The Biochar Debate: Charcoal's Potential to Reverse Climate Change and Build Soil Fertility

Overview

The Biochar Debate is the first book to introduce both the promise and concerns surrounding biochar (fine-grained charcoal used as a soil supplement) to nonspecialists. Charcoal making is an ancient technology. Recent discoveries suggest it may have a surprising role to play in combating global warming. This is because creating and burying biochar removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Furthermore, adding biochar to soil can increase the yield of food crops and the ability of soil to retain moisture, ...

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The Biochar Debate: Charcoal's Potential to Reverse Climate Change and Build Soil Fertility

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Overview

The Biochar Debate is the first book to introduce both the promise and concerns surrounding biochar (fine-grained charcoal used as a soil supplement) to nonspecialists. Charcoal making is an ancient technology. Recent discoveries suggest it may have a surprising role to play in combating global warming. This is because creating and burying biochar removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Furthermore, adding biochar to soil can increase the yield of food crops and the ability of soil to retain moisture, reducing need for synthetic fertilizers and demands on scarce fresh-water supplies.

While explaining the excitement of biochar proponents, Bruges also gives voice to critics who argue that opening biochar production and use to global carbon-credit trading schemes could have disastrous outcomes, especially for the world's poorest people. The solution, Bruges explains, is to promote biochar through an alternative approach called the Carbon Maintenance Fee that avoids the dangers. This would establish positive incentives for businesses, farmers, and individuals to responsibly adopt biochar without threatening poor communities with displacement by foreign investors seeking to profit through seizure of cheap land.

The Biochar Debate covers the essential issues from experimental and scientific aspects of biochar in the context of global warming to fairness and efficiency in the global economy to negotiations for the future of the Kyoto Protocol.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A brilliant synthesis for everyone concerned with solutions to climate change, enhancement of our soils and the future of energy policy. An enjoyably readable introduction to the vital field of biochar. Highly recommended."--Hunter Lovins, founder and President, Natural Capitalism Solutions; cofounder, Rocky Mountain Institute; and co-author of Natural Capitalism

"Our planet is in an existential crisis. While scientists fret and economists debate, politicians dither and business leaders derail. There is a disconnect between physical reality and political reality. And yet, the physical one always trumps; did we imagine it otherwise? James Bruges has got this right. Biochar offers us a last chance to cheat death, but we'll only be given one try. Fail and our epitaph will be a hard black layer writ in the strata: Here Lies the Human Experiment, R.I.P."--Albert Bates, author of The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook and founder of Global Village Institute for Appropriate Technology

"A brilliant, readable review on the critical need to restore our degraded lands back to fertility-be it to sequester greenhouse gases naturally, support forests, improve soil moisture or increase crop yields. Bruges outlines how supporting natural terrestrial sequestration is the cost-effective, proven practice to extract carbon from the atmosphere, and that this can be augmented via the use of soil amendments such as biochar. He concludes with examples that elucidate why tying biochar-based land-management solutions to one-size-fits-all market incentives risks time, money and public health. Our students say, 'It's a 101 must read'-a strong recommendation, indeed."--Alison Burchell, Geologist, Natural Terrestrial Solutions Group

"The Biochar Debate is an intelligent and even-handed look at the potential for both improving soil and addressing global warming offered by the decentralized production and use of biochar. The potential pitfalls and unknowns are clearly acknowledged--this is not another faddish silver bullet approach, but offers some real world examples and practical ideas that anyone can use."--Grace Gershuny, author of The Soul of Soil

"The buzz of interest and activity around biochar in recent years is accelerating. In this concise but engaging book, James Bruges gets us up to speed with the ecology, economics and politics of biochar. Over three decades of speaking about and teaching permaculture, I have come across very few sustainable 'technologies' that appear to change the rules about how to work with nature. Biochar is one of those few. Could biochar be the simple solution by which we can save civilization from the twin crises of resource depletion and climate catastrophe? This sounds like an absurd claim, but not one that can be easily dismissed. James Bruges steers a course between the hope and the hype."--David Holmgren, co-originator of the Permaculture concept and author of Future Scenarios

"Biochar is a relatively new word in the green lexicon, but one you'll hear more about going forward. It isn't a silver bullet, but it may be a useful help in the climate challenge--this slim book will let you think knowledgeably about it, and start to act in your own backyard."--Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet

"It's not enough to stop burning fossil fuels. We also have to remove much of the carbon dioxide that has accumulated in the atmosphere for over a century. Biochar is one of the few tools available for that purpose. If you don't know what biochar is, this book tells you what you need to know."--Peter Barnes, author of Climate Solutions and Capitalism 3.0

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781603582551
  • Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing
  • Publication date: 2/17/2010
  • Pages: 128
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

James Bruges worked as an architect in London, Sudan, and India until 1995 when he retired in order to write about economic and environmental issues. He is the author of Sustainability and the Bristol Urban Village Initiative, The Little Earth Book, and The Big Earth Book, and was a contributor to What About China? His work has also appeared in Resurgence, The Friend, and The Ecologist. He was raised in Kashmir until the age of twelve and now lives with his wife, Marion, in Bristol, England.
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Table of Contents

1 Introduction 1

Charcoal and biochar

A visit to India

The players

2 An Overall View 10

Carbon

The atmosphere

The land

Limited resources Geo engineering

Downsides

Predictions

3 The Amazon Civilization 24

Dark soil (terra preta)

4 Biochar and Agriculture 29

Soil

Productivity

Peak oil

Peak phosphorus

Pandemics Introduction of biochar

Where, and how much? Permanence in soil

Application

5 Pilot Schemes 57

The banana grower

SCAD

Southern France Carbon Gold in Belize

Ghana

Poultry farm Cameroon

Microwave

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)

6 Science 75

Photosynthesis

Carbon dioxide

Methane

Nitrous oxide

Safe level for greenhouse gases

Biochar

Nutrient qualities

7 Carbon Credits? 94

Cap-and-trade

The global economy

Experience: Europe

Biochar

Twin solutions

CMF: the Carbon Maintenance Fee

8 Summary 109

Selected bibliography 113

Index 116

About the Author 121

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