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Reply #19: Reality check [View All]

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HamdenRice Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Jun-08-07 08:56 AM
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19. Reality check
Edited on Fri Jun-08-07 09:04 AM by HamdenRice
I'm not sure that burning trees to bury the carbon has a net positive effect on carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. As the OP points out, when you make charcoal, about half of the carbon in the wood is released as carbon dioxide. If you bury the other half as charcoal, the net effect is that you have increased the amount of carbon dioxide in the air compared to the amount that was stored in the trees. In other words, a standing, in tact forest is a better carbon sink than a burned forest with half of the carbon buried as charcoal.

If you have ever seen video of an informal Amazonian charcoal maker, they are smokey, polluting little hells. I doubt that making charcoal for the purpose of burying it is good for the environment.

Also, this proposal seems to misunderstand slash and burn agriculture and tropical soils. It is true that tropical soils tend to be thin and acidic; but the land, taken in its entirety is fertile. That's because in temperate clients, the soil nutrients tend to build up in the soil as a result of winters when nothing is growing taking nutrients out of the soil. In tropical areas, where there is no winter die off, and the vegetation constantly grows, the nutrients are drawn into the foilage until there are no more in the soil, and they remain locked up in the foilage. Hence tropical farmers burn trees and foilage to release the nutrients into the soil to make them available to their crops.

There are good methods of slash and burn, called forest fallow. The farmer burns the forest, plants his crops and moves to a new field the next year, just as in bad slash and burn. But in good slash and burn, instead of a creating a frontier continuously moving into the forest, the farmer circles back after a few years of fallow. This is actually easier for the farmer because it is easier to slash and burn secondary forest (or bush) than primary forest, which has much bigger, older trees that are difficult to cut and burn. Forest fallow appears to have been the traditional form of slash and burn in much of South America and Africa.

The Amerinds of the S. American rain forest are believed to have engaged in forest fallow. A long term result of forest fallow would be a build up of charcoal in the soil. I suspect that terra petra was a by product, not a goal, of traditional agriculture.

Modern day Amazonian farmers engage in moving frontier slash and burn because of human institutions, not out of stupidity, greed or innate environmental destructiveness. In other words, the land tenure system discourages communities from circling back after a period of fallow.

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