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Carbon sequestration

Most climate activists think in terms of reducing carbon emissions as a solution to rising carbon dioxide levels.  It is true that levels will rise more slowly if man reduces emissions but if the goal is to stop the rise or lower levels then carbon sequestration or removing carbon dioxide from the air is essential.  The majority in the climate discussion don’t give the natural sinks of carbon much credit for being able to sequester more carbon than they currently do.  Instead some propose expensive devices and schemes to remove carbon from the air and place it underground etc.  Almost no one acknowledges that carbon dioxide is essential for plant life and is really the limiting factor in plant growth if all other needs are met as far as soil nutrients.  Sadly most of the world’s soil is demineralized and many other nutrients limit plant growth with many soils so depleted as to be unable to support vigorous plant growth or even healthy plants.  To make things worse man treats the soil with great disrespect with his long time intent to keep the soil bare most of the time when it isn’t growing a single crop and then preventing any other plant from growing other than the crop.  This makes farm land a carbon emitter on average as soil life that needs carbon compounds to live attacks stores of carbon in the soil as food instead of gaining nutrition from growing plant roots.  Man further hurts soil life by using chemical fertilizers and pesticides that wipe out much soil life and encourage the decomposing microbes to release more carbon back into the air along with oxides of nitrogen.  

What is amazing is that a lot of the carbon emits is sequestered by plants and ocean life so that atmospheric CO2 levels don’t go up as much as they could.  The good news is that the level could go down while we still use oil and natural gas if we increased the sequestration on land and sea.  In fact the atmospheric level could go down while we still use coal but, because coal is so high in carbon and coal for power is so inefficient as well, it is desirable to phase out coal as fast as possible.  America has reduced its carbon emissions by cutting the percentage of electricity generated by coal in half but sadly some supposed climate activists are keeping the remaining coal plants in business by blocking new natural gas power plants to replace them and to backup solar and wind.  

The Get Real Alliance as its name says is all about getting real about the climate issue and other topics.  It is a wishful dream to think that solar power can be reliable 24/7 power when the sun only is strong enough to make power for about six hours a day depending on time of year and weather.  Power output is about half in the winter than summer.  Solar is fine to add to the power mix but it needs to be backed up 100% by fast acting natural gas powerplants.  Battery proponents think they have a solution but battery systems are generally sized and designed for short term power delivery with frequent recharges not providing power for days of cloudy weather.  No one talks about how many extra solar panels and batteries will be needed to provide reliable power for even one cloudy day..  

What if there is a way to make the world carbon negative while we still use oil and gas that costs less and actually solves other very tangible problems of declining fertility, growing deserts, dying forests and massive soil loss.  A large number of people don’t think carbon dioxide is a problem worth fundamentally changing our way of life to solve.  The people who do think carbon dioxide is a big problem really just propose super expensive and life changing solutions that just minimize the rise and potential damages.  They propose no solution to the big problem of sick forests full of dead wood.  There is a lot of talk about how bad things could be at the end of the century as far as climate but very little on the fact that much of the world’s topsoil could be gone by then and deserts could be much bigger further reducing productive land.  We need to make soil a priority and if we restore the soil to a mineral rich condition with remineralization and changes to agriculture we will solve the climate issue.  The opportunities are great in America as we have a large amount of good soil left and huge potential to sequester more carbon than we emit with the proposed program.  To really make the world carbon negative takes a global effort but it can be done affordably with great positive benefits.

Nothing in life is free despite the irrational thinking there is a free lunch sometimes.  Even the miracle of photosynthesis needs soil nutrients to do its job of creating biomass and food from air and water with sunshine as the power source.  It takes money to change the world for the better and the best way to solve the climate crisis is to impose a tax on carbon emissions that goes to pay people to naturally remove more carbon from the air than total carbon emissions, versus by expensive and unproductive technical means.  We need faster growing forests and marine ecosystemsin addition to better soil and sea conditions generally which can hold more carbon.  Here is what can be done with a non-punitive affordable carbon tax here in the USA.

