There are endless debates about climate change and CO2 reduction. The US decided to withdraw from the Paris agreement, although there are no legally binding requirements.

Also, this article argues about Kyoto protocol effectiveness:

Overall, the result is that global emissions have showed no sign of slowing down, as the chart below shows. In that sense, the Kyoto protocol has been a failure. But it was unquestionably an important first step in global climate diplomacy.

For me, it is quite clear that it is very hard to control CO2 emissions. However, there are emergent technology to recycle CO2 such as this one or this one. Using such technologies may reduce pressure on industry to produce less CO2.

Question: Why is there so much focus on producing less CO2 rather than investing in technology to recycle it?

  • 26
    This would seem to be a question about the science, not about the politics. Perhaps migrate to Earth Sciences?
    – James K
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 8:06
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    We've had efficient technology for carbon sequestration for millennia. Simply plant a tree or increase soil carbon (see the 4-permille initiative). That is much cheaper than any of these new technologies. Still, we have net-deforestation globally. Also, there actually is a strong focus on carbon sequestration (see again the 4-permille initiative). IPCC tells us that we'll need it if we want to have any hope of achieving the 2-degree goal. The problem with most of these technologies is that the possible/realistic net-storage is limited in quantity. Continuing emissions will fill the storage.
    – Roland
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 9:23
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    @Roland - because we extracted sequestered carbon which took tens of millions of years to sequester into trees and coal, it will take us same millions of years to duplicate the process at the same rate of tree growth. Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 14:22
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    @Roland - With the added complication that (1) current bacteria are much more effective in digesting lignin (and releasing sequestered carbon) than those in Carbiniferous period and (2) we also needs most of that land to grow food for ourselves, not to grow the trees to be buried. So growing trees is nice but not enough. Especially if we plan to continue to extract additional carbon from coal and oil and release it to the atmosphere. Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 14:22
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    Remember bass chemistry; as jamesqf hints at, CO2 is a low energy molecule. To do anything useful with it, you have to put in energy. Plants harness the energy from high energy photons, turning it into chemical energy in which CO2 is used. We can't replicate a system that took millions of years to evolve overnight.
    – swbarnes2
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 20:35

12 Answers 12


Both of your examples use solar energy to convert carbon dioxide into fuel. They are cutting edge, meaning that they haven't yet been engineered into usable systems that people could buy. The proof of concept was only published in 2016 and 2017 for each.

So, reasons:

  1. They don't actually exist in usable form (yet).
  2. It's not clear that we are better off burning fossil fuels and then using solar power to capture the carbon dioxide that is produced than to just use solar power directly.
  3. We already have methods to convert carbon dioxide and sunlight into fuel. That's the basis of the biofuels movement. Plants use sunlight to convert carbon dioxide into plant matter. We harvest the plants and turn them into fuel.
  4. We don't know if these processes will be power positive. We especially don't know that if we have to transport the fuel from somewhere with plentiful solar (e.g. New Mexico or Saudi Arabia) to somewhere that needs fuel (e.g. Illinois or Romania).
  5. Converting carbon dioxide into fuel does not reduce the pressure on industry.

One of the problems that we currently face is that many alternative power sources use more power to produce than they provide. For example, fusion power reactions currently draw more power than they provide, so they are not self sustaining.

Another issue is that these examples produce fuels. Fuels get burnt and turned into energy, releasing their carbon dioxide. That doesn't actually sequester any carbon dioxide. I.e. these examples are for reducing the net production of carbon dioxide, not for reducing existing carbon dioxide. Yes, they briefly reduce the amount of carbon dioxide. But they then turn around and release it again. That doesn't offset existing carbon dioxide production. The goal is instead to replace current production with more sustainable process like these might be.

There is significant investment in searching for ways to convert carbon dioxide into fuel. That's why there is a biofuels movement and is why these examples were funded.

