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The Whole Story with Anderson Cooper

How to Unscrew a Planet. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired April 23, 2023 - 20:00   ET



BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: It has to be affordable and scalable and profitable. And so our future might be determined by influencers and marketers as much as engineers and policy makers. It's a letter of hope. I found a lot of signs that it's just a matter of getting our stories aligned towards hopefulness.

ACOSTA: We've got to have hope. And thanks for writing that touching letter.

Bill Weir, thanks so much.

Don't change your channel. The all-new episode of "THE WHOLE STORY WITH ANDERSON COOPER" starts right now. Have a great week, everybody. Good night.



WEIR: That's such an amazing sensation.

BERTRAND PICCARD, EXPLORER: Welcome in the sky. The world is in such a difficult position.

WEIR: The lake used to go half a mile around the corner.

MARTY ODLIN, FOUNDER AND CEP, RUNNING TIDE: Get mad and go, go kill that thing.


COOPER (on-camera): Good evening. Welcome to THE WHOLE STORY. I'm Anderson Cooper.

Tonight we take you on a journey around the world to meet people fighting against something that can't be seen or touched, but is threatening our planet and the way we live. More than a trillion tons of carbon gas has been released into our seas and skies over time. It comes from a lot of different sources, but the biggest is burning fossil fuels for electricity, heat and transportation.

But tonight, CNN's chief climate correspondent, Bill Weir, has found some reasons to hope some unique ways innovators are trying to capture, contain and reduce carbon emissions. They are climate warriors, and they just may show us "How to Unscrew a Planet."


WEIR (voice-over): Attention humans of earth.

(On-camera): I've got good news and bad news.

(Voice-over): Good news is that the combined sweat and brilliance of the 117 billion or so people who have ever lived has created miracles.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Machines to make machines. Production to expand production.

WEIR: And wonders.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Faster and faster, better and better.

WEIR: Life is longer and less brutal than ever before. And for those fortunate few at the top, oh, what a time to be alive.

(On-camera): But here's the bad news. The way we've built this modern world screwed up the natural law. Big time.

SIR DAVID KING, FOUNDER, CENTER FOR CLIMATE REPAIR AT CAMBRIDGE: I realized that the situation was even worse than we thought.

WEIR (voice-over): Just a few generations managed to dig, pump and burn enough of the planet's insides to upset everything outside.

ODLIN: It's a Godzilla. It's burning forests down. It's stealing our fish.

WEIR: Human success released a monster made of more than a trillion tons of carbon into the sea and sky.

ODLIN: It's like ruining everything that we love, right? Get mad and go, go kill that thing.

WEIR: But for the first time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) one-ton system, capturing carbon dioxide from seawater.

WEIR: There is a trillion-dollar race to defeat it.

(On-camera): It's a couple of containers in a parking lot. Should I be depressed by that?

PETER REINHARDT, CO-FOUNDER, CHARM: Or you can view it as an opportunity.

ODLIN: Removal is chopping Godzilla down. We got this 400-foot-tall lizard and we're just chopping that thing down.

WEIR: It's happening on fishing boats in Maine.

ODLIN: These little carbon sucking machines.

WEIR: And garages in Silicon Valley.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the first system that we will be deploying in the field.

WEIR: And all around the world brilliant people are searching for new ways.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the mission control.

WEIR: To fix old mistakes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our solution plan is to produce plastic from cassava starch.

WEIR: Some think the solutions are all around us.

PICCARD: If you let go of the old beliefs, then you can take all the new opportunities, all the new solutions.

WEIR: Others believe we've wasted too much time and must figure out how to literally turned down the sun.


WEIR (on-camera): Climate intervention.

(Voice-over): While both science and evidence tell us the future is screwed. This is a search for hope and ideas.

It is a still crisp morning in Greer, Switzerland. And the most accomplished aeronaut in the world has agreed to give me a lift. In more ways than one.

(On-camera): I could get used to that.

PICCARD: Everybody is ready? Ready, Bill?

WEIR: Ready.

PICCARD: Merci. Bye-bye. Au revoir.

WEIR: Oh, my god. It's such an amazing sensation.

PICCARD: Welcome in the sky.

WEIR: This is so amazing.


