Jennifer Wilcox Weighs in on ‘The Case for Climate Reparations’

Jennifer Wilcox
Jennifer Wilcox

Reports on the state of global climate change and its subsequent existential impacts are increasingly revealing a glaring reality: those who produce the most carbon emissions and those who suffer most from their effects are two distinctly separate populations. As the global North shouts “reform” while continuing to ramp up these emissions, the global South continues to bear the brunt of gigatons of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere since the dawn of the industrial age, while being directly responsible for a minute fraction of that total output.  

The world’s problem solvers are at odds over how to attain climate stabilization, and carbon removal is a branch on the tree of conjunctive solutions offered by industry experts and technologists. 

Presidential Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering and Energy Policy Jennifer Wilcox, a 2020 addition to Penn Engineering’s Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, is one of world’s leading carbon capture experts.  

In preface to Penn’s recent $750 million dollar investment in research areas that include energy and sustainability, Wilcox’s appointment followed an anonymous $30 million dollar donation to the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy, which was used to help her become the first faculty research appointment at the Center. She is also now putting her expertise into action, serving as the current head of carbon management at the Department of Energy. 

In an article published last month in New York Magazine, Wilcox weighed in on just how much carbon would need to be removed — in addition to decarbonization — to achieve stabilization.  

She believes the future of the planet relies on urgent macroscale and multitiered levels of action. 

“If we can’t get some millions of tons of carbon removal this next decade, we don’t stand a chance to get to gigatons by midcentury,” Wilcox says. “Time will tell. If we continue to fail at the decarbonization we need to do and the carbon removal that we simultaneously need to do now, we’re not going to have a chance to restore it.” 

Read David Wallace-Wells’ “The Case for Climate Reparations” in New York Magazine.