Editorial – 1. The Best Idea I’ve Heard In A Long Time

Me at work says:

Climate change, as Tony Blair says, is “a challenge so far-reaching in its impact and irreversible in its destructive power, that it alters radically human existence”. The future gets even gloomier, as there are a range of nasty mechanisms that could lead to abrupt climate changes. We don’t yet know what the triggers for these are, but even with the most optimistic projections for the uptake of zero-emissions technologies, we may still be in danger.

So how can we do better than zero-emissions technology? Peter Read, from Massey University, organised a colloquium last week to discuss his idea of holistic greenhouse gas management, or Bio-Energy to Carbon Sequestration (BECS). It is simple to outline. Firstly, grow lots of biomass, probably trees for NZ conditions. This sucks carbon out of the atmosphere. Secondly, use the trees as fuel for electricity or feedstock for biofuels. This pays you money. Thirdly, separate out the carbon from the waste streams and store it. This storage, or sequestration, is being developed and the likely destinations for carbon are the deep ocean, underground or in minerals. We won’t need to begin sequestration until our trees are mature, so there’s a chance the technology will exist by then. Alternatively, we could burn the biomass to char and use that as a soil conditioner as was done in the Amazon in the terra preta regions.

This approach is entirely complementary to the usual approaches suggested as nations try to meet their Kyoto commitments and further targets. More renewable energy and more efficient energy use will still play a role. But BECS offers at least a technically feasible way to reduce carbon dioxide levels on a decadal time span.

Obviously, this kind of biological and technical fix will require vast land use changes and these will have vast social and environmental impacts. But then again, so will climate change, abrupt or not. We could wait for further discussion on a global level about how to solve climate change, or New Zealand could just get on with it. BECS seems an effective form of mitigation, gains us international mana and could be a sustainable use of our natural resources. Why should we wait for everyone else?

Me at home says – oh ffs! You’ll need to reforest an area the size of France and Germany, each year, for at least twenty years. Go ride a bike instead.

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