Climate Management 101 — 2. Externalities and Evaluation of Connectivity.

June 6th, 2007 <-- by Richard Rood -->

Climate Management 101 — 2. Externalities and Evaluation of Connectivity.

In the first blog of this series, I posed that addressing the climate change problem required a sustained diligence of management. In setting the foundation for that management, I maintained it was important to embrace a portfolio of approaches to the problems and the development of a portfolio of policies and practices that comprise the “solution” to the problem. There are both short-term and long-term considerations, and policies and practices that are part of the short-term may or may not be sustained in the long term.

The climate change problem does not reside in isolation. Concerns about climate change follow from easy consumption of fossil fuels. The climate change problem is tightly correlated with energy use and, therefore, economic success. Energy demand and energy policy are controversial issues independent of any concerns about climate change. Because the time scales of the energy problem are short and because the economic implications are large and tangible, it is natural for energy issues to take prominence over the climate issues. Alternatively, because many of our approaches to address the energy problem are also beneficial to the climate problem, it is easy to fall into the comfort that the climate problem will be solved as a residue of our addressing the energy problem. Energy policy and energy security sit along with climate change as major national and international issues, and solutions to the energy problem do not necessarily address the climate problem.

Another issue that resides with energy and climate change is pressure on natural resources and societal capabilities. This can be framed in terms of population pressure, social inequity, poverty, and a host of other frames. In a recent conference, Coping with Climate Change , at the University of Michigan, I was struck by the lack of discussion of population and the demand to consume. I was a child in the 1960s, and along with nuclear annihilation, the “population explosion” loomed over the dark headboard of my bed. We don’t seem to be able to talk directly about population anymore.

If you look at the primary foci of that summit, Energy, Water Quality, Public Health, and Fisheries, each offers a range of existing stresses anchored in too much demand relative to resources. Climate change is not the cause of these stresses, but climate change is likely to amplify these stresses. Climate change offers new entrée into the problems, but it is not the primary, near-term challenge that is faced by those who work in these fields. Again, this is a set of problems that sit with a relationship to climate change, but climate change is but one of several stressors. Population and demand for resources, the imperative of economic development, have a much more direct relationship with stress on natural resources and societal capabilities than climate change.

This relationship between climate change and energy, the stress on natural resources, and the stress on societal capabilities provides a major challenge to managing the climate change problem. The notion that solving the energy problem will solve the climate problem is naïve. Climate change is not the primary motivator in other stressed elements of our society; the short term overwhelms the long term. If we are to address climate change, then we need to develop specific climate policy goals and manage towards those goals. This requires strong definition of the goals specific to addressing climate change, accurate identification of related external issues, diligent attention to the interfaces between climate change and these externalities, and an integrated, adaptive, evolving set of approaches, policies, and procedures. In short, some one, some entity must have responsibility for achieving these goals.

What stops me at this point is what imaginable “organizational” structure can meet such a challenge? Is it perhaps better to think of each of these challenges, climate change, energy, population, in more of a biological model; evolving organisms that interact with each other. Searching for ideas.

(The web site for the National Summit, Coping with Climate Change , contains stream video of key presentations.)

Others in this series:

Climate Management 101 – 1
Climate Management 101 – 2
Climate Management 101 – 3
Climate Management 101 – 4

34 Responses to “Climate Management 101 — 2. Externalities and Evaluation of Connectivity.”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Thanks for your blog. I have always wondered why climate change is not thought of as a problem generated by over-consumption of natural resources and excess population, both needed for economic development. Perhaps societies need to start thinking of growing sustainably.

  2. Dan G Says:

    I don’t know about solving all of the complexities of global affairs, but I think that excess atmospheric carbon dioxide, which seems to be the main focus of the day, can eventually be handled, organizationally, through the open market.

    In the end, the fossil fuel industry will be obliged to internalize into their accounting the costs of exhausting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Of course, we will all bear those costs ultimately as they will be expressed in the retail price of just about everythng. This is perhaps as it should have been right from the start of using these fuels — had we known.

    There is talk of taxes or fees. But the determination of these is contentious and will always bear a sense of atificiality and contrivance. If instead of money, emitters were obliged to show proof of having arranged for carbon sequestration from the atmosphere, commensurate with their emissions, the valueing, collection, and dispensation of those fees, and all the surrounding bureaucracy, could be eliminated. Emitters would seek sequestration services wherever they could find them, at least on the open market where sellers would be keen to make a deal. This is not very different than today’s industrialists which seek pollution mitigation or other environmental protection services, either within their own firms or through the Yellow Pages, or through commodities brokers.

    We as societies or governments don’t now take money from polluters so that we try, somehow, to mitigate their effects. We expect polluters (cars, factories) to control their pollution, to reclaim the disturbed, mined-out land, to control the refuse into the stream, to handle the problem themselves. Of course, if a carbon emitter discovers how to scrub carbon from the exhaust, then there is no problem to solve. Carbon removal before the tip of the smokstack is difficult however, but carbon dioxide does have the fortunate ability to be removed from the atmosphere, anywhere over the planet, even distant from the emitter, with equal value. So, a carbon emitter could contract out his sequestration requirements from anywhere in the world, and this could be done completely privately, independantly, without any other attending bureaucracy except for proof or validation that the obligations have been met. No money, except between private contractors, would change hands, and the emitter would be free to find the best sequestration deal available, and perhaps most important of all, every penny of added cost would go directly into sequestration which is the mitigation of the intitial problem; i.e., reducing the amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere — the only way to deal with the problem.

  3. Richard Rood Says:

    Dan G: Thanks very much for the comment. I think that the idea of, ultimately, finding valuation for the environment, taking responsibility for the disposal of our waste, and completely integrating those costs into our consumption makes sense. (This is essentially what you suggest, correct?) The idea of a market seems strong. However, if I (a non-expert) analyze the current market approaches, then I do not see that we have all of the elements of a market. Therefore, I have been thinking about how do we develop a market. Do you have any ideas on this subject – that is, how do we get from here to there?

  4. Dan G Says:

    Yes, things are missing from a market situation. The major driver of any market is going to involve the desirability of the commodity — how much it is wanted — and a source or supplier. In our case, carbon sequestration is being saught by anyone who is emitting carbon dioxide from fossil fuels (only).

    Exhaust from wood burning wouldn’t apply since its carbon is considered to be already part of the active carbon cycle at the earth’s surface, and merely accelerating a little part of that normal cycle shouldn’t engender any concern or obligation. Also, many numbers of people rely on burning wood in subsistance living conditions, much wood is burned accidently, and some as part of normal, natural cycles. Until the advent of burning fossil fuels, the normal, natural (geological, biological) proccesses were capable of absorbing these minor fluctuations with hardly a riipple in atmospheric levels of carbon dioide. It is only with the sustained, in fact, exponentially increased use of fossil fuels that the normal carbon sequesterring proccesses have become overwhelmed to the extent that we have experienced mounting atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide.

    So, although burning or oxidizing almost anything will result in releases of carbon dioxide, there are several practical and moral/philosophical reasons why our focus should be restricted to only releases from fossil fuel-burning. So every emmitter of carbon from fossil fuel will be seeking sequestering services and this can be expressed in annual terms in total for every nation as their consumption, or actually their carbon dioxide releases, for accounting purposes (there will be much accounting). How badly they will want the services will depend on the availability of said services, their actual carbon dioxide releases, and to satisfy the requirements of an accord or agreement, to which all participating nations have agreed.

    This accord or agreement, and one will be needed, is a huge bone of contention right now — who participates and to what extent. I do believe that this basic atmospheric problem is one of science and its urgency to date is immeasurable but is of a very high priority, even imperative. Hence, I think that the basic accord should be strictly scientifically based, all other considerations being secondary. Any basic formula should be simple and transparent with tight linkages, easy enough that anyone understands (philosophical underpinnings would be helpful), and universally applicable — any exceptions or modifications due to individual economic, historic or other specific concerns should be kept well to the side, reluctantly granted, and perhaps with some formula expressing diminishing effects with time or some automatic feature to attempt to eventually rein-in full compliance (I think the term “grandfathering” might convey the sort of exceptional clause we might look for, but I”m not that familiar with its usage and accepted meanings).

