Connect with us

Commentary

‘Deliverance’ Continues to Define Burt Reynolds’ Career and Stereotypes in Appalachia

Published

on

The recent passing of actor Burt Reynolds has left the nation celebrating the man Rolling Stone deemed “The Last Good Ol’ Boy movie star.” His career spanned decades and roles in films like “Smokey and the Bandit” and “Boogie Nights” made him a household name, but in Appalachia, Reynolds is perhaps best known for a film that shapes perceptions of the region even today.

Even you have probably whistled or hummed a few notes from “Dueling Banjos” because of it.

More than 46 years after its release, the 1972 thriller “Deliverance” remains one of the most recognized pictures in American film history. Deliverance was preserved in the National Film Registry in 2008, which describes the film’s setting as a “gripping Appalachian ‘Heart of Darkness.’” It was chronicled by a New York Times dispatch as “redefining masculinity.”

The Library of Congress canonizes “Deliverance”’s engagement with allegorical themes, writing, “With dazzling visual flair, director John Boorman and cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond infuse James Dickey’s novel with scenes of genuine terror and frantic struggles for survival battling river rapids — and in the process create a work rich with fascinating ambiguities about “civilized” values, urban-versus-backwoods culture, nature, and man’s supposed taming of the environment.”

“Deliverance” is, without fail, relentless and cerebral. Cultural references to the film have survived several generations, making it one of the most quoted screenplays of the late twentieth century. Today, much of the contemporary coverage marking recurring anniversaries of the film’s 1972 release often reflects on “Deliverance”’s conflation of rural space and rural people with terror and the grotesque.

Prior to filming, director John Boorman had never been to the American South.

“We needed someone who looked inbred for the banjo player,” Boorman told The Guardian in 2017. “My assistant found this boy, Billy Redden, who looked extraordinary, but couldn’t play. So, we made a shirt with an extra sleeve in it, and a musician crouched behind doing the fretwork as Redden strummed,.”

“There was a lot written afterwards about how ‘Deliverance’ libelled mountain people,” Boorman said, “but the locals were thrilled with the film.”

That wasn’t true for all locals, though, including “Banjo Boy” Billy Redden himself, who was reduced to a moniker that mocked his immortalized role., Redden regrets his cameo in “Deliverance” and he told The New Yorker working with Burt Reynolds on the film wasn’t ideal.

“Burt didn’t want to say nothing to nobody,” he shared with The New Yorker’s Tad Friend. “He wasn’t polite. And he made us look real bad—he said on television that all people in Rabun County do is watch cars go by and spit.” Later, Redden told American Public Media that “I’d like to have all the money I thought I’d make from this movie. I wouldn’t be working at Walmart right now. And I’m struggling really hard to make ends meet.”

That struggle likely led Redden to appear in a TV cameo role that invoked the cultural afterlife of Banjo Boy in a 2004 Blue Collar TV comedy montage staring notable comedians Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy. The sketch depicted an “entry” in Foxworthy’s famous ongoing sketch series detailing a glossary of terms of the supposed “redneck” vernacular in which Redden was asked to appear playing a banjo in a part of a sketch where the comedian informed the audience that “raisin bread” means “Ray’s inbred” in redneck-speak. Perpetuating the “Deliverance” narrative.

The ubiquitous “Paddle faster, I hear banjos,” reference from the film became a shorthand to convey fear or bemusement with finding oneself in “treacherous” rural places or around unfamiliar rural people.

The graphic depictions of sexual violence and subplots that lead the audience to imagine a  pervasiveness of intercommunity incest in the rural Appalachian county film setting have contributed to the centuries-old narratives that make claims about mythic perversity and sexual degeneracy in rural American societies. “Deliverance”‘s cast of city dwellers who accidentally find themselves in hinterland flippantly murmur comments like “Talk about genetic deficiencies—isn’t that pitiful?” in a dialogue that consistently hints at a specter of perverse sexual transgressions rampant off road.

