The declarative headline was certainly eye-catching: “Climate Change Can Be Stopped by Turning Air Into Gasoline.” In the article, published in The Atlantic last week, Robinson Meyer reported that a team of scientists led by Harvard professor David Keith had discovered how to pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and turn it into liquid fuel—and to do it cheaply, on an industrial scale, by 2021. “If their technique is successfully implemented at scale, it could transform how humanity thinks about the problem of climate change,” Meyer wrote. “It could give people a decisive new tool in the race against a warming planet...”
The reaction was largely celebratory. In the article, a scientist with the Carnegie Institution for Science called it “an important result,” and a professor of chemical engineering at Olin College called it “a big deal.” Journalists on Twitter were similarly effusive:
The key word here is “if.” “Outside experts said they were encouraged by Keith and his colleagues’ approach, but cautioned that it would take time to examine every cost estimate and engineering advance in the paper,” Meyer wrote. “The consensus response was something like: Hmm! I hope this works!”
But the article, while acknowledging that this discovery “could also unsettle the issue’s delicate politics, making it all the harder for society to adapt,” didn’t fully grasp with the implications of the project. Not only would carbon recycling disrupt environmental processes in ways we can’t fully comprehend; it wouldn’t solve many of the problems caused by mankind’s relentless consumption of fossil fuels.