Thursday, December 3, 2015

Keep the Home Fires Burning

Most analyses of the greenhouse gas emissions problem hold the precept that we cannot quickly reduce our use of energy.  Hence, the introduction of technology to displace fossil fuel usage with more sustainable sources must serve as a substitute source of energy.  Oftentimes, the substitute is nearly as polluting as the original, or of dubious marginal value since it is difficult to estimate emissions from all potential sources.

Likewise, it is difficult to estimate the contribution of ecosystems to CO2 reduction.  This is why biochar is struggling to be recognized as an important, if small, part of the solution to the problem of global warming.  Biochar is made with little, if any, production of useful energy compared to incineration of biomass, which produces little, if any, biochar.  This is why the National Academy of Sciences gave biochar such short shrift in their recent study of carbon sequestration approaches. Maryland, unfortunately, adopted this study as the basis for sequestration in their climate action plan.

In order to embrace biochar, you have to allow for the possibility that satisfaction can come through many avenues.  Power may not be any more satisfying than assurance of abundant harvests along with restoration of biodiversity and soil health.  Electricity to power an ever more computerized lifestyle may be less satisfying to millions than lungs working to be filled with fresh air, while growing crops to fuel muscles demanding a more intrinsic energy source.

Energy is more fungible than biochar, but not as much as you might think.  Biochar's uses continue to expand beyond even the 55 identified by Ithaka Institute in 2013.  How can such a useful resource be overlooked, simply because it is not a significant source of energy?

Yet, were the world economy to break down today and trade in fossil fuels slow to a trickle, what would many people resort to?  Ubiquitous small outdoor fires for cooking and cleaning would turn into a climate and ecological disaster.  There are better ways to apply current technology to burning of wood. Coupling these with the production of biochar will help insulate us from climate change, peak oil, and financial folly.

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