In reality, this subtext in the 1972 thriller became canon fodder in the mythmaking of a “backwardsness” that lurks beyond our urban centers that has since made for stock tropes overused in writing about Appalachian people and wilderness. In many ways, the cultural afterlife of “Deliverance” in the American popular consciousness has created a challenge for Appalachian people to respond to stigma about public and private aspects of life in our region and done little more but contribute to stereotypes.

In the wake of the passing of one of “Deliverance”’s lead actors, Burt Reynolds, who played pack-leader Lewis, I’ve spent a few nights in marathon mode. The film was credited for being career break for Reynolds, who reflected on the significance of his role as Lewis in some of his final interviews.

Here in Appalachia, we’re no strangers to embracing cultural touchstones that we find ourselves feeling ambivalent about.

I, for one, love NASCAR–a sport with a storied history of distinctly Appalachian mischief–which is often denigrated as being uncool vis-a-vis some of the same social stigmas introduced by films like “Deliverance” in the millennial alternative subcultures I often find myself in. I renounced my fandom for years, catching Daytona 500s in exile, because it became pervasive to lampoon so many cultural artifacts from my childhood until I learned that many of these conceptions were informed by classist stigma associated with things that are popular or common in Appalachian locales. Think: living in mobile homes is often seen as shameful and “trashy” while living in tiny homes is seen as cosmopolitan, eco-conscious, and chic.

Now, ever-popular Instagram models sport Dale Earnhardt ephemera in played-out streetwear looks with classic checkered Vans slip-ons as an ironic nod to early 2000s culture. Go figure.

In coming weeks, I’ll be reflecting on what it means to consume so many of my favorite exports of Reynolds’ critical acclaim in that fuzzy, uncertain place between being in critical analysis and sentimental nostalgia.

One the skills I’m most devoted to developing in my emotional life is the ability to hold onto a patient refrain from marking human beings “good” or “bad,” redeemable or irredeemable, worthy or unworthy. I’ve tried to refuse applying polarizing, binary logics to make sense of the actions of others because so much of us is impossible to categorize and so much of our histories can be explained by the formative events in our lives that have made us who we are.

The same is true of Appalachia. Counter to the narratives perpetuated by “Deliverance”’s reinforcement of ideas of the region as backwards and culturally incompetent, diversity of opinion does exist here after all.

It’s true that some roles in Burt Reynolds’ canon have led to unmatched stigma for Appalachian people and lifeways. And sometimes, we can feel like we’re trapped in a liminal space of not knowing what we feel when we lose a complicated figure in our society, but it’s okay to be patient.

Continue Reading

Commentary

Local Newspaper Closures Polarize Voters, Choke Political Progress

Published

on

Photo illustration via PixaBay, Creative Commons

As local newspapers shutter across the country, the residents residing in those counties without sources of local news are forced to rely more heavily on national media outlets that report political news primarily through the lens of the perennial two-party political conflict.

study that was published in the Journal of Communication reveals that these communities are becoming increasingly polarized politically, which has broad implications for both voters and legislators.

“Residents of cities without sources of local news are losing their ability to hold their political representatives accountable in ways that encourage ethical and effective representation,” said Johanna Dunaway, professor of communication in the College of Liberal Arts at Texas A&M. “And the more obvious implications of newspaper closures are that residents are becoming less informed about the issues that affect them most and less engaged with local government.”

With Joshua Darr, professor of communication at Louisiana State University, and Matthew Hitt, professor of political science at Colorado State University, Dunaway conducted the study that finds local newspaper closures are helping to polarize voters by contributing to increases in straight-ticket, party-line voting in those counties where they shuttered. Their study, “Newspaper Closures Polarize Voting Behavior,” also explores the implications of those findings.

Evidence of increasing political polarization of the public is shown by this and other studies, and one contributing factor is that voters without local news options are more likely than usual to vote on the basis of party identification alone. Concurrently, the void left by defunct local newspapers creates opportunities for political parties to employ tactics that help replace objective sources of information with their highly polarized perspectives.