  • 6
    You didn't mention that the process would shift the costs from the co2 producers to the people collecting it. Why would we want to allow companies to burden society this way without them having to pay the costs? They already get so many freebies like this.
    – Bill K
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 20:16
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    "We don't know if these processes will be power positive." And that's more of a problem than most people realize, with a lot of renewable energy ideas.
    – Mast
    Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 4:36
  • these examples are for reducing the net production of carbon dioxide, not for reducing existing carbon dioxide Except the problem is that we are putting the stuff in the air faster than the earth sequesters it naturally. If we really wanted to, we could get levels to lower than they are now then just keep them there and keep using our cars and things. IOW, if net co2 from human activity was zero, the problem would eventually solve itself.
    – Shane
    Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 4:46
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    Do you have more examples for "many alternative power sources use more power to produce than they provide"? AFAIK, wind, water, solar, etc all have a positive EROI. I'm sure there is a lot of experimental technology that isn't ready for use yet (and which therefore isn't widely in use, but researched), but there are technologies that are actually used with positive outcomes. It doesn't seem relevant to the answer either way, but "alternative energies consume more energy than they produce" is a myth.
    – tim
    Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 19:44
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    +1 for point 2 (why not use solar directly??). But a caveat: For a transition period CO2 conversion to fuel is elegant and easy to sell (politically ad economically) because it fits seamlessly with the entire existing infrastructure (fuel storage,cars, filling stations, electricity production and distribution etc.) as opposed to any alternative. Commented Apr 8, 2018 at 7:24

tl;dr- Recycling CO2 at the scale that we're producing it's pretty expensive. Sure, we can technically do it, but it'd have to be cheaper than just switching to clean technologies to be worthwhile.

It's a technical issue rather than a political one.

First, CO2 does have some industrial uses. For example, it's useful in carbonating soft drinks — though we produce way more than that use could have. More practically, oil companies pump it back under ground to help drive the oil out of the ground in enhanced oil recovery. That's also kinda limited though.

Next, there are research efforts into carbon-neutral fuel. Most of the stuff I've seen is basically an attempt to get bacteria to do photosynthesis (like green plants do) to fix the carbon into molecules. It's basically the same thing as planting trees to soak up the CO2, but bacteria can do it faster.

Scientifically speaking, the trouble with using CO2 is that it's in a "low-energy state". Roughly:

  • Burning fuel gives off CO2 because CO2 is what's left after the fuel loses its energy.

  • Making CO2 into other things requires putting the energy back into it.

The "energy" in this case is the enthalpy of formation, as can be seen in this Born–Haber cycle for the combustion of methane (CH4) resulting in a net energy release due to the reactants' higher energy state than the products':


The relevance here is that the laws of thermodynamics are pretty hard to get around; so, converting CO2 into other chemicals takes a lot of work.

When plants do photosynthesis, they're investing the energy that they get from the sun by making CO2 and water into sugar and oxygen. They don't actually want the oxygen, so they just release it; it's the sugar they want so that they can burn it to get that energy back later.

The gist behind biofuel can be that we basically get huge fields of bacteria to soak up the sun. Then the question seems to be, if we're building solar-collectors for bacteria, why not cut out the middle man and just deploy solar cells instead? That gets into engineering efficiency questions.

So, basically, recycling CO2's expensive. Sure we can do it, though other power-production technologies are more likely to be long-term solutions. A lot of CO2-mitigation technologies are concerned with getting cheap near-term fixes in place.

Note: Cleaning up the atmosphere isn't currently on the table

As pointed out by @EricTowers in the comments below, the enthalpy problem discussed above is just part of the issue. In practice, most CO2 is expelled to the atmosphere, so it must be captured before we even get to having to deal with the enthalpy deficit. This can be described as having to pay back the entropy cost — though entropy's pretty subjective, so that's a bit harder to put a number to beyond saying that it's a major problem.

In general, before we do anything with CO2, we'd have to capture it. Capturing CO2 from large point sources like coal-fired power plants tends to be most efficient (while still significantly costly) since the exhaust (flue gas) from those power plants tends to contain a high concentration of CO2, making it relatively easy to separate it.

Once CO2 is in the atmosphere, then it becomes a problem of open-air capture. Like everything else, this is easy to do from a technical perspective, it just multiplies the cost of capture quite a bit. Due to the significantly increased expense of doing it this way and the availability of large point-sources that don't currently capture CO2, most engineering efforts aren't currently concerned with open-air capture. Presumably that'll be a costly problem we might worry about in the future, after we deal with the relatively cheap problem of reducing our emissions.

So if we split solution pathways up into three categories,

  1. reduce CO2 from large point-sources (e.g., switch to "clean coal"),

  2. switch to renewable energy-sources (e.g., solar),

  3. capture CO2 directly from the atmosphere to clean it up,

at present, we're primarily concerned with (1) and (2), not (3).

Due to the cost of cleaning up the atmosphere, it's not something we're realistically going to worry about in the near future, unless there's some unforeseen technological breakthrough.

