Among the more extraordinary – some would say eerie – aspects of our global climate crisis is the spectacle of the “Great Melt.”

From Siberia to Alaska, Greenland to the Tibetan Plateau, ground once thought to be permanently frozen is thawing, exposing ancient plants, animal carcasses and human skeletal remains – even reviving so-called zombie viruses.

Thawing permafrost is not only a consequence of climate change but a contributor to it. Frozen subsoil holds gigatons of carbon dioxide and methane – twice as much as is currently in the atmosphere. These gases are being released from the frozen ground as it warms and melts, increasing the volume of heat-trapping emissions and exacerbating our climate crisis.

The plight of our planet’s melting permafrost is a screaming red siren, yet another tangible warning that we must pull out all the stops to reduce greenhouse gasses and hold temperature rise in check.

What does that look like?

An immediate and significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. An accelerated pace of renewable energy adoption. And, the aggressive removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The latter has become even more critical now that the 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold seems to be moving farther out of reach.


Achieving net zero by 2050, scientists say, will require the removal of up to 10 gigatons of carbon globally every year. We can accomplish this feat by using both engineered and nature-based methods to scale up a gigaton-capable carbon removal industry.

We have to go all in: significant investment, strong policy frameworks, supportive legislation and public-private partnerships. In short, additional commitment – in political will and in dollars – is required.

According to a new analysis by McKinsey, $6 trillion to $16 trillion in CO2 removal investment will be needed to achieve net zero. Only $13 billion in carbon removal capacity has been invested to date. To bridge the gap, at least $400 billion in investment must be secured by 2030.

The Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law are paving the way, pumping unprecedented levels of funding into carbon capture, removal and storage. To build on that momentum, Congress must act this year on legislation to advance progress on various carbon removal solutions beyond direct air capture.

The Carbon Removal and Emissions Storage Technology Act (CREST Act), co-sponsored by Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, is one such avenue. The bipartisan legislation expands research and development programs for carbon removal and storage to include methods that harness natural processes, such as algae cultivation and sinking, blue carbon management, direct ocean capture, reforestation and enhanced geological mineralization.

Similarly, the Carbon Dioxide Removal Research and Development Act would fund research, development and demonstration of CO2 removal technologies over nine federal departments and agencies, focusing on natural processes such as carbon uptake in forests, ocean-based carbon removal, and soil carbon management.

Both pieces of legislation recognize the power of nature as an ally in our quest to limit temperature rise. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concludes that by 2030, nature-based solutions can deliver emissions reductions and removals of at least 5 to 11 gigatons of CO2 equivalent per year. Thus, protecting, restoring and sustaining natural carbon sinks, such as terrestrial, marine and freshwater ecosystems, is a global imperative.

We know that the window for action is narrowing. Scientists say every half degree of warming leads to more severe consequences: more extreme heat waves, droughts and floods. Three degrees of warming would make vast parts of Earth uninhabitable. We simply don’t have a choice any longer. We have six short years to cut emissions by 43%, compared to 2019 levels, to limit warming and avert the worst effects of climate change.

Meanwhile, the Great Melt – a ticking carbon timebomb – continues unabated. Let it serve as our wake-up call to rise and meet the urgency of the moment. The health of our planet and life itself depend on it.

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