It is the oldest moral of the world – we can extract crops from the soil, only by sending tribute in return. The Rule of Return is probably the only absolute law of husbandry and it can also be applied to every scientific discipline – matter and energy always remain in either form – dig a hole in the ground and a heap will appear elsewhere. We cannot claim the heap without acknowledging the hole. With regards to life – the common biomass of every species – it can shrink to nothingness – re-appearing as lifeless mass and energy. It can also join the cycle of life and death. What’s extraordinary is that it has expanded to an optimum mass and energy from a very small beginning, outside human time-scales. The Rule of Return says that it cannot exceed that optimum mass. Human cultures were fortunate to appear on Earth during the benignity of that optimum balancing. The Rule has a built-in forgiveness or dispensation – that is, the linear, non-cyclic contribution of sunlight, which provides a little additional growth to compensate for husbandry mistakes. The trouble is, (as religions tell us of the Fall) human agricultures are so destructive, that we cannot bank on that compensation. We must fail as little as possible, following as best we can, that absolute Rule of Return, while gratefully accepting the linear gift of sunlight to compensate for mistakes.
There lies the climate scientist’s folly – reliance on the dispensation – on the holy cult, not of life, but of carbon. I say holy, because it is untouched by reason. There’s much that is truly holy – but never in my book, an untested scientific hypothesis.
How do we conduct an experiment to once and for all discover the vice or virtue of burning biomass for domestic heat, or at the other extreme for large-scale electricity generation? That is, when we turn life into gas, ashes and energy, how does a diminished mass of life regenerate?
The terrible thing is that no such experiment has been recorded. Rather an untested hypothesis has been accepted as doctrine by IPCC and just about every “climate scientist”. The hypothesis proposes that given unchanged land-use practices, crops can be harvested and without any return of fertility, subsequent crops will provide the same yield – and will also unfold the same leaf area for photosynthesis. The IPCC says, (I think “believes”) that so long as we do not disrupt the soil, the linear radiance of sunlight will be photosynthesised as fast as we can burn the leaves. It goes further – if we collect and store the combustion gases, we can achieve negative emissions (BECCS) and that we can achieve a marvel – a massive source of energy, which also pulls carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
That outrageous and untested hypothesis has been assumed (by naked consensus) to be true. In short, an untested cult belief underpins the calculations of most (perhaps all?) supposedly rigorous climate scientists.
It is very strange that farmers have remained silent, since every farmer conducts the experiment to test that hypothesis, every year between one harvest and the next.
Every farmer knows the weight of her harvest and more or less what has been done to achieve it. Every farmer also knows that if she harvests a crop – that is removes its biomass – while returning nothing to the soil, that she will receive a smaller crop the following season. For the third season she’ll receive an even more depleted crop. Plotted on a graph, it is not a straight line. It is parabolic. It accelerates. Eventually she’ll achieve a desert. That desert will provide no biomass, nor will it photosynthesise. Even without the carbon dioxide released in the burning, carbon (life) in the soil will diminish season by season and atmospheric carbon dioxide will increase to a similar and accelerating degree. Plainly IPCC believe global fertility can be imported from another planet, just as in microcosm, fertiliser is imported to a biofuel field from increasingly empty Tunisian holes in the ground (phosphate), or from coal mines, or “natural” gas, or various electrical energy sources (Nitrogen).
Plainly, a field or forest, which receives only lifeless minerals in exchange for the burning of its living mass will end up short of life – that is carbon. (that is also the case for all farms which rely exclusively on artificial fertilisers – as declining soil quality shows).
I propose that biofuels alone could account for the unexpected rapidity of climate change, since it is plain to any practical allotment-holder, or farmer/grower that their greenhouse effect is greater than any fossil fuels. Yet burnt biomass from existing arable areas and from forests has no column for entry in IPCC calculations, or in the projected outcomes of national carbon budgets – It is accounted zero. With carbon capture and storage, it is accounted negative. Those negative emissions are essential to the Paris agreement.
Who most observes physical and ecological reactions to her tools? – the farmer and gardener – in this respect the scientist should sit at their feet.
Agricultural research institutes in every country of the world publish thousands of yield figures relative to inputs– why are those institutes silent, since the IPCC biomass assumption is so plainly bogus? Yield equates to both terrestrial biomass and its photosynthetic power.
It is hard enough for farming techniques to achieve a near enough balance in the growing of food – even when all food wastes and manures are returned to the soil. Civilisations have collapsed by not following the rule. Burning a crop, while returning no waste is a recipe for suicide. The waste from that energy harvest is gas and (if we are lucky) ashes.
Even though climate respects no borders, separating UK into its regions gives regional variations of personal hope. It does so because communities have particular climatic impacts. I am responsible for my community. The largest source of so-called “renewable” electrical energy generation in England is biomass – mostly timber imported from Canadian and South American forests. 75.5% of English biomass generation is from the three Drax power stations in Yorkshire. In consequence, Yorkshire may well be the most climate destructive region on Earth. UK government relies on Yorkshire to export destruction to the rest of England and to import it from Canada and South America. It also relies on Drax to meet its climate commitments!
Yet for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, biomass provides a tiny proportion and by far the largest renewable source is wind. (Scotland also has a considerable hydro contribution). It follows that we can feel a little easier using electricity if we live in Wales, Scotland and N Ireland! What’s more, if proud Yorkshire people rise up to close down those three, terrible Drax power stations, they may be hailed as the most effective climate defenders of these islands.
“Renewable” Energy Generation – England – (GWh) Wind 19,456 (35.6%), Solar PV 8466.7, Hydro 100.2, Landfill Gas 3,960.9, Sewage Gas 871.9, AD 1,311.5, Biomass & Waste 20,442.3 (37.4%) (the 15,435.5 from Drax is 28.26%) Total 54,609.6
Wales – (GWh) Wind 3,400.9 (66%), Solar PV 714, Hydro 307.5, Landfill Gas 45.8, Sewage Gas 45.8, AD 31.5, Biomass & Waste 484.2 (0.9%). Total 5,139.3
Imagining a finite energy supply coupled with the people around us who use it, gives both shape and meaning. We value and treasure our share, so that how we use energy also has meaning – and so that our lives have meaning – another step on the road to happiness.
Anything with shape and meaning can enter the commons of storytelling, because it has a moral and so possible plot lines. We can love, hate, nurture, or abuse it.
Imaging the people around me to be the population of the UK, here are the 2017 UK government statistics.
In 2016 renewable energy (including biomass) accounted for (only) 8.9% of final total UK energy consumption.
It accounted for only 24.6% of electricity generation (also including biomass).
We’ve a long, long way to go. In truth, the journey is too far, because we have not time to take it. The answer is not to seek more green supplies, but to shrink our demand to what we can have. Oil – those many millions of years of sequestered photosynthesis provided an illusion of infinity. Natural physics, to which we prodigals must return, will provide us with only the simple truth of its absolute finity.
It is finite in all the forms, sounds and scents of Earth. All of pleasure is there – even, as William Blake tells us, in spiritual infinity – in a grain of sand – in a wild flower. William would, like all his peers, be intrinsically aware of the Rule of Return. Today, peer reviews peer to endorse a convenient and indolent cult of eternal sunlight, in which Earth’s biomass, of which homo sapiens is one small part, can be eternally combusted for that one species’ perpetual delight.
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