Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Reversing global warming in your backyard?

I believe in all the big solutions to global warming - really I do - but what gets me truly excited is finding really effective solutions that will work on a local scale. And by really effective, I mean stuff that's a lot more dramatic than switching to fluorescent light bulbs. (Even though all the bulbs in my house are indeed fluorescent.) God knows I've written enough stories touting the virtues of this and other tiny steps, because those are the stories that popular media outlets want to buy. But although in one way it's true that every tiny step makes a difference, in another way it's fundamentally dishonest. If we don't take some really major steps soon, it's not going to matter what kind of light bulbs we use.

All of which is a roundabout way of getting to the subject of biochar. And what, you may ask, is biochar? Charcoal, basically - but charcoal made in such a way that it captures, and holds, a lot of carbon. According to the International Biochar Initiative, biochar production is not just carbon-neutral, but carbon-negative; its production and use actually decrease the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

But the really neat thing about bio-char is that you can make this stuff at home - at least according to Organic Gardening. All you need is some dry organic material, a steel pot with a loose lid and a source of heat.

Now, most of us (including me) aren't going to be making backyard biochar anytime soon. (Our neighbors are antsy enough about the bees.) But there's something enormously appealing about a product that produces fuel and fertilizer, removes CO2 from the atmosphere, and can be made on an extremely small scale. In fact, a Brooklyn start-up company, re:char, is hard at work on a unit that small farmers (and community gardens?) could use to turn waste plant material into biochar to nourish the soil, and biofuel to produce electricity.

And what could be niftier than that?

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