Kelp, Line, and Sinker

A lot of modern literature surrounding climate change focuses on the consumer relationship and small steps that we can take to reduce our impact. These honest attempts to mitigate are often driven by and born out of the same capital and trends of overproduction that are responsible for the climate disaster. While this information is useful in understanding the sheer gravity of the human relationship with climate, this tactic not only places blame on the consumer, it reduces climate change to something that can be combatted simply via reduction.

The truth of the matter is that combating climate change not only means limiting carbon emissions at every level, we need to start physically removing carbon from the atmosphere. According to the World Resources Institute, the United States would need to remove two billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere per year to reach net zero for the 2050 Mid-Century Strategy for Deep Decarbonization. While this goal may be just a little too hopeful, there are quite a few modern strategies that have been proposed in the past 10 years. The WRI points to air capture and scrubbing technology, soil carbon management, and promoting the development of root crops. These proposed solutions are extremely expensive, however, and there’s no surefire way to ensure their safety from danger. With wildfires on the rise, limited land availability, and governmental red tape preventing the increase of green industry, on-land carbon capture projects are naturally unreliable. Recently, oceanic options for sequestration are increasingly attractive. These projects would be especially important in areas with high amounts of pollution, like large consumer centers or transportation hubs.

Kelp can absorb gigatons of carbon during photosynthesis. When the kelp leafs become too heavy with sequestered carbon, they sink to the seafloor and into the sediment, hopefully for millions of years. Projects involving this kind of marine sequestration are becoming more popular as maritime workers, researchers, and shellfish farmers begin to take matters into their own hands. A Maine-based start up called Running Tide, lead by ex-fisherman Rob Odlin, casts large “nets” of kelp off the coast, tending to it until it’s ready to sink to the seafloor. According to an interview with NPR, Running Tide is committed to simplicity in an age of high-tech, unsustainable carbon capture, but this is just one example.

There are several other international kelp sequestration projects that are working to establish a legitimate process and ultimately gain governmental support. Larger kelp farms, like a 180,000 square kilometer “sea vegetable” farm in the Netherlands, recognize the potential for mass increase in both green jobs and community building.

A seaweed farm in the United Kingdom.

Ultimately, the low-cost, low-tech aspects of kelp sequestration make it an exciting new way for communities, small business, and companies alike to be part of a global mission to reduce carbon emissions. If done properly and responsibly, seaweed could sequester 173 million metric tons of atmospheric carbon per year, which is a massive step in the right direction.

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