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April 2, 2009

ALERT! Protest Ill-Conceived Industrial Biochar Geoengineering

A biosphere cannot be geoengineered, industrial biochar is dangerousTAKE ACTION! Industrial scale "biochar" [search] is the latest dangerous geoengineering proposal (replacing now discredited ocean iron fertilization [search] as the flavor of the month) to save the Earth and humanity from climate change without personal sacrifice or social change. Biochar (charcoal) enthusiasts intend to burn biomass to produce and bury charcoal, in order to manipulate land use and the biosphere on a vast scale. As if the world's land, 25% of which is already becoming seriously degraded, does not have enough pressures from deforestation, industrial agriculture and sprawling human settlements. Charcoal proposals forestall sufficient climate change measures such as ending the use of coal, protecting and restoring old forests, and reforming industrial agriculture. Express concern on the matter to
leading scientists, industrialists and negotiators supporting the idea of burning ecosystems to save them.TAKE ACTION!


Everything I've read on biochar has been positive. I'd watch out for businessmen using it inappropriately, but it looks like one of the best thing for the planet this side of mass suicide.

Slamming bio-char production is not the point, anything these companies do in their current mindset is going to be bad. Solar tech, bio-char, bio-fuels, electric cars or tomatoes, refrigerators and toothpaste, it doesn't matter, anything done in the industrial mode of winner take all dominate and exploit the market at the expense of local communities will have a continued negative affect. The Fortune 1000 companies need to be eliminated, liquidated and their bosses jailed. I make bio-char for my garden, it makes a positive difference. Any good idea can be done badly. Eliminate those who want to do things badly. the industrial mode of thinking is linear, the permaculture way is cyclical. There are good ways to produce bio-char that include making electricity and bio-fuels while heating water for homes or businesses, while possibly draining off medicines, while pumping C02 into greenhouses to increase plant production etc. all at the same time. Nature never just does one thing with its energy. In other words, you are barking up the wrong tree thus I don't trust you any more than I do Monsanto.

I know it is difficult to hear criticisms of potential misuse of technologies to which you are wed. But this is precisely the point the alert makes, this is yet another example of a good idea such as eco-forestry and FSC being usurped by industry. Biochar from plastics and coal residue, and hundreds of millions of hectares of land? That is what is being planned. So we are in agreement. I know it is long, so perhaps you didn't get to the part where we made those specific points. We felt that in going against the popular opinion, we needed to cover all our bases. Further diminishment of ecosystems will not protect climate.

3 years ago I became fascinated by biochar's potential to restore degraded soils, making it easier for farmers to transition to organic farming. I tried it on my allotment and it made a visible difference. It is also the only way that we can remove the CO2 that has already been emitted over the past century. Of course we have to invest everything in reduced energy use, reduced consumption of meat and dairy (the main cause of land degradation) and a switch to solar and wind and tidal. Our company works with olive growers, apple growers and cacao farmers to convert to biochar the tree prunings that are normally burned (to prevent fungal disease) and turned to CO2. The resulting biochar then enhances the fertility of the soil, its living health and its structure and water retention ability. I'm now using it on a 3 acre vegetable plot and in a 2 acre orchard. Too early to claim anything, but nothing has gone wrong and the chestnut coppice from which I made it needed serious pruning. Because of the proximity principle, it's just not worth it to haul biomass long distances and then haul lighter but bulkier biochar back to the fields, so the technology for this is simple, cheap and more likely to be used by small farmers than big industrialists. Get rid of the subsidies on so called 'bionergy' and it will disappear overnight - it's a completely artificial creation by politicians too dumb to see through what the agribusiness lobby is after - but farmers will go for biochar if there is a fair and equitable market for carbon credits.

I agree with Bob Stuart, I'm afraid.

We need to control Industry and Government to prevent the inevitable attempts at economic abuse and we must stop burning coal immediately, but biochar is as Bob says the only current hope.

Is asking biochar proponents to do the math on available waste biomass before setting Earth aflame unreasonable?

Craig Sams claims that the biochar which his company supports will “enhance the fertility of the soil, its living health and its structure and water retention ability” and that biochar will sequester CO2. It is good to see that he is starting some trials, for his statement “too early to claim anything” could be applied to biochar research as a whole. There is no conclusive and consistent scientific evidence that biochar will do the things claimed. The first film promoting biochar was broadcast in 2002. So we should at least expect 6-7 years worth of field studies. But no. There is just one relatively short-term field study which has been published in peer-reviewed journals and which looks at both the impact on soil fertility and soil carbon. That study, I understand, has been discontinued. Otherwise, all published research is based on laboratory studies and studies of soils which are high in black carbon but which have nothing to do with modern biochar. So biochar is not ‘a good idea done badly’, unless the term ‘good idea’ refers to wishful thinking. Right now, biochar is essentially an untested technology with a lot of unfounded claims around it. Yet this lack of evidence has not stopped biochar proponents from trying to get it included into carbon trading and thus to see it scaled up on a vast scale. And surely experience with agrofuels and the pulp and paper industry should provide enough of a warning because creating another vast demand for biomass. There is nothing in the biochar proposals now before UNFCCC that would stop carbon credits for biochar from highly destructive large-scale industrial tree plantations. As for the small farmers Craig Sams has in mind, having a CDM project approved requires paying specialist consultants and is an expensive process – all the experience with the Clean Development Mechanism so far shows that large companies benefit and communities lose out.

I don't see any harm in producing biochar in existing areas of intensive agriculture and "industrial" forestry. If they can be shown to sequester carbon successfully in the soil, then the whole environment could benefit with no additional threat to biodiversity or local communities. Excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is a serious problem that we need to tackle on a large scale with everything we can throw at it. Unthinking distain for industrial and technological approaches just dooms us to failure.

