“It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into”

Jonathan Swift
"The Democrats have moved to the right, and the right has moved into a mental hospital." - Bill Maher
"The city is crowded my friends are away and I'm on my own
It's too hot to handle so I gotta get up and go

It's a cruel ... cruel summer"

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Sunday Morning Tomato Blogging

I'm sitting in our backyard this morning, working on this week's Sunday Morning Tomato Blog and pondering global warming. The Discovery Channel produced a good special on the topic (global warming, not the tomato blog) that aired last week and it seems the issue finally gaining some traction with the public. It's just getting too big to ignore. What's got me thinking about global warming is the compost heap off to the side of the garden that's provided some of the soil for this year's crop. I've been patting myself on the back for being a good tree hugger and composting my leaves, grass clippings, kitchen scraps and other plant refuse, but now I'm wondering if that is really such a good thing?

The gist of global warming is this: over millions of years carbon was captured and stored as plants and bacteria. Said plants and bacteria lived, died and collected into massive amounts of organic material which would later be converted by geological processes into coal, oil and natural gas. Human beings discovered these ready made energy warehouses and we spent the past hundred years or so burning them for everything from warming the homes of Dickensian England to fueling my car. In the process, all that carbon, which had been stored under ground for unfathomable amounts of time, is released once again into the atmosphere as C02. Increasing levels of C02 in the atmosphere convert more solar radiation to heat, the air warms up, etc. etc. etc. The process as a whole isn't terribly difficult to understand. It's real, it's happening and the two big questions seem to be: "What are the consequences going to be?" and "What can we do about it?"

It seems our strategy should be a two-pronged attack: prevention and reclamation. We need to cut back on C02 emissions, but we also need to deal with what is already there. I'm not going to address prevention much. Wind and solar power and low-emission vehicles shouldn't be unfamiliar to anyone. What really has me thinking is reclamation. One of the prosposed solutions to global warming is called 'carbon sequestering', where C02 is taken from the atmosphere by some means and then stuck back underground where we found it. It seems to this environmental layman that sequestering is probably the most viable solution.

This is where my composting efforts come into the picture. The compost, much like the plants and bacteria from ages past, is a store of carbon. Unlike the ancient organic material which was covered with sediment and rock, the compost gets a good stir once or twice a week to provide aeration. Insects, bacteria and fungi are busy breaking it down, and releasing C02 in the process. What if instead of composting I tossed all that into the dumpster to be hauled off and buried in a landfill, effectively putting the carbon back into the ground? What if the simplest solution available to us was to take the current global warming system and put it in reverse? For all these years we've had centralized production points for fossil fuels that distributed to the consumers who then used it in comparatively small amounts. What if, instead of some single massive effort at carbon reclamtion (such as Iron Fertilization), we as individuals were to make a concerted effort at capturing C02 in the same small amounts we released it? Everything from grass clippings to sewage could be collected and sent to centralized collection points to be processed and buried underground, the same way our trash is now? If power plants were equipped with some kind of C02 scrubbing technology we might even be able to burn the refuse as fuel and then collect the carbon there. Would this be enought to offset our C02 producing activities? Is it even technically possible? Economics and politics complicate things even further.

This is a political blog, so it should be mentioned that there is one ideology that looks to the future and asks the tough questions like this, while another simply defends the status quo. We lefties need to support candidates who are willing to explore real solutions to this most serious of problems. Any of you centrists/moderates out there better think long hard about this sort of thing when you're standing in the voting booth this fall. The Republican oil-whores currently running ruining our country certainly aren't going to do jack about it and the Christmastians are just sitting around praying for the world to end.

For now, I'll wait for my tomatoes to grow and hope that the horribly dry year we are having is an anomoly and not a sign of things to come.