by Dr. Ranil Senanayake (Island)
We are being made victims of a global fraud, one that ignores the scientific and economic reality of the Carbon cycle. The fossil fuel industry, be it, coal, oil or gas would have us believe that all Carbon is equal. The recent arguments of the CEBEU (Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers Union) suggesting that carbon dioxide emanated by burning coal can be countered by growing trees is totally wrong! It demonstrates a very narrow understanding of the substances that they promote. Carbon Dioxide that is emanated by Coal or any other fossil fuel cannot be countered by growing trees!
Carbon comes in many forms; consider a diamond, a lump of coal, and a chunk of wood. One is a mineral form of carbon, the other a fossil and the last a biological or biotic form. They are very different in quality yet they are all made of Carbon. To understand the story of Carbon, we need to understand the story of life.
Life on Earth learnt how to maintain gas and material flows, optimum for the evolution of biodiversity. Carbon Dioxide, though essential to the process of life, was always being introduced into the atmosphere by volcanic processes at disruptive levels, throughout geologic history. But, the gas has not concentrated in the atmosphere, because it was sequestered by living things and put away out of circulation from the biosphere of living carbon. This store of carbon is what is fossilised and accumulating over the last few hundred million years. This store is what the fossil fuel industry is digging up to release that ancient, locked up Carbon into the modern cycling atmosphere.
The difference is apparent when one considers the example of a slice of bread and a cup of petroleum. One is fossil and is poisonous to ingest the other is biotic and nutritious to ingest. Both are carbon-based, both came from living organisms, but one is a hydrocarbon that has been fossilised for a long time kept away from the living biosphere and the other is a carbohydrate that is an essential part of the active biosphere. There is a real, discernable, difference between fossil carbon and biotic carbon. For instance, biotic (living) carbon is maintained in a solid (sequestrated) rate counted in thousands of years while fossil carbon has sequestration rates counted in millions of years. But, we are told that both are equal … an obvious lie!
What are these two pools of carbon biotic and fossil?
Biotic carbon is created by the photosynthetic activity of plants which take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and fixes (sequesters) it in a solid state as organic matter. While all plants sequester and store carbon, trees and woody plants are the most efficient as they produce resistant compounds such as lignin. Consider the fate of two photosynthetically derived objects of similar biomass – a large pile of seaweed and a log lying on a beach. Both are plant products, but one (the tree) is strengthened with lignin. The same biological, chemical and physical forces will impact both. The seaweed will have disappeared within a few weeks the log may remain more or less the same for years.
Fossil carbon, too, arose as a product of photosynthesis plants. But, in the geological process of the planet, these products were removed from the biosphere and changed by the action of heat and pressure to become fossilised with sequestration times that are measured in millions of years. It is not interactive with the living or biotic cycle. There is a reasonable conjecture that this was a planetary mechanism for maintaining a homeostatic atmosphere. Until the advent of industrial society this fossil pool had very little input to atmospheric carbon. Allowing this fossil carbon to enter the biotic cycle is the fundamental reason as to why there is the accelerating greenhouse effect.
A tree plated to ‘absorb’ carbon emitted by burning fossil fuels may last for a hundred or so years. Thus, paying for the growing of trees to compensate for the carbon dioxide generated by the loss of a forest is fine, but paying the same price for growing trees to compensate for carbon dioxide generated by fossil carbon is tantamount to ‘carbon laundering’. There is no way to compare the carbon from oil and coal with the carbon from a forest. One has a space in the biotic cycle the other does not. Fossil carbon.
Coal, Oil and LP gas are all sources of fossil Carbon. While the arguments over the relative price of each type are conducted loudly, there is little interest in developing the non-fossil, sustainable sources of energy for this nation. The most basic consideration is that sources like sunlight are free and therefore provide no way by which the operators of the national grid can make money.
Fossil fuels are considered an ‘environmental toxin’ as they tend to destroy the delicate carbon balance on the planet. They also produce negative health issues in the areas where they are used. So, now we are ready to trade our land for ‘oil storage’?
Will we never learn? It is with sorrow that an article written 1979 is reproduced below :
“Oil is a commodity traded on the world market place. The sellers are few and the customers are many. Anyone even remotely familiar with any aspect of marketing will know that as an item of high demand becomes scarce the price increases correspondently. Such is the nature of market commodities. The old story of supply and demand. So, as oil becomes scarce the price increase will become correspondingly larger. Its development measured by increasing dependency in such a commodity?
In a port city in France, goes a story; there lived some of the most unscrupulous criminals. There are the drug traffickers who deal in the cruel drug heroin. Heroin is addictive, it creates a sense of well being; but one requires increasingly large doses to maintain this sense of well being. The victim who begins to take it becomes even more dependent on the drug and freedom from it becomes increasingly difficult. The traffickers, it is alleged, gave free doses to children in the 11, 12 age group knowing well that the gullible, naïve, children will soon become addicted. When they became addicted they have to pay and the price they will have to pay increases with the addiction. They are trapped in a vicious dependency cycle and there is no way out. They end up being the chattal of the criminals.
Is development to be spell out as dependency on oil? If this is the criterion that governs development and our hopes and sense of well-being is tied to the oil purveyors, how safe are we as an independent nation? There is a correspondence cycle to the dependency cycle, that is, to buy oil we have to earn foreign exchange, to earn foreign exchange we have to export. So increasing oil bills will mean an increasing volume of exports to maintain the trade balance. What do we have to export readily? Our national wealth, mineral and agricultural. Will this dependency mean poorer fare, poorer public health and increasing food bills for the citizen? “
Today, we see that is the same leaders of that time and the same bureaucrats and the same ‘scientists’ who have brought us to this backward looking energy policy today, still demanding fossil energy. Their ‘Oil and Coal is development’ mantra, has almost bankrupted us, has created the polluted air we are forced to breathe and put us in a dependency trap where we will always have to buy fossil energy to keep our lights on. They work hand in glove with the fossil energy mafia to keep out sustainable energy sources like light from the sun and threaten to keep us in the dark. As Plato said : the real tragedy is not when the child is afraid of the dark, it is when men are afraid of the light!