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Carbon: The Biochar Solution
Lisa Abend, TIME Magazine
... Burn almost any kind of organic material — corn husks, hazelnut shells, bamboo and, yes, even chicken manure — in an oxygen-depleted process called pyrolysis, and you generate gases and heat that can be used as energy. What remains is a solid — biochar — that sequesters carbon, keeping CO2 out of the atmosphere. In principle, at least, you create energy in a way that is not just carbon neutral, but carbon negative.
And the benefits only begin there. When added to thin and acidic soil of the kind found in much of South America and Africa, char
produces higher agricultural yields and lets farmers cut down on costly, petroleum-heavy fertilizers. Subsistence farmers seeking better soil have traditionally relied on slash-and-burn agriculture, which generates greenhouse gases and decimates forests. If instead those farmers slow-smoldered their agricultural waste to produce charcoal — in effect, slash-and-char agriculture — they could fertilize existing plots instead of clearing more land. This in turn would reduce emissions in the atmosphere, and so on in a virtuous circle of environmental renewal.
Could it really be that simple? It appears to have been for the original inhabitants of the Amazon basin.
(4 December 2008)
Going hungry in the 21st century
Paul Myers, Sydney Morning Herald
As world leaders grapple with the global financial crisis, another equally threatening international disaster is unfolding - and begging for a co-ordinated international solution. The most acute food shortage in more than 40 years has, according to the World Bank, already left 800 million people "food insecure". Australia and other major food exporters are being called on to boost production.
Unlike recent food shortages, it is not confined to sub-Saharan Africa and is not temporary. Food supplies are declining in Africa, south Asia, Central and South America and the Caribbean. Food riots brought down the Haiti Government this year. Over the past 12 months China, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Egypt and others have temporarily banned rice exports to preserve local supply.
(6 December 2008)
Seawater holds key to future food
Julian Siddle, BBC online
Growing crops in salt water is becoming necessary to overcome shortages of fresh water, say researchers writing in the journal Science.
They suggest the domestication of wild plants that grow in salty conditions could help reduce global food shortages.
Only 1% of the Earth's water is freshwater.
(8 December 2008)
The hidden cost of our growing taste for meat
Juliette Jowit and Oliver Balch in Minga Pora, Paraguay, The Guardian
To the European eye, accustomed to square hedgerows and neatly tilled arable land, the countryside of eastern Paraguay is unexceptional, almost pretty. The rolling hills spread out to the far distance. The sky is vast, the horizon broken only by the occasional homestead, leafy copse or bulky metal silo.
But to 47-year-old Melitón Ramírez, this is no paradise. It's a wasteland. Juddering down a farm track in a muddy Jeep, he points to a
wide field by the road. It has been sown with soya and the green-leafed plants are sprouting. It looks like a huge bed of wild clover.
(7 December 2008)
Plan for tax on cow gas stinks, US farmers say
Richard Luscombe in Miami, The Guardian
American farmers are creating a stink over a proposed "cow tax" that would penalise them for owning belching and flatulent cattle and
Livestock producers say that the government's Environment Protection Agency (EPA) wants to charge them for rising levels of methane and
other polluting nitrous gases emitted by their farm animals.
(8 December 2008)