Sacrificing the Innocent in the Battle Against Climate Change


One of the major issues debated in the 2020 election was climate change, and how each candidate planned to work to roll back its effects. One of President Biden’s major policy plans is the implementation of a nationwide CCS (carbon capture and storage) system. This would involve the creation of thousands of miles of pipelines intended to capture carbon emissions from large producers, like coal plants, as well as directly from the air, and transport that CO2 to storage locations deep underground. While members of the Biden administration, like Dr. Shuchi Talati at the Department of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management, tout the possibilities this technology could bring about, others have concerns.

Much of the “practicable storage” identified in a Princeton study on CCS is located in areas of the country with high rates of poverty and large minority populations. While this technology may decrease carbon in the atmosphere, it will take the pressure off of big carbon producers, including the fossil fuel industry, and instead likely wreak havoc on low income communities situated near the planned reservoirs. This country already has a robust pipeline system for oil, and over and over again these pipelines have become faulty, and leaks have decimated ecosystems and devastated the health of communities they run through.

In fact, some COpipelines already exist in the United States. Oil company Denbury Resources captures carbon dioxide from the Jackson Dome, an extinct volcano, and pipe it to their oil fields, where they use it to capture more oil than they could using traditional methods. In February 2020, one of their COpipelines sprang a leak near the small town of Satartia, MI, causing a public health disaster – carbon dioxide inhalation can have dramatic health effects, including asphyxiation and death. To make matters worse, this carbon dioxide was contaminated with hydrogen sulfide, another deadly gas. In Satartia, 49 people were hospitalized, and while luckily there were no deaths, residents are still suffering long-term health effects.

In a July 2021 report, the Biden administration expressed commitment to the “reasonable and responsible” deployment of CCS technology, while acknowledging the concerns about public health and environmental impact. The administration believes this technology is integral in the fight to reach a net-zero carbon emissions rate by 2050, and certainly this system could be effective in neutralizing some of the world’s worst offenders. However, those who are impacted are unlikely to have any say in the pipelines being built in their backyards, and will have to pay the price.

Many other strategies that could help mitigate the effects of climate change exist, but it’s clear that major players in the fossil fuel industry are invested in CCS precisely because it will allow them to continue business as usual and to redirect their carbon into other communities. Is it a foregone conclusion that the heavy hitters in the fossil fuel industry will continue to produce to whatever end? Is it possible that the only way to eliminate their disastrous effect on Earth’s climate is to redirect their emissions at the cost of potential harm to disadvantaged communities? Is it worth it to battle climate change at any cost?