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    I think this is the most correct answer. The only thing I like to add is about Energy Storage. Oil/Alcohool are great at storing energy while batteries are not that good so we cannot cut of the middle men because we need to store and transport energy (in the form of flamable liquids)
    – jean
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 18:01
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    Generate solar power, pump it into batteries, use that battery power. Or, generate gasoline from solar power directly, use it. It isn't matter of having a useless middleman, its a numbers game. Are the inefficiencies of carrying around hundreds of pounds of batteries, their low power density, having to mine out precious metals, etc more or less cost efficient than turing co2 back into fuel, the inefficiency of burning fossils fuels etc. So far the answer is tesla > biofuels.
    – Shane
    Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 4:56
  • I happened to read a popsci book,which by the way mentioned that the major issue with producing less CO2 was to bind carbon in long-term permanent structures, therefore concluding that one of the counterintuitive green activities was building more asphalt roads.
    – Gnudiff
    Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 5:00
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    It's not just an enthalpy problem; it's an entropy problem. Diffusing a pound of CO2 into the atmosphere is essentially free. Collecting a pound of CO2 requires dragging about a ton (1/(407 ppm), too lazy to correct by the factor of 2/3 for mol. wt.s) of atmosphere through your device, assuming 100% capture. While doing this, also capture the methane and chlorofluorocarbons, please. Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 2:11
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    Another point here is that recycling CO2 via biofuels doesn't do anything to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. At best it would keep the level from rising, if your biofuel production is significantly cheaper than fossil fuel extraction. The thing is, that biofuel is going to be burned, putting the CO2 back into the atmosphere. To reduce atmospheric CO2, you'd have to sequester the biofuel somehow, perhaps by pumping it back into exhausted oil wells.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 4:12

It's easier (and more energy efficient) to produce less CO2 than to make it and then try to capture it and break it apart. Rather than use solar energy to break CO2 apart, you could use that same solar energy to replace fossil fuel, and you'd get more energy out of it.

It takes more energy to break CO2 apart than you get out of burning carbon to produce CO2, just as electrolysis uses more energy to break water into oxygen and hydrogen, than one gets out of burning the resulting hydrogen and oxygen. Heat loss in the process of both electrolysis and and combustion accounts for much of the inefficiency.

Bypass that cycle and use the solar energy directly to replace fossil fuel, and you also eliminate the other pollutants produced by combustion.

Ironically, a solar powered device to break CO2 down into oxygen and carbon already exists, at zero cost, and it has been functioning for at least a billion years. It's called a rain forest. However, we don't hear any talk about deforestation any more. Either deforestation was completely arrested (which it wasn't), or deforestation doesn't serve the political agendas that appear to be driving much of the AGW discussions taking place today.

  • 4
    This is the real answer. This is a rare case where underlying physical limitations trump politics. Making electricity cleaner is orders of magnitude easier than sequestering CO2.
    – wedstrom
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 18:03
  • It takes more energy to break CO2 apart than you get out of burning carbon to produce CO2, just as electrolysis uses more energy to break water into oxygen and hydrogen Except one of the technologies that is to replace fossil fuels is hydrogen fuel cells.
    – Shane
    Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 4:58
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    @shane what does that have to do with anything. The reason for hydrogen fuel cells is that one of the (many) problems with alternative energy sources and energy sources in general is that we are surprisingly bad at storing energy, yet our energy needs at the local levels are not constant but rather fluctuate quite a bit. Hydrogen fuel cells are one way to store energy rather than a way to create energy.
    – DRF
    Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 13:15
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    Joined to upvote. Not spilling a bag of rice is easier than cleaning up a bag of spilled rice, 100% of the time.
    – LShaver
    Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 15:42
  • @Shane since hydrogen doesn't exist by itself in any great quantity (it's almost always combined with another element, like oxygen), hydrogen as used in fuel cells is only an energy storage method, not a source. Takes energy to come up with pure hydrogen for the fuel cell, more than you get out of the fuel cell. Arguably, the all electric car is a better solution, since the transmission method involves less loss, and the distribution network is already in place. The all electric car can be fueled from a variety of sources, current and in the future.
    – tj1000
    Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 18:41

The production of carbon is a negative externality. It's a cost of production that is spread very thin (to the entire world essentially), instead of being paid for by the producer of the carbon generating process. Taxes can attempt to account for this and ideally redistribute the money to address the people affected. Regulations can raise the cost of carbon production so that it's no longer 0. Subsidies towards substitute technologies can lower costs to reflect the lack of carbon.

The problem is that regulating this on a global scale is extremely difficult because each country can be seen as a producer of carbon. The externality of carbon production is placed on the whole world, so individual countries have no incentive to curb emissions without guarantees of very wide scale reciprocity.

