Sunday, February 23, 2020

Can An Ocean Get the Blues?

"The decision by many nations and cities to push for carbon neutrality by 2050 or earlier will bring opportunities to realign financial institutions to a new economic paradigm."
We are more reliant on the ocean than ever before, we’re realizing that it’s vast but not limitless, and there is a full schedule of international conferences and negotiations in 2020 that have the potential to reshape our relationship with the ocean.
— Robert Blasiak, Our Future on Earth

This past week I sent my latest manuscript to the publisher and shifted my attention toward an upcoming trip to Belize, where I will teach a permaculture course at the Maya Mountain Research Farm and then continue the design process for our Cool Lab prototype biorefinery and microenterprise hub.

In December, when I was in Madrid for the UN climate conference, I was struck by how much attention has been going into the so-called Blue Economy, variously called Blue Finance, Blue Bonds, Blue Charter, Blue Revolution, Blue Carbon, etc. I had seen this transforming the RDRCC (Regenerative Design to Reverse Climate Change) initiative begun by the Commonwealth a few years ago. That made sense since the Commonwealth was 53 countries bound together by their coastlines. But in just a couple of years, somehow the concept has gone viral. Now big Blue is all the rage.

The Stockholm Resilience Centre has made more sense of it with two recent reports, The Blue Acceleration in January and Our Future on Earth in February. Scanning some of the headlines the authors gathered in an appendix to the January report, you get a better feel for what is happening:

“Diamond mining companies setting sights on the sea as land dries up in Africa.” — The Telegraph (2016)
“Marine algae could help feed the world.” — World Economic Forum (2017)
“Humanity’s health may rely on what sits on the Arctic seabed.” — BBC (2016)
“Could seawater solve the freshwater crisis?” — National Geographic (2011)
“The future of tourism is a $20 million hotel that takes guests 30 feet underwater.” — Business Insider (2015)

As The Blue Acceleration authors explain,
[E]xpectations for the ocean as an engine of human development are increasing. Claiming marine resources and space is not new to humanity, but the extent, intensity, and diversity of today’s aspirations are unprecedented.
The problem I posed in my new book is, who speaks for the whales?

We have so overfished the “stocks” of all the principal food fish that today we are starting to gather and convert krill from Arctic waters into “superfood” supplements and fish sticks. We are feeding those to farmed fish (now equal to wild catch globally) or to our pets. The problem is, krill are near the bottom of the marine food pyramid. They are primary producers, converting sunlight and surface minerals into food for everything else, up to and including blue whales. The enormous die-off of 100 million cod and many other fisheries that happened when marine heatwaves parched krill in recent years is an indication of what can go wrong when you cut this vital food supply. The marine heatwave now active in the Southern Ocean around Australia may be as devastating to ocean biodiversity as the summer bushfires have been on land.

And yet, the pressure to exploit the “resource” is building much faster than our ability to understand its impact.

For most of the months I was writing, I was leaning heavily on the usually advertised solutions involving marine protected areas, better regulations, voluntary environmental stewardship, and so forth. Towards the end of my time with the project I became increasingly disenchanted with these strategies, which hadn’t been working before, so why should we put confidence in them now?

Instead, I turned to something I had been studying from the world of negative emissions technologies in the context of my Belize Cool Lab and biochar. That something was cryptocurrency.

