Thursday, October 14, 2010

Moneychangers in the Temple

Whenever soil carbon sequestration is reduced to a transaction between a buyer and a seller, the process is transformed, at the hands of the reducer, to a grimy money matter when what is taking place is a genuine attempt to correct an imbalance that threatens everyone. I detect a tone of disapproval whenever the trade is mentioned, as if the farmer should do the right thing for no recompense and that this holy vocation should not be sullied by moneychangers in the temple. The paranoia that someone might get rich on the proceeds of sequestration is just that, paranoia. The reality is that the market will meander and falter for some time because the price will be set far too low for farmers to risk getting involved. Measurement will never be exact, but estimated (as is tree carbon). But the real progress will be made when the need to wait for perfect science is recognised as a dangerous distraction. Prof. Annette Cowie and Dr Graeme Pearman have both said recently that to wait for perfect science will be too late. We need every landholder to start maximum sequestration, whether we can measure it or not. So long as we know the amplitude and the frequency of flux we can calculate a mean score that will allow trade to proceed. The way I see it, a buyer buys a tonne of CO2-e not to consume or wear it, but to know it has been immobilised for a period of time. If one customer gets half a tonne and another gets a tonne an a half, both should be satisfied that they got value. But there is more to the strategy than thre transaction. We must work within the dynamic reality of carbon. It cannot be prevented from cycling because it is carbon and must do so. But we can 'stall' it long enough to give renewables time to reach a baseload capability which can meet the world's needs. So the real process that is going on is not a series of simple transactions. It is the change of behaviour by the land manager we need, a change in behaviour for long enough that it becomes a change of attitude which eventually becomes a change of culture. And that is Permanence. In any scheme we are involved with the units will be retired on the first trade to prevent exploitation by market manipulators, farmers will never be called upon to make good losses by drought, etc. because they will put up an extra tonne as surety for every tonne sold, which errs on the side of the buyer, and the distribution of thousands of growers across climate zones will spread the risk. Contract duration will be based on what is acceptable to growers, otherwise there is no point. The price of measurement is reduced by setting Bulk Density at a constant value of 1. This eliminates an expensive step and also errs on the side of the buyer. Trade is not the main game. It is a catalyst for a process that aims to fulfill a role of soil and atmospheric rebalancing. Not one that aims to satisfy a set of accounting rules that are not relevant to the task at hand. Which is behaviour change by the greatest number, including the intransigent majority, deaf to the entreaties of CMAs, Landcare Groups, and extension officers to do the right thing by the environment. Money makes their world go round.

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