#CarbonTake with Rosina Bierbaum of the University Of Michigan

Dr. Rosina Bierbaum

Professor and Dean Emerita, School for Environment and Sustainability and School of Public Health at the University of Michigan

Rosina Bierbaum is a member of the Global CO2 Initiative Advisory Board, as well as a professor and Dean Emerita at the University of Michigan. She has appointments in the School for Environment and Sustainability and the School of Public Health and focuses her research on the intersection of science and policy.

Q: What role do you see carbon technology playing as we work towards achieving our climate goals?

A: Carbon dioxide is a key greenhouse gas that is ubiquitous in the energy systems of the world today. We can’t solve climate change without controlling CO2, so carbon-reducing technologies will be essential to achieving a sustainable future and to limiting temperature increases to no more than 2° C above pre-industrial levels as called for in the Paris Climate Agreement and the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) reports. To avoid ‘dangerous anthropogenic climate change’ – the goal of the Framework Convention on Climate Change – will require transformational, not incremental change in thinking, technologies, and research.

Q: How do we drive and materialize the opportunity for economic growth and prosperity offered by a new carbon economy? 

A: To achieve transformational change, we need incentives at the national policy level (carbon price, emissions targets’ goals, etc.), as well as support for innovation at the industrial and community level. Incentives working together at multiple scales are likely to generate more rapid and systemic responses. Carrots and sticks – incentives and penalties – set by government and industry can help. Philanthropy can help with the funding for nascent technologies, as well. Q: What efforts have you seen internationally that you feel should be scaled broadly? 

A: Carbon pricing and/or setting goals for achieving either carbon neutrality or a country’s share of a 1.5 or 2° C world. The U.S. is a real laggard now and if there are technologies that can achieve the goals of limiting global temperatures to below 2° C, other countries that develop them will prosper to the detriment of the U.S. Q: What is one piece of knowledge or advice you want to share with students or entrepreneurs in this space? 

A: Innovation is only limited by the imagination – so think big and ‘outside the box’. If there is money to be made in carbon sequestration, offsets, and new fuels, new transformational ideas will emerge! And, since we must solve this crisis in the next 20 years – that is, be on a path to no more than 2° C by then, there is no time to lose.  We need the best brains across fields to collaborate in solving the climate crisis.  Equally important to mitigation of climate change (or reducing emissions) is rapid development of strategies to cope with the changes underway (adaptation) to protect people, infrastructure, and ecosystems.

Q: What is missing in the debate? 

A: Serious carbon pricing – that would lead to much faster penetration of the clean energy alternatives and spark innovation on ways to capture or store CO2. It is encouraging that the private sector is now taking stock of climate risk in their portfolios, and that disclosing that risk is becoming the norm. This could lead to a dramatic decrease in emissions and enhancement of resilience to protect supply chains.   What has been missing from the debate is discussion the cost of NOT acting to control climate change. Given scientific advances in the attribution of extreme events to climate change, it is clear that the increase in downpours, heat, and fires is linked to climate change; enormous burgeoning costs are associated with these and will continue to grow unless we adequately confront climate change.