The Plan

Now let’s assume we want to sequester 2 billion tons of carbon, which is more than America emits. American fossil fuel consumption on average is 1.5 billion tons of carbon, priced at around $100 per ton equates to $150 billion dollars. There is even more from cement production. How should we spend it to get the most good? Here is a list of benefits:

1. Holistic grazing and improvement of grassland: Management changes alone can offer huge gains and increase soil carbon levels. But more can be done with remineralization. Soil carbon increases of ten tons per acre per year have been accomplished just with a change to regenerative grazing in Mississippi which has virtually year-round growing conditions. Pay $20 per ton of proved increased carbon level. Potential: a billion tons of carbon or more. Cost of testing: $100 per test on 20 acres per test for small farms and $1000 per test for a large farm of 500 acres. A billion acres is about 25-30 million tests or $3.0-3.6 billion a year. Assume low added carbon sequestration per acre of one ton average. Program cost: about $25 billion or less for a billion tons of carbon sequestered. The carbon sequestration levels could be a lot higher, which would be great, but would increase cost. A sliding scale of pay may be necessary.
 
2. Pay Brazil to quit burning the Amazon rainforest and rebuild it: Brazil currently gets no value out of leaving the rainforest alone—they don’t get paid for the carbon it sequesters—and they aren’t held accountable for destroying it—they don’t get charged for the large amount they emit to the atmosphere by burning and clearing. Twenty million people live a subsistence existence doing great environmental harm for very little money earned. It is necessary to pay Brazil and its settlers to quit clearing the rainforest and an additional amount for replanting and remineralizing it. Part of the reason why more is burned and cleared each year is that the land cleared quickly declines in production. Remineralizing open acres will boost productivity and cause soil to sequester more carbon. This program really needs international support to do more to restore the rainforest such as initiating a large-scale remineralization. Program cost: $20 billion a year to keep a million hectares or 250 million tons of carbon from being burned back into air and allowing 10 million tons of carbon to be sequestered each year by the saved rainforest. Ideally, this program is funded by other countries, and U.S. money is allocated to more rock dust and biochar in America.
 
3. Solar biochar-production grant programs: Buy a half million solar biomass cookers a year at an annual cost of $10 billion. Ongoing operating payments start at a billion dollars and rise a billion every year. Sequestration amounts would be five million tons of carbon the first year. Advantage: permanent removal from carbon cycle and increased retention of soil nutrients with less runoff into the ocean. Program will add to soil carbon sequestration payments due to increased soil life. At the time of publication, this is a conceptual invention and needs validation before being adopted as a major program; it may be found that other methods will prove to be more practical. Program cost: $11 billion for first year with long lasting value, sequesters 100-million tons over 20 years with ongoing maintenance fees.
 
4. Rock Dust remineralization: Rock dust remineralization will increase photosynthesis and soil life leading to more carbon sequestration. Estimated cost: $100 per ton of rock dust applied or more depending on freight. Estimate one extra ton of carbon sequestered per ton of rock dust per year with increased soil and plant life plus 100 pounds of permanent carbon removal from the cycle due to enhanced weathering as a one-time event. Very cost effective as sequestration continues and trees stay healthy longer preventing carbon from returning into the air. Start at 100-million tons and increase (starting on lowest cost per ton land that is close to mines). This program is a major jobs and business booster with many trucks and even a fleet of airships required to deliver rock dust to forests and inaccessible areas that would profit from the improved growth. A Rock Dust program needs to grow substantially over time to be a bigger part of the sequestration program. Program cost first year: $10-billion dollars. Needs to increase substantially to be able to remineralize all American land.
 
5. Cover crops: Cover crops help in two ways. First, the growing crop sequesters carbon in its biomass. But most of that carbon returns to the atmosphere, only to be reabsorbed by the following crop. The second advantage provided by cover crops is that having living roots feeding soil microbes, insects and animals prevents from consuming soil carbon compounds and primary crop root mass for food. They continue building organic compounds that can permanently keep carbon in the soil. An estimated 5 tons of extra carbon and prevented soil oxidation per year per acre for 300-million acres, equates to 1.5-billion tons of carbon sequestered or not emitted to the atmosphere. Pay farmers $100 per acre for cover crops. Soil testing cost: $1 billion (with some savings with simultaneous testing for holistic grazing/managment tests for joint owned/managed acreage). Program cost: $11 billion per year initially rising to $31-billion dollars for up to 1.5-billion tons sequestered. With a several year ramp up, the program would have reduced payments over time to allow more biochar and remineralization. Cover crops are a net gain for farmers but have startup costs and require change from traditional multi-generation farming methods that will take multiple seasons to fully implement. Grants or subsidies will be needed for a short time.
 