PICCARD: I love ballooning, but not so much as a sports, more as a philosophy. Philosophy of life. When you fly in the balloon, you are pushed by the winds toward the unknown, and your only way to steer the balloon is to change your altitude, to take another wind, another wind layer that has another direction. And in life it's exactly what we have to do.

WEIR (voice-over): I got to say this is a blessed departure from life on the climate beat.

(On-camera): Hello, earth lovers. It's your friend Bill at CNN. In the middle of Hurricane Ian.

(Voice-over): Because our overheating earth is breaking records like a broken record.

(On-camera): Three feet of storm surge is enough to destroy lives.

(Voice-over): From the cost of storms to the rate of polar melt, to the extreme droughts on four continents.

(On-camera): The lake used to go half a mile around the corner. And now it starts way back here. I cannot believe this.

(Voice-over): All of it predicted by scientists for generations as humanity burned enough coal, oil and gas to blanket the earth in planet-cooking pollution. And every second that blanket put as much extra heat into the oceans as five Hiroshima sized atomic bombs. Five per second.

And despite all the warning signs, global commitments seemed to crumble with each trade war, ground war and energy crisis.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN ANCHOR: Major oil companies posted another round of staggering profits.

PICCARD: We're next to the lake of Greer.

WEIR: But through it all, Bertrand Piccard remains a happy climate warrior. Thanks to one hell of a life story.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The gondola of the stratosphere balloon.

WEIR: His grandfather was one of the first two people to fly a balloon to the stratosphere.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The flight ends after reaching 10.5 miles above the earth.

WEIR: His father, one of the first two to take a sub to the ocean's deepest trench. It's a legacy so impressive that when "Star Trek" created a new captain they named him Piccard.

PICCARD: You see the balloon quite high over the top of the mountain?

WEIR: Right.

PICCARD: That's where I took off to fly around the world nonstop.

WEIR: After conquering his childhood fear of heights with acrobatic hand gliding, and a degree in psychiatry, Bertrand lived up to the family legacy in a big way. WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Record-setting balloonist Bertrand Piccard

and Brian Jones became the first aviators to fly a hot air balloon around the world.

WEIR (on-camera): Do you think you could have made your trip around the world if you weren't a trained psychiatrist?

PICCARD: Honestly I'm not sure. It helped so much. It helped in terms of calling my certitudes into question. When you do a record, what happens? You just try to beat somebody who has done something. You do it about the same way just a little bit better. When you want to go around the world nonstop, when nobody has done it, you have to invent a completely new strategy.

WEIR: The Breitling orbiter burned about four tons of carbon, over 20 days aloft. Constant blast of that burner got him thinking about making the same trip powered only by clean, quiet sunlight. 17 years and $170 million later he actually did it.

PICCARD: I speak to you from the cockpit of solar impulse in the middle of the Pacific flying on solar power only, no fuel.

The most extraordinary moment with so impulse is when I was watching the big propellers turning left and right with no fuel, no noise, no pollution, and I could fly as long as I wanted. And at this moment, I understood that it was not the future. I was in the present. And then I understood how much the rest of the world was in the past.

When you are in this moment of complete elation with renewable energies, clean technologies, you're flying without pollution, then you think, wow, the rest of the world has combustion engines that have a bad efficiency. All the polluting industrial systems burning fossil fuels, really crazy.

WEIR: Years later as he was on stage at a climate conference watching eyes glaze over, he decided to change altitude and attitude once again.


PICCARD: I thought, OK, I have to come now with something that will wake them up. And this is when I said I make you the promise today that I will come with more than 1,000 solutions that protect the environment and make it economical sense. And then they all woke up. Then they all started to applaud and here was the challenge.

WEIR (on-camera): Just had to go do it. Right?

PICCARD: And then we have to do it.

WEIR (voice-over): The Solar Impulse Foundation has now audited and endorsed over 1400 products and ideas. Like wave roller, which passed a two-year test capturing wave energy for a town in Portugal and could soon scale up to power entire ports in Spain. And UBQ, which turns garbage and even dirty diapers into a replacement for plastic, each champions companies that make green concrete and crop boosting bio stimulants and refurbished cell phones and believes that this is just the beginning of the clean tech revolution.

