Wednesday, September 19, 2007

English translation of yesterday's post

Is it good as it is?

Nothing indicates that the climate situation is good as it is. Unexpected weather phenomenons, such as floodings, hurricanes, rainstorms and the like are starting to become third page news. Abrupt changes outdate the regular predictions. The Antarctic ices are calving. Soon, the Ross-Ice is in turn, with a sudden sea level increase of 5-17 meters. The openings of the north-west and north-east passages in the Arctic, applauded by the oil transporters, might be a start of the melting of the entire Arctic ice-sheet, may be within a ten-year period. This, in turn, may release enough fresh water to stop the Gulf stream, which will make the climate of Northern Europe much colder, not warmer.
If you have a villa in Spain -- don’t sell it! (But it may be good idea to insulate it.)

All these phenomena relate to the excess of greenhouse gasses, especially carbon dioxide, in the atmosphere.. And what do we do about it? We take measures to release somewhat less carbon dioxide! (Increasing the gasoline prize, increasing the mileage of the cars, or making people believe that it is enough to change fuel.) It is as if we're only slowing down the sawing of the branch we are sitting on.

However, the decrease of the use of fossil fuels is a very good solution for another threat; the about 4% annual decrease of fossil fuels after the oil peak. Failing to accommodate for that, the economy will collapse, because it is dependent of a continuous growth, i.e. more energy every year.

Decrease the carbon, not the tax!
To counteract the threats of abrupt climate changes, a two-front war need to be fought. It is good to decrease the emissions, but it is not enough. Even if the emissions were decreased to 0% of the current use – a total stop of all use of fossil fuels – it would not be enough. It would not improve the climate from the current state. To ‘improve ‘ the climate, you need both a substantial emission decrease and a massive sequestration of the current carbon dioxide cloud.

The bright side – to look at

It is easy to remove carbon from the atmosphere. First, you let plants growand take up carbon dioxide. Second, you prevent their giving back the carbon to the atmosphere by converting the biomass into charcoal. While biomass has a turnover time on about 150 years, the charcoal is almost inert, and had a turnover time of several millennia. The knowledge of charcoal production is a as old as the knowledge of making fire.

Furthermore, charcoal is an excellent soil improver. Terra preta is a well known gift from the native Amazon Indians.
Apart from the Amazonian Indians, we have a further restriction. Incautious production of charcoal will emit at large amount of methane. To avoid that, either a so-called retort device need to be used, or an advanced pyrolysis unit with gas filters and the like, to use the surplus gasses as raw material for a new-old chemo-technical industry.

The maximum 40% of the biomass that is possible to convert into charcoal can – and should – be used as a soil improver. Since the inner surface of one gramme of charcoal is equal to the surface of three football grounds, it can give almost any soil a real kick start when it is colonized by micro-organisms, nutrient molecules and plant roots.

Fair tax

But you will not save the world by trusting the idealists that want to improve their soils by tilling in charcoal. You need stronger forces. Why not human greed?

Imagine for a moment – totally hypothetically, naturally – that you could introduce a fair carbon tax. Imagine that you could save the carbon dioxide emission tax out of the tax ocean and use it to pay the people sequestering carbon. Since a kilo of charcoal is equal to 3.67 kilos of carbon dioxide (because of the higher content of oxygen in carbon dioxide), somebody digging in one tonne of charcoal with the current tax of 0.90 SEK per kilo carbon dioxide, would be compensated with a sum of nearly 4000 (3667) SEK (almost €400).

A fair harvest of Industrial hemp will give about 20 tonne dw. Converted into charcoal, this harvest would give a revenue of about 30 000 SEK (€3,200 ). Wheat growing, take a running jump!

I am fully aware of the possibilities for a tremendous bureaucracy and corruption associated with such a Klondike of carbon management. But wouldn’t the reward be worth it?

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