6. Arid land rejuvenation in America: Restoring fertility and modifying land to trap and store water with increased planted vegetation is a worthy cause for man’s long-term survival, but it is expensive per acre. Much of the American West has various desert scrub bushes on it that have very slow growth rates. Hand-trimming them and making biochar using solar cookers will be slow, but it has an added benefit of providing biochar for enhanced water catchment to sustain more carbon sequestering grasses or other plants. Money needs to be expended on research and plant development. There is a question of whether to improve land with an eye towards holistic grazing and/or biofuel production as well. The use of airships and other innovations could enable large-scale rejuvenation at a lower cost per acre. One of the challenges of arid land reclamation is where to house and take care of all the people needed to work on land to improve fertility, water absorption, and planting on land that may be far from a road. Much of the arid western states are very rugged and unsuitable for improvement because there is literally no soil, and the land is steep. Program cost: first year $1 billion for research and trial work. More in later years as other programs wind down.
 
7. Carbon reduction programs and displaced workers: One of the problems with a universal carbon tax is that it hits the poorer segment of our society very hard. Nearly 40 percent of America is estimated to be unable to come up with $500 without borrowing because they are operating with so little cushion and large debt. For example, a family might have two cars that get 15 miles per gallon and drive 15,000 miles each a year. So, each car burns 1,000 gallons of fuel a year. A 30-cent gas tax means $300 per year per car or $600 per year for the average family. Now gas prices have fallen more than that in the last 12 months. But people notice rising prices a lot more than falling ones, and there will no doubt be much outcry about increased energy prices. Subsidizing a family with $3,000 dollars per old vehicle to replace it with a 30-mile per gallon vehicle would cut their fuel to 500 gallons per vehicle, sharply dropping their yearly fuel bill.
 

This is the case even with the carbon tax and having the advantage of lowering the carbon output of the vehicles by five tons of carbon a year. This means less revenue in the future for the carbon sequestration fund but makes the program revenue positive for low income families. Many people buy used vehicles that have a much higher rate of expensive failures with no warranties. They are unable to buy new vehicles due to not having cash for a down payment and/or poor credit. There could be higher grant payments for more efficient cars or electric cars to further lower carbon output while financially helping lower income people better their lives. Electric costs will also go up with a carbon tax, and there would need to be energy-saving programs to subsidize more efficient light bulbs, appliances, and heating and cooling systems. A ton less carbon emitted per year is a permanent reduction in carbon emissions that has lasting value. Spending $3000 dollars to remove 2 tons of carbon from the air is a slow payout over ten years of $150 dollars per ton of carbon removed, but it also really helps get the program approved. 

Assume two million cars the first year is a big jump in new car production, but some of the cars might be high mpg cars. Electric bills’ share of carbon tax could be prorated so small electric customers don’t see much of an increase, while larger customers pay the most. There are lots of people who struggle just to buy food and are on the edge of bankruptcy. Giving the poorest families a direct subsidy check is probably politically necessary for this plan’s passage. Program cost: $30 billion and would likely be lower in future years but so would carbon tax revenue.

Displaced workers such as coal miners will need some assistance to transition to new better jobs, and new jobs will need to be created in coal mining states. Hopefully, there will be basalt rock deposits that can be mined for rock dust that should be a growing industry that uses mining skills. There are about 50,000 coal miners still working, and32,000 of them work underground. A lot of American coal is exported. Even with a $100 dollar per ton tax, this coal will be sold to countries that have no immediate option to shift from coal burning for their power. Another issue is coal miner pensions as many miners are covered by a company pension. Factories to build solar biochar machines could be done in coal mining country to provide new jobs. Paying generous retraining benefits is probably needed, politically and ethically.

The reduction in carbon emissions by switching from coal burning to a mixture of renewables and natural gas is enormous and makes paying miners a very cost-effective atmospheric CO₂ reduction method. Paying $100,000 per worker is $5 billion over several years to get them working sustainably. Politically, and humanely, we need to fund the coal miner pension program as well perhaps not with a lump sum but agreeing to pay in, as needed, in the future. Legislation effectively making coal totally uneconomic is somewhat confiscatory, like eminent domain, and as part of the program, the coal companies should be bought at a low, but fair, price based on current values. The mines could be saved/preserved for posterity in case there is ever a need for coal. Program cost: $10 billion dollars. A coal buyout is a transitional expense that is short term for the most part, and the funds can be used for remineralization in later years.

