SOMETHING IN THE ATMOSPHERE

Tackling Climate Change with Carbon Sequestration

It’s no secret that excess carbon in our atmosphere fuels climate change. Here’s how carbon sequestration can reduce its impact on the Earth.
Posted on
July 12, 2022
Tackling Climate Change with Carbon Sequestration

If there was a recipe for climate change, carbon would be a key ingredient. Although a natural and essential part of the Earth’s health, we’ve learned carbon, like salt in our diet, is best in moderation. However, modern human activities feed our planet tremendous amounts of the stuff, and now we need to help reduce its presence and impact on climate change

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While individual lifestyle choices like driving electric and lowering the thermostat are helpful, much grander efforts to reduce carbon in our atmosphere are not only necessary, but already at play through carbon sequestration (also called carbon storage). 

What is carbon sequestration?

With so much carbon in the atmosphere, the big question now is: how can we reduce it? That’s where carbon sequestration comes in. Carbon sequestration is the process of capturing, storing, or absorbing carbon dioxide so it’s unable to enter the atmosphere and contribute to warming the planet. 

How does carbon affect climate change?

To better understand how carbon sequestration works, it helps to comprehend how the Earth came to have so much carbon in the first place. 

Where does carbon come from? 

Carbon is produced naturally from a variety of sources, including decomposition, ocean release, and respiration (aka: your breath). It also comes from human activities—primarily those that rely on burning fossil fuels such as driving cars, heating homes, and manufacturing goods. No surprise, then, the Earth is a bit overwhelmed by the revved-up production of carbon that our modern lifestyles fuel. 

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Over the last 300 years, half the increase in carbon concentrations occurred since 1980, and one quarter since 2000.

Is carbon always bad for the environment? 

Carbon isn’t all bad, though. It has an important function. Along with other gases, it helps create the Earth’s greenhouse effect which traps some of the sun’s heat in the atmosphere to keep the planet at a comfortable temperature. However, the abundance of CO2, along with other greenhouse gases, altered the planet’s natural thermostat by trapping more and more heat, which has led to global warming. This continues to cause consequences such as extreme weather and rising sea levels. 

What are the different ways to sequester carbon?

There are three ways that carbon can be sequestered:

1. Biological carbon sequestration

The Earth does a very good job at absorbing carbon all on its own with biological sequestration (no surprise). It naturally captures carbon in vegetation such as forests and grasslands, as well as in soils and oceans. These havens are called carbon sinks for their ability to absorb more carbon from the atmosphere than they release. As much as 30 per cent of the Earth’s CO2 is absorbed by oceans. Forests, grasslands, and rangelands absorb another 25 per cent

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Despite its incredible efficiency, the Earth simply can’t keep up with the frantic pace at which greenhouse gas emissions are produced.

To make matters worse, some of the Earth’s carbon sinks are becoming less efficient at absorbing carbon due to risk factors like deforestation and wildfires (which, ironically, release more carbon). When vegetation or oceans release more carbon than they absorb, they become carbon sources. Yikes! Thankfully, we can improve the Earth’s carbon capture capacity through techniques like reforestation, ecosystem restoration, and soil management.

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2. Geological carbon sequestration

Geological sequestration is a carbon storage technique that stores CO2 in underground rocks or geologic formations to prevent carbon from sneaking out into the atmosphere and upping the Earth’s thermostat. Carbon is captured at an industrial source, such as a cement factory or power plant, then transported by pipeline to a sequestration site. There, it’s injected deep below the ground into porous rocks for long-term storage. A number of geological sequestration projects in Canada show promise for this technology over the coming decades.

3. Technological carbon sequestration

Innovations in technological sequestration may also play an important role in preventing carbon emissions from entering the atmosphere. New advancements, such as using carbon as an ingredient in products, are increasingly available. Did you know carbon dioxide is a raw material in graphene—a material used in smartphone screens?

What can we do to increase carbon sequestration?

The benefits of carbon capture technology are clear, but what can we do to increase the amount of carbon sequestered? Here are three ways:

Preserve natural carbon sinks

The Earth is a natural pro at CO2 sequestration, so let’s provide more opportunities to work its magic by preserving and restoring carbon sinks. While planting trees helps mitigate the effects of climate change, young trees are no match for old growth forests that have more capacity to sequester carbon. 

The world’s oceans are even more effective at absorbing carbon, yet they’re under significant strain due to global warming and loss of biodiversity. You can help conserve oceans and forests by supporting local or global conservation groups, as well as Indigenous communities leading such efforts. 

Photo by Thach Tran on Pexels

Purchase carbon offsets

While we can reduce our own carbon footprints with lifestyle adjustments, carbon offsets offer an additional way to tackle climate change. Look for carbon offset programs that fund carbon sequestration projects to help spur growth in this promising field. 

Reduce the amount of carbon we produce

With all carbon storage’s great promise, we shouldn’t lose sight of the need to simply cut our own CO2 production (and we don’t mean holding your breath). As governments and industry continue to address this goal, there’s plenty we can do individually to live more sustainably. From transportation to diet, gardening to shopping, the options are plentiful (take a look at 26 ways to reduce your carbon footprint).  

Photo by Jonathan Kemper on Pexels

Carbon sequestration offers hope for the future

While discussions about climate change can often seem dire, carbon sequestration technologies offer fresh hope. With new advancements, there’s a growing number of ways to decrease carbon’s impact on global warming. From supporting these technologies through carbon offsets to curbing your own emissions, there is much we can do to address the challenges of climate change individually, and together.

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Danielle Leonard
Written By
Danielle Leonard

Danielle Leonard is a lifestyle writer and editor based in the GTA whose favourite earth-loving pastimes are tending to her vegetable gardens, riding her bike and advocating against urban sprawl.

This article offers general information only and is not intended as legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. While the information presented is believed to be factual and current, its accuracy is not guaranteed and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada, RBC Ventures Inc., or its affiliates.

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