Measuring CO2 lifespan… and signs of nature’s rejection

O2 post:

Mauro asked about sorting out “carbon sinks”

That’s an excellent question. What you want is the *accumulative* total effect, for the *choice* being made, not so much the particular carbon sink (if what you want is to give people ways to decide what choices are better than others).

The way you’re starting is just the right way, thinking it through far enough to begin to see the real complications. It is indeed so complicated that leads me to seeing the need for ways to simplify. You want to get the whole picture right, not just use up your energy fully detailing the issues you start with.

I don’t know of any effectively permanent carbon sinks, other than the natural accumulation of carbon on the sea floor. So the 2-300 year residence time of CO2 in the atmosphere enough longer than active most biomass sinks can hold carbon… that I wouldn’t really count them at all.

That greatly simplifies the calculation! It also helps correct the strong tendency people have of spending a lot of time looking for offsets, to excuse increasing their basic carbon production. That time and creative effort is better applied elsewhere I think, like for trying to understand the great contradictions like why everyone is saving energy but energy consumption still multiplies…

The biomass issue that really caught me by surprise last year was figuring out that even the long term biomass carbon sinks consume land in a non-renewable way! That is a hidden but very major impact. Using forests to accumulate biomass does work, but only as land is set aside for new forests in perpetuity, and the resource for that is quite limited, and quite expensive. I don’t think people take in to account the cost of buying the land for their perpetual carbon sinks.

To get a sense of scale, sequestering carbon with trees at the rate that normal spending produces CO2 you’d need to set aside new forest land at a rate (very roughly) of an acre for every $200k of GDP. For a small business with ten employees, that might mean obtaining and planting 10 acres a year, forever. The kick back, of course, is that this sort of thing is exactly where the world food crisis came from. There are all kinds of ways in which development permanently consumes food production resources, and we really need them.

No matter what the price is, food demand is going up and resources for food production are going down. That’s what really “cornered the market” and let the speculators of the mid 00’s then run up the price. I think the take home message is that all these big reactions coming at once indicates nature is simply gagging on our proposed new relationship with her as a whole.

In any new relationship being overly immature and aggressive in your approach brings on severe rejections, and observing sever rejections is a ‘sign’ of having missed all the earlier signs. We could learn about that as the natural way.

Responding to: Mauro, Saturday, May 31, 2008 5:58 AM

Subject: co2eq lifespan

I was discussing about biomass carbon sink “ability” but I have a doubt in my mind I propose you.- consider any supply chain which is time and space oriented (i.e. the life cycle of any process evolving in space and time)

– several stages of the process are likely to contribute to GHG emissions.

– a period of time of years, decades or centuries may occur between the earliest and the latest stages.

– in order to quantify the kgCOeq2 emitted during the life cycle of the process, should people take into account that GHGs have different life time in atmosphere (so that an emission occurring in the latest stages could “replace” an “older” emission)? or we have to consider all the GHGs emission regardless their actual release time (simply adding all the emission occurring in the earliest and latsest stages)?Biomass based products (i.e. energy, food and manufactured products) will necessarily emitte again the carbon that biomass soaked. Shouldn’t the only carbon sink be related to (positive) land use change?I hope to have been clear enough and that someone could give me an enlighten answer or to address me to some relevant climate expert/study. Thank you very much for your time.Best regards, Mauro Cordella



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