The July 1 editorial “Melting in the Pacific Northwest” was right to glimpse a dystopian future in the current heat wave. It’s true that greenhouse gases already emitted, also known as “legacy emissions,” lock in a certain amount of future warming and that we must zero out new emissions soon. Reaching net zero can’t reverse global warming; it can only avoid making it worse. But that doesn’t mean we must accept a future of routine heat domes and megadroughts because greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere can be drawn down, changing the trajectory of the climate. Such “negative emissions” techniques are available — and some are scalable.
A new McKinsey study finds we very likely cannot limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius without them, whereas with them we can meet climate goals. In fact, we could turn things around surprisingly rapidly. For example, leading climate scientists recently advocated urgent research and action on removing excess atmospheric methane, a super-powerful greenhouse gas, by enhancing the natural methane oxidation process. If successful, this could roll warming back to 2005 levels.
Given our dire straits, there is no doubt we need a commitment to smart, targeted, carefully assessed, negative emissions techniques — and then the courage to act.
Peter Jenkins, Bethesda
The writer is chair of the board
of advisers of Methane Action.