Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Pure optimistic fantasy


Assume, for a moment, that all people of the world made a decision to stop global warming by reducing emissions at the same time as removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Here, I will not deal with the necessary emission reduction of 90%, but look at the sequestration side: How could people be encouraged to create charcoal and bury it in soil in amounts large enough to make a difference?

It is not hard to persuade growers and farmers to put charcoal in the soil, sine the benign effects are so many and visible that any grower will start, once they see the effects, at home or by someone else. The problem is that he farmers and growers are so few, and the amounts so large. We have to remove 70 gigatonnes (70 000 000 000 000 kg) of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere only to come to a reasonably safe level (350 ppm).

Today, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is not diminishing at all. On the contrary, it is increasing with about 8 gigatonnes annually. That represents an increase in carbon dioxide level with more than 3 ppm. The numbers speaks for themselves. I will not discuss how the emission reduction might be done.

So, how to make people interested in carbon dioxide burying? Say, that it is possible to annually char about 12-15% of the global net production of biomass, about the same size as the global forest industry. That would make it possible to annually remove about 2 gigatonnes from the carbon cycle, so it not ends up in the atmosphere again.

Some nations (Sweden, Finland, Norway, the Netherlands, UK and British Columbia in Canada) have started to tax the emissions of carbon dioxide, assuming people by that would reduce their emissions. The Swedish tax is 1 SEK, about $ 0.16, per kilo carbon dioxide .We have an entrance here.

In my fantasy, I will decree a carbon dioxide tax for all emissions, all over the world. No exceptions for heavy polluters, as we have here in Sweden . Say, that the global tax would be half of the one in Sweden (0.5 SEK, or $0.08, £0.04, €0.05 per kilo carbon dioxide emitted)

I can imagine the shriek echoing all over the world after almighty me have imposed that tax. I
also realise that it would not decease the emissions very much, just lead to more money in circulation.

But all these money (2.4 thousand billion dollars, counted as the current emissions) could also be seen as an asset if they are set to the right action.

While fantasizing, we also introduce the notion of a fair carbon dioxide tax. As all people (in this perfect world, ruled by me) have to pay for carbon dioxide emissions, they should also get a chance to earn from drawing carbon dioxide back.

So, I make another decree: Those who bury carbon in the soil shall be paid the same amount as the emission-makers have to pay for their emissions. (Here comes some chemistry in: As carbon dioxide has the molecular weight of 44, but carbon only has the weight of 12, the weight of carbon that is put into the soil must be multiplied with 44/12=3.7 for the sequesterer to get the right payment). Firstly, that would lead to an interesting effect: The busy sequesterer, working in the field, would be quite interested in reducing his “carbon dioxide footprint”, since hat would reduce his net income. He, also, has to pay emission tax if he emits carbon dioxide .

But, most interesting is that everybody, all over the world (perhaps not the guys living on Greenland) would have the opportunity to get a real income from carbon sequestering. Given the above tax rate, the sequestering of two tonnes of carbon per hectare farmland (which is easy, done simply by the crop residues) should get receipts for that corresponding to $ 600. As this easily could be done just using crop residues, it is not competing with food production at all. Furthermore, after digging the char into the soil, the production will increase by more than 50% the following years.

Naturally, objections against this scheme can be numerous, including problems of controllability, bribing etc.

In a charring plant of a larger size, also the pyrolysis gasses (60% of the biomass) can be industrially utilized for numerous uses, or for energy.

But that is another story.

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