A Clean Slate

CO2. As a species, we humans seem to love filling our world with it — which may call into question our collective sanity, seeing that it can displace O2 and leave us with nothing viable to breathe. Not to mention global warming, in which CO2 is the chief culprit. But there may be a bright light on the horizon of human earth (mis)usage. Researchers from Columbia University teamed up with Iceland’s Reykjavik Energy to implement the ambitious project CarbFix. C.C.S. (carbon capture and sequestration) is an idea scientists have been talking about for years, and a Canadian utility is already doing it on a commercial scale. However, success has been kind of spotty and the issue of monitoring is a big challenge.

The innovation of CarbFix is to pump the CO2 — mixed with water — right into a porous rock that will chemically react with the CO2 and calcify, thus effectively locking the CO2 in for good. Why Iceland? Its landmass is practically 100 percent basalt — volcanic rock rich in calcium, magnesium and iron. In less than two years scientists were able to document — through radioactive isotopic tracing — that roughly 95 percent of the CO2 was found converted into calcite. This rapid rate and high percentage of C02 recapture into the earth significantly exceeded expectations.

Will CarbFix prove cost-effective enough to keep clean-energy movements at bay and big fossil-fuel companies raking in their gargantuan profits? Maybe, maybe not. But at least human intelligence and industrialism is being employed — perhaps even effectively — at solving serious problems it caused. After all, cleaning up after oneself is only good manners, isn’t it? And with a yearly global tally of 40 billion tons(!) of CO2 emissions, that’s one awfully big mess to clean up. Parenthetically, the worst CO2-emissions offenders are China, India, and the United States. So it’s only fair that the researchers trailblazing the path of efficient carbon capture and sequestration — or, the “come on guys, let’s clean up our mess” movement — should belong to an American university.

It’s not so surprising that humanity is taking such a long time to realize that it really does need to clean up after itself. It’s much more exciting to do things that are creative and produce positive, tangible results. Lots of people enjoy planning and setting up a party, but go try finding people to help clean up after the merrymaking is over. Usually it’s not more than one or two “tzaddikim.” If the cleaning process would entail dropping all the refuse on the floor, though, and watching it chemically morph into a bona fide part and parcel thereof, many more would volunteer. So maybe CarbFix is really on to something.

Interestingly enough, there is a Gemara that could have been CarbFix’s inspiration. Ashes left over from burning the korbanos, as well as numerous other waste byproducts that were generated in the Beis Hamikdash, would simply disappear into the floor. Nivla’in bimkoman, the Gemara says; the floor would simply swallow them up and absorb them (Yoma 21a). Of course, this was one of the 10 nissim experienced in the Beis Hamikdash on a daily basis. And the reason for this particular miracle? Rashi explains: So that the Beis Hamikdash should not become littered with piles of refuse.

In the fourth perek of shaar alef, the Nefesh Hachaim highlights two phenomenal insights about the Beis Hamikdash: 1) It was a microcosm of Creation. 2) The Heavenly Beis Hamikdash is, in essence, the Jewish Nation. Every Jewish heart, emphasizes the Nefesh Hachaim, is the Kodesh Hakodashim, the even shesiyah of Creation.

Perhaps Yom Kippur — the day whose very essence atones, the day on which the Ribbono shel Olam cleanses us of our sins — is like the miracle of nivla’in bimkoman for the Mikdash of our hearts. Once a year we experience this nes, that all of the refuse simply vanishes. Our teshuvah on its own, the Ramchal says in Mesillas Yesharim, certainly would not be able to accomplish this incredible feat. It is only because Hashem employs tremendous rachamim that our teshuvah can erase the past.

A large part of the unmatchable joy of Sukkos is this state of spiritual cleanliness. With all the heavy refuse removed, we have nothing but endless potential and exuberant buoyancy. Even now that Sukkos is over, though, and we re-enter the existence of the routine and relatively mundane, we don’t have to entirely let go of it. On the contrary, we can use the boost of Yom Kippur and Sukkos as a force to propel us in a positive, goal-oriented direction for the whole year. Now is when we can take these gifts and implement them through our day-in day-out hard work and reach the great accomplishments that are available in every “little” step of life.