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April 6, 2009

RELEASE: Global Civil Society Opposes Charred Earth Policy

147 organisations from 44 countries warn against 'biochar' (large-scale charcoal) as a dangerous new false solution to climate change

TAKE ACTION: Tell Leading Climate Scientists, Industrialists and Negotiators to Stop Promoting Industrial Scale Biochar

By Earth's Newsdesk, a project of Ecological Internet
CONTACT: Dr. Glen Barry, glenbarry@ecologicalinternet.org

Burning the Earth to save her will not succeed(Earth) -- An international declaration was today launched by 147 organisations, including Ecological Internet, opposing the growing hype and political support for Biochar. The groups signing the declaration "strongly oppose the inclusion of soils in carbon trade and offset mechanisms, including in the Clean Development Mechanism.” The groups further assert that "the 'biochar' initiative fails to address the root causes of climate change.” [1]

Those issuing this warning range from small farmers associations and forest protection groups to international environmental networks and human rights advocates. Further organizations are being invited to sign the declaration. Ecological Internet has independently organized a protest alert questioning whether enough "waste biomass" and "degraded and marginal" lands exist to carry out geoengineering of the Earth's land and climate at the scale proposed, and without intensifying industrial tree plantations and all their attendant problems. [2]

This International declaration "Biochar, a New Big Threat to People, Land and Ecosystems" has been launched as UN and government delegates are meeting in Bonn this week to discuss a post-2012 climate change agreement. One of the proposals [3] which they will be discussing is to allow carbon credits for using charcoal as a soil additive in the hope that this will create a permanent 'carbon sink' and help to reduce global warming, and reclaim degraded soil. They will also discuss whether to generally include agricultural soils into carbon trading.

Civil society groups have called for caution on Biochar in view of serious scientific uncertainty. Many share concerns that this technology would lead to vast areas of land being converted to new plantations, thus repeating the unfolding disasters which agrofuels cause. They point out that large scale financial incentives for biochar or other soil sequestration could result in large scale land conversion and displacement of people.

Helena Paul from EcoNexus states: "Including biochar and agricultural soil in carbon markets would turn soils into a commodity that could be sold to offset pollution elsewhere. It would endanger smallholder farmers and indigenous peoples who cannot compete with governments and large companies and who are at risk of being displaced if the ground is literally sold out from under their feet."

Stella Semino from Grupo de Reflexion Rural, Argentina adds: "The idea that charcoal will rescue a burning planet is absurd. Some biochar proponents call for quantities of charcoal which would require over 500 million hectares of industrial tree and crop plantations. We know already that industrial agriculture and tree plantations are a major contributor to climate change and displace people and biodiversity. We need to protect ecosystems, not grow vast new monocultures and burn them! This is a farce.”

Almuth Ernsting from Biofuelwatch states: "Large-scale support for biochar is premature and dangerous. Claims that biochar is retained permanently in soils and increases fertility are based on Terra Preta soils in Amazonia, which were made by indigenous peoples hundreds or even thousands of years ago. Those farmers used biodiverse organic residues and compost, as well as charcoal. Modern biochar is not the same. Some companies are making biochar out of municipal waste and tyres, others promote using biochar to scrub flue gases from coal burners and then using this combination as a fertilizer. Some plan to use giant microwave ovens to char trees – justifying this by pointing to ancient Amazonian soils is absurd." [4]

CONTACTS:

Rachel Smolker (U.S.): rsmolker@riseup.net
- Tel +1 – 802-482-2848 or +1-802-735-7794
Almuth Ernsting (UK): info@biofuelwatch.org.uk
- Tel 0044-1224-324797
Helena Paul (UK): h.paul@econexus.ino
- Tel +44–(0)207–431-4357
Stella Semino (Denmark): stella.semino@mail.dk
- Tel +45–(0)463-25328

NOTES:

[1] The declaration and organizations can be found at http://www.regenwald.org/international/englisch/news.php?id=1226
Further Organizations wishing to add their name to the declaration should contact: biochar_concerns@yahoo.co.uk

[2] TAKE ACTION: Tell Leading Climate Scientists, Industrialists and Negotiators to Stop Promoting Industrial Scale Biochar http://www.climateark.org/shared/alerts/send.aspx?id=industrial_biochar

[3] The governments of Belize, Gambia, Ghana, Lesotho, Micronesia, Mozambique, Niger, Senegal, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, have called for the inclusion of biochar into the Clean Development Mechanism, i.e. into carbon trading. This is also supported by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.

