Thursday, March 26, 2009

Carbon Sequestration Ad Nauseum

From Scientific American Carbon-Offset Cowboys Let Their Grass Grow - January 2009

"\Rangeland sequestration projects have generated only about 200,000 credits but are on the cusp of a major boom. The rangelands of the American West naturally absorb about 190 million tons of carbon dioxide a year. That’s about what 40 coal-fired power plants emit, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement. Through its Rangelands Soil Carbon Management Offsets Program, the exchange offers a financial incentive for ranchers to increase the amount of carbon dioxide that is absorbed by their lands. Sun Ranch was the first to qualify."

"Soil Sequestration Grass absorbs carbon dioxide the same way trees do, but on a smaller scale. Through photosynthesis, each plant takes carbon from the atmosphere and uses it to build more plant matter. When grass dies or trees are cut down, that carbon is released back into the atmosphere. But grass plants also release carbon out of their root tips to fungi in the soil, says Stephen Porder, who teaches biogeochemistry at Brown University. “When those roots die or the fungi die, they’re eaten by some microbe or worm, and a portion of that carbon gets stabilized,” he explains. “It gets stuck onto a clay mineral or a particle and stays in the soil.”"

OK, a tiny tiny portion of the carbon from dead plant material gets incorporated in the cells of the critter (fungi, microbe, etc.) which metabolizes the grass and its roots. The vast majority however is released immediately into the atmosphere. The net actual sequestration is highly unlikely to merit the amount of money our government environment activists would like to award to the "ranchers" who will take this land out of production. If I could get paid for growing cheat grass, rabbit brush and sage I would invest in all the high desert I could lay my hands on.

Carbon sequestration makes a little (very little) sense when considering forest ecosystems, it makes no sense at all when looking at range lands. It is worse than a simple waste of money to invest in this so called technology. Spending dollars to in a what amounts to an environmental scam not only steals from tax payers but does less than nothing to reverse the increase in CO2 in the atmosphere. Cap and Trade schemes will do absolutely nothing to reverse the process of climate change. They will provide cash flow for those savvy enough to play the game.

This is simple chemistry and biology. It is no mystery how photosynthesis and respiration work in the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Let's stop the wishful thinking and get on with the task of finding alternatives to fossil fuels. Allowing range lands and farm lands to lay fallow, and leaving forest management to the tender mercies of insects and disease will not get the job done. Come on people! Cowboys grow cows and manage their lands. They don't just find ways to scam the taxpayer for funds so that they sit on the deck drinking martinis and grooming their poodles.


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