Burning plant material in the Amazon rain forest can be good for the planet?
Yes–provided it’s done in the right way. A scientist at Cornell University has discovered that the ancient practice of burning biomass underground, starved of oxygen. The process produces “terra preta” (also known as “black gold” and biochar)–a carbon-rich soil that helps to fertilize the ground, making it possible to grow food crops in the nutrient-poor rainforest soil.
University Photography: Johannes Lehmann holds biochar, left, and the biomass from which it was created
In addition, burning the biomass underground produces “syngas,” an energy source that can be used to power homes and equipment. Those are great benefits for the locals, but this process benefits everyone on the planet since it helps to store carbon in the soils. Biochar can be 80% or more pure carbon!
The ancient people may not have known about global warming, but they did know how to sustain the local ecosystems. This just adds more meaning to the old slogan, “Think Globally, Act Locally!”
Learn more about how carbon dioxide enhances global warming in our “What will Earth’s climate be in the future?” investigation.
Read more about biochar at: http://calsnews.cornell.edu/2010-fall/features/biochar.html