climate change

Introducing Biochar: Climate Change Solution or Greenwash Nightmare?

Person holding biochar in hand

After years of investigating biochar, which promoters have touted as a potential climate change fix, DeSmog is releasing its findings on the science, claims, and controversy surrounding this approach to sequestering carbon. 

Biochar is the product of plant or animal products (biomass) undergoing pyrolysis, a high-heat chemical reaction, to convert the carbon-containing biomass to a stable, non-decomposing form of charcoal. Introduced to mainstream audiences in a Time Magazine article from December 2008, biochar as a climate geoengineering technology has hit a number of peaks and valleys since then. In that time, its best chances at reaching commercial scales so far have failed, according to a new DeSmog report, Biochar: Climate Change Solution or False Hope?

Biochar's failure to date is due to a number of reasons, such as the lack of scientific consensus surrounding its ability to sequester carbon indefinitely, the vast amounts of land needed to produce biochar at a large enough scale to affect the climate, and the lack of legislative or regulatory frameworks required for investment in commercial-level production. 

Biochar Lobby's Protocol Receives Blistering Peer Review, Casts Doubts on Serving as Climate Solution

For biochar's fiercest promoters, the sky's the limit for the seemingly mystical product — or at least that's been the pitch for years, ever since TIME Magazine referred to it as “black gold” in a December 2008 feature story. To some, it could do it all: pull carbon out of the atmosphere, enrich the soil, and be refined into a clean and green fuel source.

Yet a peer-reviewed study conducted by the American Carbon Registry (ACR) analyzing the science bolstering the biochar lobby's business plan calls all of these claims into question. Released in March 2015, the review concluded that “the scientific literature does not provide sufficient evidence of the stability of soil carbon sequestration in fields.”

Biochar: A Geoengineering 'Shock Doctrine'

Biochar may be many things, such as a crop yield improvement tool and reclamation device for damaged land. But a climate change panacea, DeSmog's investigation has shown, is probably not among them.

Despite a lack of scientific proof supporting biochar as a long-term solution to sequestering carbon, a niche but fervent group has continued to push the so-called “black gold” to combat today's ever-worsening climate change crisis. The push continued despite the American Carbon Registry rejecting the biochar lobby's carbon sequestration business protocol, after a peer review found its underlying science lacked sufficient rigor.

Upon failing the scientific peer review, funding levels dropped for the main biochar advocacy group, International Biochar Initiative (IBI). This means for now, on a macro-level, biochar has hit a stand still.

What The Oilsands Sell-Off Actually Means

Oilsands trucks

The last few months have been marked by some massive shifts in the oilsands.

In December, there was the $830 million Statoil sale to Athabasca Oil, followed in January and February by the writing down of billions of barrels of reserves by Imperial Oil, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil.

On March 9, Shell sold a majority of its oilsands assets to Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL) in a huge $7.25 billion sale, while Marathon Oil split its Canadian subsidiary between Shell and CNRL for a total of $2.5 billion.

The question is: why are all of these companies selling their oilsands assets? While some celebrate the moves as successes for the climate movement, others blame the Alberta NDP for the exodus of internationals.

Tweet: Experts say #oilsands sell-off has more to do w/ a broader shift that’s made oilsands uneconomical http://bit.ly/2nK3zyQ #ableg #cdnpoliBut experts say the reality has more to do with a broader economic shift that’s made oilsands uneconomical — for the time being at least.

How a Libertarian Think Tank Is Trying to Correct the 'Degenerate' Climate Science Debate in Washington, DC

U.S. Capitol Building

There are lots of attributes that seem to work as reliable predictors that a person or group will reject the science of human-caused climate change and the risks that come from it.

In recent years, for example, being a Republican or a Tea Party member has gone hand in hand with branding the science of climate change as a giant scam.

If you’re one of those conspiracy theorists like Britain’s David Icke or Infowars founder (and apparent President Trump influencer) Alex Jones, then you’ll also be placing climate change into the file marked “illuminati hoax.”

But perhaps the largest, most active, and influential group pushing climate science denial is America’s collective of so-called free-market conservative “think tanks” that want to cut the size of government and claim to be defending your freedom and liberty — examples include the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Heartland Institute, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Curbing Climate Change Has a Dollar Value — Here’s How and Why We Measure It

Ambulance and cars surrounded by Hurricane Sandy flood waters in Hoboken, New Jersey.

By , Harvard University

President Trump is expected to issue an executive order soon to reverse Obama-era rules to cut carbon pollution, including a moratorium on leasing public lands for coal mining and a plan to reduce carbon emissions from power plants.

Trump and his appointees argue that these steps will bring coal miners’ jobs back (although coal industry job losses reflect competition from cheap natural gas, not regulations that have yet to take effect). But they ignore the fact that mitigating climate change will produce large economic gains.

Three Reasons Why Keystone XL May Never Get Built

Keystone XL pipeline

Almost a full decade since first applying for a presidential permit, TransCanada looks set to finally receive go-ahead in the U.S. for its massive $8-billion Keystone XL pipeline.

But here’s the thing: U.S. approval, while a great leap forward for TransCanada, doesn’t guarantee the Keystone XL pipeline will ever be built.

U.S. President Donald Trump was elected with the explicit promise to get the 830,000 barrel per day pipeline from Alberta to Nebraska built, under the conditions that the U.S. would receive a “big, big chunk of the profits, or even ownership rights” and it would be built with American steel; his administration has already flip-flopped on the latter pledge.

*Update: On March 24, 2017, Trump granted Trans Canada the presidential permit required to build Keystone XL, saying: “It’s going to be an incredible pipeline, the greatest technology known to man, or woman.”

So is Keystone XL going to be built? Not so fast. Here are three key reasons why it may never become a reality.

Now Under Attack, EPA’s Work on Climate Change Has Been Going on for Decades

Factory smokestack releasing clouds of pollution

By , University of Oregon

The Trump administration intends to roll back two pillars of the Obama administration’s climate policy — regulations to limit carbon emissions from vehicles and power plants.

Under President Obama, the Environmental Protection Agency was central to these regulations. But new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has said he plans to return the agency to its “core mission” of ensuring clean air and clean water, rather than addressing climate change.

EPA Chief Scott Pruitt Disputes Carbon Dioxide’s Role in Global Warming, Contradicting His Own Agency's Research

Scott Pruitt

Today Scott Pruitt, the recently appointed head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, stated in a CNBC interview that he does not believe that carbon dioxide is one of the primary contributors to global warming.

According to a partial excerpt of Pruitt’s interview posted on The Hill, Pruitt stated the following:

Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy Pushes Natural Gas as Climate Solution at Contentious Town Hall Meetings

Sen. Cassidy in front of a crowd at a public meeting

Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy's constituents packed emotionally charged town hall meetings across the state during Congress’ February break, a trend seen in other meetings with lawmakers around the country. 

At Sen. Cassidy’s first town hall in Denham Springs, which was ground zero for the 1,000 year flood that devastated parts of southern Louisiana last year, the senator focused on flood recovery efforts.

While Sen. Cassidy mentioned that lowering greenhouse gas emissions would “theoretically” be good for sea level rise, he failed to connect climate change to the region’s extreme floods. Instead, he praised President Donald Trump’s goals of bringing back manufacturing jobs to the United States, which could then be powered by the nation’s natural gas reserves.

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