I’ve said all that I want to say. Yet, I notice that everyone else is the same. So here I re-iterate the themes of my book, beginning with life-cycles. Later re-iterations will include more of human behaviours in relation to energy consumption and commons of good behaviour – that is, of benign human energy and of malign – how we must evacuate the enclosures to re-settle the common.
Current modelling by IPCC and just about everyone else, propose that life cycles are carbon cycles and that life can be thought of as “sequestered” in soil.
Firstly, carbon cannot cycle – it is lifeless – only that which has energy (acceleration) and velocity, can cycle. The linear contribution of photosynthetic sunlight, is limited by the mass, acceleration and velocity of life. The linear is limited by the cyclic. We cannot define what life is, but for our purposes, we may think of it as acceleration due to life, just as we think of acceleration due to direct gravity, or to temperature difference, or to the Moon’s gravitational pull on sea water.
Of course, burnt lifeless carbon, such as coal, oil, gas and the heartwood of trees, enters and influences cycles by acceleration due to combustion. The energy is not fossil fuels, it is fire.
Secondly, we cannot think of life as “sequestered”. The biomass of soil is not a still, quiet mass. It is fluid – in mass, energy and velocity and in exchanges between them. All life is dependent on fermentation. The fermentation of soil-life cannot be separated from growth of plants and animals – nor from the gases due to fermentation, which end as atmospheric gases. They are one, whole system. “Sequester” it and kill it.
We can think of coal, oil and gas as sequestered – also the heartwood of already fallen trees. Best to leave them where they lie…
Burnt timber (usually wood-chip) emits more , or less the same as coal, while also reducing the mass and energy of photosynthetic life. It follows that burning biomass is considerably more dangerous than burning coal. Please do not burn coal. It is too late for a planned energy descent, but if we’d time, first we’d end biomass burning, then coal, then oil, then gas. We do not have time – all must be instant.
2 – Carbon Neutrality
IPCC propose that the burning of biomass from a system that is not otherwise changed (non land use change) is “carbon neutral “. That is – CO.2 emitted by fire will be replenished as “carbon” by future photosynthesis. One of the lead authors of Zero Carbon Britain supplied me (I think in 2005) with the following as justification for burning biofuels in aviation (albeit a reduced-capacity aviation).
“If biomass is burned, the chemistry is more or less reversed, and the original energy and raw material (CO.2 and water) are released. There is then no net gain or loss of CO.2, which is why biological fuels are considered to be carbon neutral.”
Just about every carbon footprint calculator and climate related institute uses the above hypothesis for its modelling. The hypothesis has never been tested – nor has it been formally peer-reviewed, though it is effectively peer-reviewed within the models it empowers. It is naked doctrine, to which all contrary thought is schism.
That no one at all, but for myself, has challenged such a plainly ridiculous hypothesis, is utterly shocking to me. Doubly shocking – patiently gathered, truly-scientific data is gathered, to be placed in that model and so is made equally ridiculous. The doctrine alone explains the wildly optimistic predictions of IPCC, ZCB2030 and just about everyone else, who calls themselves a “scientist”.
The doctrine proposes that if we burn clear-felled forest, coppice, or arable crop (non land-use change), then atmospheric balance will also remain unchanged – soil fertility (biomass/vitality) will remain unchanged – energetic biomass will remain unchanged and photosynthetic leaf and grass areas will remain unchanged. It proposes that with carbon capture and storage, we can achieve negative emissions. Those false negative emissions are a part of nearly all climatic models. Along with sumps (more later), they are what creates the fiction of net emissions, by which we can continue to burn fossil fuels, in the monk-pardoner manner, by the future dispensation of future CCS. CCS is a cargo cult in which the beaches of the present, receive the gifts of the Gods of the Future. The opposite is the case – the present creates the future.
Every farmer and gardener can quickly refute the hypothesis, which proposes that we can crop continuously with no return of biomass, or minerals to the soil, but for gas and if they are lucky, ashes. Why are we so subservient to “scientific” authority?
If we grow a crop, turn it into gas, ashes and energy, then plainly, soil mass and energy will shrink, subsequent re-growth will shrink and leaf and grass blade area presented for photosynthesis will also shrink. We can import biomass from a neighbouring cycle, only by similarly diminishing the energy, velocity and mass of that cycle. Inefficiencies of exchange will mean that the sum of the two cycles will become less than the original sum of the two. Not even an atmospheric physicist would treat his allotment so badly.