    In fact, adhering to the above, such as being simple and transparent and obvious, may have much to do with achieving and maintaining global acceptance. And, if the formula in the agreement is simple enough, it should allow the insertion of trading in carbon commodities to slip into the market system without adjustment to the free market system itself. And, that number doesn’t affect the structure or functioning of the market — only that a new demand, and a new group of commodities, will appear to be traded like any other.

    Actually, not exactly like any other, in that there will be a special imperative to fulfill each nation’s obligations by the end of each period, which will tend to move things along.

    We still haven’t fully established the need or demand to buy carrbon sequestration, only the principle that emitters will want these services, but not yet how much; and that has a lot to do with the essential accord or agreement. The agreement is simple enough — that each nation be responsible for sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere according to thier own emissions from fossil fuels , multiplied by a factor or a ratio issued annually (or every trading period) by a scientific panel (perhaps a branch of the IPCC), on an annual basis. The central panel (to which I’ll just refer as the IPCC for convienience) issues a figure or number annually, to which each nation’s emissions are multiplied to arrive at their annual obligations. After all, if sequestration occurred at a strictly one-to-one basis to emissions, insufficient control would be available, and by the time a trading system such as this one would gain approval and be implemented, the desire to actually reduce atmospheric levels of of all greenhouse gases, not just to level-off, will surely emerge (some modelling would prove this, I am sure).

    This number or ratio can be raised or lowered after careful considerations by the central, scientific panel (IPCC). Probably, the fastest and most direct effects of this scheme would occur under the influence of purely scientific consideration; but it would be unrealistic to expect that many political influences would not be exerted on the IPCC members, each one threatening the efficiency and scientific aspirations of this trading proposal and our efforts to better control the atmosphere.

    The raising or lowering of this ratio would exert a profound influence on the demand for sequestration, since it would be used to multiply earch emitter’s emissions to determine their obligations. That number (the ratio) is the only needed regulation, used to create the initial demand; the only device, the only artificiality or intrusion (if you want) into an otherwise unsullied open market. But without that number, there would be no demand or reason to market carbon dioxide’s removal from the atmosphere in any way.

    Although the issuing of that number periodically (every trading period, or annually, or whatever time period is most suitable for smooth functioning of the market), and the agreement to adhere to that number, is the only regulation needed, the devil may be in the details . . . in our case . . . definitions. Just what does qualify as carbon sequestration and how that factors in to establish obligation fulfillment and trading prices.

    I’m going to stop at this point, because I need a rest. I am aware that I offer no references whatever. However, I am not dealing with hard figures and facts, but mostly with principles which would apply even with variations or perturbations in those figures. All the concepts (except for the ones that I’m introducing) and the general realm of figures I am assuming seem like common knowledge to me by now, but maybe not to others. Any request for explanation would be welcomed, but I don’t know any more about the science than what’s available in websites which specialize in global warming; and even then, my memory’s so cruddy that I forget lots. I am assuming that markets operate the way I imagine, but I’m not schooled in economics or international markets. I could be off-base anywhere — let me know if anyone thinks so.

  5. Richard Rood Says:

    Again Dan G. Thanks … you are the first that I have seen to pose the IPCC as having a role in the market. This implies a role for the United Nations. Do you know of any precedence of the UN in a market? Are there other possible participates, perhaps the World Trade Organization or the World Bank? These seem more natural to me.

  6. Dan G Says:

    Picking-up from yesterday’s spiel . . . .

    I had sort of hoped for more of a dialogue, rather than dominating this thread with an unending monologue . . . I hope that somebody’s reading . . . perhaps Richard Rood is reserving comment until I get through the juicy bits still to come; i. e., a few definitions and how this whole thing gets put together . . . .

    So far, we have all nations agreeing to follow the same plan. This sounds like an unlikely situation by today’s media conversation, but this would be required for any global effort to work. The agreement is that at the end of each period (say, annually) each nation show proof of having squestered carbon from atmospheric carbon dioxide according to their own fossil fuel emissions multiplied by the numeric factor issued at the beginning by the IPCC panel.

    How this is accomplished on a small scale depends entirely on each nation’s type of administration, tax system, etc.. For northern North Americans, that would likely mean that the distributor of the fuel would arrange for the sequestration, through private deals, or block deals through brokers in the world market, in order to satisfy the accounting to the federal government. The sequestering costs would be passed to the end user/consumer and would boost the price of gasoline, heating fuel, plastics, etc.. This increase in energy costs (due to internalizing some of the environmental costs — carbon sequestration) should allow the use and development of other energy sources and currencies to be more financially competitive.

    In order to discuss the sequestering end of it — what qualifies and how much — I will introduce a new twist to the concept of “off-sets”, and to do that I will approach the whole issue from another angle . . . .

    We constantly hear, in dismay, about the threat to global forests. It would be difficult to exagerate the role that forests, in fact all vegetation, play in maintaining global ecosystems, and they are quickly disappearing, for one reason or another, to huge detriment to that locale, and more indirectly, to the globe. We hope that owners of these forests recognize their value and protect them, but we don’t offer any compensation. Unless more protection is offered, the rate of disappearance is unlikely to change any time soon. Even the World Bank, two weeks ago in Indonesia, announced the creation of a $250M fund to devote to forest protection.

    Until now, this vegetation has all been undervalued because each piece of plant material is a temporary reservoir for carbon, which for the most part, would otherwise be in the atmosphere. Regardless of what other value can be ascribed to a tree (for its shade, for its beauty, for its fruit, for its fine wood) it has that intrinsic value as a carbon reservoir and deserves compensation.

    At the same time, we are trying to encourage the growth of new vegetation in an effort to sequester carbon dioxide away from the atmosphere. Trying to estimate the value of a tree over its lifetime, planting seedlings in hopeless growing conditions, the normal efforts I’ve heard about off-sets, are all pretty silly efforts at the unmanageable, especially if every effort is being made to increase growth at one end, but at the other end of the forest, the trees are being cut for pulpwood. No one should be throwing money at something that may never happen. Paying for a tree for anything other than what it actually does through some estimation will either underpay or overpay. The tree is only a temporary reservoir and should only be leased on a temporary basis. In other words, it should collect a rental payment, annually, for as long as it lives, for the carbon it has sequestered . When the payment (market value) reaches high enough, the owner will be encouraged to leave the tree in place, in fact to protect it, and to grow others. Cutting the tree down won’t incur any penalty — it is merely removed as a source of income to the owner.

    For the time being, part of any atmospheric carbon dioxide removal scheme is likely to involve growing and maintaining vegetation, especially since time is needed in which to develop other sequestering methods of a more permanent nature. Owners of any sizable amount of vegetation should be able to contract out their carbon retention services to some emitter. Measured in kg/years or tonne/years, even a farmer with a large crop, although it may be in the ground for only four months, should be able to collect something (albeit, not much unless it’s sugar cane).

    Having shifted the carbon budget or phase from one part of the cycle to another (carbon from atmosphere into biomass) temporarily doesn’t achieve a whole lot. It does draw some important relationships and focus attention on improving the state of vegetation (despite threats of monoculture and other unintended oddities that will surely arise), but materially is not very efficient. Any quick look at the state of the planet and its possibilities (rainfall, land competition) will quickly realize the very limited scope of resource that saving and growing trees can offer as a sequestering pool, temporary or not. It does buy a little time, however, for other sequestering methods to be developed and other energy sources and currencies. It also buys a little time while the price of sequestering establishes itself in the market.

    As the limitations of aforestation (now, with the added competition from bio-fuels) becomes quickly saturated, the price for sequestration will mount — to reflect its scarcity in the marketplace. This will spur all other activities designed to avoid having to seek and pay sequestration. Market activity and strategy should be intense.

    Oddly enough, this annual rental (or leasing) fee provides the basis for all other carbon sequestering payments, rather than the other way around. Who can answer what it is worth to permanently sequester carbon away — forever? I would suggest perhaps twenty years worth of annual payments . . . I don’t really know, but there has to be some finite figure which is a fair representation of its value. Isn’t twenty-five years a normal time for mortgage repayment? You pay for twenty-five years, payments that resemble rent, and the property is yours. If we reverse the order, which allows maintaining the relative values, you put carbon away for ever, and you’ll get the equivalent of twenty-five years rent. These relative values seem appropriate and would offer financial stimulus for development of permanent sequestering methods. The urgency of need for permanent sequestration will be reflected in the market price.

    There will be a lot of money flying around, and looking for a place to be — but in this market scheme, none would go to any process that cannot prove its weight in sequestration.

