I remember the first time I heard about climate change, when my friend Eric gave a presentation about it to my Civics class. I had heard the term “climate change” before, but I hadn’t understood the magnitude or immediacy of the problem. As he spoke, I could feel a weight bearing down on my chest.

Eric described floods, hurricanes, droughts, wildfires — all these disasters we’d been hearing about recently — increasing in frequency and severity. He described mass extinctions, air pollution, food shortages, mass displacements of communities. It was terrifying.

As a high school freshman, I thought, “Wow. I don’t want to hear anything else about this. It’s too big for me to deal with, so I’m not going to get involved.”

Fast forward ten years, and my mindset hadn’t changed. Throughout graduate school, I researched and worked in the international development field while staying as far as possible from climate change. Why bother engaging in it? By then, I knew we were doomed. The problem was too big for me to face.

Then one day, I spoke with F4CR founder, Peter Fiekowsky, about “climate restoration.” He said, “Shouldn’t our global goals for our climate be focused on leaving a safe and healthy climate for future generations — not just to ‘avoid the worst impacts’ of climate change?” He explained that at the most basic level, climate change was caused by excess CO2 in the atmosphere. We know how to capture CO2 from the air, so we just need to do a lot more of that in order to get back to a safe level of CO2.

The idea of climate change as a fixable phenomenon was completely new to me. I was shocked to learn that all the emissions everyone was talking about don’t just disappear once they get into the atmosphere. They hang around and collect for hundreds of years, meaning that even when we reach net-zero emissions, the problem won’t go away. The excess CO2 in the atmosphere will need to be removed, just like the water in a tub needs to be drained even after you turn off the faucet.

Over the following years, I learned that scientists and engineers have been working on carbon dioxide removal (CDR) solutions for decades. But their target has always been this “net-zero,” where the amount of CO2 that we remove from the atmosphere is equal to the emissions that we can’t avoid. Restoring the climate would require us to go beyond net-zero and remove about 50 gigatons (Gt), that is, 50 billion tons, of CO2 every year for 20 years.

The size of the solution is still monumental, but it’s solvable. With a global mobilization, with public and political support, with sufficient investment and innovation, we can achieve the climate we all want: A climate like the one humanity and our natural world evolved in, and in which we can all flourish.

Climate restoration frames this incredible challenge in a new, solution-oriented way. It helps us keep our eye on the prize even while we face obstacles, doubt, and setbacks. With a goal that is so worthwhile, it’s easy to get right back up and keep working.

Erica Dodds, Ph.D., CEO/COO of Foundation for Climate Restoration

The Foundation for Climate Restoration (F4CR) is a nonprofit whose mission is to catalyze action to restore a safe and healthy climate by 2050.