In July 2015, the UN Research Institute for Social Development published a working paper called “Re-imagining Money to Broaden the Future of Development Finance: What Kenyan Community Currencies Reveal is Possible for Financing Development. “The paper focused on the case of Bangla-Pesa, an alternative currency used in poor urban areas in Kenya, and showed how currency innovation can work for poor people. In 2015 crypto was relatively new — BitCoin was trading at $300 (today it is $9600, down from a 2017 peak of nearly $20,000)— but in broad stroke, the “Re-imagining Money” paper had it right. Crypto is not tulip mania in digital form or a new flavor-of-the-week for gold bugs. It could be about integrating neglected externalities in neoclassical economics so that currencies aid social and ecological goals rather than take away from them, or simply ignore them. The authors wrote:
“It is in the context of historical and evolving confusion that we offer the Value- Sequence Typology of money, which is at present purely descriptive. However, we believe that in time, as the field of currency innovation expands dramatically, it could be used to predict the longer-term sustainability of currency valuations, due to analysis of whether the issuers, regulators, and users of currencies are clear about the relationship of a type of money to actual value. It may help reveal fundamental fallacies in the design, understanding and regulation of currencies that could cause volatility. In addition, it may also be able to predict the societal impact of currencies, with well-governed credit monies and Acknowledgement Monies enabling more social progress than commodity monies.”
Since the digital age first reached central banks in the last quarter of the 20th century, paper and coin money have taken a back seat to electronically-stored and instantly transmitted strings of ones and zeros that make up the modern global economy. Each day quadrillions of dollars, euros, rubles, pesos, and yen are exchanged by keystroke. This revolution has now evolved into blockchains of digital ledgers that offer verifiability and chain-of-custody records, and one even more significant advantage. They offer the prospect that we may be able to de-externalize costs that harm society and the natural world.

When we cut down a tree to make paper or furniture, our ancient system of accounting counts that timber as an asset. As value is added through labor and technology, the wood appreciates and is assigned a higher value. We do not subtract from that value the work the tree had been doing that is now lost. We do not account for its role in moderating climate, freshening the air, or fostering biodiversity. But we could. The shift to distributed ledgers and the acceleration of computing power makes that kind of revaluation possible. It is already happening with experimental exchanges like Nori and Puro that calculate how carbon-sequestration value changes as a product or service is exchanged, ages, or recycles its components. Activity that benefits the climate conveys a higher value, while activity that reduces our security or damages the environment drops the value of the commodity.
Ocean Claims: from Our Future on Earth

The decision by many nations and cities to push for carbon neutrality by 2050 or earlier will bring opportunities to realign financial institutions to this new economic paradigm, where social and environmental costs are no longer externalized but are reflected in the price of anything exchanged. There will be opportunities for new jobs and better living conditions as a result.

One example of this approach is how we are planning to capitalize our Cool Lab build-out with a vessel called Noah ReGen that first emerged from the discussions at the Commonwealth. A Bleen Bond is the contraction of Blue and Green bond, used for ocean impact investment. The principal goal of the investment is ocean ecosystem regeneration. As most of the marine litter and pollution originates from the land, Noah ReGen is planning to issue Bleen Bonds to fund the cleanup and restoration of rivers, wetlands, and coastal lands. Bond funding can target sources of pollution, coastal erosion, microplastics, and acidification; can reverse coral and biodiversity losses; can then provide returns to investors from carbon credits for coastal mangroves, real estate, and biorefineries. The bonds will offer to bondholders:
  • Income security of 30-year bonds
  • 5% APR revenues: 4% in dollars; 1% in Blue Coins
  • Expected appreciation of bond value @ 7% APR based upon carbon exchange trading.
The Blue Coins appreciate or depreciate based upon continuing audits of their carbon sequestration, social goals, or regeneration of ecosystems. Jeff Bezos’ $10 billion pledge to tackle climate change could launch all this in a single stroke.

To avoid extinction requires us to de-externalize the true costs of things. Our exponentially accelerating computing power and these new distributed ledgers can now provide that opportunity.

You encourage me to do more and then tell you about it. Help me get my blog posted every week. All Patreon donations and Blogger subscriptions are needed and welcomed. Those are how we make this happen. PowerUp! donors on Patreon get an autographed book off each first press run. Please help if you can.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Floating Cities, Microbubbles and the Blue Acceleration

"The human footprint is very large and there is little that has not felt its weight. "

We tend to think of the ocean as vast. Seven tenths of the planet’s surface. At its deepest, it is deeper than Mount Everest is tall. At its broadest, it crosses 13 time zones from beach to beach. Only 5 percent of the seafloor has been mapped in the level of detail of the Moon and Mars. 