    At some point, an emitter may find a sequesterer who offers his new (permanent) method for the price of twenty years of equivalent rent — a great find because the emitter will be credited with twenty-five year’s worth at the cost of twenty. In this way, a transition to more permanent sequestration can be made, although aforestation will always hold its value (unless permanent sequestration gets rediculously cheap).

    Still . . . the juicy bits — how to cost all of this and how to draw it all together into a meaningful picture.

    Because I didn’t know how else to approach this, I found at the time that there were approximately 827 Giga tonnes of carbon in the global, terrestrial vegetation pool, and 5GT of carbon emmissions (an added 1GT from deforestation totalling 6). Just on a theoretical or philosophical basis, if one imagines that the emissions will pay to help support all of the vegetation (we want to save it all), we find a ratio of 165:1. In this sense, each unit or kg of carbon emission would offer enough payment to attract a guarantee (contract-out) that enough vegetation to contain 165 kgC will be maintained for one year.

    At this point, nothing has changed as far as atmospheric carbon removal goes and payments needn’t be high, but the old forests should stop disappearing so quickly. It is when needed new growth (to meet emitters commitments) meets the physical and biological constraints of growing forests that prices will start going up and actual remedial action occurs (that atmospheric carbon is actually being sequestered on an increasing basis). Again, the need for permanent methods of sequestration will quickly become apparent, and the market strategies will get fancy. Block and group trading with funds and futures will all come into play. At the end of the period, national figures are accounted for on a global basis.

    This is still all very theoretical in accounting. Real accounting of actual, measurable resources will be much messier, but quite a bit of it is already being done for one reason or another.

    Imagine this: by the time carbon sequestration starts moving through the market, and atmospheric carbon values have climbed ever higher, the scientific panel at the IPCC, wishing more remedial action (sequestration) raises that figure or ratio of 165 to, say, 175. Then, for the next trading period, each emitter will be responsible for sinking the equivalent of 175 times his emmissions. He can do this by contracting out the maintenance of (or lease) enough forests to contain that amount of carbon (could be the same forest as last year plus a bit more), or pay to have permanently sequestered one twenty-fifth of that amount of carbon from the atmosphere, or any combination of those two methods, at any price or deal he can find. (Right away, the advantage to preventing any escape of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere should be obvious — to avoid having to sequester 165 {for now} times that quantity of emissions). Emission prevention at the smokestack should become big business . . . which is what we want.

    The IPCC panel cannot be frivolous with its pronouncements. Any change in that ratio will greatly affect all emitters’ commitments and all eyes will be watching. The panel will have to resist outside (political) influences so as to avoid straying too far from scientific imperatives, but that ratio is the only, albeit very powerful, means of controlling the direction of the market and maintaining realistic values for carbon sequestration. How quickly we install that market, or transition into full carbon trading, would be up to the IPCC, again with much resisting of political influence.

    That is the whole suggestion in a nutshell: that all carbon emitters arrange for carbon sequestering according to the schedule (emissions times ratio) on an annual basis. Qualifications of sequestration include carbon already fixed in existing vegetation so that forest rental is included. Old forests are encouraged to remain, new forests are encouraged to grow, new permanent methods (at twenty-five times annual rental) of sequestration are encouraged, new energy sources and currency development is encouraged, and emmisions having to fund all this are discouraged. Note that there is only one way that the costs of emitting will go, and it will do so quickly.

    Nothing has been fixed or is ever fixed — except for the periodic pronouncement of that ratio by the IPCC. It sets directions and degrees of urgency on a regular basis so that years of preparation and politicking with world conferences needn’t occur. Motions are directed on an automatic, or semi-automatic (partial guidance) basis in a simple enough manner to be easilly incorporated into the open market, and into everyone’s business plans, and defines the flexibility needed to adjust for shifting conditions. The money is directed only into dealing with this one problem’s mitigation.

    One of the most important features, besides a liberal approach to allowing business affairs, are all the feedbacks, some automatic and some directed, that will exert themselves. From supply-and-demand, the urgency of affairs will be reflected in prices which will direct money beneficially. Pressures will similarly be exerted to diminish unprofitable energy use, and all of these market pressures to be nudged on a programmed basis according to climatological needs.

    Although this all may sound kind of shifty at this point, I have described a real minimum of regulation, and it is (I think) through this constant shifting as occurs in the marketplace, trying to approach certain balances though built-in feedback sytems, exerting pushes in one direction or another, can we most closely mimic natural systems efficiently and with the most flexibility. Automatic feedback is important because trends are quickly exerted which allows for gentle but exponential change . . . like compound interest, and much of nature and other dynamic affairs operate similarly. We could not do better than to try to imitate that action and response. I may sound like I am repeating myself — and perhaps I am — but I don’t think that I can over-emphasize the importance of automatic feedback.

    But we do have to get on with it. And we do need to incorporate immediate feedback systems to quickly set directions. Too often we sit around pondering one effect or another. Immediate and automatic feedback sets directions and trends which are more effective, more possible, and less painful than punctuated objectives. Those trends can later be adjusted for more precision. Contemplating exactituide can be done later and adjusted for, but we must incoporate immedite feedback to stay on top and in the long run, flexibility will be enhanced.

    I see that I still haven’t put down any dollar figures and how those might be expected to develop. It’s actually pretty normal compared to figures being bandied about today for emitting and sequestering whenever I’ve looked at it. But, once again I’m going to sign off because putting this all down seems to have drained me. I’ll wait a bit and if I sense any interest on this blog, I’ll supply some sample calculations (but they will be the simplest).

  7. Dan G Says:

    I picked the IPCC only because they were the most knowledgeable and accomplished body of climatological representation I could think of. The considerations are that it be a scientifically oriented body and acceptable to all participants. Prabably, some representation from every nation, or bloc of nations, will be demanded (if my sense of international politics has any reality), and deciding each trading period’s ratio might be contentious for various political reasons. But still, dealing with a limited number of “scientists” on a scheduled, periodic basis with one purpose in mind (to change that trading ratio or not) has got to be easier and cleaner than the huge, world conferences which we currently undergo.

    We could use the WTO or make up a whole new and unaligned body, if purity is saught. This body won’t participate in any way in the market — their sole function is to examine the state of the planet and its atmosphere, if it is responding according to some large plan which outlines in longer terms our general scheduled attempt to control things (global warming), which will have undoubtedly been made by then. I can’t imagine a proposed plan of attack — at what pace do we hope to moderate or even reverse the carbon flow to and from the atmosphere, which are huge decissions involving reems of diverse data and the modelling of various scenarios under different economic and climatological developments, etc.. What I do propose is the mechanism to get us from here to there, using the market as a means of efficiently incorporating global warming moderation efforts into everybody’s everyday lives. This can be done so that everybody won’t have to behave otherwise than they have always done; i.e., try to save money, don’t be frivolously spending, etc.. Their global warming decisions will have been made in the marketplace, in the decissions that traders and industrialists make in attempting to secure better markets for selling their own commodities, and people will seek whatever convenience they can afford.

    Almost no matter what the big, global plan turns out to be (short-term, long-term), I am suggesting that this marketing scheme can get us there more quickly, efficiently, and with the least disruption to global affairs than other plans with cap-and-trade, off-sets, and whatever other devises can be applied. It is the most direct way and more closely mimics what we already have going in the marketplace while offering the highest degree of control applicable — short of direct decree.

    The only moneys required are what’s needed to fund the scientific panel which sets the annual sequestering ratio, which could be levied as a normal trading fee or administration cost. So, there would be no taxes — just private deals, although they may be performed on a national basis.

  8. Dan G Says:

    Again . . . picking up from yesterday . . . .

    Not to oversimplify things — the central panel of scientists who assemble annually to hammer-out any need to alter the sequestering ratio, and whose function could be said to replace part of the current IPCC, may be all that is needed from the climatological standpoint, but there will have to be a substantial bureaucracy to support the trading scheme.

    Much of the data needed is being produced today in the form of geological surveys, geographical surveys, resource assessments, various nature-watch institutes, government surveys, the list is long but probably largely made obsolete anyway by satelite reconnaissance. Still, the data would need to be assembled and certain instances may require more accuracy and attention than would be easily available. The two basic assessments needed on an annual basis would be carbon dioxide releases from burning fosil fuels, quantities of carbon contained in living vegetation during the course of each year, and the veracity and quantities of carbon dioxide being “permanently” sequestered. Money will be relying on these assessments so they must guarantee sufficient accuracy. However, there are many ways to measure things, and many of those are not expensive to do. The extra costs to fund this bureaucracy would likely also be levied as a transaction fee.