[4] For further information and references regarding biochar, see “Biochar for Climate Change Mitigation: Fact or Fiction?” http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/docs/biocharbriefing.pdf

###ENDS###

Ecological Internet provides the world's largest and most used climate and environment portals at http://www.climateark.org/ and http://www.ecoearth.info/ . Dr. Glen Barry is a leading global spokesperson on behalf of environmental sustainability policy. He frequently conducts interviews on the latest climate, forest and water policy developments and can be reached at: glenbarry@ecologicalinternet.org


Comments

Please, consider biochar not only as a farce, not as a false way.

it is a technique that is in the first phases of development & research, not mature for large scale application for sure. but if we found out the specifications & mixtures & good circular models for applying it where it fits, then the biochar technique could be a way to buy time for climate change adaptation, besides of securing food supply, fighting desertification & saving & improving soil fertility.
dont see black & white. this is always far from truth!
we have to research. You will have to wait.

Has it occurred to you that you may be overreacting to this just a little?

I don't think that any of the serious biochar proponents are suggesting that it will singlehandedly save the planet and that we should all drive SUVs comfortable in the knowledge that biochar will save us. Nor are they proposing a "charred Earth" policy - talk about emotive scaremongering.

It is a *possible* solution. One which may work in well with the other ensemble of emerging technologies. Then again it may not. You are trying to close down the possibility of it working.

The people whose email boxes you are spamming with repetitive messages of concern are some of the leading thinkers promoting an intelligent and diverse approach to reducing carbon emissions. We're not talking about large faceless corporations here, rather individuals who work energetically and tirelessly towards making real reductions in our carbon emissions a priority. You just happen to disagree with them on this point.

By attacking them so aggressively you are hampering healthy and open debate about ideas. We will only meet these massive challenges to our future collectively and with a diversity of opinion. Everyone is coming along for the ride - large and small, rich and poor - everyone will have their part to play, whether you like them or not.

Aggression of any sort is destructive. You have a powerful tool for change at your disposal with your email campaigns but, like any power, it needs to be used responsibly - not simply to attempt to silence everyone you disagree with.

Query! .....:What about using biowaste (not inc. paper/cardboard) for pyrolysis and making char without any influence on forests; do you approve of that? I don't think there is a lot of "hype" as you call it, about char in Australia; we are all very keen to scaled-up experimentation, in and out of agriculture, and 'follow' indigenous people/s who were(Amazonians) the originators of the char- into-the-soil(burial) principle; you seem to be a little oversensitive* to the entire issue, if I might say, as a trained agricultural scientist with more than 30 years of experience in environmental and ecological consultancy/ies.
PLEASE let me know in-detail what you think(professionally);
* On what references do you rely, o reckon that char-manufacturers are lining-up to take-down or plant even more trees anywhere? Cheers Now! joe a friend

Ecologists recognize that there is no such thing as biomass waste. To build an industry upon such residues mines the soil of nutrients, minerals, chemical fertilizers and water. Net ecosystem primary productivity equals zero. If these materials are leaving the ecosystem, it is diminished. Further intensifying diminishment of agro-ecological terrestrial ecosystems is not the solution.
Regards,
Glen

Thank you for your excellent efforts to inform us of what is really happening.
I find it hard to believe that man can be so stupid.

The whole world should be united in:
1. Controlling population growth.
2. Reduceing the use of resources.
3. Returning a sustainable balance.

If these things can be done who can imagine the marvellous things man will be able to do in a million years time. If they can't he will never get the chance to do
to any of it. The problem is there is little indication that any other being out there in space will care whether those wonderful things are done or not. Only us!

Keep up the good work, maybe it will dawn on the rest of them. To give up is unthinkable.
Thanks, George

Don't be such idiots. Biochar is very likely to help solve the problem
of climate change, which is going to turn ALL of the forests in charcoal if we don't stop it. Please abandon this ridiculous campaign

yes, there is serious transcontinental backlash underway against the idea of industrial biochar. and with good reason, i think. we have too many examples of doing a great idea stupid. or, to rephrase in the specific context, industrial solutions won't solve our industrial-created troubles. a corollary idea is that truly wise thinkers are rare. and too many people are single shot, silver bullet thinkers: we must make enough biochar to sequester enough carbon to offset all our emissions and fix global warming.

