Delta announced plans to become the first major airline to go carbon neutral globally, pledging on Friday to offset the greenhouse gas emissions from all its flights and operations from March onward....

Big picture: It’s the latest in a rush of companies trumpeting plans to cut or balance out their climate pollution; the list includes Microsoft and BP. Similarly, Jet Blue announced plans to go carbon neutral for US flights last month. 

But it’s going to be expensive and very difficult for businesses to reliably cancel out their emissions using the sorts of machines and natural systems envisioned.

(The wording in Delta's press release seems to leave room for the possibility that the company will eventually, rather than immediately, balance out the emissions from its operations from next month forward.) 

The details: Delta said it will spend $1 billion over the next decade for carbon reduction and removal efforts. That will include developing or using lower-carbon jet fuels, and shifting to more efficient planes or flight operations.

To offset the rest of its emissions, the company will explore a variety of forestry, wetlands, grasslands or soil projects and practices to draw down and store more carbon. Some of the $1 billion will also go toward a dedicated fund that will invest in technologies that can remove carbon dioxide from the air.

Challenges: Startups like Carbon Engineering and Climeworks are already building so called direct-air capture machines that do this, but it’s an extremely expensive process today. Meanwhile, there are a litany of challenges associated with relying on trees for carbon removal. Some researchers are dubious about the potential for storing carbon in soil as well.

These challenges only multiply as more and more companies and nations pin their hopes on the same sets of solutions. A lot of companies and a lot of countries are suddenly counting on planting a whole lot of trees.

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Space

The news: NASA has picked four teams to develop proposals for new missions. Each will receive $3 million to study their plans over the next nine months, then NASA will choose one or two of them to...

The four potential missions:

+ DAVINCI+ (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging Plus) proposes sending a spacecraft down through Venus’ dense, hot atmosphere to measure its composition. This would help us to get a better picture of how the planet formed, and whether it ever had an ocean.

+ Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy (VERITAS) would send powerful radar instruments to orbit Venus, mapping its surface to provide insights into its geologic history. The idea is that this would help us to better understand the planet’s surface and why it developed so differently to Earth.

+ Io Volcano Observer (IVO) proposes sending a spacecraft to make several close passes by Jupiter’s moon Io. It’s the most volcanically active body in the solar system, but little is known about its specific characteristics. The goal would be to work out how magma is generated on Io and exactly how its many massive volcanoes erupt, in the hope this helps our understanding of the formation and evolution of rocky terrestrial bodies.

+ Trident would send a spacecraft to fly past Neptune and its huge, icy moon Triton, to try and work out why it is so active despite its distance from the sun. It would map the moon and its active processes, and try and work out it whether it hosts a subsurface ocean, as predicted by the Voyager 2 mission which flew past Triton in 1989. This could help us to understand how habitable worlds form.

Current projects: All four of the missions are part of NASA’s Discovery program, which is responsible for projects like the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Mars InSight Probe.

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