Saturday, February 27, 2021

The Great Pause Week 49: BiCRS Without Borders

"Imagine bamboo skyscrapers and biochar sponge cities. Imagine the Spruce Goose."

About 4000 years back, a breed of upright, thinking apes, having mastered fire, then pyramids, then nature (or so they imagined), redirected their energies from their daily allowance — from firewood, wind, rain and sunlight — to their billion-year fossil sunlight trust fund, which, as small withdrawals emboldened them and grew ever larger, they raided and spent.

A forthcoming IPCC report is expected to say that BECCS can deliver 80 to 90 percent emission reductions compared to the fossil energy baseline, and that is true enough, taken in isolation. However, land use conversion and tillage lead to massive and rapid losses of soil carbon, water, and biodiversity (including soil microbes) that can lessen, and in some cases more than erase, any net GHG reductions.

But look out your window. Temperature increases, rainfall pattern changes, weather wilding, and increased frequency of extreme events all diminish biomass photosynthetic productivity. Most vulnerable are exactly the kinds of monoculture cropping patterns favored for industrial scale BECCS by the techno-utopians: bio-lab cultivars, in satellite-directed straight rows, dependent on chemical drips, tended by robots.
Holly Buck and Daniel Sanchez, portrait by Albert Bates
Fortunately for the rest of us, there are social scientists on the front lines of the policy debate who are pushing back. Two of these are Holly Buck at U.Buffalo and Daniel Sanchez at U.Cal Berkeley. Joining forces with Columbia University’s Innovation for Cool Earth Forum, now in its 7th year, they write:

Unlike BECCS, which is conceived as a capital and resource intensive industrial process with little consideration for social or biodiversity impacts, BiCRS “describes a range of processes that use plants and algae to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store that CO2 underground or in long-lived products.” Behold, the new carbon economy Kathleen Draper and I described three years ago in Burn.

Instead of imagining fake meat factories powered by wood pellets, imagine Geppetto’s workshop with mittened childrens’ faces pressed to its frosty windows hoping to see wooden puppets come to life. Imagine bamboo skyscrapers and biochar sponge cities. Imagine the Spruce Goose.

Carbon Dioxide Removal science is moving so rapidly that unless you are following every lab every week, your scorecard is likely hopelessly out of date, as were the January 2021 Greenpeace UK Briefing, Net Expectations; Bill Gates’ 2021 book, How to Avoid A Climate Disaster; the Drawdown Review 2020; and potentially will be the IPCC’s 2021 Sixth Assessment Report.

The COVID-19 pandemic has destroyed lives, livelihoods, and economies. But it has not slowed down climate change, which presents an existential threat to all life, humans included. The warnings could not be stronger: temperatures and fires are breaking records, greenhouse gas levels keep climbing, sea level is rising, and natural disasters are upsizing.


“There are the good tipping points, the tipping points in public consciousness when it comes to addressing this crisis, and I think we are very close to that.”

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