Thursday, September 9, 2010

Counter-Intuitive Global Warming Solution

The deadline for submitting entries to the Gore-Branson carbon sequestration idea contest has passed, but, nonetheless, here is my submission. It is simple, and more importantly it is non-exotic.

The basic concept is this: While protecting existing forests even more strongly than we do now, we must greatly expand the number of acres dedicated to tree farming, and plant those acres with extremely-fast-growing pulp trees. Weyerhaeuser Corporation has genetically modified species of trees to grow very, very fast.

As we increase tree farming, we should change our economy back to one which makes MASSIVE use of paper and other cellulose-based products -- fit cellulose back into the economy whenever and wherever we can find a niche for it.

Next, instead of recycling paper, we need to BURY paper and those cellulose products after use, when it is time to throw them away -- and use the used paper and cellulose as backfill to fill exhausted strip mines.

This has the impact of sequestering carbon in the form of the relatively stable cellulose moloecule underground.

The existing paper-collection-and-recycling system can easily be converted into a a paper-collection-and-burying system. Rebuild railroad rights-of-way to exhausted strip mines, and simply dump enormous quantities of paper from the bottoms of hopper cars into the mines.

The mines can be lined (with cellulose-based sheathing materials) to cope with leachates, and they can be structured to "chimney" methane to a central collection point, and then covered and the methane recovered and converted to electrical generation and the electricity sold to the grid.

Increases in economic activity in a cellulose-burying economy would increase the rate of carbon sequestration. Paper non-recycling and strip mining become blessings, not a curse.

Fundamentally, there's nothing technologically novel about the approach. Fundamentally, it is conservative in its logic, and cheaply executed.


  1. I did some rough calculations respecting how many square miles of land we would have to dedicate to tree farming to merely address current CO2 emissions levels.

    Wikipedia reports that currently the world is adding about 30 million metric tons to the atmospheric inventory of CO2 every year.

    That's about 66 billion pounds.

    A healthy tree will absord about 20 pounds of CO2 a year.

    That generates a need for about 3.3 billion tree farm trees to be turned into pulp annually.

    That seems do-able.

    Let's say that the tree needs 3 years to get to the 20 pounds per year absorption level.

    So, we would need 4 rows of trees, or 13.2 billion trees.

    There are about 170 trees per acre x 640 acres per square mile, or 108,800 trees per square mile in a tree farm.

    13.2 billion / 109000 = ~121,000 sq mi of tree farm trees to address global warming.

    That's about 14 New Jersey's of trees growing where they weren't growing before.

  2. Americans recycle 90 billion pounds of paper annually. Only about 40 billion pounds of that is carbon. So, even burying every scrap of paper that is currently recycled is not enough. To address global warming, we'd have to find about 50% more to bury.

  3. That would be why we would have to find other ways to use and use-up cellulose -- so that we could bury it, later.

  4. It doesn't all have to be buried. The goal is to make sure that enough carbon is taken out of the atmosphere in its lifecycle. Before the lifecycle was a certain percent was free in the atmosphere. The rest tied up short term in greenery/shrubbery, short lifespan material. Trees themselves are medium/short term storage. The more concurrently live trees that exists, thats more highly/densely packed carbon that exists. We're liberating carbon that was in ultra-long term storage each time we drive our car, each time we burn oil and other fuels. You propose to stock pile paper (wood basically) and place it back in places where it can be stored for an ultra-long time. Good idea, but limited, just by the expense of collecting and finding sites to store (and the environmentalists who say 'oh no, not there Not In My Back Yard'). Things will back up fast.

    I look at my furniture. I have 100 year old house. The wood framing kept a certain amount of carbon out of business (out of atmosphere) medium/short term (not a million years, but not an anual grow/die/rot/liberate back in atmosphere annual cycle either.

    Yep, if we can put dense carbon storing materials away for ultra-long term, just like the stuff we unearthed and burned to get from point A to point B or generate energy . . . the more the better, but interim storage is a great help too (trees and lumber, stuff that sticks around for 100 years if you let it) and even medium/short term. Even just the plant life that keeps the carbon in a leaf, but is liberated after 9 months, even that helps.

  5. . . .
    Urban heating. Rest of the area is 88 degrees. But phila, montgomery/bucks/delaware counties are under urban heat advisory for highs of 94 degrees. Maybe we're just in a hotspot of the earths mantle. Maybe its our greenhouse gas density being higher than surrounding area. OF COURSE NOT. URBAN HEATING = local deforestation. And our areas like that grow. Lets say thermometers are evenly dispersed 1 every square mile. Now an urban heating/deforstation spreads another 50 square miles over a couple of decades. Yep, that would raise the average temperature a tiny bit. How much has the temps raised over the past 100 years? 5 degrees C? No, 1 degree C, wait, I mean 1 degree F. I'm sure our smart propeller head type university guys factored all this in already. (the proverbial beanie cap with a propeller on it that the stereotypical well educated university nerd would be pictured wearing in movies, for those who don't quite get the picture).