PICCARD: All these things together makes a huge difference. It's like the metaphor of the piranha. If you have a piranha, this little fish that bites you in the river, South America, you don't feel it. It's too small. But if you have 1,000, 450 of them who are coming at once.

WEIR (on-camera): They will eat you.

PICCARD: You are a skeleton in three minutes, and this is what we have to do against pollution, against climate change, against depletion of natural resources. We have to put all these solutions together and each one will bite a little bit of pollution, inefficiency of problem.

WEIR (voice-over): But while Piccard uses balloon and piranha metaphors to spread his gospel of techno optimism, others look at the speed of the gathering crisis and compare our situation to a very sick patient running out of time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you think about it like a complex problem like the human body where you've got heat stress on the system, and you may need some emergency medicine for a while.

WEIR: Coming up, how emergency medicine for planet earth could be found in the clouds.


WEIR: Like most of the prettiest spots on the planet, the Gulf of Maine is one of those places that makes guys my age wistful. You think it's nice now, they say. Man, when I was --

ODLIN: I was a kid, this place was absolutely alive with fishing boats going out to sea, coming to the fish exchange, traded the fish. I couldn't start working with everyone until I could jump from boat to boat to boat like because they're stacked up.

WEIR (on-camera): That was the test?

ODLIN: Yes. I remember that really well.

WEIR (voice-over): With little Marty Odlum was that kid jumping boats.


This one dock in Portland would move hundreds of thousands of cod a day and he was certain he would grow up chasing mackerel on a rig he'd call the Running Tide.

(On-camera): Your dream was to have a boat.

ODLIN: Yes. I just wanted a boat. I really just wanted a boat. What I want to be was go mackerel fishing, tried to figure out how I could do it. And I just couldn't make the math work on, you know, financially just because the risks -- the climate risks were so high. There just aren't any mackerel. They swim north. They swim east and they're now probably up in Iceland and they're actually swimming past Iceland. WEIR (voice-over): While he was studying robotic engineering at

Dartmouth and earth systems at Columbia, he realized a manmade monster was destroying his beloved Gulf of Maine. Warming it up at a rate now faster than 95 percent of the rest of the world.

ODLIN: It's a Godzilla. There's this thing out there, and it's like ruining everything that we love, right? All the good stuff is getting ruined. All the stuff that's free and fun. It's burning forest down. It's stealing our fish. It's devastating our crops. It's hurting our farmers. Get mad and go, go kill that thing, right?

WEIR (on-camera): And right there on a dock in Maine, Marty's metaphor is a lightbulb moment for me. A whole new way to think about a giant problem that began when people figured out how to move lots and lots of carbon, that stuff of ancient life.

(Voice-over): From the slow cycle locked and rock and under oceans into the fast cycle. In the seawater and the sky. And we've moved so much carbon that monster now weighs a trillion tons, give or take, more than every living thing on earth. So not only do we have to stop making the monster bigger, we have to catch it, chop it up, and bury the pieces back into these slow cycle, with something called carbon removal.

ODLIN: Removal is chopping Godzilla down. We got this 400-foot-tall lizard, and we're just chopping that thing down. That's what removal is.

WEIR: So instead of skippering a couple of fishermen on a boat called Running Tide, he hired a dozen PhDs and started an ocean repair company called Running Tide. Instead of fishing mackerel, they hunt Godzilla.

ODLIN: Four years ago when you talk about carbon removal everyone would think you're totally insane. Like people just like, what is he talking about?

WEIR: Carbon dioxide removal could create the biggest industry you've never heard of. It's one reason controversial billionaire Elon Musk kicked in $100 million for the Carbon X Prize, a competition to chop down and bury 1,000 tons of Godzilla in a year as cheaply as possible. Marty is in the competition with his plan to harness the engineering genius of nature.

We'll explain his innovations in a minute but in case you want to check the math of a fisherman scientist, let's hop across the pond to Cambridge University.

KING: If we were to reduce emissions to zero tomorrow, not necessarily to zero, we're still cooked.

WEIR: Sir David King went from teaching chemistry at Cambridge to a post as the U.K.'s top science adviser and later the country's lead climate negotiator. But after a decade he realized that geopolitics and oil lobbyists were eating up too much precious time.

KING: My own solution is 197 nations will never get agreement on how we have an orderly transition.