Of course, we used to think that about the Great Plains in North America or Western China, but the human footprint is very large and there is little that has not felt its weight. 

Jean-Baptiste Jouffrey
I am very grateful that the Stockholm Resilience Centre, a Manhattan Project for the Climate Emergency, recruited the young French PhD candidate Jean-Baptiste Jouffray. Jouffrey specializes in the intertwined relationship between humans and marine ecosystems in the Anthropocene, with “the ambition to provide empirical novel approaches and analytical methods for understanding social-ecological system dynamics around the world.”

His research encompasses multiple scales and systems, ranging from the Hawaiian archipelago and indicators for effective coral management, to the seafood industry at a global scale and the role of transnational corporations and the financial sector.
His seminal contribution, published with co-authors at the end of January, is The Blue Acceleration: The Trajectory of Human Expansion into the Ocean. In that, Jouffrey strips away the blue veil and reveals what is really going on below the surface of the sea. His team looks at overfishing, oil and gas exploration, seabed mining, desalinated water, the aquarium trade, the genetic patent rush, cargo shipping, cruise ships and beach resorts, pipelines and cables, wind farms, marine heat waves, sea level rise, military activities, waste disposal, algal blooms, and geoengineering.

Geoengineering is where microbubbles come in. As we lose the arctic ice cover, the dark ocean will absorb much more heat. While this will be offset to some extent by increasing cloud cover at the tropics, one idea is to outfit ships with special propellers that leave frothy microbubbles in their wake, reflecting more light, and hence heat, back to space.

Floating Cities is one idea about what to do with the 12 of the world’s 15 megacities threatened by sea level rise. Rather than move back, lean in. Put coastal structures onto floating platforms.

Jouffray’s genius is to reframe this discussion as competing claims on a finite resource. To balance those claims equitably and sustainably, you need to bring all the stakeholders to the table. My only question is, who speaks for the whales?

You encourage me to do more and then tell you about it. Help me get my blog posted every week. All Patreon donations and Blogger subscriptions are needed and welcomed. Those are how we make this happen. PowerUp! donors on Patreon get an autographed book off each first press run. Please help if you can.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

The Winning Strategy

"The scale is building. Three point five percent is 260 million of us."

Turns out McKibben was right. Or at least he may have been, it is still too soon to say. For some years I have been plinking away at these keys and getting scant results. In my spare time, I design cool labs that will remove carbon from the atmosphere and ocean and, at scale, could bring back the Holocene in as little as 35 years. It is somewhat better than just pontificating, but slower.

I ran that calculation of 35 years out in a little more detail in my interview with Kosha Joubert in the GEN webinar series, Communities for the Future Online Summit, earlier this week but it was moving so fast I am not sure how many of the viewers actually got it. I was trying not to sound hopeful and failing miserably. I also had gone into that interview wanting to say something about the downside of our human tribal tropism and was immediately thrown a question about the etymological origins of ”hippy” that knocked me off that plan. I never got around to saying that hippies, like permies, or greenies, by virtue of their tribalism, risk becoming a death cult just like Republicans and Democrats. But I digress.

In McKibben’s spare time he leads a social movement based on the number 350 that used to be a climate goal, but now is sort of an arcane throwback to an earlier decade, bordering on numerology. Strategy-wise, he was less concerned with carbon dioxide removal than with ramping up street protests. Having lived through the Vietnam, antinuclear, and antiwar protest era of the past half-century, I thought that was a fool’s errand. I am here today to say I was wrong. Although, I will still question whether The End of Nature was the first book on climate change written for a mass audience — that would have been Global Warming by Stephen Schneider.

Turns out McKibben was right, albeit only by an unexpected turn of events. Protests are bringing the beast to heel, and the key battleground came not in Washington or Paris but to a lonely field in South Dakota, not very far from Wounded Knee. It was the young water keepers that killed the dinosaur.

