Carbon Sequestration — A Thought


I was reading another breathless science article about carbon capture and sequestration technology when the thought struck me — what happens if this works? For thousands of years we (as a species) have been merrily taking the carbon from live and fossil sources and combining it with atmospheric oxygen in a process that releases heat and forms the basis of our civilization. But over time the excess byproduct of this (carbon dioxide) has built up in the atmosphere and is seen as one of the contributors to global warming.

You see, the natural process would be for plants to absorb the carbon dioxide and use the energy from sunlight through photosynthesis to release the oxygen back into the atmosphere and put the carbon into its structures. Over time this gets buried and becomes coal or other fossil fuels. Then we dig it up and the process starts all over. (I am sure that a similar cycle exists for petroleum.) The point of the cycle for this discussion is that the oxygen is released back into the atmosphere.

But now we have this great idea that to save ourselves we need to capture the carbon dioxide from our waste streams and hide it somewhere. Sounds great but what happens to the two atoms of oxygen that get sequestered along with the atom of carbon? Seems to me that if we systematically remove the oxygen from the atmosphere along with the carbon we will end up in a worse place then we are at now. After all, if the carbon dioxide does not get rendered by photosynthesis, where is the oxygen going to come from to run the combustion process the next time? Or worse, where does the oxygen come from for us to breath?

Seems to me that the whole concept needs a massive rethink. The problem is not only the accumulating carbon dioxide in the atmosphere but the declining amount of oxygen. Somehow the real solution should address both issues.

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