Are the days of crossing party lines at the local level over?

Historically, voters have recognized that many local issues fall outside political party ideology, and they have crossed party lines in local elections when their legislators were achieving positive results for their communities. The legislators cultivated this personal vote by granting interviews and sending press releases to their local newspapers to inform their constituents of their achievements. They made their re-election appeals and claims of credit in their local media markets, and their local reporters held them accountable by covering how well they served their districts, Dunaway said.

Without local newspapers, communities lose the venue where legislators cultivate the personal vote and journalists hold public servants accountable in ways that encourage good representation. Residents of these communities are forced to rely more on national news outlets that only have the resources, at best, to comprehensively cover national governmental institutions and their leadership.

National coverage of other members of the U.S. Congress typically is limited to occasions when they behave as mavericks, engage in scandalous behavior, say something outrageous or become the targets of outrageous accusations, Dunaway said. The politicians at the state and local levels generally do not appear on the radars of national news outlets at all.

Photo via Pixabay, Creative Commons

Voters without local newspapers are less influential with their legislators

Catering to the national market, national media outlets cover legislative leaders in terms of whether they support or oppose their respective political party ideologies. So, as national media dominance increases, and with it, political polarization, legislators have more incentive to respond to the needs and preferences of their political parties than to those of their districts, leaving their constituents to pay the price when those interests are in opposition.

And the reality is that these legislators already often consider how national media will portray their actions and responses more than they consider how their constituents will receive them. Therefore, residents of counties without sources of local news are losing influence with their legislators because of the increasing political polarization, likely brought about, at least in part, by growing national media influences.

Growing political polarization diminishes effectiveness of legislators

Political polarization also hampers the ability of legislators to compromise, which encourages legislative gridlock and makes achievements of any kind, whether for political parties or districts, more unobtainable, which is the scenario currently playing out in Congress. The legislators shift their focus away from the common ground found in regional needs and become more beholden to the polarized national agenda, which diminishes their effectiveness as representatives.

“Replacing local media with national alternatives and the resulting increase in political polarization has broad implications for everyone,” Dunaway said. “If the information we get about politics is reduced to national party politics, the local issues that affect us most will be neglected by voters and politicians alike.”

Dunaway and the other researchers examined split-ticket voting in statistically similar counties as an indicator of either adherence to or departure from hardline political party ideology. They found a 1.9 percent drop in split-ticket voting in presidential and senatorial elections in counties where local newspapers closed. In elections research, where fluctuations of 1 percent are considered substantial, this difference is dramatic.

This article was first published at Texas A&M Today and was republished by the Daily Yonder with permission.

Continue Reading

Commentary

Vaccination Laws: What the Rest of the U.S. Can Learn from Appalachia

Published

on

Lacey Walter, of Kennewick, Wash., holds a sign that reads "Vaccines, the more you know, the more you No!" as she takes part in a rally held in opposition to a proposed bill that would remove parents' ability to claim a philosophical exemption to opt their school-age children out of the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, Friday, Feb. 8, 2019, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. Amid a measles outbreak that has sickened people in Washington state and Oregon, lawmakers earlier Friday heard public testimony on the bill. Photo: Ted S. Warren/AP Photo

For decades, two Appalachian states have been national leaders in an unexpected area: vaccinating children against contagious diseases.

In 2000, measles was eliminated as a major public health threat in the United States. But because measles still exists in other countries, it’s occasionally brought here. And as American parents opted out of vaccines for their children in larger numbers, outbreaks have crept up in places where high numbers of people remain unvaccinated.

Now, less than six weeks into 2019, 84 cases of measles have been confirmed in 11 different states. Fifty-five of those cases are in Washington state, where health officials have declared a state of emergency. As states like Washington evaluate how best to move forward, they may be surprised to find themselves looking to another part of the country for help: Appalachia.

