Moving from a mitigation paradigm to a waste management paradigm is a novel approach pioneered by ASU researchers. A waste management paradigm offers many advantages. First, it reduces the emphasis on scaring people into lifestyle changes, by operationalizing practical cleanup options that can be implemented throughout the supply chain. Second, a waste management approach naturally assigns the cost of action to those who still benefit from fossil fuels. It thus creates a fair system. Third, it offers a path to cleaning up past emissions, and a framework for considering who will have to pay for cleaning up. Fourth, it supports the transition from an economy based on fossil fuels to a zero-waste economy based on non-fossil energy sources, which uses recycled CO2 and renewable energy rather than fossil carbon for fuels and chemicals. A waste management paradigm coupled with waste cleanup technologies can internalize the externalities of climate change.
The project started with many unanswered questions regarding such an approach. Are there technologies on which a waste management approach could be built? Technologies that can contribute range from direct air capture to point source capture, from carbon storage technologies to non-fossil energy resources, from chemical approaches to biological or bio-inspired approaches. Beyond that there are many accounting issues. How can one certify the disposal of carbon dioxide, and how does one assure the permanence of storage? How will losses from storage be handled? Even if these questions can be answered, many more remain. What are the economic implications of such a transition? Can these costs be minimized by judicious choices in the design? Do we understand the costs, and do we know who will carry the burden? What frameworks need to be introduced for pricing waste management, and how will such markets look? On the policy side, how will the public view such an approach to managing carbon. Is it easier or harder to convince people of such an approach? Most importantly, what options are available for a transition from today’s social, technical and economic systems to the ones that will need to be constructed. How will one manage such a transition?
The goal of this project is to ask these questions and develop a framework in which to answer them. The project should be viewed as a catalyst for a larger and wider debate on the topic. The immediate output of the project will be analysis and reports that will become part of the academic literature around managing climate change at the interface between economics, social science, policy and technology.