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Opinion: Bob Greenlee: Reducing carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is not easy or inexpensive

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We’ve been warned time and again that our planet is in serious trouble, particularly when it comes to environmental issues like climate change. In fact, some believe time is running out to address that growing problem, and the sooner we figure things out the better.

Bob Greenlee
Bob Greenlee

Climate change involves the increasing amount and concentration of carbon dioxide and methane in our air. Last year alone global emissions of these two pollutants increased to more than 36 billion tons — yes, tons.

It may be hard to believe, because we usually equate a ton of anything as a means to measure really heavy stuff like steel. This  estimate is just counting the weight of foul air in the billions of tons.

We know its not nice to fool Mother Nature, and this kind of heavy news is not to be taken lightly.

Science has already shown us that one way to remove the carbon dioxide from our air would be through various proven “carbon capture” techniques being employed today right at the source of the problem such as at existing oil and gas wellheads and industrial smokestacks.

The problem is so great the effort might seem like trying to drain a lake with a teacup. Getting rid of these pollutants is not easy, especially when you are attempting to not only remove the current amount of pollution being generated but also trying to eliminate the amount of carbon-loading that has been produced over decades from smokestacks everywhere on Earth since the industrial age began.

The tasks ahead are many, along with being expensive, and perhaps not enough.

But some progress is being attempted. Over the past few months Google’s parent (Alphabet Inc.), along with space cadet Elon Musk and some other wealthy private equity groups have committed more than $2 billion to a variety of startups that are offering a variety of promising solution.

One example is a Swiss company called Climeworks AG, which has designed, built and operates a machine in Iceland that makes use of giant fans that can suck up as much as 4,000 tons of atmospheric carbon every year by capturing it with a specially designed filter that is then mixed with water. That slurry is then pumped underground, where it naturally mixes with Iceland’s basalt rock. In a few years’ time that sludge ultimately turns itself into more basalt rock.

A U.S. company called Verdox Inc. says it has developed a plastic product in its laboratory that pulls CO2 from the air when charged with electricity. This spinoff from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology claims its plastic is more efficient and cheaper to employ than using gigantic vacuuming machines to remove CO2.

Make no mistake in believing there is not a number of ways to solve our important climate change goals, like carbon capturing techniques and using science along with lots of innovating thinking and engineering.

Simply wishing for real climate change like we often do in Boulder may make us feel better, involved and relevant, but the real world out there is moving at a pace we may never be able to entirely estimate.

It’s likely there will be a tax increase proposal on this November’s ballot asking Boulder citizens to increase funding so the city’s accusatory Climate Action Goals can be achieved.

But included in these goals is an expensive and ongoing legal dispute with regional and national oil and gas companies that are arguing with each other regarding who should be responsible and pay for any negative consequences of worldwide climate change and whether or not the City of Boulder and Boulder County’s lawsuits should be pursued in a Colorado state court or in a federal court.

Unfortunately, Boulder seems to particularly enjoy paying for expensive lawsuits, because it always believes it knows better than anyone else about everything and enjoys winning in court. Recall that expensive and recently abandoned Muni madness lawsuit we all recently suffered through?

Bob Greenlee is an 18-year veteran on the Boulder City Council, serving his last two years as the city’s mayor. Email him at rgreen9231@aol.com.  

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