    Some sort of dispute settlement body would have to be set-up. Some of the disputes will be international so lawyers and their staff would be needed. Again — not to underplay — the size of these bureaucratic bodies can balloon. A lot of trade, action, and value would pass under their purview, and they would have to be watched.

    While reading yesterday’s entries over again, I detected a rather important omision from my entreaties to consider this trading scheme — the protection to existing forests, included automatically in this scheme (although not without cost). It is easy to forget that aspect while getting wrapped-up in the affairs of global warming but its value is inestimable. I don’t think that I pumped it quite enough.

  9. Dan G Says:


  10. Dan G Says:

    I’ve just been made aware, from RealClimate’s currently running thread on Curve Manipulation, that The Guardian published a somewhat illuminating (and muddying at the same time) article on carbon offsets (June 16, 2007). The article itself is not particularly encouraging, pointing out that the industry of offsetting carbon is very much a fledgling and is stumbling. Mind you, a few clicks further and The Guardian is still ready sell you offsets.

    The interesting point however, is to compare the tribulations described in that article to the treatment they would receive under my proposal.

    Otherwise, two particular items caught my attention — well . . . many did — but two that I wanted to address here. It had not occurred to me that people burned coal as fuel for subsistance living. Before arriving at the firm conclusion that only living vegetation should be rewarded (in terms of temporary biological carbon sink) and destroying trees would incur no penalty, not even if burned, the idea of somehow additionally charging people, for putting carbon into the air, just for staying alive, was so discomforting that it helped to point the direction toward focussing on purely fossil fuel related emissions, rather than just any and all sources of carbon dioxide emissions. There are other reasons to substantiate that focus, but that still leaves the plight of coal-burning in the poorest lifestryles. I think that the rule of internalizing the sequestering costs of all fossil fuel emissions should be as hard and fast as a mining cost or transportation cost. I don’t think that we can really get a handle on this GW problem (apply the necessary discipline) while looking for exceptions. On the other hand, I do sense an approaching line which shouldn’t be crossed . . . so, somehow a way must be found to accommodate people in these situations without adding to their burdens. It might help to know more about these situations such as how many people in how many groups, and where are they located, their source of the coal, how much is actually burned, etc.. It may be premature at this design stage to address this problem. Perhaps the extent of this situation is insignificant, but the suggestion is there; that there may be a need for some exceptions.

    One item caught me up short — some people were planting trees in soils which gave off more carbon dioxide than was being sequestered . . . huh? Does anyone know the story behind this claim? Were they cutting trees and then replanting?

  11. Dan G Says:

    Because I don’t know how to bring the link here, the site for The Guardian article mentioned above is found in posting #204 in the Curve Manipulation comments at the RealClimate site

  12. Dan G Says:

    I make these postings too late at night . . . . Even after correcting myself once, I see that I’d neglected to provide the title of the Guardian’s article — “The inconvenient truth about carbon offset industry”. Catchy title . . . eh? Well . . . not untrue.

    Is this website still operating?

    I can’t help feeling that I’m talking to myself.

  13. David B. Benson Says:

    Dan G. — Not entirely. 🙂

    I do encourage learning about biochar as an important part of carbon sequestration. A web search on the term “Shimbir Demon biochar” will provide you with a link to a useful site.

  14. Dan G Says:

    Thanks David Benson, for the route to investigating biochar. Actually, your suggestion is not the first I hear of it. It gets kicked around on occasion in the RealClimate commentaries and no one’s said anything negative so far. If it were used in the trading scheme I’ve outlined earlier in this thread, it would be credited with twenty-five year’s equivalent rent of living vegetation to whomever is claiming it against their emissions.

    I’m afraid that I am going to be relentless in measuring everything against that proposal I outlined, in a very long dissertation for a commentary thread, earlier. I feel that that proposal is the meat-and-potatoes of the whole trick — everything else would become secondary, as a detail, and would find a place to fit into that scheme if it can be made profitable.

    Without that scheme’s being in place, I don’t really know how to think about policy. All other approaches discuss technical details, which are needed — don’t get me wrong — but they are still technical details which require much research and consideration, none for which I can offer any help or even intuition. However all of those details get worked out and how they get solved, there is still a need to draw them and funding together so that they do happen. And, I am saying that my proposal offers a way to use the open, global market — which I believe to be the most effective way to move goods and services — in a profit-driven scheme so that all methods of sequestering carbon would be investigated. All of those efforts to sequester carbon would be greatly assisted if the profit to doing it were clear. I embrace them all — in that scheme.

    Without that scheme, I find myself going through countless reams of paper describing schedules, conferences, IPCC Committee Reports and unending details forever, and it seems difficult to cobble everything together and say our policy is to try to reverse the flow of carbon through the atmosphere and this is how we’re going to do it without any sort of overarching vision. Right now, I find that I just wish to repeat what I’ve already written and that seems pointless and tiresome for everyone. Do read what I’ve written earlier in this thread. I think that likely, our conversation would be very different afterward.

    Yeah . . . it’s a lot of reading but I am talking about a big deal.

  15. Dan G Says:

    David . . . having had time to ponder a bit, I find that biochar’s position in the grand scheme of atmospheric carbon dioxide to be more complicated than at first appearance and maybe that’s why reaction to this near-magic product has been rather muted. I wrote “from the hip” yesterday — it turns out that biochar is only a bit-player.

    Just what is being accomplished in biochar’s production? Our initial aim is to pull carbon from the atmosphere and sink it away and to prevent further emissions, and producing biochar doesn’t do a whole lot of either. At first blush it seems good, but dead wood is used — and there’s no question of using living wood — and wood is composed of carbon that is already part of the active carbon cycle currently at the earth’s surface. It’s not like carbon from permanent underground reservoirs about to be unleashed into the atmosphere at five-hundred times the rate at which it was deposited — what is sometimes called “new carbon”. How quickly that carbon in the wood (or most of it, likely) reenters the atmosphere depends on the disposition of that wood. Although most of it will eventually reenter the atmosphere, through decay, the process could be quite protracted — or maybe not. And the quantities we’re discussing are very limited (scraps, chips, sawdust — leftovers not already slated for pulp). I find it difficult to measure the actual value of what is being accomplished and hence, how to market the product (or actually, the service of turning wood into biochar). I’m not saying that it is valueless — just that it is not very valuable and is difficult to measure and price.

    Biochar-production isn’t the only process that’s fraught with complexity. These accounting difficulties are very much simplified by drawing a line between living and dead wood. There will still be a few marginal situations to contend with, such as very old and dying forests (half dead/half alive?), and one could argue that wood that is locked-up, preserved in a piece of furniture or in some other structure is keeping carbon from the atmosphere for a long time. At this point in these complexities, I’ll choose to defer to the principle of dead or alive (as the determining consideration), bolstered by the theory or almost philosophical consideration that alive has more potentiality than dead, and is measurable.

    You would probably be pondering these very things, even as you read that proposal I put forth earlier, and hopefully, you will arrive at the same logical position that I did. Although, if you arrive at a different position, the purpose of this blog will have been well illustrated and served.

  16. Dan G Says:

    Of course David, if you find objection to my ramblings, or another way of recognizing something, or even a different way of expressing something, then shoot. But in each time that you consider these options, such as a way of looking at biochar, I ask that you also consider how it could or would be marketed — how can it be offered and sold, who does it serve or who would purchase it and how much would they pay? I am convinced that unless we find a way of employing the strongest, most persistant motivator ever — profit and self-interest — little of consequence will be timely achieved. Indecision will reign, bureaucracy will bloom, and politicking will stymie everything meaningful.

    I don’t think that marketability and use of the market can be overstated. The feedback processes that develop and rule as prices establish themselves is immediate and forceful — things get done — and proper emphasis is quickly placed where it is needed. Probably, there are occassionaly distortions (unintended consequences, market-frenzies — a student of economics could help us out here) which enter the market, waves or movements in human reaction (I don’t really know what I’m talking about here — I’m just imagining) which will cause concern. I don’t know how serious these distortion might get, but I think that using the market with its vagaries is still vastly superior than approaching the problem any other way.