WEIR: So he went back to Cambridge, form the Center for Climate Repair, and now hopes to enlist some very big and powerful partners.

KING: And it's all based on a recent understanding of the function of whales in the ocean.

WEIR: The plan is called marine biomass regeneration. And it starts by spraying the deep oceans with gigatons of artificial whale poop.

KING: Now the question is, where does the feces, the artificial feces come from?

WEIR (on-camera): Right, that's one of many questions I have. But let's start with that one.

(Voice-over): He explains that when people drove baleen whales to near extinction, we lost the oceans biggest fertilizer pumps. And as I learned for an upcoming episode of THE WHOLE STORY, one pod can gobble up nutrients from the deep and poop them across hundreds of square miles of ocean surface.

(On-camera): We got poop? Look at that. That's the goal.

(Voice-over): Supercharging the bottom of the food chain.

KING: Within three to four days in that area, you might have the whole area covered with phytoplankton. And then within five days of that, that whole area becomes full of fish.


WEIR: And since the biggest can weigh 28 tons, when they die they take massive amounts of carbon Godzilla to the ocean depths and could be doing millions of dollars' worth of carbon removal for free.

KING: We would say whaling has to stop completely, but you can catch as much fish as you like because we're going to turn the oceans to billions of fish in this process.

WEIR (on-camera): This idea has been tried before, spraying iron filings, I guess, on oceans. It's been rejected by governments over time. What's new now that gives you confidence that people will accept this?

KING: So I believe that the idea of only using iron was wrong. Volcanic ash contains all the nutrients that we need. It contains nitrates, phosphates, silicates and iron. And so we plan to literally use volcanic dust as our artificial whale poop.

WEIR: But to recover insufficient numbers whales will need time. And we are out of time. But Sir David thinks we could buy precious years needed for ocean recovery by making clouds.

(Voice-over): Big puffy white ones to reflect maximum sunlight away from the top of the world. So his team is designing hydrofoil that could sail northern seas unmanned and powered only by the motion of the ocean. He hopes a fleet of these spraying a fine mist of seawater into the sky could create enough marine cloud brightening to turn down the heat just enough to refreeze the Arctic for three months a year.

KING: To create a manageable future for humanity we need deep and rapid emissions reduction. We need to remove excess greenhouse gasses and let's buy time by re-freezing the Arctic.

WEIR: Much of Sir Dave's work employs something called biomimicry. The idea that nature is the best engineer. So we should mimic earth's systems at massive scales. And that is Marty's philosophy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is what's producing, you know, 50 percent of the oxygen we breathe.

WEIR: Coming up, we'll see how his ideas stack up against the little nation that leads the world in battling carbon Godzilla. Next stop, Iceland.



WEIR: I came to Cambridge expecting to hear about planet saving machines and new forms of energy. But I leave thinking about manmade clouds and whale poop, and the potential of biomimicry on a massive scale.

ODLIN: This is it. This is the little carbon sucking machines.

WEIR: And as a bonus, when you engineer with biomimicry, sometimes you can eat the tools.

ODLIN: Go for it. It's good.

WEIR (on-camera): Yes. Salty lettuce.

(Voice-over): There is all kinds of technology back at the Running Tide warehouses used to study remote ocean chemistry and marine biology. But Marty's main weapon against carbon Godzilla is seaweed.

ODLIN: Kelp is really fast-growing species, absorbed a ton of carbon. The spores are really light so you don't have to move a ton of mass, but you can pull in a lot of carbon as it grows.

WEIR (on-camera): But kelp needs sunlight and something to hold onto. So after kicking around all kinds of ideas, Marty and his team settled on floating thousands of carbon buoys in the North Atlantic, each one made of forest waste destined to be burned, limestone and kelp seeds.

(Voice-over): Some species can grow up to two feet a day, gobbling up carbon until gravity takes the whole crop to the sea floor and pressure locks it away for centuries. And since carbon Godzilla is also turning the oceans acidic, the limestone acts as an antacid to help rebalance ocean chemistry. ODLIN: Ocean acidification is kind of the most terrifying thing I can

possibly imagine to happen to the world. You know, 50 percent of our oxygen comes out of -- from phytoplankton.

WEIR: And where Marty lives in Maine, it is dying off at an alarming rate.