You highlight one potential, extreme outcome of biochar by assuming it will be abused by big business. There is also the potential for small farmers in some of the poorest parts of the world to restore the quality of the soil and massively improve their lives and livelihood. Some of it could even come from specially designed stoves that save on firewood and produce useable biochar. Are you opposed to that scenario too?

But then again, maybe there are grounds for concern. You are right that it could go out of control with people burning everything in sight to make money from biochar. That would be an example of inadequate control and your ability to lobby political bodies would be well applied in that instance.

My other concern is for what it is really doing to the soil. Soil science looks like being a big part of our sustainable existence in the future. What impact would millions of tons of char have on that rich diversity of micro-organisms in our soil?

Let's keep debating and trialling and not try to kill this off just yet.

For the biochar debate, I would like to see a focus on Amazon soils in a 3 to 4 degree C warmer world. This location is where ancient biochar was discovered and it may be the key to saving Amazon soils. Many tropical soils have very low carbon and nitrogen and are easily eroded. If most current species of rainforest trees die as predicted in a warmer world (which is essentially already here with our current CO2 levels, the nutrients go with them. Enhancing soil nutrients with locally produced biochar as ancient Amazonians did might retain enough nutrients to allow new species of heat and drought tolerant vegetation to adapt. This should be done by local people with local technology and local tree carbon.

Soils need living carbon as humus

Burning trees and biomass has ironically emerged as a "solution" to climate change. Following the false solution of industrial bio fuels we now have the waste left from production of bio fuels as the next magic bullet. The process used is pyrolysis – incineration that chemically decomposes organic materials by heat in the absence of oxygen.

Organic farming is the lasting and sustainable solution to climate change and food security, not blanketing the planet with charcoal.

For the full article, see:

(Right on, comrade Jim! Copenhagen = "a cap and trade with offsets and escape hatches which will be gauranteed to fail.")

The Guardian March 18, 2009
Leading Climate Scientist: 'Democratic Process Isn't Working'

by David Adam

Protest and direct action could be the only way to tackle soaring carbon emissions, a leading climate scientist has said.

James Hansen, a climate modeller with Nasa, told the Guardian today that corporate lobbying has undermined democratic attempts to curb carbon pollution. "The democratic process doesn't quite seem to be working," he said.

Speaking on the eve of joining a protest against the headquarters of power firm E.ON in Coventry, Hansen said: "The first action that people should take is to use the democratic process. What is frustrating people, me included, is that democratic action affects elections but what we get then from political leaders is greenwash.

"The democratic process is supposed to be one person one vote, but it turns out that money is talking louder than the votes. So, I'm not surprised that people are getting frustrated. I think that peaceful demonstration is not out of order, because we're running out of time."

Hansen said he was taking part in the Coventry demonstration tomorrow because he wants a worldwide moratorium on new coal power stations. E.ON wants to build such a station at Kingsnorth in Kent, an application that energy and the climate change minister Ed Miliband recently delayed. "I think that peaceful actions that attempt to draw society's attention to the issue are not inappropriate," Hansen said.

He added that a scientific meeting in Copenhagen last week had made clear the "urgency of the science and the inaction taken by governments".

Officials will gather in Bonn later this month to continue talks on a new global climate treaty, which campaigners have called to be signed at a UN meeting in Copenhagen in December. Hansen warned that the new treaty is "guaranteed to fail" to bring down emissions.

Hansen said: "What's being talked about for Copenhagen is a strenghening of Kyoto [protocol] approach, a cap and trade with offsets and escape hatches which will be gauranteed to fail in terms of getting the required rapid reduction in emissions. They talk about goals which sound impressive, but when you see the actions are such that it will be impossible to reach those goals, then I can understand the informed public getting frustrated."

He said he was growing "concerned" over the stance taken by the new US adminstration on global warming. "It's not clear what their intentions are yet, but if they are going to support cap and trade then unfortunately I think that will be another case of greenwash. It's going to take stronger action than that."

Totally misinformed and displays a complete lack of understanding of BIOCHAR.
Yes growing plantation to provide the raw material is possible and not a good idea but, no proposal suggests this approach.
All proposals suggest using waste. Can waste biosmass supply enough to totally shift the energy sources of the world to this use of bio mass? Doubtful but if it provided 25% it would be an improvment. Any that thinks one solution will solve the entire problem is not thinking straight but, many smaller solutions could solve the CO2 energy source problem. Biochar is one solution we have now,we should use it now.

Not all charcoal is biochar. True biochar is the result of heating biomass in an emission free pyrolysis reactor devoid of oxygen. Biochar has been shown to be a very effective soil amendment in numerous studies in South America and Japan. It is becoming popularized enough in the US that Biochar Xtra is now even being sold on Ebay. Others are using the bio-oils derived from biochar production to replace fossil fuels. Some folks are alarmed at the possibility of vast tracts of land being denuded to produce biochar. This is not a valid concern because, due to its very low density of from 20 to 35 pounds per cubic foot, the transport of biochar over long distances is not economically feasible.

Biochar’s potential as carbon-negative has been recognised by a number of leading commentators, including Lord Stern, and the UNCCD has successfully procured that biochar will be included on the Agenda for the 2009 UNFCCC Copenhagen climate change negotiations.

Biochar is proving to be a worthwhile tool for carbon sequestration with a soil fertility boost. The trouble is all the ideas advanced for carbon sequestration or mitigation (taxes/offsets) lead us to believe we can beat pollution problems without reducing our consumption off "stuff".
We want our cake and eat it too. Until we bite the bullet of reduced consumption, reduced travel, reduced transportation and start the relocalization process, building self sufficient, sustainable communities and looking elsewhere for "quality of life", we'll continue in our unsustainable ways.