Carbon capture refers to a series of technologies that are designed to remove carbon dioxide from the environment. Recently, the Biden administration allocated a billion dollars towards this goal. Is this a good thing?

Of course, CO2 levels in the atmosphere are rising like crazy. Right now the current CO2 is just over 417PPM. This will certainly have disastrous effects, so it’s a good thing to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, right?

The answer is yes, absolutely yes. If we can remove CO2 from the atmosphere without causing other damage, then that would be amazing.

But that does not mean we will be home-free. Therefore, it pays to look at carbon capture technology more critically. Indeed, if we do manage to develop carbon capture that works, then in the short-term, people will be much more encouraged to use fossil fuels. In turn, this may lessen the pressure to develop alternative energy sources.

This isn’t guaranteed, but we need to keep in mind this possibility. If the external costs of using fossil fuels goes down, people will use more of them and thus pollution levels may actually rise. It also makes our use of resources more efficient, and hence we’ll use more of them.

So while I agree carbon capture is good for us in the short-term in that it solves some of our immediate problems, don’t think that humanity will all of a sudden transform into some utopia when it works. We will just be even more dependent on technology and if it breaks, it will break very hard.

2 Comments

  1. One thing that occurs to me is that if carbon capture was used to keep atmospheric carbon at a constant level, then carbon emissions would have a known cost that was paid by a known entity (perhaps the US government). This would make it much more likely that that externality was taxed correctly.

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