Planet808: Hawai‘i’s Role in Climate Repair

Feb 26, 2020

From coral bleaching to rising sea temperatures, Hawai’i is full of evidence of climate change. But a prominent UK scientist says Hawai’i may also have an important role to play in a new effort: climate repair. Find out more in today’s episode of “Planet 808: Climate Change in the Islands.”

Sir David King in New Delhi.
Credit UK in India / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Sir David King is a prominent thought leader on climate science. As the UK’s Chief Science Advisor in the early 2000’s, King shaped climate policy. Currently, as Director of the new Cambridge Center for Climate Repair, he was in Hawai‘i to develop partnerships aimed at climate solutions.

“I believe that we’re going to produce the technologies, that we are producing them and that we can speed up the transition toward deep and rapid emissions reduction which is the program we’ve got to be on. But what I’m now saying, is that is not enough. That is not enough because we’re already too far.”

King is working with Hawai‘i’s scientists and climate change experts on ways to capture 30-40 billion tons of carbon per year out of the atmosphere and put it safely somewhere, maybe deep in the ocean, forever.

“The program of work I’m engaged in, and the University of Hawai‘i is engaged in as well, is to see how we can pull out 30-40 billion tons a year from the atmosphere so that we can sequester it, put it away safely and out of the atmosphere to bring global temperatures back down to a safe level. This is a risk management exercise for the whole planet.

King says that Hawai‘i is a great place to research carbon capture and sequestration, because 72% of the earth’s surface is ocean. 

“Here in Hawai‘i we’ve got terrific experts on the state of the oceans, on climate change. We’re discussing, How do we use the oceans to bring greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere? One possibility is to use a natural process.”

King describes one natural process that may hold potential.  It begins with the wind that blows across the Sahara desert. That wind picks up iron particles, which are carried out to sea, then drop when the wind dies down. Within a month, everywhere those particles land, tens of thousands of kilometers of ocean surface turn bright green with plankton. King says plankton love that, and are soon followed by small fish or even whales, attracting larger fish and so on.

“This only lasts a year or two. What we’re looking at is, can we mimic this process, It takes CO2 out of the atmosphere, can we fix it permanently? But we do know we can restock the ocean with fish in this way.”

The race is on for technology to capture carbon from the air and safely dispose of it or store it. In 2015, King helped form Mission Innovation, a consortium of 25 global members providing sustained public investment toward clean energy innovation.  They’ll invest $22 billion dollars this year.

Hawai‘i could play a role in this effort because the oceans could play a huge role in capturing carbon, and sequestering carbon deep in the ocean is one possible alternative. Meanwhile, better batteries for energy storage are needed, along with grid integration, and more.

“Each one of these technologies is a wealth creation opportunity. There hasn’t been a wealth creation opportunity as the move away from fossil fuels since the beginning of the industrial revolution. Bill Gates put down a billion dollars of his private money to invest in the best technologies emerging from Mission Innovation.”

King maintains zero carbon is being solved right now, but, can it be done quickly enough?

“I’m now saying, we’ve let the fossil fuel industries run for too long, we also now have to recapture greenhouse gasses we put in there. There, we haven’t got the technologies rolled out yet, so what we need is a big new program, I would say $50-60 billion dollars a year, for climate repair; to pull greenhouse gasses down from the atmosphere, but also to refreeze the poles. We have no choice. We have to refreeze the poles unless we don’t mind losing all of our coastal cities.”

Then again, we’ll have time to get used to the idea. Or try other solutions.

SFX--An earlier film by Oscar winner Bong Jun Ho called Snowpiercer, takes place after an attempt to cool the earth has gone awry.  The only humans left are trapped in a train, hurtling around a frozen planet.