ODLIN: Like how is that not on the front page of like every newspaper every day, like breathing is awesome, I like doing it?

WEIR: And so to save the plankton that gives us breath, Marty hopes his buoy is a breakthrough, a new science called artificial ocean alkalinization which would demand a lot of limestone.

ODLIN: So the base case is like, OK, we take 2.5 Mount Fuji's of limestone. Like that's the volume. 2.5 Mount Fuji's, and dissolve that into the very top layer of the ocean. That's a lot of master move.

WEIR (on-camera): Right.

ODLIN: Like if that's what it takes so that my kids can have go fishing, like, give me a shovel.

WEIR (voice-over): He would also love a crack at rounding up and sinking that massive blob of floating seaweed known as sargasso, now headed toward Florida. And he's not alone. A British startup called Seafields is among those who hope to bale enough sargasso to sink a gigaton of carbon a year. But no one knows for sure what shoveling gigatons of limestone at the top and dead kelp at the bottom will do to marine life.


So like any great quest, Marty must venture to new lands to begin experimentation. An island of fire and ice with a tiny population of Vikings, who kill more carbon Godzilla per capita than any other nation on earth.

Welcome to Iceland.

(On-camera): It's kind of amazing to consider that just a few generations ago this was a really miserable place, a place that no tourists would think about putting on their bucket list. Reykjavik was choked in cold dust and ash. It was one of the poorest countries in Europe. But at a certain point, the lightbulb went off when they realized that all of our beautiful waterfalls and their belching geysers are the sources of clean power, and once they went down that road, there were so many happy accidents.

The wastewater from a geothermal plant became blue lagoon, one of the most popular spas in the world. A tourist boom followed their energy transformation. And today, unlike Vikings of yesteryear, famous for pillaging and plundering other countries, modern Icelanders are eager to share cutting edge planet-saving technology.

Do you have a name for her? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our plant is called orca.

WEIR (voice-over): That's orca like the killer whale, only instead of fish and seals, this orca eats carbon Godzilla.

(On-camera): This is the biggest direct air capture plant in the world today. Right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, yes, it is. There are large fans who draw the air through the filter material.

WEIR (voice-over): The CO2 is heated, treated and piped to the next- door neighbor and Icelandic company called Carbfix, where they turned Godzilla back into rock a mile and a half underground.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This process is a natural process. All we're doing here is we're doing it at depth and with speeding it up.

WEIR (on-camera): It's kind of cool to hold the villain here.


WEIR: There's got to be an Icelandic word for your feeling right now.



WEIR: That means, what, excited?

ARADOTTIR: Crazy excited.

WEIR: Crazy excited. OK.

ARADOTTIR: Yes, yes.

WEIR (voice-over): And on the day of our visit, the CEO of Carbfix learned that the European Union will grant them more than 100 million euros to convert this old aluminum smelting port into a massive Godzilla graveyard to bury gigatons of carbon from all over Europe.

ARADOTTIR: The idea is to drill our injection wells here into the lava field, gradually expand the piping networks as we add more valves and up the transport and injection capacity of the terminal.

WEIR: And since this vision is shared by the government, it's no wonder that Iceland has welcomed Marty and his Running Tide experiments.

(On-camera): Has there been resistance from the fishing industry here when you want to talk about floating these kelp rafts off your coast?

GUDLAUGUR THOR THORDARSON, ICELANDIC MINISTER OF ENVIRONMENT, ENERGY AND CLIMATE: No. So far, we haven't have only got support for this idea which could be a very big part of the solution, and it's no doubt anyone who comes to capture kelp you will need to look at something that is done in the nature now. Mother Earth has been doing this for a very long time.

WEIR: A very long time. She's the best engineer going, right?


WEIR (voice-over): But could the Icelandic vision of a new energy saga ever take hold in America? And who will pay for it all? That's next in "How to Unscrew a Planet."



WEIR: You learn a lot about human nature by the things we pay to remove. Pain. Fat. Garbage. Taxes. When we decide something is worth getting rid of, society spends a lot on removal. But carbon removal could be the biggest business of them all.

(On-camera): You're part of the movement to basically build the oil industry in reverse.


WEIR (voice-over): After making a killing in software and becoming frustrated with carbon offsets, Peter Reinhardt helped found Charm.

