Burn: Using Fire to Cool the Earth

Maddy Harland | Tuesday, 26th November 2019
An exploration of using biochar and permaculture solutions to remove carbon from the atmosphere and reverse the climate crisis.
Author: Albert Bates and Kathleen Draper
Publisher: Chelsea Green
Publication year: 2019
RRP: £19.99

Albert Bates has focussed on climate change, biochar and permaculture solutions for years. Here he joins with scientist Kathleen Draper to present the latest, most innovative thinking and experimentation on removing carbon from the atmosphere.

First of all they set the scene: The science behind why there is currently a 93% chance that the planet will be more than 40ºC warmer than it is now by 2100, a scenario that predicts survival for very few humans, let alone other species.

Then they explain the science of biochar: how it works, why it works, how it can be made from a whole array of agricultural wastes as well as coppiced wood and bamboo, and how it can be utilised in a circular economy to create carbon cascades. For example, Tom Jopson runs CalForest Nurseries in California. CalForest produces 15-20 million conifer seedlings per year. Biochar is made from local forestry waste at the nurseries. Its biochar is added to potting soil instead of perlite or vermiculite which are toxic. This enhances capacity to hold water, adds fertility and locks up carbon. Making the biochar creates by-products: warmth is pumped into the greenhouses; electricity is made from gases in the biochar retort and used for lighting and refrigeration (where seedlings are stored before they are shipped to customers). So what was waste becomes a virtuous cycle.

This is just one example of a mind boggling array of biochar applications from building materials, alternatives to plastics, filtration devices, fertilisers for agriculture, batteries, toothpastes, pet bedding, textiles, charcrete and roads. Each biochar product or cycle is described in detail showing how we can regenerate landscapes whilst also producing an incredible range of products that function better than the old fossil fuel versions. Remember the carbon fibre fishing rod versus fibreglass? It isn’t all about tech, however, and there is also a section on permaculture and other regenerative grassroots projects.

If you feel like the climate debate is too little, too late, read this. Tell anyone involved in the Extinction Rebellion and other climate activism to read it. We need to focus our activism on achieving these solutions: in agriculture, manufacturing, product design, with circular economy models, even with carbon cryptocurrency! We need to voice these possibilities intelligently and strategically. Business and farming as usual have proven suicidal for our future. Here is the science of hope and possibilities.

Maddy Harland is the co-founder and editor of PM

Useful links

Biochar - a soil building climate change solution

Watch: Making and charging your own biochar

How to charge biochar