Let’s stick to old-style geoengineering

A couple of news articles recently caught my eye as once again they show that nature is far ahead of our technology.  Or to put it another way, the new thing over the horizon gives us an excuse to continue polluting today.

First came a study from Oxford University scientists that determined that trees really are the best way to suck carbon dioxide from the atmosphere — both when alive, and when cooked as biochar.  Second, the esteemed US National Academy of Sciences released a report that says geoengineering — basically a technical fix to our screwing up the atmosphere — wasn’t quite ready for prime time but that more research is needed.

How much more research do we need to convince people that we should save existing forests and plant more where we can? I know it’s not as sexy as exotic proposals to modify the albedo of the planet by injecting sulphur into the atmosphere, or hanging mirrors in space. But it does have immediate benefits.  Forests don’t just store carbon dioxide, they clean our water, provide habitat for plants and animals, are an untapped reservoir of future medicines, and oh they are beautiful too.

And then there’s biochar. An ancient technology that is poised to make a comeback. Biochar is carbonized plant material. When added to soil it locks carbon away for an age. It also increases soil productivity, helps soil retain water, and in doing so can increase crop yields and enhance food security.  It’s been known for centuries in the Amazon as “terra pretta.” Perhaps its hard to patent it and make a buck, but it’s ready to deploy and can help solve several of the world’s problems right now.

So what are we waiting for? Perhaps geoengeering is ready for prime time after all – just old school.

Massive old trees, such as they coast redwoods, store carbon for centuries.
Massive old trees, such as they coast redwoods, store carbon for centuries.

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