California is responding to the year’s historic wildfires and heat waves with ambitious goals to phase out gas-powered cars and protect 30 percent of our land and coastal water by 2030. But policymakers are giving little attention to a green rock that could remove 100 percent of humanity’s yearly carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere.
Local nonprofit Project Vesta is currently studying the environmental impact of olivine, an abundant green mineral. Researchers believe that when ocean waves break down the rock, it will accelerate the removal of harmful carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and oceans, while also helping de-acidify oceans. If pilot studies prove olivine is safe and effective, Project Vesta hopes to green 2 percent of the Earth’s coastal shelf seas.
“Our technology works by mimicking and harnessing an ancient, natural process that’s been turning carbon dioxide into rock for billions of years,” Kelly Erhart, cofounder of Project Vesta, told me. “Speeding it up can help restore balance on human time scales.”
Project Vesta’s technology is not the only solution to address the climate crisis. The climate restoration movement is growing rapidly as the need to lower the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide becomes more apparent. Last month, Pope Francis called climate restoration strategies of “utmost importance for Earth’s future.” And Santa Clara County became the first local government in the world to pass climate restoration legislation in August 2019.
But San Francisco, a clear environmental leader, has yet to formally adopt a climate restoration resolution. While necessary, lowering carbon dioxide emissions is no longer enough. The City should adopt legislation to advance climate resolution strategies.
Pre-industrial atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide were about 270 parts per million. Those have almost doubled to about 415 parts per million, and they’re growing. Even if policymakers stopped all emissions tomorrow, humanity would still need to remove excess carbon from the atmosphere to keep our planet habitable.
“For the last 40 to 50 years, we’ve been talking about turning down the tap on carbon dioxide emissions, but we’ve been really slow to do this,” Dr. Erica Dodds, chief operating officer at the Foundation for Climate Restoration, told me. “Climate restoration involves opening the drain and getting back to a healthy level of carbon dioxide.”
The Foundation has highlighted many solutions to open the drain. In addition to Project Vesta, strategies include rapid tree planting using drones, capturing atmospheric carbon to use in building materials and deploying synthetic sand to rebuild Arctic sea ice. Some of these ideas were showcased at the recent Global Climate Restoration Forum, and Dodds hopes more local governments will pass legislation to advance them further.
Last year, Marin County became the first to adopt a low-carbon concrete code, which will reduce emissions from concrete and create a market for materials made from captured carbon. The Valley Transit Authority also declared a climate restoration emergency after Santa Clara County became the first to adopt a climate restoration resolution.
“I am thankful that the movement we have led in this county is part of a quickly growing number of similar initiatives throughout the world with other jurisdictions following the lead of our county,” Santa Clara Supervisor Dave Cortese, who spearheaded the legislation, told me.
The City should join the list. San Francisco’s compost is already used on farms and ranches to enrich soil and draw down atmospheric carbon. Local innovators are also already using technology, research and science to develop more solutions. By formally adopting a climate restoration resolution, policymakers could highlight its past success and help The City’s growing climate culture flourish.
“This is Florence, Italy in the 1500s,” Thomas Baruch, a venture capitalist who works with Bay Area companies to scale and market climate solutions, told me. “I think 500 years from now, maybe less given how fast things move, people will look back on this time in the San Francisco Bay as an immensely creative explosion.”
It’s wonderful to see our state and local leaders passing long-needed climate and environmental policies. But San Francisco shouldn’t overlook the immense value in a little green rock. If Baruch is right, and hopefully he is, it could be the next Sistine Chapel.
Robyn Purchia is an environmental attorney, environmental blogger and environmental activist who hikes, gardens and tree hugs in her spare time. She is a guest opinion columnist and her point of view is not necessarily that of the Examiner. Check her out at robynpurchia.com.