Any truly effective large scale carbon sequestration technology would have these problems in addition to others. Taxes are just a redistribution of money, it's quite possible for a particular tax to fund policies with greater economic benefits or social utility than whatever the tax payer could have done with that money. So as a policy a carbon tax can address the problem while having other upsides. This also applies to regulations or subsidies; carbon emission reductions can probably be tied to reductions in other pollutants for example, and the development of renewable energy can have benefits towards national security and fill new economic niches on the global market.

In contrast, some sort of carbon sequestration technology would be a pure positive externality with no way for the producer to recoup the cost. Whoever sequesters carbon would bear all the costs while helping out the entire world, thereby incentivizing others to avoid also participating in sequestration or reductions in emission. For it to develop would require political leadership on a global scale that's even more difficult than emission reductions. For it to be costed fairly, there would have to be some sort of world wide carbon tax with a supra-national organization then carrying out the sequestration.

  • 1
    In contrast, some sort of carbon sequestration technology would be a pure positive externality with no way for the producer to recoup the cost. Except for, you know, selling the liquid gold they just collected. Could even market it as "100% clean gasoline!"
    – Shane
    Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 4:49
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    And we all trust the politicians to use the tax money for what they said it would be used for...don't we?
    – Dunk
    Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 18:02
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    Please use "carbon dioxide" instead of "carbon" – the latter is not produced, just converted from one state (coal/petroleum/methane/...) to another (carbon dioxide). Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 21:44
  • @Shane That depends on the form its stored in, the question presumes "recycling" carbon, but that wouldn't necessarily be possible.
    – Teleka
    Commented Apr 8, 2018 at 1:15
  • @PaŭloEbermann Sequester carbon would almost definitely not be in the form of carbon dioxide, carbon is a good shorthand here since we're talking about hydrocarbon fuels, atmospheric CO2, and whatever form will it will take in a carbon capture technology.
    – Teleka
    Commented Apr 8, 2018 at 1:17

Politically, it's easier, more effective, and gets results faster to regulate existing industries and carbon producers than it is to promote new, untested at scale technology.

Technologically it's easier and generally cheaper to slow down an existing "leak" than it is to clean up the spill after the fact. Would you recommend fixing a leaking water pipe, or putting a pump in the basement?

Environmentally the carbon does its damage until it's collected, so while it doesn't do permanent harm, think of it like a loan. While it's "out there" it costs interest. It's better that it never become a loan, and never collects interest (changes in heat retention, water carbonation, etc.) than to borrow from the environment and cause "interest" to be accrued.

Emotionally (important to politics and activists in general) it's important to "blame" someone. It's hard to fight against a problem, and force people to change unless there's a scapegoat, and a concrete point of action.

Financially it's less costly, both in terms of government cost, and energy required, to regulate industries than it is to promote new technology. For every dollar or kilowatt-hour spent, some carbon can be removed from the atmosphere, but generally speaking more carbon can be "removed" from the atmosphere per dollar or energy spent by not producing it, while still maintaining the same industrial process output. In either case you have to spend resources, but the same final result is obtained more cheaply by reductions than by captures.

  • I think politically a new solution would actually be more popular than hearing we need to cut back CO2 production. The idea is nice of presenting all these different kind of potential reasons. It might seems like a more balanced representation of the facts. But in fact here it is misleading. It is just the second reason (and a bit of the last). There is no efficient way to get rid of the CO2. The only way we know how is to recreate the fuel we burned (e.g. in form of trees or biomass). (Of course we will burn it again so we are not really capturing it, but at least this is more sustainable.)
    – Kvothe
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 16:29
  • @Kvothe "There is no efficient way to get rid of the CO2" It's hard to prove a negative, so I won't ask you to, but I suggest that it's irrelevant. Right now we don't have an efficient, scale-able, proven method. The future is unpredictable, but until something actually develops, we shouldn't invest as much in capture as we should in reduction. Dollar per dollar, resource per resource, reduction is more efficient than capture, and unless the laws of thermodynamics change, or a product of carbon capture becomes commercially viable (carbon nanotubes, anyone?) then that will remain true.
    – Adam Davis
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 17:02
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    You didn't mention the fact that reducing emissions has the effect of putting most costs on the wealthier nations, which makes it much easier to "sell" politically.
    – Jeffiekins
    Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 1:04

If you consider CO2 emission as the source of climate change, then only a reduction of CO2 emission can be the ultimate solution to the problem. Thus, emitting less CO2 is the goal. However, some fields lend themselves more to CO2 reduction than others. While it is relatively straight forward to replace cars with internal combustion engines with electric vehicles; electricity generation can be switches only in a much larger time frame. Whereas e.g. steel production will turn out to be a very tricky one. You simply can't run a blast furnace with electricity.