REINHARDT: So this over here is the paralyzing.

WEIR: A startup that scoops up the organic waste usually left to rot in farm fields, heats it into biochar, which improves soil health, and bio-oil, which he injects down into old oil wells.

(On-camera): How much have you injected to date?

REINHARDT: We've sequestered about 5,450 tons of CO2 equivalent. That is a drop in the bucket, right, compared to the 50 billion tons a year that we're emitting as a civilization.

WEIR (voice-over): Confirming Peter's claim independently is tough because carbon removal verification is also brand new. But if he's right, his teeny drop of a bucket would be about half of all the carbon ever removed.

(On-camera): No offense. This is awesome, but it's a couple of containers in a parking lot in San Francisco, and we were in Iceland and saw what's there, and that's it in the whole world? Should I be depressed by that or?


REINHARDT: Or you could view it as an opportunity.

WEIR: I guess.

REINHARDT: You want to start a carbon removal business?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As of the end of 2021 10,000 tons total of permanent carbon removal has actually been stored.

WEIR: Ever.


WEIR: In history.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In history. We have to get to six billion tons per year and hundreds of billions of dollars in customer demand.

WEIR (voice-over): (INAUDIBLE) is the head of climate at the e- commerce giant Stripe.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And there's been a huge amount of momentum since 2018. And that's great. And there's a huge gap that we got to fill.

WEIR (on-camera): Right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we got to run a lot faster if we want to build that. This is the kind of problem that should, in theory, have been fixed by governments. That has not happened at anywhere near the scale or speed that we needed.

WEIR (voice-over): So Stripe got together with the parent companies of Google and Facebook, Shopify and McKinsey, and together they promised to buy almost a billion dollars in carbon removal from companies like Charm over the next seven years.

(On-camera): So that is the bio-oil.

REINHARDT: That's right.

WEIR (voice-over): Right now Stripe pays Charm 600 bucks for every ton of Godzilla they locked back underground. And both companies hope that price comes down as he scales up, and they're also rooting for Peter's competitors like Ebb Carbon, set up next door to Tesla's very first garage.

MATTHEW EISAMAN, CTO AND CO-FOUNDER, EBB CARBON: The input to the system is saltwater.

WEIR: formed by alumni of Google's Moonshot team they hope their breakthrough in electro chemistry will turn gigatons of Godzilla into bicarbonate for 10,000 years.

EISAMAN: That's basically the natural way the earth regulates CO2, but it takes millions of years. And so we're speeding that up.

WEIR: And then there's Captura.

(On-camera): If your dreams come true, this is not even the model A, right? This is the --

HARRY ATWATER, CO-FOUNDER, CAPTURA: This is the pre-model A. Yes, that's right.

WEIR (voice-over): Started by a couple of Caltech professors who imagined floating carbon capture plants powered by the sun.

ATWATER: The ocean does the work of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. And then we remove the carbon dioxide from the ocean, and we can capture it as a pure gas stream and store it underground.

WEIR: Among their investors is Saudi oil giant Aramco, and while some worry about big oil using carbon removal as a PR green screen, Captura told us that in order to get scaled up quickly and globally, they need to work with companies that understand largescale ocean deployment and how to handle CO2.

Marty says Running Tide is not taking oil money now while counting on investors like Stripe to stay afloat.

(On-camera): You have a couple high-profile investors behind you. Do you think that will be enough if government can't get its act together?


WEIR: This has to be a --

ODLIN: No, it's just the math. People spend billions of dollars to see if there's an oil field. Right? What we're trying to do is build the oil industry in reverse.

WEIR: What do you say to your friends who share your concern about the state of the emergency but think carbon capture is a fig leaf to allow Exxon and the rest to just do business as usual?

ODLIN: Do the math. Like that. I'm like, not OK with. Cool, like go back 30 years and we could have done that. We could have not done carbon removal. We could just slow down our carbonization, but we didn't. We put the throttle down and drove straight off a cliff.

WEIR (voice-over): And we are so far over the cliff something humanity will eventually be forced to mimic the cooling power of volcanoes. When Mount Pinatubo blew in the '90s, the ash circled the globe and cooled the planet by half a degree Celsius for more than a year. And ever since scientists have wondered if the effect could be duplicated by aircraft, spraying the upper atmosphere with enough sulfur dioxide or dust made of chalk or even diamonds to turn down the sun by just a degree or two.