West Virginia and Mississippi are not generally considered leaders in public health. Dangerous professions, high poverty rates, rough terrain, water contamination and pollution have left much of Appalachia struggling with rates of cancer, addiction, overdose and premature mortality higher than the rest of the country. On many health metrics, West Virginia and Mississippi rank towards the bottom. But when it comes to inoculating schoolchildren against dangerous diseases like measles, polio and whooping cough, they are consistently the best in the country.

At a time when other states are struggling to contain outbreaks of preventable diseases, Mississippi and West Virginia have been national leaders in preventing these outbreaks altogether. Why? Because Mississippi and West Virginia have the strongest vaccination laws in the United States.

Vaccines and Their Efficacy

The efficacy of some medical procedures can be debated. Vaccines are not among them.

Vaccines protect people in two ways. First, they protect the individuals who receive them, by inoculating them. Second, when vaccines are successfully administered to a large percentage of the population, a herd immunity develops. Herd immunity protects the people who truly can’t get vaccinated, like infants not yet old enough or people undergoing chemotherapy. When a high enough percentage of the population has been inoculated, herd immunity protects those more vulnerable members of our society.

Vaccines are largely considered one of the greatest public health discoveries of modern history. The CDC estimates that vaccinations will prevent more than 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths among children born since 1994. The World Health Organization credits vaccines with preventing 2-3 million deaths every year from a variety of diseases, reducing measles mortality by 84 percent and bringing us closer than ever to eradicating polio worldwide. Vaccinations have already entirely eradicated smallpox and rinderpest.

Vaccines are safe and medical science has proven that the most recent argument against them–that they cause autism–is false. This false claim can be traced back to one, now discredited, paper, by a man named Andrew Wakefield. In 1998, Wakefield and his colleagues made headlines worldwide when they published a paper arguing that vaccines caused autism. Eventually, the paper would be retracted and Wakefield and his colleagues would be found guilty of ethical violations, scientific misrepresentations and deliberate fraud; but by that time, the damage had already been done and has had a lasting global impact.

People around the world continue to contract preventable diseases, sometimes because of lies about the safety of vaccines. In a tragic 2015 case, a Spanish boy named Pau died of diptheria after his parents refused to have him vaccinated. Pau’s parents later said they felt they had been “tricked,” had not been properly informed about vaccines, and felt tremendous guilt over the death of their son.

Mississippi and West Virginia: Leaders for Decades

Mississippi’s vaccine mandate is the result of a 1979 decision from its highest court, Brown v. Stone. A father challenged Mississippi’s mandatory vaccination law, which allowed religious exemptions if “an officer of a church of a recognized denomination” signed off on it for the parent. He argued the law violated his First Amendment rights by requiring him to be a member of a denomination in order to claim the exemption. In a stunning turn, the court didn’t simply reject the father’s objection—it eliminated all religious exemptions. As the court stated:

“The exception, which would provide for the exemption of children of parents whose religious beliefs conflict with the immunization requirements, would discriminate against the great majority of children whose parents have no such religious convictions. To give it effect would result in a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution which provides that no state shall make any law denying to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, in that it would require the great body of school children to be vaccinated and at the same time expose them to the hazard of associating in school with children exempted under the religious exemption who had not been immunized as required by the statute.”

West Virginia’s strict vaccination laws were created by the legislature, not the judiciary, and first appeared in 1872. The state’s laws have  never allowed for a nonmedical exemption.

Despite the documented success of their laws, the debate on whether to weaken them  continues in both states. Year after year, politicians introduce bills that would allow religious or personal belief exemptions–and this year is no exception. To date, however, every proposal to relax Mississippi’s or West Virginia’s vaccination laws has failed, perhaps, in part, because of the overwhelming proof that strict vaccination laws work.

Models for the Rest of the Country

West Virginia and Mississippi took two different paths, but ended with similar results: the highest vaccination rates in the country.

