Global environmental challenges
Last year scientists at Cornell and elsewhere announced that they may have found a new weapon against climate change — in the soils of the Amazon Basin.
Amazon peoples thousands of years ago ploughed charred plants into the ground, perhaps to improve soil fertility or just as an ancient means of waste disposal.
Plants suck carbon out of the air as they grow and charring them keeps most of that stored carbon in a solid form which can be buried. What scientists found interesting was that the ancient Amazon ”biochar” soils still contained up to 70 times more carbon than the surrounding ground. And so the idea was born of how to trap carbon dioxide and stop it from reaching the atmosphere and cooking the planet. The notion of ploughing into the soil charred organic waste including food, woodchips, straw etc drew favourable reviews in the media .
Perhaps predictably, the biochar backlash swiftly followed. The anti-lobby feared that the private sector would bend biochar support to char whole forests, all in the name of stopping global warming, but really just to cash in on carbon credits or whatever other payments emerged. Among critics, British environmentalist George Montbiot wrote that “the last mass fuel cure, biochar, does not stand up.”