Declining fertility is not a straight line – it is parabolic – accelerating to Oklahoma, or to the pillaged soils of Rome, or to the abused arable fields of East Anglia.
The hypothesis legitimises a massive decline of Earth’s biomass, energy and photosynthetic power and the acceleration of our passage to a life-less planet.
Here are some true sumps, which we must leave untouched, to rest quietly in their strata – coal, oil and gas. They are truly sequestered. No dispensation, or foot-print indulgence can justify their combustion. We must extinguish our fires.
However, biomass, velocity and energy cannot be sequestered. Bio-Matter, energy and velocity are fluid, and exchangeable – appearing in soil life, mineralisation, plant and animal life, and atmospheric gases.
“Embedded carbon” resting in timber-framed buildings and so on, is but a small part of carbon budgeting, but nevertheless it represents a fallacy that may later extend to James Lovelock’s carbon sumps, in which large amounts of biomass are locked away from their necessary fermentation – removing, it is proposed, large amounts of CO.2 from the atmosphere.
The opposite will be the case – vital photosynthetic biomass will be removed from life-cycles. The mass and energy of those cycles will shrink, photosynthetic carbon “draw down” will shrink. Atmospheric green-house gases will increase, while life on Earth will decrease, just as lifelessness increases. A lifeless planet will become closer. Beware the physicist.
Why is the felled heartwood of a tree not to be considered as a sump? Well, that heartwood will have accumulated, perhaps over centuries and although it plays no part in the current regenerative life of soil, cambium and leaf, nevertheless it remains essential to their life – maintaining the vast structure, which enables them to thrive. If we fell the tree, we fell the lot. I do think we need timber, but we cannot add the heartwood as a carbon sump for our dispensation culture. Accidentally fallen trees can be thought of as sumps of sorts – so definitely not for burning. However their mass is far, far smaller than our cultural needs for timber – no dispensation there.
Drawing down carbon
Many organic, biodynamic, agro-ecological and regenerative farmers, claim that they can continue to “draw down” atmospheric carbon continuously, in spite of the finite capacity of their soils, limits of temperature, rainfall and so on. Many claim continuous “draw down”, by importing copious amounts of biomass from “elsewhere” so creating greater biomass, while giving not a damn about that consequently impoverished elsewhere.
Green Hubris is everywhere – awaiting its Nemesis.
The truth is that soil capacity has limits – of shear volume. The best we can hope for is balance and that balance is rarely fully-achieved, because of human fallibility, extreme weathers and difficult cultivations/harvests. All agricultural systems will end as less efficient than the natural ecosystems they have replaced. Wild claims are made for UK grasslands, but they will always hold less biomass and bio-diversity than the forests (and yes, grassy glades) which they have replaced.
Human cultures sit firmly in the Fall. Our task is to behave as well as we can, while shrinking our effects, so that Paradise (the wilds) can expand.
Even so, those wilds can provide no dispensation to neighbouring human cultures, because they too will only end in balance. They will not draw down further carbon beyond that balance for the assistance of badly-behaved human cultures. Human cultures must remain responsible for their own effects.
In short, we must farm and garden well and we must put out our fires, which means no aviation, no massive shipping, no family car, no jolly wood burner, no suburbia, no commuter culture, no internet… Electricity supplies will be severely limited to domestic use, with (I hope) some for rationing elsewhere. Wind, tide and hydro all have limits – direct traction for mills and manufacturies, may well prove more efficient than turbine to electricity to machine. The elephant in the room is domestic heat. We’ve lived tens of thousands of years by the comfort and culture of fire and of the hearth – the heart of our story-telling. Passive housing will be necessary in the future, but is no help to the present. Solar voltaic? – I really don’t know.
Will we get there and avoid our own extinction? Reason says no. My heart – focused on Utopia, says yes.
The thing is, no government, institution or corporation can possibly achieve it. Only I can. Only you can. Cultures are made up, not of nouns – government, corporation and so on. They are made up of verbs – by what each citizen does. Nouns change nothing. Verbs can change everything.