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carbon capture

What You Can Do to Capture Carbon

By Tobias Roberts Rise Writer
Jun 4, 2021

Hardly a day goes by without us hearing about the threats of climate change. The devastating effects such as melting Arctic ice, catastrophic wildfires, record-breaking heatwaves, super hurricanes, and an increasing uncertainty related to our future as a species are daily headlines. Despite widespread media coverage of climate change and its consequences, most people continue to hold onto the hope that it is not too late to turn things around. Maintaining a hopeful spirit is undoubtedly essential as we confront the genuine challenges before us.

However, this hope should not stem from naivety. Climate change is no longer a future possibility or something our grandchildren will have to confront. Instead, climate change is affecting and disrupting our lives today. Due to this reality, all of us have a personal responsibility to combat the effects of human-caused climate change. Because we live on this earth, we are all stakeholders in its future.

Most discussions about how individuals can help stop climate change focus on limiting our greenhouse gas emissions through changing certain aspects of our lives and lifestyle. Here at Rise, we have written extensively about this issue, including articles about carbon zero homesecological footprint calculators, and everything in between. Reducing our carbon footprint is urgently necessary. However, the globe also needs to address the fact that there is already too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. "Capturing" carbon from the atmosphere to "sequester" it in other areas are essential responsibilities to which all of us can contribute.

Melting Sea Ice

Why Do We Need to Capture Carbon? 

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the global average atmospheric carbon dioxide in 2019 was 409.8 parts per million (ppm), with a range of uncertainty of plus or minus 0.1 ppm, which is a slight increase from the 2018 value of 407.4 ppm. They say that CO2 levels today are higher than at any point in at least the past 800,000 years.

The Paris Agreement, which is the most relevant international climate agreement, sought to keep the world's temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels this century. It also aims to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius in the long term. Before the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere stood around 280 ppm. To meet the goals of the Paris Accords, most scientists agree that we will have to shoot for global atmospheric carbon levels of about or under 350 ppm. The target of 350 ppm will not stop climate change but instead will (hopefully) limit it to a supposedly manageable temperature increase of 1.5 to 2.0 degrees Celsius.

Also, by keeping atmospheric CO2 below 350 ppm, scientists hope to avoid positive feedback loops that could lead to runaway climate change with unpredictable results. One example of a positive feedback loop could be a warming Arctic region that thaws the permafrost. This thaw would allow enormous amounts of methane gas to seep into the atmosphere. There are, unfortunately, examples of positive feedback loops already in action. The discovery of methane bubbling up from seeps in northern lakes is not a good sign.

All this data shows that if we are going to maintain temperature increases to a manageable 1.5 to 2.0 degrees Celsius, we need to stop burning fossil fuels and need to sequester carbon dioxide that is already in our atmosphere. A 2019 report by The Guardian found that significant oil and gas companies have invested $50 Billion in fossil fuel projects. That shows that, sadly, the fossil fuel era is sadly far from ending. Strategies for capturing and sequestering carbon, then, will need to increase drastically in the coming years.

Carbon Capture

How Does Capturing Carbon Work?

Carbon dioxide accounts for about 80 percent of all greenhouse gasses. Methane emissions are another dangerous (and growing) greenhouse gas associated with our current society. But, carbon dioxide is unique - carbon is the sixth-most abundant element on earth - and the molecular key to life. Carbon can be captured from our atmosphere and stored in different life forms, such as trees, vegetation, soils, and aquatic ecosystems.

As a definition, carbon sequestration refers to the long-term storage of carbon dioxide or other forms of carbon. This long-term storage serves to mitigate or defer global warming to avoid or lessen climate change. This method has been proposed to slow the accumulation of greenhouse gases stemming from the burning of fossil fuels in both the atmospheric and marine environments.

The most common example of carbon sequestration is when trees use carbon dioxide to grow new vegetative growth. In this process, the carbon dioxide utilized by the growing tree is converted into carbon within the tree structure as it removes CO2 from the atmosphere. 

Homeowners can also make conscientious decisions at home to capture and sequester carbon and help in the fight against climate change.

plant more trees

What are Strategies for Capturing Carbon on a Homeowner Level? 

Some strategies homeowners can employ are:

  1. Planting Trees
  2. Building with wood
  3. Eating pasture-raised meat
  4. Use lime mortars or low-carbon cement.

Plant Trees

Most of us have probably learned back in elementary school that trees are good for our environment. By planting new trees in your yard, you can control erosion, attract beneficial insects, enjoy fresh fruit, and even reduce your home's energy needs through strategic shading. As trees grow, they capture carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the biomass of their trunk, branches, and leaves. They also contribute to carbon capture below the ground by increasing the amount of soil organic carbon. Trees will eventually release the carbon they capture when they die and decompose. However, certain types of trees, such as chestnuts and oaks, can comfortably live over 300 years. These trees thus function as essential long-term carbon sequestration strategies to which everyone can contribute.


Build with Wood

There are numerous benefits to building with wood. One significant advantage that is often ignored is that the wood products we use in our homes delay the release of carbon that occurs when wood products decompose. Wood products made from a mature hardwood tree can easily last another 250 years, permanently locking up carbon for hundreds of years. Opting for salvaged wood furniture or reclaimed wood siding not only reduces pressure on standing forests but can also prolong the carbon sequestration properties of forests that were felled hundreds of years ago.

Regenerative Organic Certified Logo

Eat Pasture-Raised Meat

Cattle and other livestock raised on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) cause significant environmental damage and are a large contributor to climate change. Also, vast areas of the Amazon and other delicate ecosystems fall victim to deforestation each year to increase acreage for raising meat and dairy cattle. It is also essential to recognize that natural savannas or grasslands cover at least 20 percent of the earth's surface. Instead of tilling these naturally diverse grassland ecosystems for annual crops, regenerative grazing of large herds of cattle and other livestock can sequester enormous amounts of carbon in the soils of these grasslands, up to 1.2 tons of CO2 per hectare. If you are a meat-eater, be willing to pay a couple of extra dollars for certified grass-fed and regenerative-grazed meat options. Meat products that have regenerative organic certification are an excellent place to start.

CarbonCure Low Carbon Concrete
Low Carbon Concrete. Photo Credit: CarbonCure

Ask Your Builder to Use Lime Mortars or Low Carbon Cement

The cement industry is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gas. It is also the most widely used material in the world. Lime mortars and new low-carbon cement options naturally react with carbon dioxide in the surrounding air during the curing process. As it hardens, these mortars can trap and capture the carbon permanently within the concrete mixture.

Global climate change seems to be hitting new "records" on a seemingly monthly basis. With fossil fuel companies continuing to pump and produce incredible amounts of oil, gas, and even coal, all of us should do our part to capture and sequester the excess carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-08-17T20:05:47+0000
Tobias Roberts

Article by:

Tobias Roberts

Tobias runs an agroecology farm and a natural building collective in the mountains of El Salvador. He specializes in earthen construction methods and uses permaculture design methods to integrate structures into the sustainability of the landscape.