It’s time to reimagine our relationship with carbon, the element most critical to life on Earth — and yet now increasingly demonized as the main chemical culprit in accelerated climate change. This was the overriding conclusion I took away from the Carbon Productivity Basecamp in June (#ReimagineCarbon).
What is “carbon productivity”? It involves generating radically greater economic, social and environmental value from the carbon we use, whether it comes from “durable,” “living” or “fugitive” sources.
Bill McDonough nicely frames the new language of carbon, distinguishing between three types:
• Living carbon: “organic, flowing in biological cycles, providing fresh food, healthy forests and fertile soil; something we want to cultivate and grow.”
• Durable carbon: “locked in stable solids such as coal and limestone or recyclable polymers that are used and reused; ranges from reusable fibers like paper and cloth to building and infrastructure elements that can last for generations and then be reused.”
• Fugitive carbon: which “has ended up somewhere unwanted and can be toxic; includes carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, ‘waste to energy’ plants, methane leaks, deforestation, much industrial agriculture and urban development.”