One Drop Too Many
When I was a child, i loved frogs. I was so happy the day I finally caught one! I took him home with me to keep him as a pet.
I had no place to keep him, so I made him a home in the basement of our house. There was a sink in the basement, so I filled it up with a little bit of water, put in a few big rocks, and put my frog in his new home.
The next day when I got home from school my mother was livid!
When I left the frog in the sink I did not realize the faucet had a slow, constant drip. With the sink plugged up the drips from the faucet eventually caused the sink to overflow, flooding the basement floor. And of course my new friend was long gone.
Carbon emissions puts all of us in the same boat. Like the slow drip of water filling the sink and causing it to overflow, our atmosphere is already full of carbon. Because we are already suffering the effects of climate change, the next big thing coming down the river, at all of us, is not how to slow climate change, but how to stop it.
The atmosphere and oceans are already full of CO2. They can’t take any more. If they could, we would not be experiencing the rapid climate change we experience daily.
What does this tell us?
It tells us that we can’t continue to emit CO2 into the atmosphere. Every bit more – not every gigaton more, but every gram – of carbon that we try to cram into the atmosphere is TOO MUCH.
So what can we do about it?
We obviously need to stop the drip. Not only do we need to stop the drip, we need to find ways to pull the plug and let the water drain out of the overflowing sink.
The damage we have done to our environmental balance through deforestation is huge.
“Deforestation and the destruction of forest habitat is the leading cause of extinction on the planet. … On top of that, the capacity of forests to pull greenhouse gases from the atmosphere is lost as forests are cut. Forest loss contributes about 15-20% of all annual greenhouse gas emissions.” according to Greenpeace.
Taylor Meek writes in her Sentient Media article “Upwards of 50,000 acres of forest are cleared by farmers and loggers per day worldwide. An area equivalent to over 10,000 football fields is destroyed each day in the Amazon Basin alone. This extreme clearing of land results in habitat loss, amplification of greenhouse gases, disruption of water cycles, increased soil erosion, and excessive flooding.”
Not only do we need to stop deforestation, we need to begin massive reforestation projects, like the one we have initiated here in Thailand as an Agroforestry project model.
Reforestation is only a part of the solution. We need to revitalize and bring back to life the dirt that remains after years of neglect and abuse. This can not be done with chemical fertilizers, what is needed is massive amounts of biochar, sequestering carbon and building our dirt back up to rich soil.
Farmers can use biochar to make highly effective fertilizer to increase their yields without purchased chemical fertilizers, saving money and protecting the environment.
Applied to fields, biochar increases soil porosity and water retention, raises pH, encourages soil life, and improves soil fertility. It also protects crops against disease, fungi, and insects
So where does biochar come from? Where can farmers get it?
The Win-Win Solution
Biochar is “super charcoal” made by heating biomass (for example, crop waste) without oxygen, in a process called pyrolysis. It has many wonderful properties, and can be used to improve soils, purify contaminated air and water, improve animal health, and even fight climate change.
Farmers across the world burn more than 330,000 gigatons of field wastes every year. The smoke they create makes up 25 percent of the world’s total of “black carbon”, the second-largest global warming source after CO2.
With simple tools and a little training, farmers can turn their crop waste into biochar.
Making biochar removes three tons CO2 from the atmosphere for every ton produced; when added to fields as a soil amendment, that carbon is permanently sequestered.
Eliminating the practice of open burning of crop residues by “pyrolyzing” them into biochar does more than remove CO2 from the atmosphere. It provides the farmers the ultimate solution to repairing and replenishing their dead soils.
We are a long way from switching to alternative energy as a means of reducing the emission of CO2 that comes from our dependence on oil and oil by-products. But we are running out of time. The Carbon Market was established to balance the amount of carbon we are releasing into our atmosphere. Basically, the way it works is a company that emits a higher level of emissions than permitted, they can buy “Carbon Credits” from a source that has reduced their carbon emissions.
While this may help balance the amount of emissions, it still does not stop the problem, remember, we need to not only stop the emissions, we need to begin to remove the carbon we have already released into the atmosphere if we want to solve the problem of climate change.
The Growing Value of Biochar
Two of the best ways to remove carbon are through reforestation and soil improvement.
Replanting our forests not only helps with reducing carbon, it helps bring back the balance needed for a healthier environment, including restoring an ecological balance that improves biodiversity, and helps with watershed issues.
Our soils can be enriched and brought back to life with biochar. The benefit of biochar goes both ways. While it improves the soils making biochar prevents more carbon from entering our atmosphere. There is a growing market for biochar Carbon Offsets that is helping to improve the biochar market.
How to sell Carbon Offsets from Biochar?
by Olivia Thierley
Carbon offsets help finance biochar projects and can be an additional income stream to biochar productions. Carbon offsets can be confusing at first so here is a short summary:
- Carbon offsets are calculated in tons of CO2 removed and/or prevented. Biochar is one way of actually removing CO2 by turning a temporary carbon sink (biomass) into a permanent one (biochar). Carbon offsets can be sold on the compliance or voluntary market. The voluntary market is larger, has more options how to certify and is open to anyone.
