Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Way To Go, CSIRO!

Our national science icon – the CSIRO – has confirmed that soil carbon sequestration is not only possible in Australia, but an inevitable part of Australia’s response to Climate Change. In a comprehensive report titled “An Analysis of Greenhouse Gas Mitigation and Carbon Sequestration Opportunities from Rural Land Use”, more than 100 scientists and policy specialists recited the science of sequestration and mitigation, with some surprisingly positive statements tempering the usual “it doesn’t exist until it’s peer-reviewed” mantra.
Highlights of the report include the following:
1. Significant opportunity: “This report demonstrates that Australia has the opportunity to offset a significant proportion of our GHG emissions, by storing carbon in the landscape and changing the emissions profile from rural land use.” This type of comment was previously discouraged for fear of giving farmers false hope.
2. Our bridge to the future: “[It] indicates that terrestrial GHG management could play a key role in emissions abatement over the next 40-50 years…”. Professor Rattan Lal’s “Bridge To The Future” concept has finally found a home at the CSIRO. Lal and we believe that the world’s agricultural soils have the capacity to stall Global Warming long enough for non-fossil fuel energy sources to reach critical mass and massive capacity required to power our energy-hungry civilisation.
3. Kyoto perverse: “Options, where carbon is stored in the soil or in regenerated native vegetation, are not readily accommodated in the current [Kyoto] frameworks in a manner that best suits the Australian environment.” The Belief, now widespread in Climate Change circles, that the Kyoto Protocols have had perverse consequences that the world cannot afford, seems to be acknowledged in this paper.
4. Transforming rural landscapes: “Much of the terrestrial sequestration potential involves spatially extensive activities, where small contributions per unit land area collectively contribute significantly through application over large areas. This extent means that their widespread adoption, as might occur by their inclusion in the proposed CPRS and a high carbon price, could see them transform rural landscapes. This provides the opportunity for carbon sequestration to drive many desirable and needed outcomes; for example, for biodiversity and ecosystem restoration, for salinity abatement or to improve stream water quality. Additionally, some of the options provide the means to generate income streams for land-owners that may increase and diversify farm incomes.” This is the stuff myths are made from. CSIRO makes the case most elegantly.
5. Potential agreement: “The project worked by establishing a consensus amongst a cross-section of scientists and land management experts. The focus was on the GHG sequestration/mitigation potential likely to be achieved through land use change in Queensland (and in a broader Australian context).” It is imporrtant to note that 100 scientists agreed on this positive report card. While we might disagree with their concept of ‘potential’, we don’t disagree with their positive attitude.
6. A broarder view: “The authors were also asked to explore other benefits and consequences (intended or unintended) e.g. impact on biodiversity, gains in ecosystem services, potential economic benefits, business and market opportunities for rural communities and social impacts on rural communities..” The decision to widen the viewfinder and assess the desirability of sequestration across a range of interconnected outcomes is a sign of a shift in the normally reductionist mindset of science.
7. Starting with an Optimistic Voice: “The project aimed to refine the analysis presented in Garnaut Chapter 22, through an expert assessment of existing research.” Ross Garnaut was so convinced of the power of soils he advised the Government not to wait until all the issues addressed by this paper have been resolved. Start immediately, he advised.
8. Heavy hitters strike the right note: Ram Dalal, Jeff Baldock, Mike Bell and Peter Grace confirm our position on the fractions of soil carbon by elucidating the fundamental principle of carbon’s need to cycle upon which we base the Molecular Value Theory of Soil Carboin Sequestration: “Sequestration of atmospheric carbon (C) in soil requires that the total amount of organic C stored in a soil is increased above its current level and that the increase is maintained into the future. … Although the processes of C capture and transfer to the soil occur continuously, losses through decomposition and mineralisation of soil carbon back to CO2 also occur continually. For C to be sequestered in soil, the rate of carbon addition must be greater than the rate of carbon loss.” Sequestration is a process that works with Carbon’s urge to cycle. We are not setting out to trap and hold particular molecules of Carbon. We have sequestered so long as where there was one molecule in the holding bay yesterday, there are two today and there will be three tomorrow,.They can all be different. Which is why we are not afraid of the instability of the labile fraction. Believers in the Particular Molecule Theory of Soil Carbon Sequestration cannot hope to succeed, given the nature of Carbon’s behaviour. Denial of Carbon's character leads people to believe in things like geologic sequestration.
There are many other positives in this Report which, while it suffers from the same lack of data all soil carbon issues endure, has not been used as an excuse by some of the writers to refuse to use their imaginations, especially when speculating about future trading schemes.


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