The story of modern-day fracking centers on an old dinosaur habitat called the Permian Basin, in West Texas. Radio Ecoshock host Alex Smith asked Nick Cunningham, who publishes at, to tell him why big oil companies were simply flaring natural gas off into the air.
“When you drill for oil, gas comes up along with it,” Cunningham said, “and the Texas drillers are really after the oil…. Now they have the pipelines to move the oil to the Texas coast, which is far away, but they don’t have enough pipelines to move gas, and that causes a glut there in West Texas, and that causes prices to crash, and instead of slowing down on the oil production they are trying to drill as much as possible, in part because they are under a lot of financial pressure, so they just burn the gas into the air.

“Now, they say that they are working on the issue and it’s temporary, due to infrastructure constraints, but it’s an epidemic and an emergency in terms of the climate and local air quality. So it’s a big problem.”

Cunningham said there have been more than 200 bankruptcies in the oil and gas sector since 2015, which shows that the fracking industry is still an unproven business model. As Richard Heinberg warned in Snake Oil, back when the boom began, fracked oil and gas declines very rapidly once a well is tapped — 60 to 90% are gone within 3 years. Fracked oil gives way to fracked gas, but oil is worth money and gas is not. Steep decline rates mean you must keep drilling, which means you must raise more money. The fracking boom is built on Ponzi’d debt. Share prices are now collapsing, banks are cutting the spigot, and bankruptcies are cascading. 1.9 million new oil and gas wells will need to be drilled to replace those that are drying up. $13 trillion will need to be spent to drill all those wells but lenders are drying up. Prices for gas are too low to produce profits, and oil prices are down too because there is too much of it that can’t move out of fields in Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Oklahoma, so share prices are falling, lenders are not interested and companies are going bankrupt.

In Canada, oil prices have dropped to as much as $40 per barrel below prices in the United States. Why is that? Well, among other things, it is because they have no way to get it to market. They took so long to build the pipelines like Keystone XL and Transmountain because indigenous climate protests, although eventually thwarted by President Cobblepot, succeeded in slowing everything down and sending wrecking balls through crucial financial timelines. 

The classic study on protest is by Maria Stephan and Erica Chenoweth, “Why civil resistance works: The strategic logic of nonviolent conflict.” (International Security 33, no. 1 (2008): 7–44.) Stephan and Chenoweth found that despite being twice as successful as violent conflicts, peaceful resistance still failed 47% of the time to accomplish its goals. Looking at 323 violent and nonviolent civil resistance and social movements from 1900 to 2006, the researchers learned that although the exact dynamics will depend on many factors, around 3.5% of a nation’s population actively participating in the protests is enough to ensure lasting political change. For a nation like the US, that would be 11 million people.

Scale is one prerequisite. The other stepping stones to success are presenting a clear and unambiguous request; addressing the person or institution empowered to meet that request; and putting leverage on that person or institution in an ethically unassailable way. If you can do these last three strategies with a small number of people, you may reach the needed scale for unstoppable change.

The M.L. King Center has six more precepts to consider: 
  1. Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.
  2. Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding.
  3. Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice, not people.
  4. Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform.
  5. Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.
  6. Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice.
Did the Standing Rock water protectors know when they camped in the snow that they would so increase the cost of oil production that they would bankrupt hundreds of companies? No. In the end, they were forcibly evicted and the pipeline laid under their rivers and lake and over their sacred sites.
That didn’t matter. They chose the right place at the right time and chose love not hate. Their message was conveyed to the world. Their protest is not over.

Greta Thunberg, the 17-year-old leader of School Strike in Sweden and around the world, is following these same steps when she speaks truth to power. She has set the example of a courageous way of life. Her request is clear and unambiguous. In Davos, Washington, London, and Geneva she is addressing the persons and institutions empowered to meet that request and they are starting to respond. Her leverage is her charisma. The scale is building. Three point five percent is 260 million of us. Every Friday.