That is where the technologies which focus on recyling or storage of CO2 come into play. If you can't stop a blast furnace from emitting CO2, you can capture the CO2 and do something, e.g. turn it into other chemicals.

However, in total more CO2 reduction is achieved by not emitting the CO2 in the first place.

  • 1
    The question asks why there's not more effort to remove CO2 instead of focusing on reduction of emission, and you've responded that removal is less effective than reducing emission, but you haven't offered any evidence in support of that assertion or shown that the question of effectiveness has played any role in the political processes around efforts to combat global warming.
    – phoog
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 14:21
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    Some of the information in this answer is just false. Not only is it possible to produce steel using electric heating, it has been used in industry for a long time (e.g.: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_arc_furnace). The rest also doesn't really make sense. Using say solar energy to power your house or business is of course only more straightforward than powering a moving vehicle (which requires an expensive compact and (relatively) light battery). (But there might be less to be gained because the power plant that powers your house burns more efficiently than your cars gasoline engine.
    – Kvothe
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 15:59
  • @Kvothe: An electric arc furnace (EAF) is fed with direct reduced iron (DRI), any ideas how DRI is produced? DRI plants are mainly fed with natural gas or coal. So, no real CO2 elimination on this route. Furthermore, most steel in the world is produced on the blast furnace route, EAFs are used, however, they respresent a small fraction of world production.
    – Dohn Joe
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 22:05
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    About the iron, sure if you go back far enough down the line almost everything is powered with fossil fuels. But the point is that it never out of necessity all parts of the chain can be replaced. You seemed to be making the point that there is a fundamental constrain that certain temperatures can't be reached electrically which is not true.
    – Kvothe
    Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 8:16
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    About the steel, you actually can use purely renewable energy, However, this is still in the basic research stage. You can use H2 instead of CO as reducing agent in the producion of direct reduced iron, and then go through an electric arc furnace. Provided you have a CO2-free source of electricity and hydrogen, you can make steel in a non-fossil manner.
    – Dohn Joe
    Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 9:21

There is another problem: If you partly recycle CO2, there is the risk of people (and thus, politics) developing the mindset that the problem is somehow "solved", which decreases the pressure to lower the CO2 emissions. You may end up in a situation where finally you have equal or even more emission of CO2 due to careless production, with all the additional problems that come along with CO2 production (emission of other pollutants, depletion of limited resources etc.).

Compare this to the similar Jevons paradox, where an increase in resource efficiency leads to an increase in resource consumption instead of a decrease.

So, the most sustainable way is to reduce CO2 emissions by simply using less resources.

  • This is an interesting argument, but such a solution in this case would still solve a lot of problems. The goal, currently is an 80% reduction in CO2 footprint, enormously far from what's been achieved. If 80% capture is achieved (no small feat), fossil fuel use would need to increase by 5 fold to return to today's emission rates. Such a solution would at least be a problem delayed. The Jevons paradox might still apply over decades but the delay would still be beneficial. (I could back this up with numbers but it would get long and dull).
    – userLTK
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 16:54
  • @userLTK I am a bit sceptical about this 80% number. Note that you need energy to (re-)capture CO2, so this will decrease your overall energy output. I am not sure if a number of 80% is anything near realistic. With current techniques, you would drop the net energy output to below zero.
    – Thern
    Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 3:41
  • I'm skeptical about it too. I mentioned that cause 80% is a commonly mentioned target. To actually fix climate change, something like an 80% reduction will be necessary and maintained for years. 10% reductions won't do much. I didn't mean to sound critical, but this is a scenario that requires significant reduction or the warming won't stop. It's not a scenario where a 10% reduction would equal success and people will be told to "relax it's not a problem anymore" - though the so called "hiatus" of 1999-2013 or so did lead some people to that incorrect conclusion, so you never know.
    – userLTK
    Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 7:29

There are some very good answers already, but I don't see this specific point being addressed and it's important. New technology doesn't always pan out. Period. If we go back to the late 1970s, when there was genuine belief that oil shortages were here to say, scientists and politicians were talking about the electric car and solar power as a gasoline alternatives. 40 years later the electric car is still around, and it's been significantly improved, but it's very far from a practical replacement for the gas-combustion engine. Solar power has considerably improved as well and it's price of manufacture has fallen precipitously, but it's limited by battery technology, transmission efficiency and intermittent sunshine. Pardon my language but technology is a bitch. It can be wonderful but it's not a guarantee.

