Cli­mate change roundtable at KPL next month

Elmira or­ga­niz­ers line up a se­ries of speak­ers to get the dis­cus­sion go­ing

The Woolwich Observer - - NEWS - STEVE KANNON

SAV­ING A DOOMED PLANET may be too much to ask of a lo­cal en­vi­ron­men­tal roundtable, but there’s a cer­tain sense of ur­gency, says or­ga­nizer Michael Purves-Smith.

We may have past the point where re­duc­ing emis­sions – the sub­ject of much talk and a lit­tle ac­tion – is enough, with mit­i­ga­tion re­quired. Those ef­forts will be the fo­cus at the event, sched­uled for Novem­ber 23 at the Kitch­ener Pub­lic Li­brary.

Among the speak­ers will be Maren Oel­ber­mann of the Uni­ver­sity of Water­loo School of En­vi­ron­ment, Re­sources and Sus­tain­abil­ity, who’ll dis­cuss the use of re­me­di­a­tion meth­ods such as us­ing soil to se­quester car­bon. Lloyd Helferty of Biochar Con­sult­ing will speak about cli­mate-smart food, and Jodi Koberin­ski, a 2015 Oak Hu­man Rights Fel­low and lead­ing dis­ci­ple of Van­dana Shiva, will take a new look at the tran­si­tion to a zero car­bon econ­omy.

Purves-Smith, his wife Shan­non and fel­low Elmira en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist Su­san Bryant will also speak, along with Martin Tam­lyn of the Ig­natius Je­suit Cen­tre in Guelph (restor­ing na­ture) and Niara van Gaalen, a 16-year-old stu­dent in the bac­calau­re­ate pro­gram at Cameron Heights (trans­form­ing taxation).

“The ba­sic mes­sage is sim­ple: we now have no op­tion ex­cept to find ways to draw­down car­bon from the at­mos­phere and se­quester it out­side the bio­genetic car­bon cy­cle,” said PurvesSmith. “There are ways to do this nat­u­rally; the tech­nol­ogy in­volved is in­fin­itely less com­plex than the tech­nol­ogy that we used to per­mit the es­cape of fos­sil car­bon; and our sheer num­bers could be an as­set in this case, be­cause this se­ques­tra­tion may, in part, be ac­com­plished through a vast number of small projects.”

Cur­rent ef­forts, such as they are, to deal with emis­sions may be too late at this point, he sug­gests.

“There’s al­ready so much car­bon that’s been re­leased. If you can’t take it out of the air, why bother?”

He said se­ques­tra­tion projects are “a dif­fer­ent way of look­ing at the prob­lem” that may pro­vide some rea­son for op­ti­mism.

There are no quick fixes, how­ever, notes Oel­ber­mann, who’ll be dis­cussing her re­search into biochar, a fine-grained, highly por­ous char­coal that helps soils re­tain nu­tri­ents and wa­ter, some­times touted as car­bon­neg­a­tive. Re­search on its uses stems from the Ama­zo­nian terra preta, a tech­nique that dates back some two thou­sand years whereby or­ganic ma­te­rial is burned at rel­a­tively low heat in an oxy­gen-starved en­vi­ron­ment.

The re­sul­tant char­coal can im­prove soil’s abil­ity to re­tain wa­ter and nu­tri­ents. It’s also con­sid­ered a way to cap­ture the car­bon and re­turn it to the soil, where it re­mains in­ert. Se­ques­tra­tion en­sues if the amount of car­bon stored in the soil is more than the in­put.

While there is re­search be­ing done, it’s too early to know for sure what the ben­e­fits might be, said Oel­ber­mann. That’s es­pe­cially true here in Canada, where the soil and cli­mate dif­fers

from the trop­i­cal ori­gins of biochar.

“It’s not go­ing to be the saviour of all of our prob­lems,” she said, not­ing there are vary­ing schools of thought about biochar’s po­ten­tial. “I don’t think it should be dis­missed, but I don’t think it’s a cure-all.”

There are many vari­ables to con­sider in do­ing re­search, and long-term study is needed to get a true pic­ture of such car­bon se­ques­tra­tion meth­ods. With soil car­bon, mea­sur­able dif­fer­ences takes a long time to ap­pear.

“It takes decades to be able to ob­serve those kinds of changes.”

That’s at odds with our im­pa­tient, quick-fix na­tures.

“Our whole so­ci­ety is fixed on rapid so­lu­tions. You have a headache, you go to the doc­tor and you take a pill. We want it now,” she said.

Echo­ing Purves-Smith’s point, Oel­ber­mann says each per­son mak­ing small changes can have an im­pact on both fu­ture emis­sions and mit­i­ga­tion of cur­rent lev­els.

“We all need to do some­thing to make a change. It can’t be busi­ness as usual.”

At the per­sonal level, with food for in­stance, you can eat lo­cal and or­ganic, grow your own food, and per­haps ex­per­i­ment with biochar, though it’s not easy to source, nor is it cheap.

“I think the take-home mes­sage is ev­ery­body needs to do some­thing. Ev­ery­body needs to do the best they can, and that will be dif­fer­ent for each per­son.”

Peo­ple can do things at home, be­yond in­vest­ing in so­lar pan­els and elec­tric cars, notes Purves-Smith.

The roundtable dis­cus­sion is sched­uled for 7 p.m. on Novem­ber 23 at the KPL branch in down­town Kitch­ener.

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