New Thoughts on Carbon Sequestration

Generally speaking, I think that most people in the environmental movement tend to focus a bit too heavily on the issue of carbon emissions, often to the exclusion of other issues. For instance, we’re supposed to use compact fluorescent lamps, because they use less power, but ignoring the mercury used in production (given that most people don’t properly recycle the bulbs, this is a huge heavy-metals problem waiting to happen). Same thing with hybrid cars, like the Toyota Prius. So little of what goes into current environmental thinking even begins to consider long-tail, that while we’re busy putting out this current fire, we’re literally pouring gasoline on the next one.

Which is why, it’s so awesome to see real work going on that could potentially solve a lot of problems. Like this talk from July 2009 at TED by Rachel Armstrong on work that she’s involved in that works on literal nanotechnology that creates this microscopic, almost alive, protist-like things that can create limestone reefs in the ocean. And she proposes using this technology to save cities like Venice, which has been sinking into the sea for centuries.

If this works, and I do have some concerns about the ecological impact (namely, how does this system stop growing), it stands to be absolutely amazing, allowing us to create reefs which not only shore up our buildings, but also sequester carbon and serve as habitat for wildlife. Really fascinating.

But more interesting in the short term, because it definitely seems that the implications are far simpler, is some work being done by Gary Lewis of BioAgtive Technologies, where they’ve designed a tractor kit which takes tractor emissions and uses them to fertilize a field. The Australian farmer in the story linked figures he’s saving a half-million Australian dollars per year on fertilizer costs. Plus, he’s taking an output that he’d have anyway and utilizing it in a productive manner.

It’s this sort of enviromental work that really excites me, because they seem to be something which will bring around real, long term, meaningful change in environmental thinking. Incidentally, this is part of why I love TED. The talks are fascinating, and tend to focus on things that you’re not likely to hear about elsewhere.