It's also worth pointing out that the Paris accords were April 2016, and your articles are from July 2016 and September 2017. It's unclear if progress in the field of solar energy conversion of CO2 had been announced at the time of the Paris meetings.

Moving onto your question, and I think it's a very fair question:

Why is there so much focus on producing less CO2 rather than investing in technology to recycle it?

The talk that came out of the Paris accords was reduction, that's 100% accurate, and fair arguments can be made (pointed out in some of the other answers) that reduction is the most effective approach given current technology.

That doesn't mean that research is being ignored. Find me a politician who says "Reduction is the only solution so I'm cutting off research into new technology". Have you ever heard that? I've never heard a politician say that. I've heard politicians say that about their opponents. It seems to me that the politicians who want to address climate change and make goals of reductions are also the politicians who are willing to fund research. Your two articles mention government funded research (The University of Illinois Chicago and the department of energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Lab) so, government funding is behind the two articles you posted, that counts for something (though it's possible some of the funding is corporate/private)

It's also possible that some politicians and some nations have other agendas in play, like an oil importing nation might have a vested interest in reducing it's demand for oil imports, or (and this happens on both sides), they may be speaking to their audience who wants to hear the words "reduction" or the flip side, wants to hear the words "hot air" or "conspiracy". Politicians talk to their audiences, but that doesn't mean they don't consider technological alternatives.

Obama, for example, got a lot of heat for Solyndra and Solyndra had promising technology, but it was a business with plummeting prices and lots of international competition, which makes it hard to turn a profit. There are accusations of China stealing the Solyndra technology and mass producing it while avoiding the development costs, but such accusations, whether true or not, go outside the scope of this question.

There's also the issue that it's problematic to announce a solution based on a technology that isn't finished. The ready date is out of their hands, so any agreements based on same are like houses built on sand, but they can reach an agreement on proposed reduction.

You're right that such promises may not be met and the effectiveness of un-kept promises is, well, borderline, but keep in mind actual CO2 footprint numbers do take into account carbon capture, so they aren't ignoring new technology in their agreements at all. They may not be talking up new technology, but they aren't dismissing it.

Given the nature of politics, politicians are between a rock and a hard place. As you said, reducing the CO2 footprint is hard. Politicians say what they can sell and, as pointed out in other answers, based on today's technology, reduction appears to be the way to go. So there's a few reasons why politicians focus on reduction.

Scientists don't have a constituency to answer to so they can be more brazen in their words. Few politicians, for example, propose nuclear power as a key first step solution to climate change, but some scientists have proposed exactly that. Few politicians will say "the ocean will rise 7 feet in 50 years", but some scientists will give that borderline alarmist warning to anyone who will listen (note, Michael Mann didn't say the next fifty years, he said we could see that kind of rapid rise at some 50 year interval in the future). His words being twisted aside, Politicians tread more carefully and talk to their constituency.

It's easier for a scientist to be pro nuclear power than a politician with an environmental base. (and not all scientists are pro nuclear power as a way to address climate change, nor am I advocating that, I'm just pointing that when they are pro nuclear, it's easier or them to come out and say so). Nuclear power also raises security concerns in many parts of the world, and I feel that I'm sidetracking, so I'll stop now.

A bit of science:

The problem with CO2, as noted in one of your articles is that it's a very stable, very tightly bound molecule. We can't "recycle it" without putting more energy into it than the oil or coal gave us when burning it and that defeats the purpose. It's also problematic to capture and transport because it's a gas. Consider that 1 kg of oil when burned, produces about 3 kg of CO2 gas. Even if we don't recycle and just capture, capturing that much gas is logistically intensive and expensive and for vehicles, impossible. For coal power planets, CO2 capture is possible but expensive (see clean coal). CO2 recycling/capture is nothing new, and it's been researched since the Carter administration, but it's never been cost effective.

Most people don't understand climate change even though it's reasonably straight forward, but it's remarkable how many people don't understand it. Veritasium did a video where he interviewed people about climate change and asked what they did and the most common answer was recycling, which, he pointed out, was a good thing to do, but not a solution for man made climate change. Given voters limited understanding, I'd give politicians some leway in providing simple answers (reduction), though I hope that in their meetings they get into more specifics.