    I would like to go back to the issue of trying to establish a simple, unambiguous line between sequestration which is acceptable to this scheme and that which is not — I chose living vegetation only, to be rewarded with temporary sequestration (annual lease or rent). As we examine the issue of biochar, or lets say detritous on the forest floor, which although dead, may measure many metres in depth, there seems to be an element of arbitrariness creeping into my defining line. I suppose that should someone present a situation that is truly ambiguous and possibly valuable, that defining line may need reexamination or redefining. That is why proposals like this one should be kicked-around as furiously as possible in forums like this one.

    But I did want a simple, easy-to-recognize-for-everyone, line; because it has to fit into the market system and it has to be acceptable to everyone (or as many as conceivably possible). There is no greater mover and shaker than public opinion and movements. Think of how many issues languish on the sidelines almost forever, until suddenly a social or societal movement begins. If it catches fire, unprecedented things happen. The very recognition of GW and its human causes has transpired just like that.

    If the current momentum is to be retained, or if it ever has to be rejuvenated, it will require a similar type of public movement. The only thing (almost) which moves politicians to move, indeed the only thing that allows politicians to move, is public movement. To help maintain or recreate this movement, I will turn to the world of advertising, and even Frank Luntz. Although I’ve never read anything that he’s written, to my detriment I’m sure, I do know that he’s clever in framing things — in recognizing the nuances of language and words, and being careful in those choices. Selling an idea such as this proposal to the entire world should be examined similarly. How about slogans and jingles? This may seem like an odd part of the discussion, but acquiring global consensus to adopt such a strategy as this proposal, especially in a timely fashion, will depend on the successful development of a social movement. Hence the necessity for broad-ranging simple concepts, principles and applications that are easy for everyone to identify with (and to murmur and to shout and to sing). Remember . . . we are talking about everyone . . . its going to take a lot. It is easily worthy of a campaign. Carbon will become the most ubiquitously traded substance (or commodity, or service) in the world market — second to none, I’m pretty sure — but only if the world accepts it to be. And if you’re anything as apprehensive about the consequences of global warming as I am, you will want this acceptance to come quickly. And to get that you will want to be able to present a nice, tight and clean concept that features easy-to-recognize relationships (cause and effect). The strategy must have a sort of appeal or attractiveness, even if only as the lesser of other evils, but even better if conveys or creates a measure of delight and accomplishment amongst the participants — all of us.

  17. David B. Benson Says:

    The great advantage of biochar is that farmers, rnachers and foresters everywhere in the world have a substantial economic incentive to use it as a soil conditioner. It is actually worth something to them, although I’ll not attempt to estimate how much.

    Any bio-mass can be used to produce biochar: animal wastes, portions of annuals which are not food or animal feed, much of the wood cut down in lumbering, etc.

    Carbon is carbon, no matter where it comes from. In the form of biochar in the soil, at least 50% remains for centuries. In some soils for tens of centuries. Looks to be a winner for almost everybody, economically, and everybody with regard to climate change mitigation.

  18. Dan G Says:

    Do you suppose, given the paucity of remarks, that we might hear a comment from one of the moderators?

  19. Dan G Says:

    Rummaging through the policy websites devoted to global approaches to GW (there aren’t that many), I found that Kyoto2’s website features a page showing existing approaches. There we will find other schemes promoting the use of cap-and-trade, carbon permit auctions, Contraction & Convergence, equitable approaches, etc..

    The scheme I am promoting has no allowance or regard for equitable outcomes of any kind. It is a straight attempt to merely internalize what had previosly been considered an externality — the cost of emitting carbon dioxide — into the current and future price of fossil fuels. It is not without historical loading; i.e., as soon as the required sequestering rates exceed emission rates, an historical context is being included since current emitters would be required to sequester some of previous emissions.

    However, this factor is not so easily calculated in my scheme because much sequestering will be provided on a temporary basis by existant vegetation, in order to preserve that vegetation. As the potential aforestation approaches its maximum limits (we cannot effectively grow more forests), and sequestration occurs more and more through other, more-permanent-than-biomass-retention methods, the historical context (baggage) will become more pronounced (as we pay for cumulative effects).

    Back to equitable outcomes — if efforts on global concensus to act on GW are more easily achieved by pursuing more equitable outcomes, than would be had by merely making the fuels more expensive, I imagine the modifications or exceptions could be applied; but of course these adjustments should not reduce or jeopardize the scientific efforts of overall control. In the description of my proposal I used the expression “political influences” which may threaten to derail scientific efforts.

    I would like to point out though, that easing the load on poorer nations will increase the load on richer ones — which is fine if agreement is achieved. But if the richer nations don’t wish to capitulate or help to fund the poorer nations, I would hate to think that this would prevent or materially delay the implementation of an overall scheme.

    I see also that efforts are made in some of the other schemes to control other GGs (methane, carbon dioxide from concrete formation, etc.). From what I could glean, the proposal I’ve outlined wouldn’t interfere with these other efforts, nor would it be compromised by them. They would not affect oneanother. I am a little curious though, as to how accurately could responsibility for many methane releases be appropriated, given that so much of methane release is due to accidental or natural processes — it’s not like cfc’s.

    I am very pleased to find these other suggested global schemes. I had suspected that there must be other people thinking on the same basis as I (i.e., comprehensively or globally), but I hadn’t actually encountered any before just now. They supply a great basis for comparison, and these schemes have been assembled by people with much more background and resources than I, and can teach me a lot. I am of course obliged to ask myself why should I impose myself on others — as I am presently doing on this blog — exactly why should anyone else read this stuff? Actually, I do have reasons — the same ones that have kept me on this mission for nearly twenty years and they persist still, even after having seen these other proposed schemes. I’ll explain them in a future entry.

    I’m going to sign-off for tonight.

    I seem to have hijacked this blog. This wasn’t my intention. I had desperately hoped for some sort of dialogue — which doesn’t seem to be ensuing. As I ponder all the possibilities for this rather sad development, I can’t say that I am very surprised (who is going to have a lot to say on this subject?), but I did hope that people would pick this apart, or question that . . . .

    I guess that I am grateful to be able to put any of this scheme out on the web to be examined and exposed — I really wanted that — but this pretending to have a conversation with an hypothetical partner, reader, listener, is tough to maintain and there’s a pathetic feeling to it all.

  20. Dan G Says:

    Before actually shutting down, I scrolled up to notice that David Benson had entered a comment while I was composing mine (yeah . . . and before my hitting the spell checker, again).

    Glad you’re back, David. Biochar does seem to present a special case. My proposal has no means to deal with this contingency. It treats any biomass other than living vegetation as neutral, being considered as “old” carbon which has already been part of the carbon cycle at earth’s surface. But I had not considered converting any biomass to permanent sequestration which clearly does remove carbon from the cycle, if from a different part than the atmosphere; and as you say — carbon is carbon.

    I will sleep on it. I really must pack it in or I won’t be able to perform my duties tomorrow. I’ll get back to you. I have a feeling I won’t be able to tie a pink bow on this one, though . . . .

  21. Dan G Says:

    Another day and in new light . . . well, actually, the answer came to me right after I had shut down last night. It’s pretty simple and it gets a pink ribbon too!

    I baulked at first because I am not optimistic by nature, but especially after that spiel I posted on June 3 at 9:52, saying things like, “I choose to defer to . . . . and blah blah, blah”. Well, I am not the brightest penny in the till and I seemed to have stumbled over the slight convolution biochar’s case presents. So now we go back to my first reaction (turns out the gut-reaction was the right one) to your biochar posted yet a little earlier that day, and credit biochar with permanent sequestration value, and with the numbers chosen in my proposal, that means the equivalent of twenty-five years’ rental payment.

    If you remember, twenty-five years of leasing was considered equivalent to permanent carbon sequestration. I likened the case to one of paying 25 years of mortgage payments resulting in permanent ownership in a typical transfer of property ownership. But in the case of global warming, this property example is rather arbitrary. Perhaps the scientific community would conclude that a different numerical relationship should exist between annual temporary rental payments as for vegetation and the value of permanent sequestration. I struggled for some time to find a defining, realistic relationship, but once the notion of mortgage payments entered my head, I couldn’t shake it, and it did not seem unreasonable; but it is not a hard-and-fast number.

    With values like twenty-five years of rental payments, rather tight verification and accounting will be needed, both by the officiating body and probably by the purchaser representing the emitters’ interests. Mere satellite photos won’t suffice but my suspicion is that any other GW scheme would require as much accounting.