You encourage me to do more and then tell you about it. Help me get my blog posted every week. All Patreon donations and Blogger subscriptions are needed and welcomed. Those are how we make this happen. PowerUp! donors on Patreon get an autographed book off each first press run. Please help if you can.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Blizzards of the Deep - Part 2

"This is the second of a two-part look at the changes happening to our world that are far out of sight and far out of mind for most of us. In the first part, we journeyed to the bottom of the ocean, with no sunlight, temperature close to freezing, and enough pressure to crush a golf ball. There we met flashlight fish, with bean-shaped pouches below their eyes filled with bioluminescent bacteria, giant squid with eyes the size of soccer balls, and uniquely adapted jellyfish, octopuses, starfish, and sea urchins."


Red Tides

There are sometimes conditions at sea that favor the growth of algal soup — calm seas, sunlight, sediments — such that the population of algae explodes to millions per liter of water. It grows so dense that it is dangerous to many fish, clogging their gills and mouths. When the type of algae is red, it can produce what is called a “red tide” — and hundreds of tons of floating fish carcasses. As the bloom exhausts its food and dies, the algal cells sink to the bottom, smothering anything living on the seabed. 

Overactive algae also tend to concentrate bacteria up the food chain as they are consumed by shellfish, crabs, and baby turtles. Mussels can easily eat over 50 million cells per hour, storing and concentrating the bacteria. Outbreaks of permanent paralysis and other diseases in coastal cities have been traced to this shellfish toxin.

As a dilute soup, the algae are life-givers, but as a red tide they are deadly. A combination of warming oceans, sewage and soils from rivers, discarded by-catch and dying fish is providing optimal conditions to make such tides more frequent.

Bottom Trawls

A bottom trawl is designed to run close to the seabed. Sometimes it is weighted and just drags and other times it may use rollers or wheels to move along the sea floor. It goes after fish that linger near the bottom like plaice, sole, grouper, and flounder, but will also catch non-commercial fish — by-catch — such as manta rays and moray eels without specifically targeting them. In The Ocean of Life, marine biologist Callum Roberts describes being aboard a Costa Rican long-liner at Playa del Coco as it went in search of mahi-mahi (dolphin fish or dorado) for the North American market:
The collateral damage from the capture of just 211 mahi-mahi, which took fifty-four longlines with forty-three thousand hooks, was atrocious: 468 olive ridley turtles, 20 green turtles, 408 pelagic stingrays, 47 devil rays (close relatives of the manta), 413 silky sharks, 24 thresher sharks, 13 smooth hammerhead sharks, 6 crocodile sharks, 4 oceanic whitetip sharks, 68 Pacific sailfish, 34 striped marlin, 32 yellowfin tuna, 22 blue marlin, 11 wahoo, 8 swordfish, and 4 ocean sunfish. To capture enough mahi-mahi to provide one lunch for five average-sized office blocks caused carnage in Costa Rican seas.
Next time you sink your teeth into a delicious mahi-mahi sandwich, spare a thought for the ghosts of all those others slaughtered to catch that fish. The ocean’s big animals need protection beyond the limits of protected areas. Otherwise it won’t be many years before this Costa Rican fishery and others like it close shop as there will be nothing left to take.
In many beam trawls there are “tickler chains” set ahead of the net mouth to scare up fish that hug the bottom. Moving along at the speed of the trawling boat, foot-ropes and chains slice off or bruise sea fans, corals and sponges and chop down whole meadows of seagrass and forests of kelp in search of their prey. Sometimes they catch large boulders and roll them across the reefs, breaking apart huge coral chunks. 

Trawlers churn up organic matter and minerals on the bottom, leaving a dense plume, some of which will surface to feed plankton blooms but more will bury bottom feeders under a muddy rain. A small trawler fitted with two twenty-five-foot-wide nets and a chain that cuts an inch into the seabed can raise approximately two thousand tons of sediment per hour of trawling, of which over two hundred tons will remain in suspension for days.

Six million square miles of ocean is being fished this way every year. Some of the same areas of reefs are fished five or more times every day. Callum Roberts says that is more than 15,000 square miles of dead, damaged and dying bottom life every day, an area the size of Europe or America every year.
A global moratorium on deep-sea bottom trawling was proposed to the UN General Assembly in 2006. Roberts says the measure “came within a whisker of being passed but was vetoed at the last minute by the Icelandic delegation. A nation of three hundred thousand people stymied the introduction of protection critical to the survival of deep sea life.”

