Comments about ‘A win-win solution to the climate change controversy’

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Published: Sunday, May 11 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

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Salt Lake City, UT

"The potential for actively increasing soil carbon sequestration is so great that scientists have calculated that we could employ it to rapidly remove all human-released CO2 from the beginning of the industrial revolution until the present time."

This I think is way too optimistic. But there is a process underway whereby carbon emitters can use tree-lot offsets in areas of the world like Amazonia. And we worry about the consequences of forest destruction in the Amazon basin.

I hope there is something to this. Note: climate change deniers will see these efforts as waste for the most part.

Salt Lake City, UT

I've read and heard a great deal about the powerful CO2 absorbing factor of the oceans, but until this article, almost nothing about the same effect from soil, other than the obvious CO2 capture of soil-based plants (trees, grasses, etc.) that must positively love all the CO2 we're spewing into the atmosphere.

Please, beyond simply stating, in somewhat hyperbolic language, that there is a marvelous CO2 capturing potential in the soil, please provide either the actual data supporting the claims or at least some pointers to where we can find it.

Baron Scarpia
Logan, UT

This article seems to suggest that simply tending better care to our soil can help society maintain the status quo of coal-fired power and oil. Sadly, it can't.

Coal creates significantly more problems for us than just carbon emissions. It consumes significant water resources to make electricity (for steam), and with droughts and increasing populations, reliance on coal will become increasingly expensive, especially in the desert West. Coal requires extraction and railroad/truck transport, which means more use of diesel fuel -- another resource escalating in price. The spewing of mercury and other pollutants create more health problems for society, requiring more ObamaCare and suffering of family members affected by poor air and water quality. Many fish and waterfowl are now too mercury-laden from coal-fired power for consumption today. The list of problems posed by igniting coal on fire goes on and on...

There's good reason for the war on coal.

2 bits
Cottonwood Heights, UT

C02 capture is a great idea. Problem is... the President's plan doesn't stop there. He already said he won't be happy until he bankrupts America's coal industry and his party leaders have been caught saying their plan will cripple fossil fuel companies...

Obama said (it's recorded google it)... "Under my plan of a cap-and-trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket" ...

That makes it hard to sell as a "win-win".

It exposes a "we take all the chips or else"... mentality. That makes many people uneasy.

Salt Lake City, UT

Re: 2 bits Yep, he said it, but he was being unusually candid for a politician. Here's the problem, and it is a classic one in environmental economics. Producing power with coal produces an externality, that is, it imposes a cost on greater society which is not covered in electric rates. That external cost is global warming which is potentially huge. The cap and trade setup is an attempt to bring the true costs of power production inside of the power market, so electric rates reflect true costs. This is the neoclassical economics concept of cost localization in action. Don't like it, hang a mainstream economist, but leave me alone, I'm a Marxist.

Thornbury, Vic

Yes soil sequestration of Co2 works well while you have adequate rainfall, however in a draught the CO2 is released again. Sorry this is not the silver bullet. The earth has been storing away Carbon for millions of years so humans could be placed on it. We are now using that stored carbon at such a rate that we will make the earth unable to support our population.

Don't forget Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott is a stated Climate Denier. He is extreme right wing and cares more about subsidizing mining companies than caring for pensioners.

Yes increased CO2 promotes plant growth (Carbon Fertilization) however recent tests with CO2 at 550ppm show the crops are less nutritious.

What in Tucket?
Provo, UT

Some scientists believe we are in a cooling trend. Moreover any time a large volcano could blow its' top resulting in another year without a summer and millions dying of starvation. Some say arctic ice pack is shrinking, some say antarctic ice pack is larger than ever seen before. Some say no increase in temperature in 17 years yet CO2 is up. I wish someone would get together on this stuff. Cool planet a company that wants to produce biofuel from corn stover, miscanthus grass and stuff claims it will remove half the carbon and use it as a fertilizer. Let us hop we can get thorium or something working.

Heber, Utah

Re: Marxist
It does sound too good to be true, but it is. Look at this draft book chapter entitled, Restoring Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide to Pre-Industrial Levels: Re-Establishing the Evolutionary Grassland-Grazer Relationship, posted on the web.
Because there are no economic penalties from adopting this approach, and such huge economic and environmental benefits, there is little or no reason to oppose it once skeptics understand it. It makes the scientific debate moot, since there is no real cost and many benefits for everyone in pursuing soil carbon sequestration.
Also, carbon storage in forests is unstable and subject to both fire and rapid decomposition from decay. Fire produces a witch's brew of CO2 and other polluting carbon compounds as well as releasing huge volumes of carbon compounds from burned soils. Decomposition releases CO2 in trees and vegetation and as large amounts of methane from insect and bacterial digestion of the plant material. Deep sequestration in rangeland, pasture and agricultural soils is much more efficient. We know from research that it is stable for thousands of years and there is no reason not to think it is sequestered permanently.

Heber, Utah

Any energy source has tradeoffs. This includes alternative sources. Some of these tradeoffs, are environmental, such as bird kills in wind turbine fields. Others are economic such as putting countries adopting them unilaterally at an economic disadvantage . Spain is a classic example of this where too rapid adoption of alternative sources resulted in increased unemployment, higher debt, a deep recession, etc.
Other countries, including India, China and some in Europe are building coal fired generating plants at a rapid rate, so dealing with the CO2 emitted by burning coal is a reality and an inevitable fact of life.
Coal deposits vary widely in sulfur, mercury and chlorine content, among other attributes. Utah coal is notably low in all three of these. See the analysis by the Utah Geological Survey for more details.
While one can find problems with any energy source, what we are proposing is the only way to effectively, quickly, efficiently and naturally deal with CO2 no matter the source. Good policy requires considering all advantages and disadvantages, including economic, foreign policy, and others.

Heber, Utah

Your comment illustrate the paradigm shift we mentioned in our article. In fact, the relationship between such things as precipitation or normal oxidation that you reference applies only to the "labile," or non stable, carbon in the uppermost soil layers. What we now understand based on scientific research discoveries in the past couple of decades is how "non labile" carbon is bonded essentially permanently in deeper soil layers. Accomplishing this requires adopting the right rangeland and agricultural management practices, but it is being done around the world. As long as these deeper layers stay intact and are not exposed to oxidation, the carbon bound in the soil is not affected by precipitation. A good overview of this is an article by an Australian researcher and acknowledged world class expert in the field. Dr. Christine Jones. "Carbon that counts" can be found on the web. Note also the references mentioned above.
As for Australia, the focus on soil sequestration began in the previous Labour government. Abbot is still committed to meeting Australia's reduction targets under the Kyoto treaty, but is abandoning the cap and trade approach of the previous government.
So, it really could be the silver bullet.

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