Climate change, developed world v. developing world and biocharDr. D. Michael Shafer
Director, Warm Heart Foundation, A.Phrao, Chiang Mai
AbstractBecause we are among the world’s 1.2 billion rich people and not its 5.4 billion poor, it is easy to think about the climate crisis, solutions to the climate crisis and sustainability in terms of developed world actions and initiatives. Given the focus of diplomatic, media, policy, and scientific attention, this is entirely understandable. It is also entirely wrongheaded. If you ask, Where can we most easily improve environmental outcomes? Achieve sustainability? Reverse climate change? To say nothing of, where can we alleviate the most suffering and promote the greatest good? The answers are all found in the developing world. Environmental action in the developing world by and for the world’s poorest 2.54 billion people, very small farmers, can do more right now and at less cost to advance our shared interest in global sustainability than anything else imaginable.
What is to be done? Convince billions of small farmers in the developing world to turn their crop wastes into biochar instead of burning it. How? By providing small farmers a profitable business proposition to take up biochar production through imitation, not outside intervention, and by developing markets for any biochar they produce in excess of what they can use on their farms.
On the face of it, this easily stated proposal seems ridiculous. Building businesses, profit incentives, and making markets in the wilderness to say nothing of convincing billions of illiterate farmers to do anything pose an immense challenge. What is biochar? What does burning crop wastes have to do with the crisis of our times? Why should we even consider handing over such a complex problem to the low-tech that mere peasants can manage when this is obviously a problem for the world’s best and brightest working in its top research labs?
Because engaging billions of illiterate farmers in local markets for biochar is easier, cheaper and faster than any other option. Because biochar is solid CO2 removed from the atmosphere, smoke removed from the air, smog kept from happening and food security for billions. Because burning crop wastes contribute as much to climate change as India. Because stopping the burning by converting to biochar production would remove hundreds of millions of tons of CO2 from the atmosphere annually and save millions of lives. Because the best and the brightest have no high-tech solutions at hand in their labs. Because the poor are ready, willing and able to save us right now. Because we are out of time.