    But I can't quite get out of my mind one day, it was quite warm, 95 degrees or so, and carol was visiting. I forget if it was just one of her passing by situations, or if it was family gathering. . . Anyhow, she made comment as she walked from the front of my house to my back yard that it felt 5 degrees cooler in my back yard. Trees (I have 20 or so on my property). Perhaps the air temp was the same, but her body picked up the difference of not having to deal with the radiant heat of the less tree covered street area that my tree covered back and side yards. Lets re-forest the areas deforested by urbanization all around the world and lets see how much of that 1 degree F we can reclaim. I'm not talking carbon dioxide. Just urban heating.

    Let me stop here before I sound like I'm ranting, like a madman. (please keep your 'too late' comments to yourself - lol )

  6. Hi, Tom.

    FIRST, THE PROBLEM IN TERMS OF CONSEQUENCES. We just endured the hottest summer on record. It was CLEARLY a global warming summer. That summer, which is continuing for folks closer to the equator now, and which during our winter will continue for the folks in the southern hemisphere, is melting the North American and Asian tundras. The tundras -- vast, vast landmasses -- rot as they melt, exuding giant quantities of methane, which has 20 times the global warming capacity of CO2.

    Sea-borne CO2 and methane -- vast, vast quantities of it -- is probably on the verge of being "cooked-out-of" the oceans.

    Once these engines really get going, we have lost the war.

    We are at the precipice now -- today, Saturday, at 7:57 a.m.

    Once global warming REALLY kicks in -- when we reach "critical mass," temp-wise, and secondary consequences start kicking-in, the "global warming bomb" "goes thermonuclear."

    ALL land-borne ice starts to melt.

    How much is there?

    Probably about 250 feet of additional sea level.

    250 feet UP.

    That's a giant amount of economic dislocation. Florida, gone. Delaware, gone. Southern New Jersey, gone. Eastern Pennsylvania, gone. New York City, gone. ALL major port cities, gone.

    It will be worse than a major nuclear war.

    SECOND, THE LANDFILL SOLUTION: Once the great global warming melt really gets underway -- and it has already started -- we lose our ability to keep up with it. Once it gets underway, it starts feeding on itself. Heat begets more melting which begets more tundra and ocean gas release which begets more heating. Human activities to keep the planet from going into total meltdown -- including permanent carbon storage in landfills -- become irrelevant. In a few years -- in my opinion, in our lifetimes -- the oceans get 250 feet deeper.

    So, we have to begin NOW, NOW, NOW. Today, Satureday, at 8:15 a.m.

    Mid-term storage is already used-up. New tree farms featuring the destruction of 3.3 billion trees for pulp, annually, are part of the permanent storage process. We HAVE TO reach the level of 3.3 billion trees destroyed annually, and that much pulp being buried, annually, AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

    That is just a COPING MECHANISM, by the way. That doesn't cause global warming to retreat. It just keeps it from advancing.

    I'd LIKE to see 6.6 billion tree farm trees buried annually, to tell you the truth, because we're in trouble.

    We, and the Chinese, should pay for the effort, because we, and the Chinese, are the big CO2 generators. (China has us beat, by the way.) So, each of us should have giant tree farms to generate pulp-for-burial.

  7. Hi, Tom. You had a lot of redundancy there. I edited-out a lot of the replcated material, so that you would be read. If I screwed-up, I apologize.

  8. well, we're doomed then. Probably once the water raises a foot, its too late, the mechanisms are in place and under operation, past the tilting point, beyond the point of no return, we won't be able to stop, there'll be no going back . . .

    And about your comment on redundancy in my writings, I disagree.

    Once I see the governments FORCE all large surplus populations move to warm climates so there is no heating issue(and don't deforest to make room for them), once I see the governments build a great public transportation network so there is minimal to no more need for personal vehicles, once there is no more need to commute to work for more than a mile (bike or walk) and figure out what the 5.5 billion people will be doing for a living while maintaining some kind of TRUE 'green' lifestyle, then I'll believe we are on the right track. Once the government takes over power generation and rids us of coal/oil/natural gas fired power generation and builds 10 times the amount of NUKE plants that we have now (breeder plants in the US PLEASE), then I know they are getting serious.

    At that point, I'm afraid the governments will start taking some very not so very nice moves that will ruffle the feathers of any pro-life type folks

    Everything we are about, Northern Americas, western Europe, industrialized Asia, is to at least maintain lifestyle status-quo if not grow.

  9. Almost forgot to add, come visit me at my beach house here in hatboro, every once in a while (currently at 250 feet altitude)

  10. So, if it gets even a little bit windy, you have the Atlantic on your living room floor?