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Climate Change: What We Can Do
R. Jerry Adams, Ph.D., Evaluation and Development Institute
Earth's climate became very stable 10,000 years ago, allowing for agriculture for the first time.
Our stable climate arose from a balance of three ingredients:
-Ocean currents and
Greenhouse gases provided a stable temperature to allow ocean currents to mix heat and cold around the globe and to maintain a relatively constant amount of polar ice.
We now have 1/3 more CO2 in the air than we had only 150 years ago--and CO2 stays in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. The extra carbon keeps more heat in the air. The extra heat is absorbed by polar ice, soil, and the oceans. The ice over the Arctic Ocean is expected to be gone during summers within 5-10 years. Instead of ice over the Arctic Ocean reflecting heat, the Arctic Ocean will absorb heat. This will slow the ocean currents even more--they already are slowing because of the change in climate.
When the ocean currents stop and the Arctic ice melts, we will have a climate catastrophe that can be expected to last thousands of years. Permafrost in Russia and other regions will melt, releasing gigantic amounts of carbon and methane stored in the soil. The release will trigger even more extreme climate.
The single largest human cause of the extra CO2 in the air comes from coal-fired power plants. The two largest producers of coal-fired power plants are China and India. Both countries have plans for massive increases in coal-fired power plants over the next 25 years-enough to trigger catastrophic climate change by themselves. Neither of the countries have specific targets for converting to coal gasification or for sequestering the carbon they belch into the air.
The earth has already passed the tipping point for avoiding climate change. Millions are already suffering greatly from changes in the global climate, such as desertification in Africa. We have also passed the tipping point for us to correct the climate balance just by reducing the use of fossil fuels. We must take carbon out of the air to avoid progressively worse consequences of climate change.
We have two additional and related problems. Many of our agricultural lands are depleted and require large amounts of fertilizer every year. Runoff from fertilizers is damaging water supplies.
For references and more on climate change, click here.
Only one cost-effective solution has been found for quickly reducing the carbon in the air:
Each year we must convert enough biomass (organic waste) into biochar (charcoal) to extract at least 7 gigatons of carbon from the air and place it in our soils. This can be done by converting coal-fired plants to biomass carbonizing power plants, starting in the United States (where great numbers of coal-fired power plants are closing down). The goal is to carbonize the biomass, extracting the energy through heating without oxygen, not by incineration.
Carbon improves soil quality and plants love it; rich soils get their black coloring from the carbon. The earth's soil now has around 3,100 gigatons of carbon so there is no danger of getting too much in the soil by adding 7 gigatons per year. Through poor farming practices we have actually reduced the amount of carbon in the soil compared to 150 years ago.
In order to move quickly to save as much of our climate's balance as possible, we need the following:
-1 To establish laws and policies that require forestry departments to convert forest waste (beetle kill, etc.) into biochar instead of burning the waste in open pits or letting the biomass decay to release the carbon back into the air. The biochar should be mixed with the forestry soils to improve the health of forests and keep the soil nutrients in the ground. In the same legislation, we need to fund biochar kilns and related equipment for forestry departments to use to convert the biomass to biochar locally.
-2 To establish laws and policies that require agribusinesses, especially corn and wheat farmers, to convert a portion of their biomass to biochar each year. In the same legislation, fund biochar kilns and related equipment for agribusiness to use to convert the biomass to biochar locally and to use the biochar locally to improve crop yields (and gain carbon credits). Fund Department of Agriculture ARS centers to help farmers create locally-customized biochar to fit the soils and crops of each region of the country. We need to write and call our legislators and other political leaders to ask them to support this.
-3 To fund help in Africa and Australia to convert non-arable lands to drought-resistant prairie grass nourished with biochar and fertilizer. Climate balance is a global problem requiring quick global solutions. Prairie grass and biochar may reduce one of the immediate effects of climate change, desertification of large swaths of the earth, especially in Australia and Africa. We need to write and call our legislators and other political leaders to ask them to support this.
-4 To support strong carbon credits for use of biochar in soils or for use of biochar to improve water quality. We need to write and call our legislators and other political leaders to ask them to support this.
-5 To require that all new coal-fired power plants build-in methods, such as pyrolysis (gasification) of coal, to sequester most of the carbon that would normally be emitted. We need to write and call our legislators and other political leaders to ask them to support this.
The above steps may buy us another generation of climate that allows agriculture while we switch from fossil fuels to renewables. Without #1, we face catastrophe for life on the planet. A huge carbon build up in the air--and loss of life on earth--has happened before.
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