It may seem weird to say that climate change has an image problem, but it really does. Whoever does the PR for climate change hasn’t been doing a very good job, because according to a George Mason/Yale University survey, only just over a third of Americans are either “alarmed” or “concerned” about global warming. But the problem is much more immediate than most Americans seem to think. The federal government might have to spend $400 million to relocate around 400 people away from the small Alaskan village of Kivalina given they are already at risk. 136 large coastal cities, 40 million people, $3 trillion in assets will soon be at risk as well due to rising sea levels National Geographic reported in a September 2013 issue. Climate change is a growing problem and, beyond carbon emissions regulations, our government hasn’t done much about it.
But while the debate goes back and forth about how to solve the problem of a warming planet, one solution has been horribly overlooked. Early Amerindians started burning biomass for fertilizer long before Europeans showed up and used it to promote crop growth. When they burned biomass, which is a term to describe almost anything organic, they produced biochar. Biochar could be a big player in the fight against global warming. Biochar is, for starters, a carbon negative substance. It absorbs carbon out of the air, rather than emitting it like fossil fuels. On top of that, biochar is an excellent fertilizer. Dr. Glynn Percival, who runs the Bartlett Tree Research Lab, found incredible results when he tested bio-char on trees during a 2014 study. Similar studies across the world have shown similar results and it all seems to suggest that biochar works not only as a fertilizer for plants, but also potentially as a way to fight climate change. The carbon negative property of biochar means that widespread use could pull a significant amount of carbon from the air – 2.2 gigatons of carbon by 2050 is what the International Biochar Initiative found. In addition to being effective and proven, biochar is also cheap. If farmers were to use it, it would only cost them 12 cents more than normal fertilizer. Potentially, the government could subsidize farmers the 12 cents in exchange for their use of biochar on their crops as a means to combat climate change. Its safe and the process it organic, in fact it occurs naturally almost everytime a forest fire occurs and if that doesn’t cool fears (get it?) about biochar’s safety, then its worth noting that researchers at the University of Texas and the Southwest Research Institute found that biochar was a safe method to be used for filtering particles out of the air and water. Ultimately, there’s a reason why the scientific community is slowly throwing their support behind biochar. At the end of the day, biochar might not be a magic bullet for mitigating the effects of climate change, but anybody who sets out to find one will come up short. There isn’t any single solution to the problem, but rather a potential web of solutions, all working in tandem to fight global warming and it seems very likely that biochar has a place in the larger picture.