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The Biochar Solution: Carbon Farming and Climate Change Paperback – October 1, 2010
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"Reading like a detective story and marked by impressive scholarship, Albert Bates' latest book has placed the biochar solution and the vision of a truly regenerative agriculture and settlement squarely in the center of the global crisis. New historical evidence that climate is remarkably responsive to human impacts had me gripping the edge of my seat. The comprehensive and well-informed review of current initiatives and technologies is a tour-de-force, and the grasp of the global policy debate equally sobering. It is hard to imagine a technical subject ― compounded of organic chemistry, archeology, rural economics, climate science, and microbiology ― presented with greater drama or clarity."
― Peter Bane, Permaculture Activist
"In The Biochar Solution , Albert Bates demonstrates the flaws of the story on which industrial civilization is based and offers the living of a new story that will be created by changing our relationship with the planet, and specifically its carbon element. As a result of decades of experience, Bates is better equipped than anyone I know to guide us in slowing climate change by creating carbon-neutral cities and solidly sustainable agriculture."
― Carolyn Baker, Ph.D., author of Sacred Demise: Walking The Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization's Collapse
"This book should be required reading for every policymaker, as well as everyone who eats food, breathes air, enjoys life and wishes to continue doing so. Bates has woven together a highly engaging interdisciplinary answer to climate change that draws on archaeology, history, ecology, chemistry, philosophy, and his vast and eclectic personal experience, a lively page-turner that blends clear-headed analysis with nuts-and-bolts advice. The Chinese symbol for crisis, he reminds us, is comprised of two words: danger and opportunity. He gives us both sides of that coin ― enough danger to wake us up, but ample opportunity to emerge feeling hopeful."
― Tracy Barnett, multimedia travel journalist, author and founder and editor of The Esperanza Project , www.TheEsperanzaProject.org.
"For things to remain the same, everything must change. Before I traveled to Copenhagen for the climate conference, a Benedictine monk asked me if I thought the survival of the human race was politically feasible. I have reflected on that question many times since then. As The Biochar Solution illustrates, climate change cannot be dealt with solely through scientific and economic means. Social and motivational transformation are essential components of the equation."
― Feargal Duff, Senior Advisor to the Foundation for Economic Sustainability, Ireland
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Some changes could have made this book better. Illustrations are by and large too small and of too low quality, so it is difficult to see. The end of the book feels rushed. It is a quick summary of sustainable communities in the West; the few examples given are cursory and rather insignificant. It may be that there are just no good examples of sustainable living in the west and that is rather sad. I would have also appreciated a discussion of how climate change may be tackled through a multi-pronged approach, not just through biochar. This is especially important, because in my opinion the greatest hurdle for action on climate change is people's feeling that such action is unattainable without drastic sacrifices.
After that the book turns to the subject of biochar and its effects on soil improvement and building an attractive environment for the microorganisms that contribute to improving agricultural output and carbon sequestration and its positive effects on the climate.
At this stage of the book it would've been great if a detailed exploration of the available charcoal kiln or charcoal retort designs were added. Instead, the book focused on the available stoves that can be used for cooking and creating charcoal as a byproduct which is great but the addition of some information about how to build a charcoal kiln for small gardens or farms would have been useful.
The book then takes a quick look at some of the projects that have had a positive impact in general, through which biochar can be used to improve the soil and carbon storage and multiply the benefit and the effects on the climate.
At the end of the book there was a brief discussion of the drawbacks of biochar from the standpoint of its opponents and some responses to their claims.
In general I recommend reading this book to all those interested in global warming ,climate change, and those interested in agriculture or gardening in general.
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Unfortunately, Bates allows his enthusiasm to run away with him at times. His maths is sloppy, or based on permutations that are overly optimistic, or perhaps just reflects his lack of knowledge about the real world.
For an example, turn to the chapter, The Power of Youth, where Bates talks about the potential for tree planting in the United States. His suggestion that the millions of students in the US should have some of their non-school days allocated to tree planting activities is not without merit. However, even if judged on the basis of best case scenario, I feel he overestimates what realistically might be planted (a mind-challenging 1.6 TRILLION trees per year) by somewhere between one and two orders of magnitude (in other words, by a factor of between ten to one and one hundred to one). It is this carelessness with facts and figures which had me despairing at times.
That’s not to say biochar couldn't have a critical role to play in sequestering atmospheric carbon (which is Bates’ big thing) or in increasing soil fertility on a global scale: in spite of the hype and the occasional references to astrological forces, Bates still manages to drive that message fairly convincingly.
Worth reading, but be prepared to do your own maths.