WANSER: We call it climate intervention.

WEIR (on-camera): Climate intervention.

(Voice-over): Kelly Wanser left Silicon Valley to start a nonprofit called SilverLining, devoted to better understanding of the stratosphere.

(On-camera): Why don't you like the term geoengineering?

WANSER: Most of what's needed is not engineering. The bulk of the research that's needed is science. And it functions more like a medical problem like this is a complex organic system that we're in combines physics, biology and chemistry where you've got heat stress on the system, and you may need some emergency medicine for a while.

WEIR: There are fears that it could throw off monsoon patterns or ocean currents. What are the main worries?

WANSER: Those are the worries of all of these things?

WEIR (voice-over): The fears are so great that when a team from Harvard set out to just study the sky above the Swedish Arctic without releasing anything, the backlash from indigenous leaders and environmentalists killed the project.


And after a startup that hope to sell cooling credits released sulfur dioxide over Baja, the Mexican government announced they will ban all future research. But the U.S. government just launched a five-year plan to study solar geoengineering.

WANSER: I like to say, you know, a lot more has been invested in the technology for helping determine like what shoes you want to buy than what the climate system is going to do.

WEIR (on-camera): So you're not even really advocating for stratospheric injections. You just think we should understand.

WANSER: That's exactly right.

WEIR: Exactly what it is.

WANSER: If you want to have reasonable answers in five years about what these things might do, you need to start today to do that aerosol generation in the lab, to do it in chambers, and to do in the next couple of years, these studies of, you know, individual plumes on the atmosphere.

WEIR (voice-over): But even if the science pans out, the whole idea depends on trust and cooperation between rival nations.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: The Pentagon is tracking a suspected Chinese spy balloon flying over the northern U.S.

WEIR: At a time when a single Chinese balloon in the stratosphere is enough to create an international crisis.

(On-camera): What are your thoughts on going up into the stratosphere to try to buy us some time with artificial shade?

ODLIN: We at least need to research it. People, there's like a ban against research on it. That's insane. That is not science. Science does not stop the quest for knowledge.

KING: I believe the world is in such a difficult position that we need the experiments to be right. Later on, we can decide whether we can use it at scale, but you would never want to suddenly use it. It's scaled out of desperation. So let the experiments fly.

PICCARD: I think it's a very dangerous road. Very dangerous direction. Be careful with technology. With technology, you can save the world or destroy the world with the same technology. It really depends on the mindset of the people.

WEIR (voice-over): Up next the generation that will have to live with whatever decisions are made and how they are trying to help.



WEIR: We set out on this journey wondering how many people does it take to unscrew a planet. The answer is all of them. In eight billion different ways.

DEAN KAMEN, SERIAL INVENTOR AND ENTREPRENEUR: Every machine is a tradeoff of performance and that's what we're trying to show these kids.

WEIR: And unfairly or not, a big part of the job befall on the shoulders of the young.

KAMEN: You don't have enough equipment. You don't have enough time.

WEIR: And the scientific.

KAMEN: You don't know what your competitors are going to do, but you got to finish your product and ship it. That's the real world.

WEIR: This group of young scientists has descended on Geneva, Switzerland from about 180 different countries all at the invitation of Dean Kamen, the inventor who helped create the Segway, the iBot, and a lung made with a 3D printer.

KAMEN: The name of the game is carbon capture.

WEIR: First, each team must take a box full of parts and build a robot to move the most balls of carbon into the carbon sink.

(On-camera): Yes, look at that. It's fired them.

KAMEN: And it's not missing.

WEIR: It's not missing. Yes. It's incredible.

(Voice-over): Bonus points for a robot that can also hoist itself the highest. And this is not just an exercise in engineering, but human psychology. To have any shot, a team must work with other countries.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Egypt and Libya working together over here.

WEIR: Allies and enemies.

KAMEN: So in the real world these kids have to learn global warming doesn't stop at the edge of a country. These kids are going to inherit the mess. We left them, and they're either going to fix it collectively, or they're going down collectively.

WEIR: And between robot battles.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our solution plan is to actually produce plastic from cassava starch.

