Monday, September 20, 2010

Is The Answer To Global Warming The Growing And Storage Of Green Plant Matter?

From "Could the garbage heap help save us from global warming?" by Hugh Price, Washington Post, September 18, 2010:
With an overabundance of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it is reasonable to ask, "Where are the plants?" Why hasn't the Earth's vegetation grown larger and faster to absorb the additional CO2? The answer is that it probably has. Some of the 20th century's improvement in crop yields may be due to higher concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere. Nevertheless, eventually those plants die or are eaten, returning their carbon to the atmosphere. To remove CO2 from the atmosphere, the plant material has to be prevented from decomposing.
In 2009, the combined U.S. production of corn, wheat and soybeans was 487 million metric tons. That production measures the usable part of the plants. It is reasonable to believe that there is at least as much material in unused stalks and leaves. If just this material were stored rather than burned or plowed under, it could compensate for almost a quarter of the U.S. carbon footprint. The Mountaineer Power Plant could match the captured carbon of its high-tech approach by piling up the plant waste from 12,000 acres of farmland, at a tiny fraction of the cost.
The biggest problem with this approach may be that it's so low-tech. No green-technology subsidies are required, so there may not be a natural constituency for it. On the other hand, environmentalists should love it. What could be greener than growing plants? And for those concerned about the economy, this approach provides a low-cost method of reducing the country's carbon footprint without increasing the cost of energy. It is also reversible. If current concerns about CO2 concentrations turn out to be unwarranted, the stockpiled material will be readily available for use. What could be simpler?
Read the complete Washington Post article here.

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