Thursday, 24 December 2009

Not looking in the right place

As I watch entrepreneurs and businesses attempting to offer green products and services or attempting to minimize the environmental impact of their operations, I realize that something is wrong.

We are now on a timeline, a timeline that is not defined by us but by Nature. Nature is acting like a landlord that is not receiving rent payment. It is taking action to kick us out. It will do so by making our conditions of life impossible, by starving us, by contaminating us, by destroying our habitats, by making the ongoing operation of our lives impossible. And it will do so faster than we think.

Yet we remain focused on our economic system. This is wrong. We need to turn the economic system’s concept on its head and use it as a means to an end. The goal now is to insure our survival as a species because we’re worth it. So what we need to do is use our economic system to insure our survival, not to meet our needs. And the only way to do this is to use the wealth generated by the economic system as a means to finance our ability to rebuild ecosystems.

The need is simple: we have ecosystems, which we rely on to sustain life, in an advanced state of degradation. Things are worst than I thought. Methane hydrate has already begun escaping from the Ocean underneath the Arctic (1). As far as I was aware, that was not supposed to happen until we reached 6 degrees of global warming (2) and there's enough methane under the Ocean to generate an explosion equivalent to 10,000 times the world's stockpile of nuclear weapons. According to James Lovelock, the melting that occurred in the Arctic in 2007 was not predicted to occur by any climate model until 2050 (3). Methane is escaping from the thawing of the permafrost in the Arctic Circle and peat bogs worldwide are drying up and releasing significant quantities of methane in the atmosphere (4). Forest fires are on the rise and more devastating than they have ever been. (5) Combined, the degredation of all these ecosystems, and the accentuation of that degredation will cause an increase in temperatures at a faster pace than before. Both ecosystem degreadation and temperature increases are dependent variables, the occurance of one causes the occurance of the other. Thus temperatures will just keep on rising possibly causing the death of the whole Planet.

We are now in a situation where Nature has turned against us. But I do believe that we have the resources, the creative potential and manpower necessary to turn things round. The problem is that we are not looking in the right direction. We need to find a way to rebuild rather than just mitigate. I have already proposed two geo-engineering solutions in the business ideas section of the Ecochanges website (6). There are more simple solutions: biochar (7), preserving the Rainforest (8). Only it is a combination of all these solutions and a mobilization of the masses on the solutions that we need to insure our survival. So long as ecosystems do not turn against us, we do not have a sense of urgency to act. When they finally do turn against us, the heat becomes unbearable; we have massive crop failures and rising sea levels all at once, that’s checkmate. At that point in time, everyone of us will want to act but it will be too late because every ecosystem will be degrading in a perfect symphony making our efforts at reducing our emissions fruitless. The pace at which ecosystems will be sending carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere will be far faster than what we’re capable of doing ourselves. The time-bomb reservoirs of global warming gases trapped in the Oceans, the soils, forests and permafrost (9) are far greater than the ones we currently cause from the burning of gas, oil and coal.

To have a fighting chance at survival we have to turn the game around. What we need from business is not zero carbon goods and services, it’s negative carbon goods and services. What we need is not carbon capture and storage from usage of energy, it’s carbon capture and storage of what we’ve already put in the atmosphere. It has to be done through a carbon market that aims not at neutralising emissions but at making them negative several times over in a bid to outdo the damage we have already caused. There lies our only hope of redemption: a blind belief from each and everyone of us in our ability to restore.

(1) Science et Vie, 10/2009, p38
(2) Six Degrees by Mark Lynas
(3) The Vanishing Face of Gaia, James Lovelock
(4) Science et Vie, 01/2010, p24-25
(5) Science et Vie, 06/2009, p83-89
(7) More info on biochar:
(8) The best way of preserving the rainforest I’m aware of is to donate money to Cool Earth


  1. Sustainable Land Development Goes Carbon Negative

    ...Can biochar be produced to a large enough scale to make a measurable impact? The answer lies in the triple-bottom-line perspective. In other words, the only way it can happen is if it can be produced in ways that meet the needs of people, planet and profit.

    What makes biochar perhaps the most compelling solution is that it also provides significant benefits that go way beyond carbon mitigation. It allows us to more sustainably manage organic waste from municipalities, croplands, and wastewater treatment plants. In addition, it can help manage a certain amount of residues from forested lands which are largely responsible for the rapid spread of forest fires.

    Biochar and Sustainable Land Development

    Key factors in developing the social, environmental and economic potential for biochar lie not only in its carbon-sequestration abilities, but in those other valuable properties that the process brings to sustainable land development best practices.

    ...When added to soils, biochar’s impressive capacity to retain nutrients can reduce fertilizer requirements while increasing crop yields. It can also be used for commercial potting soils. Research is now confirming benefits that include:

    - reduced leaching of nitrogen into ground water;
    - possible reduced emissions of nitrous oxide;
    - increased nutrient retention capacity;
    - moderating of soil acidity;
    - increased water retention; and
    - increased number of beneficial soil microbes.

    ...The total benefits that potentially flow from biochar production and use include waste reduction, energy co-production, improved soil fertility and structure, and carbon emissions mitigation. Not all of these benefits are well accounted for under current economic systems, but under the carbon-constrained economy most are projecting for the near future, the carbon emission mitigation benefit is likely to be accounted for as an economic benefit.

    Profitability of biochar systems will be especially sensitive to the cost and quality of the biomass feedstock that goes into the system, as well as to prices for energy and the carbon capping and trading markets. Farming and gardening systems stand to profit from the soil and water quality benefits biochar provides. Forested and agricultural land provides ready supply of the needed biomass feedstock. And as waste management systems and regulations “catch up” to this opportunity, therein lies another ­virtually unending supply of needed ­biomass.

    ...The land development industry is uniquely positioned to utilize SLDI best management practices to take advantage of emerging ancient and new biochar technologies to help address a multitude of pressing environmental, social and economic concerns by balancing the needs of people, planet and profit – for today and future generations.

    Sustainable Land Development International