    Therefore, you could grow a forest, collecting annual rent for its carbon content, and just as the forest begins aging to deterioration, cut it down and turn it into biochar for a final payment of twenty-five years of rental. To some ecologist, this would be disaster. If all the focus in plantation planting is only on global warming value and huge tracts of monoculture are developed, species diversity will suffer, natural corridors will close or diminish, water drainage may be affected, and probably a host of other, less easily foreseeable eventualities will emerge. Some simple modelling might reveal that growing a slower tree but one which lives longer might garner more rental payments for a longer period than say, an aspen forest which falters in forty years. Perhaps a mixed forest with selective cutting would be the way to go, in some instances.

    More careful forestry planning would maximize the total value to include the type of wood and lumber, or pulp being produced, and/or the value of the forest’s actually being there while alive, as well as its growth rate and marketability as a temporary and a permanent carbon sink (biochar). However, if progress in developing alternative carbon sinks has been slow, the going price for carbon sequestration could climb precipitously and overwhelm all other considerations. Although there may develop considerable political pressure for the scientific panel to lower the emission-to-sequestration conversion ratio, the price climb will have been due to a relative shortage of sequestration, indicative of the urgency for atmospheric correction — all part of the feedback which is incorporated into the free market system. This feedback is immediate, automatic (not requiring the decree of any body) and relentless.

    Emitters will be keen to seek the best markets early in each trading period to assure compliance before prices climb, or to prearrange years ahead. There will likely be the development of a seasonal cycle in the pricing and a unique sort of futures trading, but I know very little about trading and international markets. I am hoping that some kind reader “in-the-know” would interject with objections or helpful remarks.

    Perhaps the most startling thing about biochar is the possible inclusion of animal mass. Exactly what role the carbon in animal tissues played in the carbon cycle, and exactly how to treat it (monetarily) occupied me for some time. Until your insistence David, with biochar, I had concluded that the values, physically and monetarily, were insignificant and fraught with unending complexity. But now — hey . . . turn your corpse into biochar and help pay the funeral costs. It is probably better than rotting in the ground, releasing methane and having very little carbon, in the end, combining with calcium or whatever other mineral which can finally lock it away.

    So what do you think now? I’m pretty impressed. All principles of the scheme were applied and adhered to, and a pretty exciting, triple-faceted industry can develop, of waste disposal (including diseased tissue?), production of fertilizer (or soil stabiliser, I believe), and the creation of a permanent carbon sink.

    Do you have any other good ideas?

    Ahhh (sigh)! Something else occurs to me. More stumbling. There could hardly be a worse, carbon releasing fire than one involving biochar. And carbon that is subject to the possibility of being emitted, by accidental fire or whatever, can hardly be considered as permanently sequestered. This will take more thought after all. That pink ribbon may be starting to fade. Later.

  22. Dan G Says:

    David . . . by now, I don’t know if I’m just going to produce more blah, blah, or if I’ll actually evolve a useful statement or criterion. I can’t overstate the complications surrounding the issue of biochar.

    After my last entry, I thought that . . . no, biochar can’t be considered as permanently sequestered carbon unless it is locked away, something like “locking” carbon dioxide deep into old, vacated oil wells, or very deep under water; both efforts as yet unproven. After all, you can’t have biochar lying around, say in a field, where anyone can pick it up and use it for fuel because they will, sooner or later. So, perhaps free biochar can’t be counted for any sequestration benefit any more than a piece of wood — which is zilch.

    Buried biochar? Well, unless you bury it really deep and really securely, not unlike nuclear waste, someone’s going to dig it up and use it as fuel. You see how difficult biochar is to contend with — at least no one would ever wish to seek access to and release (unless they were impossibly nefarious) buried stocks of carbon dioxide. Without a guarantee against that sort of accidental release, biochar can’t be considered to contain permanently sequestered carbon, any more than does a piece of wood, preserved in a treasured, protected structure or artifact or lying in the field. My hunch is that it is a really messy trip going around and trying to quantify the organic matter in every item or substance we leave behind until it eventually decays and is reabsorbed into the atmosphere.

    Oddly enough, perhaps, after all this consideration . . . the original rule still holds — the one stated in the proposal that if it’s alive and it’s vegetation, it counts. Otherwise, it doesn’t count at all. Go ahead and burn it for fuel just as you might with wood. It lost its temporary sequestration value the instant the plants died — an irrevocable line (and an easily definable one) was crossed at that point.

    Before you protest, let me outline a few considerations: a large push for finding a way to value living trees arose from an imperative to preserve what is quickly disappearing and is essential to the livability of our planet (I don’t think will be argued) — the remaining forests. But it will be a bit of stretch to convince hard-line carbon emitters that some of their effort will have to support existent vegetation which isn’t actively pulling carbon out of the atmosphere (hence the need for any kind of philosophical and/or practical support, any good connection) The other push is from the other imperative — to reduce GG levels. To what extent both of these objectives are being met will determine its acceptability as a marketable carbon sequestration commodity. We do have to draw lines of definition unless we start scaling the value of everything in the world and then it just gets too messy and often will not contribute materially to improving the atmosphere.

    As it is, I believe that this proposal is the only one which confronts the combined problem of GG control and forestry control — one of its unique qualities as a global warming proposal. Other unique qualities include using annual leasing of vegetation as a basis for calculation of sequestering value, use of an ongoing monitoring and controlling scientific panel to supply flexibility (to adjust for changing demands or conditions), and tying the whole thing up in the existing free market system with all the immediate and forceful feedback that supply and demand brings. I don’t think that any of these features are included in other proposals, but I do believe that only a dynamic system like this will serve to prevent things from going moribund, in action and motivation, and can react quickly and forcefully enough to accomplish any realistic goals of atmospheric control.

    Being alive or dead is a pretty good defining line for vegetation. As I’ve said before, being alive is a statement of potentiality. Dieing is entering a state of inevitable decline. We can quibble about the relative value of a short-lived plant and a long-preserved piece of wood as a carbon sink, but we still need a line with (hopefully) a defining principle. The concept of annual rent for living plants was designed to properly account for the temporariness of living plants and living plants do fulfill the imperative to preserve vegetation and encourage further growth, which non-living things, such as biochar, do not. Philosophically, biochar’s a non-starter — we seek to preserve life. Practically . . . find a better defining line? Alive or dead (despite any awkward differences in residence times of sequestered carbon) is an easy concept for everyone to grasp and we do need to get everyone on board.

    Animal biomass — as might be used to produce biochar: I mulled all of this stuff over for a long time in the early nineties while refining the concept. I came to the conclusion that animals (and us), just in our bodily functions, are probably long term pluses to the environment, but not so much directly to the atmosphere since we do expel a lot of carbon dioxide and methane in our lifetimes. We (and animals) do contribute mainly as transporters and processors of nutrients. We certainly do accelerate biological activity by hastening decay into a nutritive state that feeds plants and their associated fungi. In that sense animals will be final contributors to more plants and to the general vitality, but I don’t think that makes them for a second a valuable repository for carbon and something to be rewarded as such. So, simply rendering the animal mass into biochar doesn’t suddenly give it magic value.

    It would be interesting, and I’m sure that it’s been done, to measure the total effects of an animal, or group, or species, and what contribution that makes to the environment and ultimately to the atmosphere. The details would be intricate. Their contribution may vary hugely from species to species, although I have no knowledge here — I am merely imagining. Any contribution we (as human animals) have to the environment would have to be hypothetically measured as long as we have the capacity to cut all the trees down so that we can roll stone statuary into into the proper places. Perhaps the net contribution of animals to the atmosphere may rest on so fine a division as to whether it decays more aerobically or anaerobically . . . . But surely by now David, you must get some sense of the morass of detail that awaits anyone who ventures into these domains and tries to define carbon contribution, in total and in schedule, to which we’re going to attach a marketable value of anything other than with living vegetation. All other categories are besotted with complexity and lack of clarity.

    So biochar’s going to have to fly on its other attributes than as a carbon reservoir. I have to admit that it is almost attractive, especially as a possible disposition of, say, BSE infected cows — although since burning doesn’t seem to destroy prions, probably inclusion into a piece of biochar won’t either, but it may render the prions into a relatively inaccessible form. And you know, animals (mammals anyway) at 80% moisture (unresearched) won’t make nearly as much biochar as a piece of wood of the same weight– dried wood (much heavier than died animal) is said to be 45% carbon by weight.