i've had disagreements with folks who believe making biochar from trees is our ideal way to implement a modern terra preta strategy, convinced that ancient indigenous amazon tribes cleared the forest and charcoaled the trees. this is almost a reflex, since most people's idea of charcoal is hardwood char for cooking, and few have heard of making char from anything else. and further, it's an american tradition: before coal mining became industrial scale, most eastern forests were cleared and burned in heaps to make potash and char for industry.

first of all, i doubt hardwood trees are our best source of biomass to char. last year i had the chore to bust up char made from woody underbrush. very hot, sweaty job that took quite a while.

on the other hand, last year we made char from softwood, corn stalks, weeds, leaves, straw, hay, horse manure, and weathered boards. that stuff crumbles to powder in your hand -- and likely is more attractive habitat for microbes. cleared forest land sprouts with vigorous, dense non-woody underbrush and weeds that can be easily cleared and charred every year.

second, any sensible shift to renewable energy begins with "reduce" -- energy & resource conservation. 25 years ago i coined the phrase "more is better, but less is best." buckminster fuller, who learned system design on board naval vessels said "do more with less." we can't sustain our current extravagant consumption of energy no matter what energy source we exploit. this is not a technological issue -- it is a moral and ethical challenge. how much is enough? our first response must be to consume less, share more and leave more for future generations.

third, early in geological evolution, micro-organisms in sea and soil generated the earth's atmosphere by their respiration, and maintain the composition of gases necessary for more advanced, complex life forms. microbes form the basal tissue of earth's lungs whose breathing in & out to sustain the atmosphere. together with microbes, trees and forests evolved later as earth's secondary lung tissue to sustain the atmosphere to stabilize climate and moderate weather. trees and microbes are also earth's primary engine to create new topsoil.

cutting forests to cure climate change is like surgical removal of lungs to fix respiratory disease -- like the poverbial cutting off your nose to spite your face. the wise response is to regenerate our trees and forests to restore and strengthen this crucial respiratory function of the biosphere, not initiate a new cycle of deforestation and soil degradation.

however, that said, forests today are in catastrophic condition due to decades of bad, exploitative forestry practices. left alone, forests will slowly regenerate, but in our onrushing global warming emergency, intelligent intervention can accelerate forest regeneration. benign neglect is not an option. at the least, selective cutting to remove chaotic undergrowth and excess sapling trees can upgrade forests while we generate significant streams of biomass for carbon negative energy and biochar, and create vast new job markets. then we have functional forests plus energy, fertile soil and sustainable economic recovery. such "timber stand improvement" is an excellent first step toward an intelligent practice of sustainable forest stewardship.

as an ancient forest advocate, the idea of degrading the complex biotic diversity of these sylvan communities into tree factories to chip up into biochar & bioenergy is unacceptable -- another example of "stuck on stupid." so i share the outrage against plantation forestry to feed industrial biochar production. i believe we can have both mature forests and biochar & bioenergy production in a sensible, balanced strategy.

toward this urgent possibility, i plan to develop a broader definition of "carbon negative" to embrace ancient forests and conservation grasslands as well as biochar strategy. so, i started www.ancientforests.us and at our fall biochar symposium i hope to have a speaker outline an intelligent strategy for forest stewardship that includes soil restoration with biochar, rock dust, sea minerals and inoculants. the current trouble is i don't know anyone who can advocate such and approach, but i just rejoined ENTS (eastern native tree society: www.nativetreesociety.org) and initiated an email inquiry with alan page. i hope by the november symposium we will have something solid to say about how to effect a successful carbon negative marriage of forest stewardship with biochar & bioenergy extraction.

given all else i am doing, this seems unrealistically ambitious. but perhaps if i think and meditate and write a bit on this, others will appear to carry this idea into fuller expression and action. i can only do my best to advocate and advance this line of thought. and pray.

for a green & peaceful planet,
David Yarrow
Turtle EyeLand Sanctuary
44 Gilligan Rd, East Greenbush, NY 12061
cell: 518-881-6632

This idea is heading back to the primitive ideas of chemical farming. They discovered that when humans were burned to ash and when plants were burned to ash, the chemical analysis was the same.

All they had to do was feed us with Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium.

We dug our heels in and refused to eat food substitutes, and it has taken nearly a century to get the main population eating food substitutes packaged for the supermarket.

Ash from a burned tree may be useful in an organic garden, but has only a tiny residual portion of the rich phytates in the original tree.

That could be an advantage when tires are turned to ash, but I still wouldn't want to use the stuff.

Why? You can be sure that the government will allow the manufacturers to lie about toxic chemicals in the char.

I prefer compost, which is teeming with life - not dead char.