The concept behind biochar is a bit complicated but very interesting. Based on an ancient Amazonian practice of burying carbon in the soil, the industry plans to sequester vast quantities of carbon in the soil and sell the latent emissions as credits on the worldwide carbon market. The theory is that if terra preta (charcoal enriched soil) is created on a global scale as much as 6 billion tons of CO2 would be prevented from entering the atmosphere every year. Although this is only about half of the 8 to 10 billion tons of carbon emitted yearly by human activity it is still substantial enough to be investigated. In fact, scientists around the world are saying that burying biochar would not only slow the rate of global warming it would also enhance the soil and make a side dish of sustainable biofuels as well.

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Now, here’s the thing. I’ve always wondered if the solutions to all these problems might be simple. After all, that’s the way it works in my own life; I spend endless hours and energy running through mazes and jumping through hoops only to discover that the solution was down a straight and simple path. Perhaps this is what we are doing to ourselves in the matter of planetary warming. Perhaps there is a lot of money in making it complicated. And be it not me who would deny people work and income. Yet, I can’t help but think about something I heard.

The sad part about our abilities to move ahead on this problem is the global economic crisis, which has taken precedence. The cost of proposed green initiatives is becoming a huge factor as world governments consider drafting environmental policies. This shift in priorities was evident in the last round of U.N. climate talks in Poland. After a full two weeks of negotiation, it looked as if participants were no closer to consensus on the terms of the treaty that will replace the expiring Kyoto Protocol. The current treaty, created in 1992, requires most developed nations to reduce their carbon emissions. But, currently, overall cost is one of the main reasons for this persistent stalemate on emissions caps.

But there was one interesting solution presented. The IPCC (The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) issued a report that notes that if governments worked to exploit the natural capacity of forests to absorb carbon dioxide and deliberately aimed to increase the carbon sink that forests create, as much as 40 to 50% of human carbon emissions could be offset. I think this is fantastic and should be done like now. Please refer to my previous post on carbon sinks. Still, to my mind, the even more astounding fact is that this extraordinary possibility has been largely ignored.

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In his New Year’s message to Koreans, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged the Korean government to take a more active role in global efforts to tackle climate change. This is a big move for Korea, which had always resisted efforts to curb emissions in Korea for financial reasons. Korean industry is economically challenged on a global scale and even more so now with the onset of the global recession. But Ban encouraged Korea and stressed that this is the UN Year of Climate Change, challenging Seoul to live up to its growing status in the international community.

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Both France and Germany have called for a deal on a new EU climate agreement to be reached at a Brussels summit coming up shortly. This raises the heat on eastern European countries to come to the table. Frances’ President, Nicolas Sarkozy, spoke with the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel by phone within a day of his meeting with the leaders of nine eastern European countries. The meeting had been called to address their objections to the plan to to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The French President issued a statement to the effect, “They confirmed their shared desire to see that an agreement is reached at the European Council on the energy and climate package.” This statement voices a new hope that these smaller and still developing countries will be able to come to terms with an agreement soon. EU leaders will be holding a summit this Thursday and Friday, December 10th and 11th, in Gdansk, Poland, with the hopes of agreeing on a plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions a whopping 20% by the year 2020. They hope to set new targets for developing forms of renewable energy and switching to more efficient uses of energy.

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Talks have led to some agreements among industry sectors aimed at reducing greenhouse gases. Although this seems to be generally accepted among civilized countries, many developing countries do not trust it. So, as talks between the 160 nations who are party to the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change came to a halt in October, many heavy industries are keeping a close watch on what emission reduction schemes and agreements will emerge from the discussion.

Cooperation from steel and aluminum producers is always touch and go. Ditto for the cement sector. These industries are energy and emissions intensive and fear too zealous regulations that could put them out of business. In Europe these industries have called for exemptions to the EU’s strict emissions trading schemes. They wish to get that done before the new schemes are launched in 2013. Any large rise in the cost of emissions permits will drive factories and the jobs that go with them right out of Europe and force them to head off to areas with less stringent rules.

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Mayor Richard M. Daley has announced a plan which aims to dramatically reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases. This aggressive move is part of an effort to fight global warming and become one of the greenest cities in the nation. This he has set out as his goal.

Daley’s plan calls for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 3/4 the levels recorded in 1990 and to do this by 2020. He wants to accomplish this through more energy-efficient buildings, using clean and renewable energy sources, improving transportation and reducing industrial pollution. This is an ambitious plan but if anybody can get things done, it’s Mayor Daley.

“We can’t solve the world’s climate change problem in Chicago, but we can do our part,” Daley was quoted as saying. “We have a shared responsibility to protect our planet.” I am very happy that he sees it this way; it is important that more people do.

The Kyoto protocols for global warming call for everyone to cut emissions to 1/5 the levels reported in 1990 and do it by 2050, a generous time line that should be doable. This is Mayor Daley’s first step towards achieving that goal for the city of Chicago.

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I got this item from Science Daily online and I wanted to pass it along because of how I feel about old forests. If I can do anything, write a letter, sign a petition, post it on my blog, I feel like I should. The tearing down of the rain forests and other old growth forests throughout the world for the silly use of making paper that ends up in a landfill is a sad reality I find disturbing. And this article makes the argument for old forests viable and alive.

According to Science Daily, old growth forests are “carbon sinks”, in that they continue to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and mitigate climate change for centuries. Yes, I said centuries. And this is contrary to 40 years of “conventional wisdom”, which was largely based on findings of a single study done back in the late 1960s which has since been disproved. Did you know that old growth forests are not protected by international treaties and have been considered of no significance in the national “carbon budgets” as outlined in the Kyoto Protocol?

The world is changing around us, it’s about time we changed, too.

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