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Life Arts    H3'ed 8/23/14

Resurrecting Life on Earth with Biochar

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Most of us know about reports about increased levels of species extinctions. While some people argue that these high levels of extinction reflect a natural cycle inherent in the Earth's process, this time around, the high rates of extinction appear to be due to human behavior.

In our western culture, we are primarily consumers. Our consumptive behavior is grounded in the ethos of never ending growth, and a domination ethos in which we human beings have appointed ourselves as King of the Cosmos. Yet, this self-appointed King appears to be eating himself out of house and home. As King, he does not realize the Earth runs in accord to relationship more so than hierarchy (for a full and enlightening discussion, I recommend Delores LaChapell's Sacred Land, Sacred Sex, the link is below).

Our arrogance has thus resulted in polluting the Earth and overworking the planet's resources. Yes, we are better than Nature. At least, that's according to us.

Most of us reading this article realize that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are rising due to human activity. This rise is driven by human arrogance, which serves as the ground for our ignorance and disregard for Nature's process. Within that human driven process, carbon dioxide is released from its sinks in forests, soil, and fossil fuels into the atmosphere, where it wreaks havoc on our health and the health of the planet's current systems.

Of course, there is the notion that this may be just another cycle in the Earth's history. It's just that we are the catalysts to this change. Perhaps new life will arise that can take in massive amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide? Or, perhaps a mass extinction may be the Earth's way of coming up with new life. Or, if one is of the "dead universe" theory, then it could be the Earth just becomes another rock.

That's ok too, if that's how you want it to be. Nature will continue doing what She does with or without us. Of course, we could also say "we are cells of Nature" and thus we are destroying the planet because this is what Nature does. She gives birth, maintains and destroys.

Yet, many of us have hope regarding lessening the levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide on our planet. I am one of those people"but I am open to the idea of a mass extinction that is inclusive of us human beings.

Assuming, however, that we prefer to participate in preserving life as we know it on Earth, including human life, we must face up to one of our primary diseases: Consumption. As a mirror to this consumptive behavior, we exhibit problems with obesity, and other forms of eating disorders such as anorexia. Or, we oftentimes laugh as we consider ourselves shop-a-holics. At any rate, we could just label our Western mindset's disease as "aholics". Addiction is our mode of operandi and goes along with our corporate mentality of growth without end. We simply want "More, More and then MORE!"

And, "more, more, more" is killing us alongside the ecosystems the planet has developed.

I recently posted an article about Courtney White, who wrote Grass, Soil, Hope: A Journey Through Carbon Country. White reveals that our high levels of carbon dioxide are from an ignorance of alternative ways of handling the chemical. Yes, carbon dioxide is actually good for the Earth. It's a participant in the Earth's process. White explores various agricultural means, notably including the pasturing of animals, of getting CO2 out of the air,into the huge soil sink.

A related strategy is now brought to our attention by Greg Martin who advocates for biochar. Greg envisions the harvesting of clean energy in such a way that it saves our forests, helps to reduce climate change, and can be used as a soil amendment.

In meeting this goal, Greg is enthusiastic about introducing biochar to the world. Biochar is a name for charcoal created by pyrolysis, the direct thermal decomposition of biomass in the absence of oxygen. Biochar is stable, fixed, and 'recalcitrant' carbon that can store large amounts of greenhouse gases in the ground for centuries, potentially reducing or stalling the growth in atmospheric greenhouse gas levels. Its presence in the earth can improve water quality, increase soil fertility, raise agricultural productivity, and reduce pressure on old-growth-forests.

The biochar process is illustrated below.

Biochar is nothing new. According to Greg, Pre-Columbian Amazonians are believed to have used biochar to enhance soil productivity. Today biochar is produced through modern pyrolysis processes to obtain an array of solid (biochar), liquid (bio-oil), and gas (syngas) products.

Perhaps it is well worth our adding knowledge of this new/old technology to our "kit" of ways to create a more resilient and Earth-friendly future.

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Burl Hall is a retired counselor who is living in a Senior Citizen Housing apartment. Burl has one book to his credit, titled "Sophia's Web: A Passionate Call to Heal our Wounded Nature." For more information, search the book on Amazon. (more...)
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