If you are a billionaire captain of industry, what are you willing to spend to assure some legacy — any legacy — remains of the contributions you’ve made, after you are gone? Not many would say none. It is a human trait to want to be remembered.
When we look down the long, dark tunnel of our future towards the prospect of leaving behind near-term human extinction — possibly the extinction of life on Earth — it kind of puts a crimp in that kind of thinking.
If you are in that category, how now do you spend a billion dollars to be remembered; to have anyone even around to remember anything?
This past week a few hundred researchers, engineers, entrepreneurs, and climate activists huddled together in Ft. Collins, Colorado, which bills itself the “Napa Valley of Beer,” at the Biochar and Bioenergy Conference put on by the US Biochar Initiative.
The first speaker, Erica Belmont from the University of Wyoming, was a co-author of the recent study by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM), Negative Emissions Technologies and Reliable Sequestration: A Research Agenda. She spoke about the various pathways for getting to net zero and then negative emissions (drawdown) by 2100.
I actually found the NASEM study lacking in ambition, mainly because even under the best of all worlds it estimated the most humans could hope to achieve was a drawdown rate of 20 GtCO2/y (billion metric tons of CO2-equivalents per year) by 2100 using biomass energy carbon capture technology at almost any cost. Kathleen Draper and I had already shown how the world could achieve a drawdown rate of more than 50 GtCO2/y by 2060 or thereabouts from just setting a biochar content standard for all new asphalt and concrete. When you consider that the entire human emissions of greenhouse gases is already 47 GtCO2/y and rising, after which we need to calculate additional methane from permafrost, CO2 from wildfires, and other effects of climate change, the difference between her 20 Gt and our 50 Gt is an existential one.
There are a number of options for NETs (Negative Emissions Technologies) that need to go from theory to field trials to industrial scale at a pace akin to that of the mobilization for war in 1941. Back then, the nation spent hundreds of millions to go from producing Fords and toasters to making Shermans and bullets, overnight.
This time we are talking about trillions and there will be no country or industry left untransformed. The heat waves now crossing Europe on one side of the world and Alaska on the other should focus attention the way California wildfires were a wake-up call for climate deniers in John Birch country. These signs and portents point to a coming Anthropocene that will not be your daddy’s World War II.
Once you get religion about it, what next? The tendency is towards action; to throw money around wastefully at first, but then to gradually distill down solutions that work. You have to be nimble and responsive because this is a fluid theater of war and stuff happens fast.
But don’t worry. Sit back and roll a fatty (assuming you live in a full-legal state like Colorado). Hemp might just save us all.
Shortly after Dr. Belmont left the stage, Wilson Hago of VGRID Energy Systems gave his powerpoint in a breakout session, in which he showed the various products and services now coming to market that use biochar and, once at scale, will massively reduce atmospheric carbon and reverse climate change. Just four of those emerging markets will bring $170 billion in sales in 2020.
Kathleen and I toured a production site owned by Biochar Now just outside Fort Collins and saw what Hago was talking about. Using technology no more complicated than could be made in the early 19th Century, Biochar Now was producing hundreds of tons of biochar for everything from cleaning algae blooms off lakes and ponds to carbon filament for 3D printers. They have $10 million in orders from hemp producers who like theirs blended with bokashi.
It is small wonder that the hemp growers like biochar. In outdoor trials, the various strains saw flower yields jump from 20 to 107 percent when blended biochar was applied.
So, Mr. Captain of Industry, put that in your pipe and smoke it. Gaze out at the horizon and think of all the good places you should invest.
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