    Many of these types of considerations can be found, I think, in the committee reports from the IPCC. I will dig into it when I find a little time.

    My guess is that all this probably hasn’t quite convinced you — that biochar is a relatively useless carbon reservoir as part of any trading scheme — so run your objections by and we’ll look again . . . . I do wish this blog were frequented by someone like Timothy Chase — popular commentator on RealClimate’s blogs and huge font of knowledge, perception and expression (not to take anything away from Barton Paul Levenson).

  23. David B. Benson Says:

    Biochar has been applied at rates of from 1 to 10 tonnes per hectare. At those rates the possiblity of the ground burning is very, very low.

    As a soil conditioner it may well be that little or no additional fertilizer inputs are required. While more research is required, it appears that at 1 tonne per hectare wheat yields (the first year) are almost as high as alternatively appling nitrogen fertilizer. So it may well be that appling biochar once every five years or so (a cost to the farmer) is more than offset by not having to apply nitrogen fertilizer once or twice a year (a big cost to the farmer).

    I’ll guess, because no research has been done yet, that biochar is even more valuable to cattle ranchers who graze their cow-calf units on field grasses. From the wheat studies, they ought to get two to four times the yields, which means they can graze that many more cow-calf units on each hectare.

    The IPCC sepecial report on sequestration, which I read parts of today, suggests the unit of tonne-year as the appropriate measure of sequestration. Surely this ought to be discounted somehow, and perhaps your method is suitable. However, given the long time it takes the atmosphere and ocean to respond to changes in the carbon dioxide level, I’m yet to be convinced regarding your twenty-five years being equivalent to ‘forever’.

  24. David B. Benson Says:

    Dan G — Just read yours of July 5th. Look at some photographs of soils to which biochar has been applied. The biochar is tilled in and well-mixed. Nobody is going to go picking through it to pull out 1-3 mm chunks of biochar. Especially since the land owner wnats those chucks there.

    To repeat, there are many potential sources of bio-mass as the feedstock for pyrolysis: animal wastes, crop residues and lumbering residues all being obvious choices. People have suggested fast growing trees, such as willows, for carbon sequestration.

    For other forms of carbon sequestration, using uneconomic coal seams appears to be one of the best. Of course, this could be combined with pyrolysis, capturing the produced carbon dioxide, using the bio-oils produced to run the pyrolysis and the sequestration of carbon dioxide in the coal seams, and still have the biochar to work into the soils which provide the biomass to run the process…

  25. Dan G Says:

    David Benson . . . I cannot deny that useful carbon sequestration is being performed in the production of biochar. My security concerns aren’t for the little pieces being toiled under . . . they’re more for the supply stock, or any accumulation of the stuff.

    Perhaps my real problem is with the rewarding.

    At what point do you think a sequestering payment should be made for the production or use of biochar and on what basis (or describe the payment)?

    I did visit the IPCC website but couldn’t find any reference to biochar. Can you locate me a little closer to the item of interest?

    I don’t know how other schemes suggest valuing and payment for sequestering carbon. I wanted to base mine on the simplest, almost universally available means of sinking carbon dioxide — trees, and relate all other means of sinking carbon, and their payments, to the basic. You seem to querying, what is the difference between temporary and permanent sequestration? These considerations were not based on anything scientific — they are only to devise an appropriate payment. Go back to my entry of June 25 at 10:23. Eleven paragraphs down, read the one starting “Oddly enough . . . .” and then reissue your concern.

    And by the way, not that you’ve mentioned it — I wouldn’t discount the use of burning biochar for fuel. It would be better than burning coal. It is not something that I would encourage, because carbon dioxide is carbon dioxide, but at least it is not newly introduced carbon dioxide and its value as a fuel will surpass its value as a sequestered pool for the foreseeable future.

  26. David B. Benson Says:

    Dan G —- I suggest a sequestering payment be made when the biochar is tilled into the soil.

    There are several web sites describing biochar. Web searching on “Shimbir Demon biochar” will locate a good, basic one, which has lots of links to other resources. Also “Biopact” or “Bioenergy pact” contains some information on biochar, in earlier posts on that site.

    Rather than burn the biochar, use high temperature pyrolysis to emphasize the production of bio-oils. These seem to provide a better source of bio-fuel than the biochar. Sequestering the biochar in soils provides very high returns to agricultural productivity, surely higher than its value as merely a fuel.

    I don’t know how to appropriately price carbon sequestration, or how to convince people and governments to pay for it. But I opine that those living off the land are probably willing to pay something to acquire biochar.

  27. Dan G Says:

    Not only are those cultivators perhaps willing to pay something for their biochar, but it seems to me that they should be paid to do so — just have to find a way to accomplish this. At this point it may seem to be niggling, but from what I see and hear, substantial amounts of biochar could be used in this way. It behooves everyone to enable this transfer of funds and practice.

    Once that stuff is incorporated into the soil, it should be appropriated the status of permanently sequestered. However, I wouldn’t want the stuff to get sidetracked off to some blacksmith’s shop on the way out to the farmer or his back-quarter — accounting hassles — there’ll be quite a few, but every time I see other reports, they require similar amounts of accounting. Let’s face it — much important material and money will change hands, so a handle will have to kept on everything — as with taxes. No one really wants another level of red-tape and bureaucracy but it is going to be there, however this gets done. The world is more complicated.

    What happens to the value of biochar before and other than under-tillage? From purely, atmospheric physics, it should be worth the same as trees; i. e., temporary sequestration annual rental just for existing. But there is a complete lacking of the ecosystem connectivity that accompanies trees, and which formed part of the reasoning behind rewarding existent vegetation during its relatively inactive phase of the carbon cycle and when little atmospheric carbon dioxide is being incorporated into growth. Without this extra push (almost a moral imperative and very difficult to quantify) — I am tempted to view biochar as a fallen tree.

    There are differences: a fallen tree will eventually rot away, a little of its carbon incorporated into runoff and limestone, but most will find its way back to the atmosphere, perhaps residing in an animal or two, or three, or blending into the detritus on the floor, before being ultimately released again. Biochar won’t do this. In fact, unless it is burned, it likely won’t be released back into the air, but it offers nothing to the ecosystem, which is need of vegetation and support (soil conditioning), until it is tilled. So, although biochar is more stable than a piece of wood, because of its undetermined destination (could be used as fuel), no payment would likely be rewarded just for its production. This is really awkward where it could yet be this, or it could yet be that . . . .

    And I suppose that should someone be able to prove that they have successfully, securely stored the stuff away so that no one would ever be tempted to try to retrieve it for a cheap burn, it could be counted as permanent sequestration. Until then, should anything happen to it, including burning, there would be no penalty or attention paid — merely the removal of a possible or potential future source of income just like burning or cutting a forest. There are no penalties to anyone in this scheme except to liberators of fossil fuel emissions.

    So far, I haven’t countered anything you’ve just posted. I think you have helped to more firmly define some boundaries which are always difficult to establish (there are always losers). Rental payments will go to only living vegetation, and permanent sequestration payments only to secured carbon sinks.

    Something else will likely crop up to test these principles. It would be nice if they could hold things together without too much fudgiggling.

    You — David Benson — did not again mention the relationship between twenty-five years and permanency. Do you have an opinion on how it is presented in the proposal? Is it easily understood and does it seem sensible?

  28. David B. Benson Says:

    Dan G. — To me, twenty-five years is far short of permanency. For carbon sequestration, permanent ought to mean many centuries, at least.

    I agree, in principle, that agriculturalists ought to be paid to encorporate biochar into their soils, just as the operator of a facility to sequester carbon dioxide in uneconomic coal seams has to be paid, in order to operate.

    With regard to your proposal: It needs a brief summary at the beginning and then sections explaining each of the parts of the summary. As it is written in comments above, it is rather much to digest, but I think I have the gist of it. Good luck in getting it adopted.

  29. Dan G Says:

    Thanks David Benson, for your your remarks on the awkward presentation of my idea. You are quite correct and this is a considerable shortcoming for anyone trying to understand the proposal.

    Thanks also for your opinion on the state of permanency for carbon sequestration. First of all, I hope that we both understand that my reference to twenty-five years being equivalent to permanency refers only to payment; not to sequestration period. Permanent sequestration means permanent — for ever (or centuries — as you say).

