A Free-Market Energy Blog

Gotta Love Lovelock

By Kenneth P. Green -- January 23, 2009

Despite creating the neo-pagan Gaia Hypothesis so beloved of eco-worshippers, and despite his equally unsupportable belief that global warming will be catastrophic, James Lovelock occasionally says interesting things. In this interview with New Scientist, Lovelock observes that:

Most of the “green” stuff is verging on a gigantic scam. Carbon trading, with its huge government subsidies, is just what finance and industry wanted. It’s not going to do a damn thing about climate change, but it’ll make a lot of money for a lot of people and postpone the moment of reckoning.

I couldn’t have said that better myself. Even more interesting is this idea he has for sequestering carbon:

There is one way we could save ourselves and that is through the massive burial of charcoal. It would mean farmers turning all their agricultural waste – which contains carbon that the plants have spent the summer sequestering – into non-biodegradable charcoal, and burying it in the soil. Then you can start shifting really hefty quantities of carbon out of the system and pull the CO2 down quite fast.

The biosphere pumps out 550 gigatonnes of carbon yearly; we put in only 30 gigatonnes. Ninety-nine per cent of the carbon that is fixed by plants is released back into the atmosphere within a year or so by consumers like bacteria, nematodes and worms. What we can do is cheat those consumers by getting farmers to burn their crop waste at very low oxygen levels to turn it into charcoal, which the farmer then ploughs into the field. A little CO2 is released but the bulk of it gets converted to carbon. You get a few per cent of biofuel as a by-product of the combustion process, which the farmer can sell. This scheme would need no subsidy: the farmer would make a profit

My own belief is that the sensitivity of the atmosphere to GHG heat retention is probably pretty low, on the order of say, 1 degree Centigrade for a doubling of CO2, which isn’t something that warrants strong carbon mitigation actions. But if it does turn out to be higher than that, Lovelock’s “charcoal burial” idea could, as he observes, be a very fast, and even profitable way of sequestering rather large quantities of CO2 with technology that’s on the shelf. No fancy geo-engineering required, just a bit of pyrolysis. Those of us who believe in a low GHG sensitivity are often asked “what if you’re wrong?” The answer could well be “we’ll just yank the CO2 back down with the “Lovelock Charcoal Plan.”

One Comment for “Gotta Love Lovelock”

  1. jae  

    I hope nobody is really serious about this “plan.” If so, he should go make a little charcoal and notice what it does to air quality. Even though farmers are exempt from darn near every regulation on the books, the local residents and air-quality authorities would be on them like the libs on Bush. Pyrolysis units with the required millions-of-dollars of pollution control technology that is required are extremely expensive. I guess the farmers could pool resources to form cooperative ventures, but then you’re back to the transportation costs and CO2 that have made the ethanol idea one of the dumbest things America has done.


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