WEIR: There is another kind of competition between ideas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mangroves are the most effective natural forms of carbon capture in the world.

WEIR: Practical planet-saving ideas. While Indonesia proposed cloning a carbon gobbling species of endangered native tree.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is our native trees. It's very precious for us.

WEIR: Kids from Bosnia Herzegovina came up with a smoke detector for forests.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This device is relatively compact solution, but it's also inexpensive.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Fascinated the engineers at thermal gas.

WEIR: Team Greece entered a more efficient way to heat and cool resort hotels.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When combined the cogeneration heating and cooling system is created.

WEIR: But in the end --



WEIR: The judges went with these kids from Southern Africa and their work on bio-plastic made from cassava plants.

(On-camera): What do you think when you hear my generation say it's up to you guys to save the planet? You think that's unfair or are you willing to take on that challenge?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're willing to take on the challenge.

WEIR: You're willing to take it on?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think it's unfair at all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The only solution is absolutely collaboration and cooperation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some of the ideas are legitimately cutting edge and could be useful or at the cutting edge of the field.

WEIR: Marcus Extavour is used to judging scientific bakeoffs.

EXTAVOUR: We want your $100 million ideas.

WEIR: Because vetting big ideas is exactly what he does as chief scientist for XPRIZE.

EXTAVOUR: Every one of these solutions that we're seeing coming through the Prize, they have a flaw. And I often think the team that's going to win this prize or the team that's going to succeed at carbon rule in general is not just a team that can maximize its strength but can minimize the weaknesses.

WEIR: For some finalists that weakness may be the cost of equipment or energy or the geopolitics of whale protection. For Marty, it's the difficulty measuring exactly how much Godzilla his kelp is killing. But the one rare trait these entrepreneurs have in common, they root for the competition.

CHRIS HOLDSWORTH, BIOCHEMIST, CARBFIX: You know, it's all hands-on deck. So all of these ideas are coming on board. Every molecule of COS that doesn't end in the atmosphere is a victory, right?

WEIR (on-camera): Right.

BEN TARBELL, CEO AND CO-FOUNDER, EBB CARBON: Every resume I get in my inbox from somebody who's looking for something that they can do that will enable a pathway to a faster solution to climate change, that gives me hope every day.

ODLIN: It's a race that no one loses as long as someone wins.

WEIR: Right.

ODLIN: I don't care who lose the most of it. I don't care. As long as it all gets down. I'm such an optimist when it comes to like the potential of the American spirit and the American mind to like solve the problem. We just got to get aimed at it and unleashed, and it's like we're going to solve this.

WEIR: Oh, my goodness.

(Voice-over): Every week brings more proof that humanity is capable of breakthroughs our ancestors could not imagine.

(On-camera): This is a first for me. My first electric flight.

(Voice-over): From putting the power of the sun in a box with nuclear fusion. To solar panels in space. But every one of our experts agrees first must come investment in research and young minds. A fresh respect for nature and her systems. And a different attitude about everything.

(On-camera): Do you anticipate, when my little boy is my age, life will look dramatically different or you think we'll just have adjusted it in more efficient ways?

PICCARD: If you keep the metaphor of the balloon, you have different altitudes. One altitude is to continue as we are doing now. With more and more climate change, more pollution, less resources because we waste them, entire places on earth that will be unlivable because it's going to be droughts, floods, too warm, too cold, so miserable. That's one direction. This is maybe the one we'll take.

But if you change altitude and try to implement the solutions that exist, that you try to bring together, the left wing and the right wing, bring together the ecologist and the industrials, and the finance people and the big corporations, then you can have another altitude where life can remain very good.

WEIR: The second option definitely sounds more preferable. Then now comes the hard part. Turning ideas into action.


COOPER: In the past year and a half the U.S. has committed hundreds of billions of dollars to testing out new ideas to battle climate change, including building carbon dioxide pipelines. Scientists around the globe are working on alternatives to fossil fuels like green hydrogen, nuclear fusion, and sodium batteries. They hope for quantum leaps in these fields in the coming years.

Join us next week on THE WHOLE STORY as we take you to the United Kingdom where the country is preparing for the historic coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla. We'll have new details about Charles's long life in the public eye and what skepticism from the younger generation means for his reign and the future of the British monarchy.

I'll see you next Sunday.