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Algae – the Swiss Army Knife of Climate Change Tools

By Margaret McCormick, PhD, Algae Biomass Organization Board Chair

You are undoubtedly aware of the increased attention the media is directing toward climate change in recent weeks, and the usual discussion about the political gridlock that prevents any climate policy from advancing. Here at ABO we are looking at a different approach; we are focused on developing technology that can give consumers products that will make their lives better while also making a dent in greenhouse gas emissions.

The latest wave of news began a couple weeks ago when the US government released an updated National Climate Assessment that painted a bleak picture of the climate change-related impacts this country is facing today, especially for areas of the nation that are already stressed for freshwater, stable coast lines or productive crop lands.

Last week, news that melting of the West Antarctica ice sheet may be unstoppable added to the conclusion that atmospheric levels of CO2 have become too high to reverse before significant changes are felt here on Earth.

To many, the scientific evidence justifies action to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, but ABO’s policy-minded members will be among the first to acknowledge that political support for a robust climate policy is still quite weak. At ABO, we are not expecting that pendulum to swing based on scientific evidence because the evidence is already more than compelling to support a climate policy.  Rather, ABO believes that we and our members must demonstrate real-world solutions at scale to show what’s possible.

Deploying algae as a renewable source of low-carbon fuels and other products can help address the climate problem without the controversy and political challenges that face our nation around this vital issue. The simple reason for this is that algae-derived products will be enormously useful to the public, regardless of their climate advantage. Thus, deploying algae technologies as rapidly as possible has two interlinked benefits:

  1. Algae derived products will empower consumers to live the comfortable lifestyles of advanced economies, without the harmful carbon impacts of past industrial technologies. Fuels from algae, along with sustainable feeds, food products, plastics, even medicines can allow billions of people to live the kind of life that developed nations are used to, without the tradeoff of increased emissions.
  2.  A strong consumer base for algae-derived products will cause the industry to expand its capacity, displacing the need to extract fuels from underground, or use other unsustainable feedstocks. Widespread use of algal products will encourage an industry that doesn’t require freshwater to grow its crops, or use valuable farmland.

Did I mention algae could provide all of this year-round?

Algae’s advantages are not just the ability to rapidly absorb massive quantities of carbon dioxide as they grow. Algae technology will give consumers a tool to fight climate change that they will gladly embrace because it provides triple bottom line benefits – economic growth, social benefits and environmental impact.

At ABO, we focus on promoting policies that will put algae-based commodities into the hands of customers as quickly as possible. Regardless of the politics of climate change, this technology is one that deserves support for the simple reason that once we have it developed, we will all be better off.

The above post was featured in Algae InSight, ABO’s monthly newsletter. Sign up for our monthly newsletters here to stay updated on the latest algae industry news.

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