For the most recent school year, 99.4 percent of incoming kindergarteners in Mississippi and 98.4 percent in West Virginia were inoculated against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR). The national average is 94.3 percent. Doctors estimate that between 90 and 95 percent of a population must be inoculated for the MMR vaccine to be effective.

Far away from Appalachia and Mississippi’s nearly universal vaccination rate is Clark County, Washington. Washington has some of the most relaxed vaccination laws in the country, allowing both a religious exemption and a “personal belief” exemption. Clark County is in the southwest corner of the state, near Portland, Oregon. Only 76 percent of Clark County kindergarteners were fully immunized for the 2017 – 2018 school year.  Only 84 percent had received the MMR vaccine. Clark County is home to 53 of the 55 measles cases reported in Washington this year. At least thirty-four of the sick are children under the age of 10.

In 2015, a measles outbreak originating at Disneyland in southern California resulted in 147 cases of measles spread across eight states and two other countries. Later that year, California changed its laws and joined Mississippi and West Virginia in eliminating religious exemptions to vaccines. In response to the current measles outbreak, lawmakers in Washington have proposed removing their personal belief exemption.

At a time when several parts of the country are dealing with outbreaks of a disease that was almost eradicated, more states would do well to look towards Appalachia for two examples to follow. West Virginia and Mississippi are leading the country in protecting our children from preventable diseases. In the midst of this public health crisis, the rest of the country should look to West Virginia and Mississippi as models of what strong vaccination policies can accomplish.

Jamie Lynn Crofts is a constitutional and civil rights attorney in Charleston, West Virginia. She is a graduate of Northwestern University School of Law, a former federal judicial law clerk, and previously worked as the Legal Director for the ACLU of West Virginia.

Continue Reading

Commentary

Capturing Carbon to Fight Climate Change is Dividing Environmentalists

Published

on

Environmental activists are teaming up with fresh faces in Congress to advocate for a Green New Deal, a bundle of policies that would fight climate change while creating new jobs and reducing inequality. Not all of the activists agree on what those policies ought to be.

Some 626 environmental groups, including Greenpeace, the Center for Biological Diversity and 350, recently laid out their vision in a letter they sent to U.S. lawmakers. They warned that they “vigorously oppose” several strategies, including the use of carbon capture and storage – a process that can trap excess carbon pollution that’s already warming the Earth, and lock it away.

In our view, as a political philosopher who studies global justice and an environmental social scientist, this blanket opposition is an unfortunate mistake. Based on the need to remove carbon from the atmosphere, and the risks in relying on land sinks like forests and soils alone to take up the excess carbon, we believe that carbon capture and storage could be a powerful tool for making the climate safer and even rectifying historical climate injustices.

Global inequality

We think the U.S. and other rich countries should accelerate negative emissions research for two reasons.

First, they can afford it. Second, they have a historical responsibility as they burned a disproportionate amount of the carbon causing climate change today. Global warming is poised to hit the least-developed countries, including dozens that were colonized by these wealthier nations, the hardest.

Consider this: The entire African continent emits less carbon than the U.S., Russia or Japan.

Yet Africa is likely to experience climate change impacts sooner and more intensely than any other region. Some African regions are already experiencing warming increases at more than twice the global rate. Coastal and island nations like Bangladesh, Madagascar and the Marshall Islands face near or total destruction.

But the world’s richest nations have been slow to endorse and support the necessary research, development and governance for negative emissions technologies.

Bad track record with coal

What explains the objections from climate justice advocates?

The U.S. has heavily funded experiments with carbon capture and storage to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions from new coal-fired power plants since George W. Bush’s presidency.

Those efforts have not paid off, partly because of economics. Natural gas and renewable energy have become cheaper and more popular than coal for generating electricity.

Only a handful of coal-fired power plants are under construction in the U.S., where closures are routine. The industry is in trouble everywhere, with few exceptions.

