BRUNSWICK — Uncontrollable wildfires in California and biblical floods in the Midwest this spring are indicative of our looming climate crisis. A warmer climate results in more water in the atmosphere, which leads to more rain, storms and devastating floods. Carbon capture is a viable option for preserving our environment – but only if we’re willing to invest in it.

At Bowdoin, I teach an environmental studies course called “Telling Environmental Stories.” It is designed to help students learn how to communicate their knowledge about the environment and associated issues to the wider society. These young people are bright and skilled, they attend every class full of energy and hope and they have a strong desire to make a difference in the world. In most cases, that desire to make a difference is focused on finding ways to mitigate global warming.

But I’ve been harboring a secret. While I try to match my students’ ardor and enthusiasm, I’ve been increasingly discouraged about the realities of the climate crisis and how, in truth, there is little we can do to avoid widespread destruction of cities, species’ biodiversity and our human habitat. Our society seems unwilling, perhaps unable to even discuss it. I’ve had to teach my students while feeling like a liar in encouraging them to work hard and have hope, while I myself had none. I knew too much.

I knew, for example, that our home state of Maine is experiencing rising air temperatures, more rainfall and some of the fastest-rising ocean temperatures in the world. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average annual precipitation in New England has increased 10 percent since 1895, and precipitation from heavy storms has increased 70 percent since 1958. To quote a 2016 EPA study: “Precipitation is likely to increase during winter and spring … (and) rising temperatures will melt snow earlier in spring and increase evaporation, and thereby dry the soil during summer and fall. So flooding is likely to be worse during winter and spring, and droughts worse during summer and fall.”

Our coastal towns and cities see the impacts of sea-level rise, wetlands loss and – virtually any time there is a nor’easter or substantial storm – heavy coastal flooding, battering communities from Camp Ellis to Scarborough and downtown Portland.

But recently, for the first time in years, I can tell my students that I think there is a workable path to preserve our environment. Carbon capture technology removes CO2 from industrial emissions, or directly from the air in large-scale projects. Right now, carbon capture comes in two forms. First, there is carbon dioxide capture and storage, an already proven technology in wide use around the globe that “scrubs” carbon as it is being burned and then stores it in the ground, keeping it out of the atmosphere. Then there is direct air capture, which, like something out of science fiction, sucks carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. The engineering and technology exist right now, but they need to be improved and scaled. Will we invest the effort, time and capital to bring this to fruition?

It’s time for a public discussion. Carbon capture needs to be on the minds and lips of all Americans, and any realistic plan to address climate change must include all available options. We shouldn’t get caught up in arguments about the Green New Deal, or anger that Exxon and Koch Industries, those kings of carbon, will probably again benefit financially. It’s too late for that, and we need their expertise in chemistry, pipelines, petroleum geology and more. It is shortsighted and irresponsible to ignore a technology with the potential to help safeguard our world as we know it.

On the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing, Americans must remember that we can meet great challenges. Our people are up to it. A recent Reuters poll found that “nearly 70 percent of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, want the United States to take ‘aggressive’ action to combat climate change.”

Our leaders, however, are failing us, our children and our grandchildren. We must do our generation’s part today. Our politicians need to hear that we expect serious action. It takes 15 years for the effects of CO2 emissions to be felt in the atmosphere. Look at the weather in Maine and around the world: We’re already late.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.