Trees are not the answer: A high-quality podcast removes myths and gets people educated about carbon removal - easy to understand, entertaining, relevant.
Carbon removal is a relatively novel concept, but interest in the technology and how it might mitigate climate change is ramping up quickly. As it is quite a new idea, there aren’t many sources or experts to consult. Enter The Carbon Removal Show.
Sam Floy, founder of podcasting company Cofruition and executive producer of The Carbon Removal Show, was already interested in climate change when he met a climate investor researching carbon removal. The investor was shocked by how few people had heard about carbon removal and its importance. The two got talking and decided that a high-quality podcast would be a good way to get people inspired and educated about carbon removal.
“People need to know about carbon removal; it’s going to be essential to do it at scale to keep the planet under 1.5 °C warming,” says Floy. “The levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are already too high; even if all emissions were to stop today, the earth would still overheat,” he explains.
The podcast was launched in 2021, hosted by Emily Swaddle, an environmental journalist, and Tom Previte, a climate policy expert. During its first two seasons the show has introduced listeners to the wide range of carbon removal technologies on offer, plus the challenges and opportunities facing this new industry. Swaddle and Previte have explored topics extending from the role of forests in carbon removal, to how individuals and companies can offset their carbon emissions, to the business of carbon removal.
Carbon removal or capture refers to the permanent removal of CO2 from the atmosphere. This involves extracting CO2 from the atmosphere and then storing it permanently.
Carbon removal and storage technologies can filter and store CO2 from the air. For this purpose, there are, for example, systems that are installed directly at the point of emission, such as at the chimney of a power plant. The CO2 can be stored in gaseous form or mineralised and bound in certain rock strata.
As the name suggests, carbon removal captures carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and stores it permanently. The goal is to reduce the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is the major greenhouse gas responsible for trapping heat and raising global temperatures. While the transition to green or non-carbon-based energy is a crucial part of the race to combat climate change, it has become clear that reaching carbon neutrality and net-negative emission goals will be impossible without carbon removal.
There are various methods for carbon capture and storage. Planting trees and restoring forests is one way. There are also technologies for direct air capture, which remove carbon dioxide directly from the air and store it underground, often in a solid, mineral form. And there are even techniques for ocean-based carbon removal.
As a novel concept, there are plenty of misconceptions about carbon removal. One is that removing carbon from the atmosphere creates a moral hazard, because it gives big polluters an excuse to continue their emissions. According to Floy, this may have been the case 10 to 15 years ago when the level of carbon in the atmosphere was lower, but most scientists today agree that carbon removal at scale is necessary to limit climate change, so it’s vital to invest in the technology.
Another common misconception is that since trees can suck carbon out of the atmosphere, people should plant more trees instead of investing in new technology. Floy’s response is that although a tree may indeed remove carbon from the atmosphere, that carbon is released back into the atmosphere when the tree dies, or when there are wildfires, which are increasingly common. Trees also take up a lot of land, and the enormous numbers needed would displace many people.
The Carbon Removal Show explores many of these misconceptions and discusses the policy landscape and the roles of companies, governments, and other stakeholders in accelerating the development and deployment of these technologies. Episodes are in-depth, and the hosts include perspectives from scientists, entrepreneurs, policymakers and advocates, while making this complex topic easy for non-experts to understand. The goal is to explore the nuances of carbon removal “in a level-headed way” by talking about the pros and cons of different approaches and highlighting exciting developments in the industry. Floy is adamant, “It’s not ‘cheerleading’ for the sake of it.”
Carbon removal and storage is rapidly growing into a new industry. Microsoft and Stripe have invested significant amounts to support companies removing carbon from the atmosphere, but backing like this is rare. Citing data from cdr.fyi, Floy says, “There are less than 200 buyers who have bought carbon removal, so there is still a massive need for more to participate to develop the market.” The cost of carbon removal is currently high, but it is expected to come down as the technologies develop and roll out further.
In addition to the podcast The Carbon Removal Show also features a blog, a newsletter, and a resource library. The blog provides additional insights into new developments in carbon removal, while the newsletter keeps listeners up-to-date on the latest episodes. The resource library includes a useful collection of articles, reports, and other materials on carbon removal.
The podcast ended its second season in late 2022, but Floy hopes to continue making episodes. “We view the podcast as a public good - a free resource so anyone in the world can listen and become inspired and educated about this vital aspect of the future.”