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US can slow climate change with new carbon-capture technology

New innovations show that we can slow climate change. For instance, an artificial tree mimics the photosynthesis of real trees by chemically sucking CO2 out of the air. A push from Washington and other world capitals could help spur the market for such carbon-capture technology.

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Carbon capture for commercial purposes could potentially take more CO2 out of the atmosphere than we are currently putting in, while producing a healthy profit, Chichilnisky says. But governments around the world will need to grease the wheels by mandating a carbon market, in which industries are required to pay to remediate the damage that their pollution creates.

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It makes sense. With innovative new approaches like carbon capture on the verge of becoming economically viable, a little push from Washington and other world capitals could go a long way toward creating a market-based brake on climate change.

Whether carbon capture or some other developing technology is the answer remains to be seen. But a free-market approach, where different systems could compete on a level playing field, would quickly drive prices down and sort out which technology is the most cost-effective.

Now President Obama has an historic opportunity to push for a mandatory carbon market during his second term, and start cooperating with other countries in aggressive international measures to curb greenhouse gases.  The European Union, which already has an emissions trading scheme in place, is an obvious place to seek cooperation.

During the president's previous term, Republicans in Congress shot down his rather half-hearted effort to enact a cap-and-trade law. But if November's election results can be trusted, the public's patience for Republican obstructionism on the environment may have just run out. In the wake of hurricane Sandy, more Americans than ever – 68 percent according to a Rasmussen survey conducted in November – are convinced that climate change is an urgent problem that needs to be addressed. This shift in public opinion may give the president the political space that he needs to push for the tough action that is required.

Then America – and Mr. Obama – can fulfill their role as global leaders. In my lifetime alone, the US sent a man to the moon and helped create an Internet that unites the globe in a worldwide web of instant communication. I have no doubt we can fight climate change.

Richard Schiffman is an environmental journalist who publishes regularly in the Guardian and elsewhere. A longer version by the author describing carbon capture in detail first appeared in the Earth Island Journal.

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