Seabed Teslas

Something similar is happening now with regard to deep seabed mining. The debate over whether deep sea mining has a place in an environmentally and socially sustainable “blue” economy is stymieing ocean regulation.

Proponents argue that we will need resources from the ocean to transition to a low-carbon economy. To meet the Paris Agreement to limit global warming, metal demand for electric-vehicle batteries will have to increase more than tenfold by 2050. Opponents fear it will devastate the last untouched wilderness on the planet.

Potato-sized polymetallic nodules, which contain nickel, cobalt, copper and manganese, lie on the seabed at depths of 4–6 km (2.5–3.7 miles) in an area of the Pacific called the Clarion-Clipperton Zone. These ores are in demand for batteries and wiring in electric vehicles. A dozen countries, including China, India, Japan, Russia and the UK, have granted exploration contracts regulated by the International Seabed Authority (ISA).

These countries plan to send deep diving drone miners the size of a combine harvester trawling the seabeds to remove the top layer of sediment, pump it through a pipeline to a ship, which then separates the nodules and discharges the sediment into the ocean.

A major concern is that the sediment plume could carry for great distances, suffocating marine life. Another concern is that algal blooms at the surface could be fed by the mineral-rich discharges. Still another is that the quantity and diversity of biological species in the deep sea is far higher than previously thought and entire ecosystems could be destroyed by mining activities before many species are even named.

Michael Lodge, secretary-general of the ISA, which should be the agency protecting the ocean, says: “If you said that no industry can start until we know what is going to happen from that industry, then that’s an entirely circular argument that would prevent any industry in the history of humanity from starting.”

“We have a good idea of what the impacts will be,” Lodge says. “They are by no means as catastrophic as environmental groups would have us believe; they are predictable and manageable.” The industry argues that biodiversity losses from surface mining are likely to be much worse, given the greater abundance of wildlife in many areas.

With global recycling rates for electronic waste at only around 20%, a large amount of valuable metals that could go into electric cars and wind generators is being wasted. The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition says we should be talking about refusing, reusing and recycling rather than opening up a whole new frontier of environmental degradation to feed a throwaway culture.
The industry agrees that recycling should be maximized, but says this will not supply the huge additional volume of metal needed to manufacture a billion new electric vehicles. “You can’t recycle what you don’t have,” a spokesman says. “What we first of all need to do is to have a massive injection of new battery materials put into the system.”

Which would we rather — more electric cars or more octopuses? What do we do when reversing climate change conflicts with preserving biodiversity? When we speak of sustainability, what is it we are trying to sustain? Our ability to supply fish oils to cats and cattle? A seafood-consuming human population of 8 billion and counting? Or might we rather, at the end of it all, have the web of life that provides the air we breathe and balances the temperature of our planet to within the range we require to survive?

Clean Coal

When we hear politicians from coaling nations like the USA, Poland, Australia and Canada calling for “clean coal,” the technology they are generally referring to is a geoengineering scheme, often debunked in these pages, called Carbon Capture and Storage, or CCS. In its purest form, which litters the landscape with billion-dollar federal boondoggles initiated by every hapless and misguided president from Jimmy Carter to Barack Obama. CCS most often means putting CO2 scrubbers on coal stacks, liquifying the gas, and pumping it somewhere… away. Because the capture process is technically challenging, and therefore expensive, massive taxpayer subsidies are the only way that polluters could ever be made, and indeed delighted, to use CCS, but the bigger problem is that back end of the process.

I have attended many lectures by university, government, and corporate researchers who study and promote CCS, and none of them has a good answer when it comes to disposal of liquified carbon dioxide. Some say it can be sold to enhance growth in large-scale greenhouses or as an ingredient in carbonated beverages. I call that “catch and release,” kind of like digging a deep hole and then filling it again.