In addition, carbon capture with coal has a bad track record. The biggest U.S. experiment is the US$7.5 billion Kemper power plant in Mississippi. It ended in failure in 2017 when state power authorities ordered the plant operator to give up on this technology and rely on natural gas instead.

Other uses

Carbon capture and storage, however, isn’t just for fossil-fuel-burning power plants. It can work with industrial carbon dioxide sources, such as steel, cement and chemical plants and incinerators.

Then, one of two things can happen. The carbon can be turned into new products, such as fuels, cement, soft drinks or even shoes.

Carbon can also be stored permanently if it is injected underground, where geologists believe it can stay put for centuries.

Until now, a common use for captured carbon is extracting oil out of old wells. Burning that petroleum, however, can make climate change worse.

Captured carbon has a variety of industrial uses, including oil extraction and fire extinguisher manufacturing. U.S. Energy Department’s National Energy Technology Laboratory

Going carbon negative

This technology may potentially also remove more carbon than gets emitted – as long as it’s designed right.

One example is what’s called bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, where farm residues or crops like trees or grasses are grown to be burned to generate electricity. Carbon is separated out and stored at the power plants where this happens.

If the supply chain is sustainable, with cultivation, harvesting and transport done in low-carbon or carbon-neutral ways, this process can produce what scientists call negative emissions, with more carbon removed than released. Another possibility involves directly capturing carbon from the air.

Scientists point out that bioenergy with carbon capture and storage could require vast amounts of land for growing biofuels to burn. And climate advocates are concerned that both approaches could pave the way for oil, gas and coal companies and big industries to simply continue with business as usual instead of phasing out fossil fuels.

Many experts agree that limiting global warming to 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius will require reducing the volume of carbon emissions through energy efficiency and renewable-energy generation and CO₂ removal. MCC, CC BY-SA

Natural solutions

Every pathway to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius in the most recent U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report projected the use of carbon removal approaches.

Planting more trees, composting and farming in ways that store carbon in soils and protecting wetlands can also reduce atmospheric carbon. We believe the natural solutions many environmentalists might prefer are crucial. But soaking up excess carbon through afforestation on a massive scale could encroach on farmland.

To be sure, not all environmentalists are writing off carbon capture and storage.

The Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund and Natural Resources Defense Council, along with many other big green organizations, did not sign the letter, which objected not just to carbon capture and storage but also to nuclear power, emissions trading and converting trash into energy through incineration.

Rather than leave carbon removal technologies out of the Green New Deal, we suggest that more environmentalists consider their potential for removing carbon that has already been emitted. We believe these approaches could potentially create jobs, foster economic development and reduce inequality on a global scale – as long as they are meaningfully accountable to people in the world’s poorest nations.

Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Georgetown University and Holly Jean Buck, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of California, Los Angeles

Capturing carbon to fight climate change is dividing environmentalists

Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò, Georgetown University and Holly Jean Buck, University of California, Los Angeles

Environmental activists are teaming up with fresh faces in Congress to advocate for a Green New Deal, a bundle of policies that would fight climate change while creating new jobs and reducing inequality. Not all of the activists agree on what those policies ought to be.

Some 626 environmental groups, including Greenpeace, the Center for Biological Diversity and 350, recently laid out their vision in a letter they sent to U.S. lawmakers. They warned that they “vigorously oppose” several strategies, including the use of carbon capture and storage – a process that can trap excess carbon pollution that’s already warming the Earth, and lock it away.

In our view, as a political philosopher who studies global justice and an environmental social scientist, this blanket opposition is an unfortunate mistake. Based on the need to remove carbon from the atmosphere, and the risks in relying on land sinks like forests and soils alone to take up the excess carbon, we believe that carbon capture and storage could be a powerful tool for making the climate safer and even rectifying historical climate injustices.

Global inequality

We think the U.S. and other rich countries should accelerate negative emissions research for two reasons.

