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The Biochar Debate: Charcoal's Potential to Reverse Climate Change and Build Soil Fertility (Schumacher Briefings)

24 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1603582551
ISBN-10: 160358255X
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Editorial Reviews


"A brilliant synthesis for everyone concerned with solutions to climate change, enhancement of our soils and the future of energy policy. An enjoyably readable introduction to the vital field of biochar. Highly recommended."--Hunter Lovins, founder and President, Natural Capitalism Solutions; cofounder, Rocky Mountain Institute; and co-author of Natural Capitalism

"Our planet is in an existential crisis. While scientists fret and economists debate, politicians dither and business leaders derail. There is a disconnect between physical reality and political reality. And yet, the physical one always trumps; did we imagine it otherwise? James Bruges has got this right. Biochar offers us a last chance to cheat death, but we'll only be given one try. Fail and our epitaph will be a hard black layer writ in the strata: Here Lies the Human Experiment, R.I.P."--Albert Bates, author of The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook and founder of Global Village Institute for Appropriate Technology

"A brilliant, readable review on the critical need to restore our degraded lands back to fertility-be it to sequester greenhouse gases naturally, support forests, improve soil moisture or increase crop yields. Bruges outlines how supporting natural terrestrial sequestration is the cost-effective, proven practice to extract carbon from the atmosphere, and that this can be augmented via the use of soil amendments such as biochar. He concludes with examples that elucidate why tying biochar-based land-management solutions to one-size-fits-all market incentives risks time, money and public health. Our students say, 'It's a 101 must read'-a strong recommendation, indeed."--Alison Burchell, Geologist, Natural Terrestrial Solutions Group

"The Biochar Debate is an intelligent and even-handed look at the potential for both improving soil and addressing global warming offered by the decentralized production and use of biochar. The potential pitfalls and unknowns are clearly acknowledged--this is not another faddish silver bullet approach, but offers some real world examples and practical ideas that anyone can use."--Grace Gershuny, author of The Soul of Soil

"The buzz of interest and activity around biochar in recent years is accelerating. In this concise but engaging book, James Bruges gets us up to speed with the ecology, economics and politics of biochar. Over three decades of speaking about and teaching permaculture, I have come across very few sustainable 'technologies' that appear to change the rules about how to work with nature. Biochar is one of those few. Could biochar be the simple solution by which we can save civilization from the twin crises of resource depletion and climate catastrophe? This sounds like an absurd claim, but not one that can be easily dismissed. James Bruges steers a course between the hope and the hype."--David Holmgren, co-originator of the Permaculture concept and author of Future Scenarios

"Biochar is a relatively new word in the green lexicon, but one you'll hear more about going forward. It isn't a silver bullet, but it may be a useful help in the climate challenge--this slim book will let you think knowledgeably about it, and start to act in your own backyard."--Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet

"It's not enough to stop burning fossil fuels. We also have to remove much of the carbon dioxide that has accumulated in the atmosphere for over a century. Biochar is one of the few tools available for that purpose. If you don't know what biochar is, this book tells you what you need to know."--Peter Barnes, author of Climate Solutions and Capitalism 3.0

About the Author

James Bruges worked as an architect in London, Sudan, and India until 1995 when he retired in order to write about economic and environmental issues. He is the author of Sustainability and the Bristol Urban Village Initiative, The Little Earth Book, and The Big Earth Book, and was a contributor to What About China? His work has also appeared in Resurgence, The Friend, and The Ecologist. He was raised in Kashmir until the age of twelve and now lives with his wife, Marion, in Bristol, England.

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Product Details

  • Series: Schumacher Briefings (Book 16)
  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing (January 21, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 160358255X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1603582551
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.4 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,252,654 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Theresa Welsh on March 27, 2010
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I was attracted to this little book for two reasons: 1) "biochar" is apparently the same thing as the "terra preta" (dark fertile soil) found near the Amazon River and attributed to a now-disappeared civilization which created it, and I wanted to know more about how they did it, and 2) because the book postulates that use of biochar is supposed to help reduce global warming, and I'd like to know how it does that. These are complicated issues; the book deals with the creation and effects of biochar, but the author's main agenda seems to be around rethinking the current initiatives (such as those in the Kyoto agreement) that various nations are undertaking to contain global warming. Biochar, he says, has a role to play, but it is only a part of a larger solution to a fairly desperate crisis facing humanity.

Biochar, for those who don't know, is created from organic material that is burned into charcoal (using a process called pyrolysis). The "terra preta" discovered in the Amazon jungle is black because it contains a large amount of charcoal. The theory is that the ancient people who once lived in the region discovered a way to add charcoal to the soil, and this gave them a very fertile, productive soil that supported a large population and, amazingly, that soil is still there and still fertile. What happened to the people who created it? The best theory is that they were all but wiped out by a pandemic brought by Europeans.

The same fate (the being wiped out part) may face many more populations across the globe if nations don't begin to act more forcefuly on global warming. But what should they be doing? How does biochar fit into this scenario? Biochar, as we know from the example of the terra preta, can enrich the soil and keep it fertile for long periods.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Malvin VINE VOICE on February 12, 2010
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"The Biochar Debate' by James Bruges is a primer about one of the few known solutions to not just alleviating, but reversing the effects of global warming. In this informative book, Mr. Bruges positions biochar as an earth-friendly response to an urgent environmental challenge imposed upon nature by industrial capitalism. Written with clarity, passion and purpose, Mr. Bruges encourages us to support biochar as an integral part of a strategy that puts people before corporate profits.

Mr. Bruges provides an overall view of global warming, making clear that the planet is well on its way towards becoming inhospitable to human civilization. Mr. Bruges briefly recounts how biochar was used successfully by generations of farmers in the Amazon to improve soil fertility, musing how biochar might help resuscitate soils that have been depleted by industrial agriculture. Indeed, he provides compelling case studies that demonstrate how biochar is used today by growers around the world to achieve better yields at lower cost. The author goes on to discuss the science of how biochar absorbs greenhouse gases and provides estimates on how much biochar might need to be produced to achieve meaningful results, offering hope that a solution may be within our reach.

Importantly, Mr. Bruges stresses that biochar must be a tool that is used to empower small farmers and not push farmers further into the tentacles of big agribusiness. The author discusses the many reasons why top-down schemes that privilege financial speculation in the form of carbon trading generally do not benefit those who work the land.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Gadget Fan TOP 1000 REVIEWER on February 18, 2010
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
A few years ago I came across some scientific papers about the fertility benefits of "biochar" (putting charcoal in the soil), which I passed on to a farming friend of mine. However, this approach is so new that it is hard to find hands-on specifics about how to use it in the garden or in the farm field for various different food plants, and my friend has just been experimenting with it on his own, with great results. So I am always interested when something about biochar comes along.

This book has lots of general information about biochar, including things such a archaeological info that it has been used by populations in the past, its usefulness in farming (increases in soil fertility without the costs of fertilizers), how it works from a microbiological point of view, its potential contribution to carbon sequestration, and some tantalizing (but too brief) example projects from around the world. All of these are written from the point of view of the issues of climate change and atmospheric CO2, and consider things such as carbon credits, regulations, etc. There is no "debate" in the book so it seems mis-titled.

It took me a while to figure out what audience this book is addresssed to. It reads like it was expanded from a powerpoint talk -- good, but lacking specifics. I think the intended audience are those who want to know about it in general, and those who are policy and decision makers who can make things happen in communities around the world. It makes the case that people should be doing biochar everywhere. From my farming friend's point of view, using biochar is a no-brainer: make the soil more fertile for almost no cost. The carbon-sequestration effects are gravy.
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