Your articles

However, there are emergent technology to recycle CO2 such as this one or this one. Using such technologies may reduce pressure on industry to produce less CO2.

First, your two articles are basically the same technology. I read both articles, haven't researched them in detail, so they may use different methods, but it's essentially the same approach, solar energy, using some tricky chemistry involving "nanoflake tungsten diselenide" (article 1) and "copper-silver nanocoral cathode" . . . and an "iridium oxide nanotube anode" (article 2). to convert the stubborn CO2 molecule into some kind of fuel - yeah!!!. Great stuff if it works.

It's worth mentioning That article 1 specifically mentions silver being used in the past, but being too expensive to be practical and article 2 mentions the use of "copper-silver nanocoral" so, lets not get too excited until we actually see the cost effectiveness in action.

To remove a couple hundred billion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere (that's what it would take to realistically address climate change - 33 billion tons is added every year, about 15 of that goes into the oceans every year, we've added, in the last decade alone, nearly 200 billion tons of CO2 to the atmosphere. To "solve" climate change or bring it down to 1980s levels, we'd probably need to pull about 500 billion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere by this method.

How long would that take? How much would it cost? How much area would need to be covered by these man made "leafs" It's said that solar panels 335 km square (about the area of Arizona) could supply the world's energy needs, but that ignores storage and transmission.

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Source of image.

This proposal would supply electricity to Europe, and it's expected to cost half a trillion dollars.

I like your articles. Don't get me wrong. They're actually very cool and if they work, downright brilliant, but they've not even left the drawing board. To be practical, we'd need to know what they would cost, how long they would be effective, how much CO2 they could capture, who would pay for them and any other possible effects like toxicity. If progress is made, and some projects are built as a test run, it's possible that politicians will discuss the ideas in your articles at the next climate accord in 2020 something. (the date's probably out there, but a quick google search didn't provide it).


Global warming as an issue has been ongoing for thirty years. The focus has been on reducing emissions because no technology had been produced that scaled up to extract carbon dioxide.

Note that the two technologies that you point out have only been developed on the last two years; and I'd hazard a guess that the investment into these strategies was indirectly or directly prompted by fears of global warming and looking for other alternatives.

If they scale up then we will be hearing a lot more about it.


The reason why people like to dream so devoutly about reducing CO2 emissions is because it appears like the easiest solution.

Not doing something seems like a comparatively easy undertaking compared to doing something. Doing something (like developing, marketing and using technology for energy storage with CO2 as the storage medium) requires knowledge, intelligence and team spirit.

Following this line of argument, not doing something only requires you not to do it. Seemingly no higher education, no brainy arguments, not even any form of mutual consent is necessary to just stop what you are doing. Even a stone can do nothing, doesn't it?

What makes it difficult for more scientifically inclined individuals to follow this reasoning is the apparent fact that there is a cause for previous behavior. In a similar sense as the obese person cannot stop eating because he has access to abundant food resources, and the scarcity of food has been encoded in our genomes over aeons, humanity will not be able to stop consuming our fossil energy resources until complete exhaustion because it is actually the foundation of even our most modest pretensions about civilization.

There will probably be a temporary slowdown due to successful deceptive efforts in the interests of those who would like to keep the remaining resources for themselves. But people will find all kinds of excuses to restart burning fuels again (and, btw. also using nuclear fission), and eventually the fight around the cold-buffet will regain traction. Just like the obese individual loses 20kg in one year, and gains 40kg over the next four years.

One thing that is lightly forgotten in the discussion about man-vs-nature is the fact that we are part of nature, and this doesn't only include the convenient facts, like enjoying flowers, furry animals, and playing kids, but also the facts that disturb the civilized mind, like eating meat, waging war, killing and torturing of other people, and destroying our own basis of existence.

  • 1
    I had to vote you down because you don't understand the science. "The reason why people like to dream so devoutly about reducing CO2 emissions is because it appears like the easiest solution". There are numerous answers in this thread that explain precisely why it IS more difficult to remove it/store it than it is to reduce production. It's not some easy way out, the easiest solution today, is reduction. period. All options are being looked at scientifically and economically. Your overall post is simple false, and I might add, fantasy on your part.
    – userLTK
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 16:43
  • @userLTK: frankly, I don't care at all if you downvote my answer. If you want to keep believing in your religion, I can't stop you anyway.
    – user20276
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 17:19
  • 1
    Explain to me how your answer isn't entirely opinion. You didn't cite a singe course and clearly, you're passing judgement on others, but you're not pointing out a single error in the science that you readily dismiss. Addressing man made climate change requires scientific analysis. Where is your analysis? Where is your evidence?
    – userLTK
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 19:49

Population is the root problem, it's convenient to ignore that and focus on high tech stuff. There are 3 times as many of us as there were in 1950, 30 times as many as when Christ lived. We're using more energy, burning more fossil fuels, because there are more of us doing it. You can refine the process until it's 99.9% efficient and it still won't work. We need international population control like yesterday.

