Conference Opening Remarks - Ray Gallian

I’d like talk about Biochar for our brave new world.

This summer the United States has confronted droughts, wildfires and massive storms that knocked out power, topped with heat waves. Each has repeated, and we are only half way through the summer.

In Bejing, China this week, a record rainstorm dumped 6.7 inches on that city in 10 hours. The area just outside the city was soaked by 18 inches of rain in the same period, causing massive flooding. My condolences to our Chinese friends, here. My condolences to us all.

Bill Mckibben notes that 350 parts-per-million of CO2 in the atmosphere is the first data point in history to become a rallying cry. He offered these facts in his Rolling Stone article just this week, in which he wrote, “June broke or tied 3,215 high-temperature records across the United States. That followed the warmest May on record for the Northern Hemisphere – the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe exceeded the 20th-century average, the odds of which occurring by simple chance were 3.7 x 10-99, a number considerably larger than the number of stars in the universe. Meteorologists reported that this spring was the warmest ever recorded for our nation – in fact, it crushed the old record by so much that it represented the “largest temperature departure from average of any season on record.” The same week, Saudi authorities reported that it had rained in Mecca despite a temperature of 109 degrees, the hottest downpour in the planet’s history.”

Considering the energy already loaded in our atmosphere and ready to spring at the next tipping point, we know that at best, we face forced adaptation. We can plan for that to some degree and we must, but we also know that a violent heat engine will express itself erratically.

The lessons of this summer are just murmurs of what’s coming.

And this summer has already tested our fragile support systems and infrastructure, and found them wanting. The news this week noted trains derailed due to heat-distorted tracks, roads buckling due to drought-parched cracking, and overheated asphalt runways gluing planes to the ground.

For me, the “cherry on the top” happened July 12 when, rubbing their eyes at the data, scientists verified that 97 percent of the Greenland ice surface had melted, forming continent-wide pools.

These bullet points of inconvenient truth are the predicted makers of inevitable change. Each of these markers suggests a counterpoint and demands an imperative action on our part. Nature is sending us a message and we had better listen: we are not separate and we are not in charge.

We must change to comply with Nature’s rules. And the last time I checked, Nature owned physics. Our adaptation must be informed by understanding, guided by wisdom, solved by inspiration and built by skilled hands. It sounds like a jobs plan, and it is. It is also our emergency preparedness plan, and our survival plan.

More importantly, this is also the path of mitigation, actively changing our circumstance. It is what sustainability looks like. We must feel, we must know deeply, that our failure would be our undoing.

But first we must create the space to act. We must confront Big Oil and their spokesmen, such as Sen. James Inhofe, as reality deniers and false prophets who seem intoxicated with promoting our extinction.

By contrast, we must aggressively support real climate science and its scientists, currently under siege.

Next, we must build the political will to move quickly to slow and reverse the impact of climate change. Perhaps Washington needs to get hotter after all.

We stand ready to offer biochar for Our Brave New World – one big tool in a toolbox of survival responses. Reversing a 200-year pattern of mining carbon from the ground and dumping it in the air, we can re-mine carbon from the air through the plants that capture it, and store that carbon in soils. Biochar is the fast mitigation technology that promises to unload our imbalance.

We can build a virtuous cycle, a positive feedback loop with biochar from biomass, sequestered in soils, benefitting agriculture.

Biomass, like the solar energy that built it, is diffuse. Similarly, technology must be scaled and deployed to match.

A design goal here is to re-localize control of our inputs and outputs, where local biomass creates local jobs, local soils are built and agriculture improved. Where local carbon creates a global response.

I created the Sonoma Biochar Initiative to educate, advocate, and demonstrate the value of biochar production and use to benefit our climate and agriculture. Toward this goal, the data you’ve generated, the technology you’ve built, the concepts you’ve postulated, help me, help us, to show that not only is our climate crisis man made, so is our solution.


Ray Gallian is a former member of the Sonoma Planning Commission.

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