ThinkProgress recently posted an interesting piece on how to talk to children about climate change. The article had a number of interesting insights, and revealed just how challenging it can be for parents to teach their children about climate change. Missing from the article, however, was any mention of carbon removal -- an omission that makes climate change even more difficult to understand. This post explains why carbon removal is so important for communicating the need for climate action in a way that resonates with children and adults alike.
As background, the term "carbon removal" is used to describe any process or system capable of cleaning the air of excess carbon dioxide -- the most prevalent of the "greenhouse gases" causing climate change. Scientists also use the term "negative emissions" for such carbon removal solutions, as they work like carbon emission source run in reverse.
Including the idea of carbon removal enables us to explain climate change in as simple a way as possible: climate change is caused by the giant (albeit invisible) mess humans are making in the sky by emitting carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses.
To curtail climate change, we need to clean up this mess, both by stopping the emissions that are causing the problem, and by cleaning up the emissions already in the atmosphere (through carbon removal).
Without talking about carbon removal, however, we can't explain climate change as a clean-up problem -- we can only describe it as a stop-making-a-mess-problem. Very rarely is it acceptable to simply stop making a mess while not cleaning up the one we've made -- even kids get this idea. As a result, the conversation on climate change rarely talks about climate change as the mess that it is; instead, this conversation tends to devolve into the abstractions around future damages and the pursuit of sustainable lifestyles, complicating our understanding of the climate challenge.
So let's start making it explicit that excess carbon emissions in the atmosphere have created a big mess, and that it's critical both to stop making the mess worse and to start cleaning it up. This framing enables us to communicate what actions add to this mess, and what actions -- like deploying carbon removal solutions -- help clean this mess up.