- There are different national and international standards to certify carbon offsets, but there is no central registry for the voluntary carbon market. You can even sell your own carbon offsets as long as you communicate it and are transparent about what exactly it is that you are selling (e.g. the carbon offsets attached to one ton of your biochar). Think about carbon offsets in the voluntary market like a product, getting it certified by a known international body increases its credibility and value. Large companies will be very careful which carbon offsets they purchase not to risk reputational damage (greenwashing…) and rely on these quality certifications.
Now how can you sell your carbon offsets?
Small-Scale; DIY – do it yourself: This is the easiest way to start. You can calculate a simplified carbon offset by determining the carbon content of your biochar and multiplying it by 3.6 (weight of carbon to weight of CO2). Make sure to be transparent about what exactly it is that you are selling! I only know about German examples… so if you know German: https://www.e4f.eu/co2-zertifikate.html. Your potential customers are most likely people you know, small companies in the region, and private individuals.
Medium-Scale; Regional/Marketplace specific standards: Getting certified with GS or VCS is expensive and has many pre-requirements that your project/production might not meet. A solution can be standards like the EBC C-Sink certificate: https://www.european-biochar.org/en/c-sink or marketplaces with their own guidelines. Having a third party verify/certify your offsets gives them additional credibility. Third-party certified carbon offsets can be sold on marketplaces which give you access to a larger customer base.
Large-Scale; International Standards: The two most known and requested carbon offset certifications are from Verra https://verra.org/ and Gold Standard https://www.goldstandard.org/. Projects must meet a set of standard requirements as set by the International Carbon Reduction and Offset Alliance (ICROA) https://www.icroa.org/The-ICROA-Code-of-Best-Practice.
As well as additional requirements based on the methodology the project falls under (for every case of how carbon offsets can be created there is a methodology defining how these must be calculated and monitored). So far there is no methodology for biochar published… BUT Verra has a methodology under development and will publish it this summer. So you got the chance to be a first mover!
About the Author
Olivia Thierley is a member of ClimatePartner, an organization that works on Carbon Offset & Green Energy Services
She says “I am happy to help anyone who has questions You can email me if you are seriously considering an international certification, and want to know more about the regulations, requirements, and potential support in the process.
You can also email me if you are running a biochar project in Germany that is not self-financing.“
Why Small Farm Holders Are Important Players
by Dr. D. Michael Shafer
In 2019, small hold farmers grew almost a billion tonnes of corn – and 4.5 billion tonnes of waste. If 20% of their crop was sweet corn for people, they were likely left with 3.6 billion tonnes of waste from the hog corn they raised. Estimates suggest that half of this, 1.8 billion tonnes, is burned – annually.
When burned, 1.8 billion tonnes of corn waste create big climate change and public health problems. Spread across the developing world, these fires generate 2.9 million tonnes of CO2 and 11 million tonnes of PM 2.5. Remember: this is just corn, not rice, sugar, wheat, etc.
Why do small farmers burn the waste? They may not understand about climate change, but they must understand that they are killing themselves, and their neighbors, with the smoke.
The simple answer is best. Approximately half of them have no alternative. Their laborers were paid only to pick the corn, not clear the fields. The fields are steep and rocky. The work is hard. They have no oxen or buffalo. It is the hot season. They are malnourished. All the healthy adults have left in search of dry season work elsewhere. Besides, what would they do with the stalk if they did cut it?
So they go to the bottom of the field and light a match. Whoof and it is all gone – the waste and the weeds – leaving a field of dirt clear and ready for planting. Tell the farmer that it is bad for the planet, environment, soil, whatever and they will ask, “Got a better idea?”
There is a better way: biochar. If they could be told: “If you do not burn your waste, but convert it into biochar, we will pay you for the biochar.” The farmers would make biochar. (My organization, Warm Heart, has demonstrated this in the field for years.)
There are billions of dollars available to anyone who can “certifiably” demonstrate that they have reduced carbon emissions and there is a growing pot of money for those who can “certifiably” show that they have removed carbon and placed it in a “sink.”
The problem, of course, comes with “certification” and the background verification process, which for those who hand out the billion means certification and verification according to an approved Western standard. In other words, the small farmers are barred from accessing the funds.
Lack of access to the billions of dollars in carbon emission reduction and c-sink funds is critical. The technology required to make biochar may not be complex, but the work required is not trivial. Why should a poor farmer waste time making biochar instead of simply striking a match to a dry field of waste?
This is what the incentive is for. The incentive gives a poor farmer reason to make biochar instead of burning, thus producing many of the other benefits we all so want.
Small farmers will have a market that rewards them for not burning. They will make more money and improve the quality of their own lives.
The reduction in burning will help to slow climate change by reducing GHG emissions and removing carbon. It will also reduce infant mortality in their communities, premature deaths among adults and morbidity across the entire population by lowering particulate levels.
When they convert this crop waste to biochar, they will remove a billion tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere – every year. To the extent that we believe that atmospheric CO2 causes climate change, then this should make us happy.
About the Author
Dr. Shafer is co-founder of Warm Heart Worldwide. He began the biochar project 6 years ago working with local farmers. He is working on a certification program that will allow small farmers to participate in a Carbon Exchange program
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