Carbon Markets

Biochar 101: Climate Savior or False Hope?

If someone told you a charred black substance could help save the planet from the worst ravages of climate change, it'd be hard to believe, yet foolhardy to ignore.

Biochar, a form of carbon sequestration, has been sold by its promoters as an almost magical way to reverse climate change. Yet not only was the marketing protocol that would help scale up biochar production in the U.S. rejected by science peer reviewers in March 2015, but big oil companies like ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil — among the biggest climate change culprits — also have made a big bet that they can use biochar to “offset” their carbon pollution footprint.

How the Biochar Lobby Pushed for Offsets, Tar Sands, and Fracking Reclamation Using Unsettled Science

For the past several years, a well-organized, well-funded campaign has worked to include biochar in prospective carbon markets as an approved offset for greenhouse gas emissions.

The ardent push has occurred even though the non-partisan Government Accountability Office gave biochar a Technology Readiness Level of two out of nine in a July 2011 report and a 2015 National Research Council study on geoengineering came to similar conclusions about biochar. It also unfolded even though the climate change mitigation potential of sequestering biochar into the ground is far from a settled fact and long-term field trials are sorely lacking.

Controversial State Department Keystone XL Climate Study the Basis of David Petraeus' CUNY Seminar

Former CIA-head David Petraeus' City University of New York (CUNY) Macaulay Honors College seminar readings include several prominent Big Oil-funded “frackademia” studies, a recent DeSmogBlog investigation revealed.

Further digging into records obtained via New York's Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) also reveals “a survey of the global economy to set the stage for the course” - as stated in an email from Petraeus to an unknown source due to redaction - utilizes the U.S. State Department's Keystone XL environmental review written by Environmental Resources Management (ERM Group) to argue that Transcanada's tar sands export pipeline deserves approval.

“[Redacted], atttached is a document that my Harvard researchers and I put together for the seminar I'll lead at Macaulay Honors College of CUNY,” wrote Petraeus in the email. “It is intended to be a survey of the global economy to set the stage for the course…[It] will have considerable value, I think, for the undergrads in the course.”

The “Global Economy” survey was penned on behalf of Petraeus by Vivek Chilukuri, one of Petraeus' researchers at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Public Policy, where Petraeus sits as a Non-Resident Fellow. Chilukuri serves as Editor-in-Chief for the Harvard Journal of Middle Eastern Politics & Policy, and worked for Obama for America before the 2008 election. 

It was at the Harvard Kennedy School where all of Petraeus' troubles began. His biographer, Paula Broadwell, whom he had an affair with, met Petraeus while a Harvard graduate student, a scandal that ultimately drove him out of the CIA.

His CIA departure landed Petraeus his current gigs on Wall Street at Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR) and as an adjunct professor at CUNY Honors College and University of Southern California - and coming full circle - back at Harvard, where the spool began to unravel. 

Subscribe to Carbon Markets