  • 10
    This is a comment rather than an answer. Also, "population control" might be even harder to implement that "high tech stuff".
    – Alexei
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 14:07
  • 1
    The places that actually have the most carbon emissions, also tend to already have low birth rates. Population control would not help with this problem -- or, frankly, with any other problem outside of Africa.
    – cHao
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 16:37
  • 7
    [The lunacy of] this answer would be clearer if it expanded somewhat on who gets to decide on who counts as overpopulation, who gets the right to have kids, and who does not. Until this is understood, the overpopulation argument is impractical at best, and garbage at worse. Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 17:48
  • There's evidence that as more societies develop better electrical technology, the dirty and inefficient power sources are actually reduced. Without evidence, this is pure speculation by you. There are plenty of energy sources to oversupply our needs; the bigger hurdles involve infrastructure. Our population numbers aren't really relevant when you consider that global warming was not even on the radar when a lot of our infrastructure was created. Reform takes time.
    – JMac
    Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 19:24
  • Population control is a valid concern and I sympathize with people who advocate for it. It helps to understand that population control (unless you're talking genocide) is slow. Cut the birth rate in half (no small feat), in 40-50 years, population would have fallen by about 10%. in 100 years, about 50%. That's to slow a fix to address current issues. Population control wouldn't fix climate change, or hunger or other issues short term. The first issue it would "fix" in several years is overcrowding in schools, a few years later, we might discover we have a labor shortage.
    – userLTK
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 17:00

Think about the goals of somebody on the political left - a bigger state, more regulation, higher taxes, perhaps even world government and the end of capitalism. The crisis created by man made climate change is an opportunity to promote this left wing agenda. The only solution, as the left sees it, is to for the state to curb the free markets in order to cut CO2 emissions and save the world.

Politically then, any potential solution to the issues caused by climate change that does not require the state to exert greater control of the economy is problematic for the left: with the failure of communism already one historic chance to destroy capitalism has been lost, the need to tackle climate change offers one more opportunity.

None of this is to say that cutting CO2 emissions isn't also the best policy to follow - it may very well offer us the best chance of success. However the left (who dominate the arts, education, entertainment, media etc) won't welcome attempts to find other solutions.

  • 3
    This boils down to money and power. Usually the simplest answer is the correct answer. Just planting trees works to sequester CO2 but is almost never talked about.
    – Bryansix
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 15:37
  • 8
    The ridiculous overgeneralisation aside that “the goals of somebody on the political left are a bigger state, more regulation etc.” (to most on the left, these are at best instrumental goals, if not necessary evils) – how does that anyway factor into the prevention-vs-recycling question? Nobody would want to recycle CO₂ unless incentivised by political measures (subsidies). Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 16:02
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    @leftaroundabout Unfortunately, this nonsense is actually what a lot of conservatives truly believe about liberals. They actually think liberals want to destroy everything they care about. And of course, the left-wing extremists do the exact same thing, demonizing the right as nazis who are all racist sexist gun-waving religious zealots who want poor people to starve. Both viewpoints are equally idiotic, both produce nothing but strife and noise, and both make reasonable dialog impossible. However both are also highly profitable for their respective media outlets, so it will never end.
    – barbecue
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 16:36
  • 9
    @Ravi the problem is you're not even trying to engage in a reasonable discussion, you're just making wild blanket claims about other people, just like extreme liberals do. If I thought there was any chance of actually having a reasonable conversation with you I might give it a try, but my experience is I'll end up having to defend myself from a bunch of idiotic false accusations (you're a commie/you hate America/you support terrorisim/whatever.) Frankly that's exhausting. The fact that both liberals and conservatives claim I'm on the opposite side tells me I'm in a good place.
    – barbecue
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 17:18
  • 3
    @barbecue “liberals believe in bigger government and more market regulation” is a “wild, blanket claim” and equivalent to left wing zealots calling Republicans Nazis? And isn’t it slightly ironic that in accusing me of being about to make “idiotic false accusations” you yourself turn into the one making idiotic false accusations?
    – Ravi
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 17:39

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