Some say there are plenty of abandoned oil wells and coal shafts — we can just dump the liquid CO2 back from whence it came, but there are two problems with that approach. First, these repositories are not in the same places the powerplants and factories are, so the refrigerated CO2 would have to travel long distances in expensive pipelines, and second, the entire system — stack scrubbers, pipelines, and burial shafts — leaks. Estimates for just the repository leakage is 10% per year, or 100% in ten years. Catch and release. 

 Lately the darling of the CCS crowd is a wacky notion of deep ocean disposal. Since most of the world’s population resides within 200 miles of the coast, why not send liquid, or even gaseous, CO2 out to a pumping station that would inject it a mile deep. Once it crossed through twilight and entered the Midnight Zone, it would freeze and sink, so the theory goes, and rise to trouble the atmosphere nevermore. Offshore Ocean Mechanical Thermal Energy Conversion (OMTEC) platforms could be where the CO2 gets pumped down, using the same pipes that convey warm surface waters to the deep.

Except, instead of burying bottom dwellers now in trawler mudstorms, we would be smothering them in a continuously enlarging blanket of CO2, and as that is transformed by seawater to carbonic acid, it would dissolve the shells of crustaceans, disintegrate corals, and make the ocean floor too toxic for even a Moray Eel. 

These disposal schemes also plague the plan for a massive roll-out of BECCS (Bio-Energy Carbon Capture and Storage) that would run biomass power plants much the same way you run a coal or diesel plant — fuel in one end and pollution out the other. All current BECCS schemes are planning to pump CO2 to either deep land or deep ocean “repositories.” Those of us in the biochar world — environmental scientists, waste disposal experts, permaculturists and the like — prefer evolving BECCS terminology into slightly more apt, if even less elegant, using acronyms (and technologies) like WBEBCS (Waste Biomass Energy to Biochar Capture and Storage) or PyCCS (Pyrolysis Carbon Capture and Storage — which might include non-recyclable plastics). PyCCS, coined by the Ithaka Institut for Carbon Intelligence in Switzerland, is starting to gain traction in the scientific literature.
The advantage of biochar, apart from its use as a superior fertilizer, concrete and asphalt additive, and building block for bioplastics, biochemicals, and the circular economy, is that it doesn’t have all the disposal problems of CO2. Even if you just dumped it in the ocean, which would be like dumping gold or diamonds, all you would get would be more coral reefs.

Plastic Storms

There are now microplastics found in one-third of fish caught and examined. When a 2015 expedition to the Mariana Trench took samples of crustaceans on the ocean floor to analyze, they discovered that even those had plastic in their guts. Microplastics have been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier and affect behavior. Reports of fish stranding on beaches, their bellies filled with plastics, are becoming more common. 

In 1960 there were 15 million tons of plastic in the world. By 2020, we were adding 400 million tons per year. The plastic entering the ocean is doubling every 5 years, so by 2050, the world will add 1.2 billion tons per year, barring sudden de-industrialization. Today there is one ton of plastic for every three tons of fish. By 2050 or sooner, there will be more plastic than fish.

 And yet, each year, millions of tons of plastic are flushed into the ocean. Sea turtles will eat it as they browse the floating islands of sargassum. Seagulls, terns, herons, and penguins will pick the colorful bits off beaches and feed them to their chicks. Dolphins and salmon will eat smaller fish who browsed plastic from coral reefs. Many of these indestructible polymers are known cancer-causers but the full toxicity of all of them — and the new kinds being introduced every year — is still unknown. For sea birds, whales, and fish that fill up their stomachs with indigestible plastic debris, or sea animals that tangle in abandoned plastic nets, six-pack rings, or floating ropes and fabrics, we don’t need to know how toxic they are, because these victims will die of starvation, strangulation, and defenseless predation. 

There is something uniquely stupid about designing a throw-away item to last forever and to be deadly, generation after generation, even when it falls like fresh snow upon the water.

You encourage me to do more and then tell you about it. Help me get my blog posted every week. All Patreon donations and Blogger subscriptions are needed and welcomed. Those are how we make this happen. PowerUp! donors on Patreon get an autographed book off each first press run. Please help if you can.





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