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Esteemed Advisor

The unknown carbon problem

Just read an interesting article on SF about the Indigo Ag "TerraTon" initiative. CEO David Perry says:

“Prior to land being cultivated for crops, over 3.6 billion acres, soils on average contained 3% carbon. Now, that average is 1%,” says Perry. “If we took every cultivated acre on Earth and increased the carbon (content) from 1% to 3%, that also is 1 trillion tons of carbon dioxide. The size of the potential solution is equivalent to the size of the problem.”

So what he's saying is that burning oil and gas and coal have nothing to do with the CO2 in the atmosphere - it's all from cultivation of the earth's farmland and the lost organic matter (carbon) stored there!  If we get back to 3% organic matter we will be back to pre-industrial levels of CO2 in the atmosphere!

Of course, his math is wrong. He makes the mistake of conflating hydrocarbons with CO2, and neglecting the ongoing carbon cycle.  When you burn a hydrocarbon, you get CO2, but the "O2" part was already in the atmosphere.  So if atmospheric CO2 increases by a "terraton", you only need to burn about 27% of that amount of carbon. (carbon weighs 12 and each oxygen weighs 16).

Next is the carbon cycle, where animals "burn" carbon in their cells to make energy and exhale CO2, while plants absorb energy from the sun and combine CO2 and H2O and other trace elements to make carbohydrates and cellulose, and seeds.  When a plant dies, the above ground part usually decays back to CO2 and H2O, but, if undisturbed, the roots become part of the soil organic matter. When large quantities of plant matter get buried deeply over eons, they can become hydrocarbon deposits, which man has learned to extract to utilize the stored solar energy therein.

So there is a grand balance - carbon going between plants and animals, getting sequestered, and coming out of sequestration. More unsequestered carbon means more life, and maybe a different equilibrium point in the overall climate, but not dramatically different. Who is man to say that just before the start of the industrial revolution was the only "perfect" equilibrium point in the entire history of the planet?  

4 Replies
Frequent Contributor

Re: The unknown carbon problem

But the part I liked about it was the $30-$60 per acre he wanted to pay us to plant cover crops and go to no till.  Sign me up when can I expect them to start sending me the checks? 

I don't think they own a calculator. They were talking all of the cultivated land in the world. If you take that times someplace between $30-$60 per acre you are going to come up with a really big number.  A couple billion acres times $60 is like 120 billion per year and it would take someplace in the 10 to 20 years range to increase soil carbon content 2%. Looks like a two trillion dollar pipe dream to me. 

Senior Advisor

Re: Except that's not the problem

"Who is man to say that just before the start of the industrial revolution was the only "perfect" equilibrium point in the entire history of the planet? " 

The perfect equilibrium isn't the point.  True, we don't know if we as species (& all the rest of the species) will survive at some other atmospheric CO2 concentration but what do know is that for the past million years during which we have evolved from a primate ancestor to today's humans the CO2 concentration has never been this high and going higher.

And more to the point, what is the moral implications of us present day  humans deliberately pushing the world into an unknown CO2 regime. 

Do we have the right to inflict that on our descendants.

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Honored Advisor

Re: Except that's not the problem

Is that the suspected "hockey Stick" chart that has trouble with its assumptions????  

The one the Professor  from Penn State filed the Law suit because it was challenged and never came up with the explanation of what it is based on??


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Esteemed Advisor

Re: Except that's not the problem

Fill  the  room  (air  condition OFF )   with  100  folks  -  then  add  400  more -  and  see  what  the  temp  does  on  the  July  4th  day  -  no  rocket  science  needed ,  or  law  suit  either  -  -  -

Lake  Mead  being  another  example -   -   -  

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