    I did choose permanency as being equivalent to twenty-five years of annual leases, merely by equating it to the familiar concept of paying a twenty-five year mortgage toward full ownership of a property. The number — 25 — is a suggested one. Considerations involved the desire to conclude the contract for permanent sequestration with one payment which is fair to both parties — I don’t think that anyone would dispute this expectation.

    So let’s reverse things a little from the way I first presented them. Say you, David Benson have developed a sequestration method and put it on the market for the highest bidder, which might be just a little higher than the going market price of the day, and you do get enough that the profits encourage you to continue. At this point, how much would you value a temporary sequestration for one year as is provided by living vegetation? Don’t forget to spend a little time looking at it from the “forester’s” point of view as well as from that of the regulator (scientific panel).

    Ascribing a monetary value to something permanent involves some inconsistencies in logic, especially as it applies to fixed (as opposed to portable — boy, I’m really out of my league here) property, but we do it all the time. It depends in which society you live and how that society developed its concepts of ownership. I’m afraid that I don’t know anything of the history of the development of our values. Where I currently live, you only buy the surface rights to a piece of property, but still, they are yours for ever, to be passed on after your death. Although the rights are yours, year after year, we do manage to put a fixed value on that “in-perpetuity” at that moment.

    So, although permanent sequestration is much longer than twenty-five years, the sequesterer would not expect annual payments forever, nor their equivalent. We do need a fixed price. If you buy into the accepted standard that we can fix a price for permanent ownership (which can normally be financed with twenty-five annual payments of an accepted standard), why would you not extend that “accepted standard” of permanency?

    When I first encountered this problem of relating a permanent sequestration price to temporary, annual payments, I couldn’t find any guidance; whatever number I tried to use seemed to be arbitrary because, after all, we are in a sense comparing apples to oranges. In the paper I have been sending around, I wrote “twenty . . . or fifty”, thinking that perhaps the scientific panel could better determine this relative-figure. Unless someone can come up with a deterministic relationship around which to establish a different number, I have lately become comfortable with 25.

    Now, it is possible that permanently sequestering carbon may turn out to be technically difficult. For the initial period, most sequestering on the market would likely be temporary (afforestation) but the scope of vegetation as a viable, effective, global sink is quite limited, and the need for alternative, more permanent methods will become more urgent. At some point, the rising price will match what is needed to do the sequestration, but if that price is too high, the world economy will stumble seriously — huge distortions in values will creep in and shut down the process we are trying to achieve — to slow or reverse the flow of the carbon cycle.

    Trying to slide the trading of the most ubiquitous substance on the open market with the least disturbance to or imposition on that market will require that prices do seem reasonable to the participants.

    Also, amongst the reasons we are considering temporary sequestration as part of the solution (or effort) — and there are a few of them — is that vegetation is not just any temporary storage; it is living (see previous discussion, July 5 at 5:56 about 7 paragraphs down) and has an enhanced value (albeit, a rather “soft” value).

    Perhaps modelling could be done to try to project how things might develop using different relative-numbers, but the techniques and information required are well beyond my abilities.

    So again . . . why not twenty-five?

  30. Dan G Says:

    To anyone who’s managed to slog their way through this thread this far, there is a disconcerting development. It seems that some latest research suggests that boreal forests may not be the great “global coolers” I had thought them to be. In fact, due to their decreased albedo (compared to say, grassland) and slower accumulation of biomass, boreal forests may actually contribute to warming. Tropical forests are thought to overcome the warming effects of any decreased albedo by sequestering enough carbon to effectively reduce atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide for a total, cooling effect.

    My proposal is predicated on the assumption that all trees were more or less equal as effective cooling agents, and could be marketed as temporary reservoirs for carbon sequestration on an equal basis. My initial “flash of vision” about forming a marketing scheme was to save existent trees, which allowed the concept of temporary carbon pools and annual leases (or rental) to be formed — the major, unique factor and basis for this proposal.

    I cannot really see how this proposal could be modified to achieve the desired scientific effects while still being able to slip into the open market in any appealing way. Sooooo . . . if the preliminary news is correct — about the dismal performance of boreal forests as global cooling agents — this proposal is “dead in the water” . . . I think the expression goes.

    And I must admit, without going into any numbers, the general idea or description of the premise being made in these forestry studies is pretty convincing. We’ll have to see . . . I imagine that the subject will be kicked around for a while and some new research will emerge . . . .

  31. David B. Benson Says:

    Permanent carbon sequestration is not difficult, but it does require energy. As examples, biochar has to be tilled into the ground or high pressure is required to force carbon dioxide into uneconomic coal seams. Of course, there are other costs. Various attempts to determine a suitable fossil carbon tax to cover these costs and provide a reasonable ROI always seem to suggest $50—$150 per tonne.

    I’ll suggest, but only suggest, that the use of biomass as a source of bioenergy, biochar and captured cardon dioxide is greater than any economic value assigned to temporary storage. So perhaps forest owners have to be paid to keep stands, valuable for environmental reasons other than carbon storage.

    I don’t think you should worry to much about the albedo differences between forests and grasslands, unless you want to go into much more detail than provided by, say, Wikipedia. In any case, storing the carbon in boreal regions as biochar will aid whatever vegetation you care to promote, I believe.

  32. Richard Rood Says:

    Dan and David. Just wanted to say thanks for this discussion. It’s interesting and educational.

  33. David B. Benson Says:

    Richard Rood —- Glad you are following it.

    Today I received a copy of a e-mail which illustrates the economic problems, but vast potentialites, for biochar.

    An American moved to south China to start a biochar business. He has set up a demonstration plot for the local (poor) farmers, using about 1.4 tonnes per hectare. His e-mail states that the farmers can already see the difference in productivity, but cannot afford to buy the biocchar for their plots. They are simply too poor. So he’s know working on cookstoves which, on the side, produce the biochar. He hopes the cookstoves will be affordable and the farmers can slowly produce and apply the biochar.

    The potential, of course, is that there are over 1 billion such poor farmers in China alone. Each would like to apply biochar, once they discover it. That’s potentially a lot of carbon sequestration.

  34. Dan G Says:

    By being difficult — as permanent sequestering might be — I meant within the bounds of “economic feasibility”. I imagine that many unusual things can be done given enough money, but if sequestering carbon cannot be done fairly cheaply, global compliance will be too long in coming. My hope had been that using afforestation would help ease us into the hard realization that permanent sequestration was going to be badly needed.

    Besides saving the forests, afforestation would provide a focus and a quick (if only meagre) way to start this whole trading system, to get everyone used to the idea that there would be uncustomary, substantial supplemental costs to using fossil fuels, and probably to work out many bugs or issues that will have surely developed (witness — biochar). Using afforestation softens the entry with another dimension and provides for a sort of primary or intermediate step; it buys a little time while the real hard working permanent methods get worked out.

    For this proposal, using afforestation as temporary storage provided a basis around which permanent storage could be paid, although this didn’t seem to ride so easily with you, given all the discussion around that conversion figure of 25.

    Yes, there would be many instances when wood would still be desired and trees felled. I had hoped that by adding the sequestration value into whatever other values were being calculated, that wanton forest destruction would be minimized, some poaching would be prevented, and it would add value to planting. The idea isn’t so much to directly control things, but to exert influences, more powerfully as needed by having the scientific panel alter the conversion ratio of emissions-to-sequestration. The system could start softly (with a lower ratio) and follow a prescribed or programmed path with tweaking now and again. I don’t think that the world is yet geared-up enough to launch straight into requiring permanent sequestration for all fossil emissions and trees could have buffered quite a bit.

    If afforestation cannot deserve and be adequately rewarded, there will be no increase in conservation, the forests won’t be saved and almost the entire approach to arranging the trading system and its pricing can no longer apply. Any other proposal is going to resemble all the others around. Without the “uniqueness” of that approach and the facility of saving the forests, I would retract this proposal. Its reasoning falls apart.

    So I am not really concerned about the actual albedo of grasslands, but if grasslands contribute more to global cooling than boreal forests, why would anyone seek to save or grow boreal forests (at least from a carbon trading viewpoint)?

    It is comforting to find that Richard Rood is near . . . perhaps he has something to contribute about the potentiality of the world of biochar. I imagine that you –David Benson — would like to inspire more academic reporting on biochar. Although you’re probably looking for much more, just getting it mentioned at all by someone other than yourself on a RealClimate thread is a start.

    In the meantime, I can only keep a sharp eye out for any reports on the efficacy of boreal forests as carbon sinks.

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