route in such a way that there was never more than a 2.5h drive between two Tesla superchargers, only once we had to charge at a compatible charger, which took a bit longer to charge but not that much (yet it disconnected us after 0.5h of charging).
Still, our experience was not by any means what we had expected; we had taken very warm clothing with us, but hardly needed it. Visiting a relative in Setermoen we heard that it often is around -25°C in January (with an average in January of -8°C)*, now it was +2°C. The same thing in Ulvsvåg; someone told us that normally around this time the weather is quiet, cold and dry, but now it was raining and snowing for weeks already. And in Levanger; where it usually is around -4°C in January, at 09h in the morning it was +7°C. We were obviously not the only ones becoming concerned. In Skibotn someone made the remark that the Norwegian government does not want to give up on its petrol, and in Levanger that the government is still in denial about the human impact on the climate.**
The almost permanent cloud cover sadly meant that we did not see much of the Northern Lights. Yet we did see it, which was already marvellous in itself, and learning more about it at the Polarlightcenter made it absolutely worthwile. It was explained why the polar lights are also visible when the sun is very quiet, as she is now, at the beginning of the 25th sunspot cycle, and we saw the marvellous setup of solely analogue instruments, measuring and showing fluctuations in the Earth’s magnetosphere which are induced by variations in the magnetic fields from the Sun, and may precede displays of northern lights. Sadly, due to cloud cover we missed the exceptional display on the 6th of January although we knew it had to come due to the highly fluctuating magnetic currents, as shown by the measuring instruments. It was an impressive moment, standing before the paper and seeing the needle move so fast.
Because of the cloudy weather which lasted for our entire journey, despite being for almost three weeks in the darkest places I had ever been I hardly saw any stars except on the Lofoten, where there were some patches of clear sky. Once, further south again, I could see Andromeda, but only because I knew it had to be there, and again only between clouds. It is a good thing that my dream was to experience a day without sun, and my brother’s to charge his car at the most northern Tesla supercharger; two goals which had nothing to do with the local weather. Perhaps we are Dutch enough, knowing very well that rain and clouds may spoil the view.
About driving north in a Tesla, it could easily be argued that we would not have been able to make this trip if the temperatures had been much lower. Still we think we would have been able to; in this relatively warm weather we never arrived at the next supercharger with less than 140 km left. For certainty, we always slept in hotels close to superchargers, so we would have been able to warm the inside of the car (the lowest setting is 16°C) at the cost of about 300 km a day (two times 140 km or more), and if at night the car would have to take care that its batteries would not freeze over at the cost of again many kilometres, in the morning we could have charged it again. We also could have taken more time to drive this far than we did now.
In any case, whether or not due to these very high temperatures my dream of experiencing a day without sun succeeded, and to my surprise it even became five days. I had understood that the sun would rise at Straumness on the 5th of January, but it turned out to be on the 6th, which means that, leaving Bognes early in the morning of the 3rd to go by boat to Lødingen and drive to the Polarlightcenter on the Lofoten, we had one day without sun before we arrived there, and two during our stay at the Polarlightcenter. After the Lofoten, where we did try to see the first sunlight of the winter in Svolvær on the 6th but it was too cloudy to see it, we drove further north, via Setermoen and Skibotn to Sørkjosen, back into the polar night; I had not realised that in Setermoen the sun had not risen yet. The fifth day was when we drove back to the south and stayed in Bardufoss where the sun also had not risen yet, it would rise there on 12 January. That was our last day without sun; going further south, we drove out of the polar night again.***
My brother’s dream of charging at the most northern Tesla supercharger in the world also succeeded, despite the heavy snowstorms on especially the last part of our journey up. Three times we could not see anything any more in front of us, and for large parts we drove with 35 km/h, on a motorway. But we safely reached the remarkable supercharger.
There still is a lot for Tesla to develop, next to some minor issues which they hopefully will be able to solve quickly. But what I really hope is that Tesla will soon have all their superchargers deliver only solar power. How I do not know in practice,**** but using only solar power such a trip as we made would really be clean.
* Setermoen is just south-southwest of Tromsø, and above the Lofoten. Playing with the data on Meteologix gives some insight into the high local variability of the Norwegian climate, the rising temperatures can therefore only be deduced from averages (a difference of 4° Fahrenheit is a difference of about 2° Celsius). From these visualizations it can be seen that, even if there is much variation in local temperatures during the day, +2°C in Setermoen in January is in any case unusual. We clearly were not the only ones noticing it, on 20 January 2020 the Norwegian Meteorological Institute tweeted about the very mild weather. Further to the north of Norway the effect of climate change is even stonger; according to the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI), Svalbard (Spitsbergen) is the fastest warming place on Earth.
** That the government is in denial is illustrated by these rather shocking articles, just having experienced the very abnormal weather in Norway, about the profitability of new pipelines to the Barentz Sea, and Norway’s Oil & Energy Minister Sylvi Listhaug calling the warnings of environmental organizations doomsday prophecies. But fortunately, many people do not wait for their governments and are taking action themselves. We stayed for a night in Levanger, and the people who own a ‘herberge’ (inn) there, consisting of old wooden buildings from the seventeenth and nineteenth century, had an enormous amount of solar panels on the very large roof of the barn. That also happens in the Netherlands; although to our shame the government had to be forced to finally reduce emissions, people are taking action such as for instance in ZonnepanelenDelen, or various Citizen Initiatives. Still, clearly also not everyone, politician or civilian, is convinced we have a problem. In one of the places we stayed for the night our rooms had no heater of their own, and no thermostat; the rooms were extremely hot. Having searched in vain for a way to cool my room off a bit, I decided to open the window. It was -2°C outside, and in slightly over an hour the room was cooled to perhaps 21°C or so. I slept with the window open, and felt sorry for heating the open air.
*** The polar circle is officially at 66°33 but, as the Bodø and Salten Guide 2020 explains, due to deflection of the sunlight “the boundary for the Polar Night is slightly north of the Arctic Circle, while the boundary for the Midnight Sun is slightly south of the Arctic Circle. Consequently, Bodø has Midnight Sun but no Polar Night.” The deflection of the light means that when the sun is just below the horizon, both at sunrise and sunset, it can be seen just above it, hence the effect. It does cause some confusion in finding the exact dates of the first day of sunrise after polar night for specific locations, because without mentioning it the one website chooses the official date while another chooses the dates one can really see it, thus accounting for the deflection by refraction.
**** What about using optical fiber cables through pipelines (old oil pipelines?) to bring light from parts of the world where the sun is shining to darker places; if Africa, Australia and South America would work together they could sell sunlight at any time, all day and night, during all seasons. Imagine a factory where light is shining on solar panels in the night (or something like that, in any case as effective as possible), well shielded of course not to disturb the darkness outside. We then could produce our own solar energy in the daytime, and use the transported light in the nighttime. If it was done with oil, then why not with light? It is much easier to transport.