First, they can afford it. Second, they have a historical responsibility as they burned a disproportionate amount of the carbon causing climate change today. Global warming is poised to hit the least-developed countries, including dozens that were colonized by these wealthier nations, the hardest.

Consider this: The entire African continent emits less carbon than the U.S., Russia or Japan.

Yet Africa is likely to experience climate change impacts sooner and more intensely than any other region. Some African regions are already experiencing warming increases at more than twice the global rate. Coastal and island nations like Bangladesh, Madagascar and the Marshall Islands face near or total destruction.

But the world’s richest nations have been slow to endorse and support the necessary research, development and governance for negative emissions technologies.

Bad track record with coal

What explains the objections from climate justice advocates?

The U.S. has heavily funded experiments with carbon capture and storage to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions from new coal-fired power plants since George W. Bush’s presidency.

Those efforts have not paid off, partly because of economics. Natural gas and renewable energy have become cheaper and more popular than coal for generating electricity.

Only a handful of coal-fired power plants are under construction in the U.S., where closures are routine. The industry is in trouble everywhere, with few exceptions.

In addition, carbon capture with coal has a bad track record. The biggest U.S. experiment is the US$7.5 billion Kemper power plant in Mississippi. It ended in failure in 2017 when state power authorities ordered the plant operator to give up on this technology and rely on natural gas instead.

Other uses

Carbon capture and storage, however, isn’t just for fossil-fuel-burning power plants. It can work with industrial carbon dioxide sources, such as steel, cement and chemical plants and incinerators.

Then, one of two things can happen. The carbon can be turned into new products, such as fuels, cement, soft drinks or even shoes.

Carbon can also be stored permanently if it is injected underground, where geologists believe it can stay put for centuries.

Until now, a common use for captured carbon is extracting oil out of old wells. Burning that petroleum, however, can make climate change worse.

Captured carbon has a variety of industrial uses, including oil extraction and fire extinguisher manufacturing. U.S. Energy Department’s National Energy Technology Laboratory

Going carbon negative

This technology may potentially also remove more carbon than gets emitted – as long as it’s designed right.

One example is what’s called bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, where farm residues or crops like trees or grasses are grown to be burned to generate electricity. Carbon is separated out and stored at the power plants where this happens.

If the supply chain is sustainable, with cultivation, harvesting and transport done in low-carbon or carbon-neutral ways, this process can produce what scientists call negative emissions, with more carbon removed than released. Another possibility involves directly capturing carbon from the air.

Scientists point out that bioenergy with carbon capture and storage could require vast amounts of land for growing biofuels to burn. And climate advocates are concerned that both approaches could pave the way for oil, gas and coal companies and big industries to simply continue with business as usual instead of phasing out fossil fuels.

Many experts agree that limiting global warming to 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius will require reducing the volume of carbon emissions through energy efficiency and renewable-energy generation and CO₂ removal. MCC, CC BY-SA

Natural solutions

Every pathway to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius in the most recent U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report projected the use of carbon removal approaches.

Planting more trees, composting and farming in ways that store carbon in soils and protecting wetlands can also reduce atmospheric carbon. We believe the natural solutions many environmentalists might prefer are crucial. But soaking up excess carbon through afforestation on a massive scale could encroach on farmland.

To be sure, not all environmentalists are writing off carbon capture and storage.

The Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund and Natural Resources Defense Council, along with many other big green organizations, did not sign the letter, which objected not just to carbon capture and storage but also to nuclear power, emissions trading and converting trash into energy through incineration.

Rather than leave carbon removal technologies out of the Green New Deal, we suggest that more environmentalists consider their potential for removing carbon that has already been emitted. We believe these approaches could potentially create jobs, foster economic development and reduce inequality on a global scale – as long as they are meaningfully accountable to people in the world’s poorest nations.

Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Georgetown University and Holly Jean Buck, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of California, Los Angeles

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Continue Reading

Trending

100 Days

FREE
VIEW