8. Foreign arid land improvement and food programs: Paying people in Africa and Latin America to do soil improvement and remineralization is very cost effective and humanitarian. People can’t work if they are malnourished and providing food to people in exchange for work—like making water catchments and biochar—does a lot. Fighting desertification is vital for humanity to thrive. Instituting large-scale adoption of holistic grazing will rebuild grasslands. Program cost: $10 billion a year to treat 100 million acres. Improve carbon sequestration by one ton per acre per year or more. This would be a program that should be funded at a much higher rate by countries with little land available for carbon sequestration. With a global program, this money would be used for more remineralization of America.
 
9. Ocean and marine wetland improvements: Remineralizing the ocean and marine wetlands, as well as bringing restoration, offers great benefits on a lot of levels. The proven biorock technology really creates and stimulates reefs and other carbon sequestering life. Large-scale remineralization with the right minerals can really increase carbon sequestration and marine growth. We need to make the ocean more productive to sustainably provide more food for a growing population. Program cost: $2 billion dollars to start, more after the initial first year ramp up. This would and should be funded more with a global tax implemented through the World Bank and IMF.
 
10. Temperate but demineralized country remineralization: Soil that is leached and has year-round growth gets very demineralized, and many countries to the south of the U.S. suffer low agricultural productivity in areas where there is not volcanic soil. Spending money on remineralization with basalt rock dust and other amendments can sequester carbon and boost income with more food production. This economic boost will help diminish the need to immigrate. Program cost: Estimate at least 10-million acres at $100 per acre for $1 billion. This is merely a pilot program that is a fraction of what a global program would do.
 
11. Forest land carbon sequestration: Healthy forests are essential for carbon sequestration and rewarding tree planting is important. Estimating additional growth from remineralization is tricky, and to be effective and cost efficient, we can’t pay much for tree growth. Perhaps $5 per ton on private lands with a repayment clause when logged. This is fair since most forests are already in place and doing their part to sequester man’s emissions. Payments to use rock dust when replanting would also be good. Restoring U.S. federal forest land is also badly needed and will increase costs. Program cost: Allocate $10 billion for timber programs but more could be needed.

So, for more than $150 billion a year we can estimate sequestration of 3-billion tons or more of carbon a year for an average cost of less than $50 per ton. Now remember this is carbon being sequestered, not CO₂ being removed. CO₂ is two-thirds oxygen so that translates to removing twice as much CO₂ as America emits with its fossil fuel use, or nearly a third of global fossil fuel emissions. Some measures are not permanent removal from the carbon cycle but are cheap processes per ton, and if sustained, do lower atmospheric levels until reversed—if they are ever reversed. Others, such as biochar, are more expensive but their benefits are nearly permanent. Now, the expensive programs that don’t sequester much carbon in the first year have lasting valuable benefits that can grow over time as the carbon tax revenue falls due to less fossil fuel use. Things like holistic grazing and cover crops take money and a management mindset change to get started, but they produce substantial economic gain once they’re implemented that will further improve rural life and profitability. This estimate is pretty conservative but shows the incredible potential that nature has to reverse atmospheric carbon rise. There have been numerous reports generated that offer much lower carbon sequestration numbers, but there is a widespread lack of knowledge about the benefits of remineralization or even holistic grazing. Despite decades of success restoring grasslands, Allan Savory’s methods are still not widely adopted.

This proposal is just a start on what a national program will do and needs a lot of input and research to optimize it.  Many of the programs to help get the program enacted like supporting the coal miners and compensating the coal companies for being put out of business by the tax are humane and necessary to get a tax passed, but will go away in future years and allow more to be spent on remineralization and forest reclamation.  Emissions will go down a lot with improved efficiency and elimination of coal in the US.  

A Global Program is needed with much larger amount spent on remineralization as so much of the world is very badly demineralized including the precious Amazon.  Sharply higher timber growth can play a big part in making the world carbon negative.  We can eliminate world hunger in a sustainable and carbon negative way with a move to regenerative agriculture and holistic grazing.  

Your help is needed to change the mindset of climate policy advocates away from the impractical and harsh proposals to cut carbon emissions to zero and focus instead on the positive and productive plan proposed with sensible increased use of renewables that actually make reliable power such as biogas, algae fuel, new wind power-gas turbine designs, wave energy and geothermal.  Turning the world carbon negative while we still use oil and natural gas takes away the urgency to make rash mandated changes towards unreliable power like current wind and solar designs. We need your support so sign up on the website at www.getrealalliance.org and social media and spread the word!!!