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Less Than Zero

Can Carbon-Removal Technologies Curb Climate Change?

Climeworks, a facility for capturing carbon dioxide from the air, in Hinwil, Switzerland, July 2017 Arnd Wiegmann / REUTERS

Most Americans used to think about climate change—to the extent that they thought about it at all—as an abstract threat in a distant future. But more and more are now seeing it for what it is: a costly, human-made disaster unfolding before their very eyes. A wave of increasingly destructive hurricanes, heat spells, and wildfires has ravaged communities across the United States, and both scientists and citizens are able to connect these extreme events to a warming earth. Seven in ten Americans agree that global warming is happening, according to a 2018 study conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. About six in ten think it is mostly caused by human activity and is already changing the weather. Four in ten say they have personally experienced its impact. And seven in ten say the United States should enact measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions, including prices and limits on carbon dioxide pollution, no matter what other countries do.

When it comes to generating support for climate policy, a warranted sense of alarm is only half the battle. And the other half—a shared belief that the problem is solvable—is lagging far behind. The newfound sense of urgency is at risk of being swamped by collective despair. A scant six percent of Americans, according to the Yale study, believe that the world “can and will” effectively address climate change. With carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels having risen by an estimated 2.7 percent in 2018 and atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, which will determine the ultimate extent of warming, at their highest level in some three million years, such pessimism may seem justified—especially with a climate change denier in the White House. 

But it is not too late to solve the global climate crisis. A decade of extraordinary innovation has made the greening of the global economy not only feasible but also likely. The market now favors clean energy: in many U.S. states, it is cheaper to build

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