The following passionate Monbiot article is interesting (as his articles generally are) because it points to the dangers of biochar (charcoal) use. Those dangers are arise from some people’s suggestions for how we should create charcoal – basically by eliminating forests and other eco areas. These kinds of extremes need to be totally refuted. But biochar production can have its place if it is limited to using waste, and Monbiot agrees. So, rather than rushing into praising charcoal as the new panacea to save us from climate change, we need to develop a framework that ensures that its production does not cause any further damage to already stressed eco-systems or food growing areas.
Monbiot critises some biochar advocates, like Chris Goodall, James Lovelock and Jim Hansen – click on the links at the end of the article to read their responses.
Woodchips with everything. It’s the Atkins plan of the low-carbon world?
The latest miracle mass fuel cure, biochar, does not stand up; yet many who should know better have been suckered into it
The Guardian, Tuesday 24 March 2009
Whenever you hear the word miracle, you know there’s trouble just around the corner. But no matter many times they lead to disappointment or disaster, the newspapers never tire of promoting miracle cures, miracle crops, miracle fuels and miracle financial instruments. We have a limitless ability to disregard the laws of economics, biology and thermodynamics when we encounter a simple solution to complex problems. So welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the new miracle. It’s a low-carbon regime for the planet that makes the Atkins diet look healthy: woodchips with everything.
Biomass is suddenly the universal answer to our climate and energy problems. Its advocates claim that it will become the primary source of the world’s heating fuel, electricity, road transport fuel (cellulosic ethanol) and aviation fuel (biokerosene). Few people stop to wonder how the planet can accommodate these demands and still produce food and preserve wild places. Now an even crazier use of woodchips is being promoted everywhere (including in the Guardian). The great green miracle works like this: we turn the planet’s surface into charcoal.
Sorry, not charcoal. We don’t call it that any more. Now we say biochar. The idea is that wood and crop wastes are cooked to release the volatile components (which can be used as fuel), then the residue – the charcoal – is buried in the soil. According to the magical thinkers who promote it, the new miracle stops climate breakdown, replaces gas and petroleum, improves the fertility of the soil, reduces deforestation, cuts labour, creates employment, prevents respiratory disease and ensures that when you drop your toast it always lands butter side up. (I invented the last one, but give them time).