[Preface: I know, global warming is a vast, left-wing conspiracy. And really, what unexpected consequences might come from modifying the chemical composition of the atmosphere?]

If, for the sake of argument, polluting the atmosphere might cause unforeseen consequences (as CFCs did with the ozone layer), and if we’re going to continue filling our cars with gasoline, how might we keep from modifying atmospheric carbon dioxide levels?

A few nutty ideas have been proposed, like pumping the carbon dioxide into the ground. A low tech approach is to turn agricultural byproducts (wood chips, stalks, husks and the like) into charcoal and then burying it. The charcoal reenters the atmosphere far more slowly than the decomposition of primary byproducts and so effectively sequesters carbon.

You make charcoal by heating organic materials in a low-oxygen environment. It produces methane and hydrogen which can be used for heating, while the balance of the carbon is turned into charcoal. Charcoal is a soil conditioner so there is a double benefit to farmers.

I see two advantages over, say, pumping the carbon dioxide back into old wells

  1. There is no prospect of catastrophic release. Buried CO2 would be an excellent target for terrorists on enemy countries in time of war.
  2. It can be done cheaply and profitably by individual farmers rather than being an expense to government or industry. Individuals could do it for immediate gain rather than governments or industry doing it as an expense.

Sounds like a great idea. Perhaps it’s time to take out the composter and to build a charcoal maker!