Thomas Goreau works to protect the earth from climate change — both on land and in the oceans, where he is trying to save coral reefs. Joanna Campe is director of Remineralize the Earth, an NGO promoting the use of rock dust soil amendments. Tom Vanacore owns a quarry that supplies rock dust to farmers. Goreau notes importance of mixing biochar with rock dust and aging the compound; otherwise it may make plants grow less. Almost all the nutritive elements in our food come from the minerals in rock and are being depleted by current farming techniques. But farmers are learning to remedy the problem now. For the video, audio podcast, transcript and public comments: https://tosavetheworld.ca/episode-542-remineralize-the-earth .
biochar, soil, rock dust, biomass, minerals, rock, trees, materials, tom, weathering, co2, basalt, canada, fertilizers, carbon, sources, agriculture, earthworm, important, agroforestry
Thomas Goreau, Metta Spencer, Thomas Vanacore, Joanna Campe, Adele Buckley, Ellen Judd
The conversation is about soil amendments and their impact on food production and the environment. Dr. Goreau explains that his focus is on regenerating severely damaged ecosystems in the most efficient way possible. He explains that plants get all their essential elements except for hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen from the soil. The soil is, therefore, essential to plant growth, and most plants are limited by a deficiency in one or more of the essential elements. Chemical fertilizers only add nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, leaving out other essential elements that plants need. The solution, therefore, is to use rock powder and biochar to remineralize the soil and add the missing minerals.
Joanna Campe discusses how Remineralize the Earth advocates remineralization to keep soils healthy and to grow nutrient-dense food. Rock dust, when combined with organic matter and biological techniques, is key to regenerative agriculture. Campe explains that industrial agriculture has depleted up to 70 minerals and trace elements from the soil, leading to nutrient-deficient food.
Thomas Vanacore explains that use of the right kind of rocks is essential to achieving the desired results in remineralization. Basalt is one of the best rocks for remineralizing the soil as it has most of the essential minerals in the most balanced levels. Biochar is also essential as it holds on to nutrients and water and makes them available to the fungi that feed the roots. When mixed with mature biochar, rock powder produces tremendous growth. The combination makes the soil drought-resistant, resistant to insects and disease, and changes the pH, leading to higher nutrient uptake.
The conversation emphasizes the importance of remineralization in regenerative agriculture and its potential to address issues such as food security, environmental degradation, and climate change.
Joanna Campe mentions that remineralisation has been used in Europe since the 1960s and that a study from the University of Munich showed that when rock dust was applied to a pine forest, there was a fourfold increase in timber volume over 24 years, with one application lasting 60 years. In Brazil, over 5 million hectares of soil have been remineralized to grow soybeans, and the country has sold over a million tonnes of rock dust annually. Thomas Vanacore explains that remineralisation is being used to integrate agroforestry into monoculture technologies, which will be important in the north, where there are large swaths of monoculture that could turn into a desert due to global warming.
Tom Goreau highlights the impact of increasing CO2 in the atmosphere on the acidity of the ocean and the dissolution of limestone. The group discusses the potential for regenerating the Amazon through remineralisation and biochar, an invention of the Amazonian Indians. The speakers see the potential of remineralisation to improve soil health, increase crop yields, sequester carbon, and mitigate climate change, and the importance of a whole systems approach to addressing the interconnected challenges of climate change.
They recommend cutting down fast-growing, unproductive weeds in deforested areas and turning them into biochar, which is then mixed with rock dust and used to build up biomass in the soil. Vanacore notes that, while basalt is an ideal source of rock dust, there are many other types of alkaline silicates and placers that can be used for remineralization and are widely available. Additionally, there are legacy stockpiles of previously pulverized materials that can be repurposed or recycled as byproducts. However, transportation can determine the cost of rock dust, and new sources may have to be processed if this becomes a global climate mitigation initiative.
The speakers note that the use of renewable energy to pulverize rock minerals to powders and the multiple benefits of agroforestry make the process justifiable from an engineering and thermodynamics standpoint. The key to success is working within local resources that are in abundance. Biochar and rock dust for climate mitigation through agroforestry can help build up biomass in the soil and increase the efficiency of recycling minerals, but the cost of transportation and energy use for processing the materials may be a challenge.
Weathering, the release of essential elements from rocks, is a significant source of CO2 absorption in nature, but normally takes millions of years. Conventional practices may take decades or generations to solve the climate problem, so other solutions, such as increasing biomass and weathering, need to be applied together to remove carbon.
Goreau believes that governments have dropped the ball and that public education is key. Scientists and innovators working on regenerating soil, biomass, and biodiversity need to be supported bu governments.
In Canada, Goreau suggests using wood waste to create biochar, which could revolutionize Canadian agriculture. Vanacore suggests combining the forestry and agriculture industries, municipal sources of waste, and repurposing of these materials into bio mineral fertilizers.
There is no clear estimate as to how much the enhance rock weathering methodology can reduce climate problems compared to other proposed interventions. Cloud brightening, for instance, is a short-term solution that needs to be constantly pumped into the atmosphere, while enhancing rock weathering can sequester CO2 for many years.
The speakers discuss the possibility of converting waste biomass from public parks and grain processing into biomass or bio-mineral fertilizers that are rich in minerals. This process involves converting woody biomass to biochar. The pyrolysis also yields a gas that can power mills and prevent its release as CO2 into the atmosphere. The biochar is then mixed with rock minerals and biomass to create bio-mineral fertilizers.
The quality of the biochar depends on the type of biomass used and the temperature at which it is burned. Leaves and algae are not as good as hard wood and if you use really high temperatures, you wind up with nothing but carbon, carbon black. Everything else is driven off. But biochar made from hard wood and burned the temperatures in the absence of oxygen produces high-quality carbon that lasts millions of years, making it ideal for soil improvement.
The biochar needs to be mixed with rock minerals to provide a high surface area that holds on to water and nutrients that are released by weathering. The farmers can benefit from the nutrient-dense material and the reduced cost of synthetic fertilizer. This can be effective if the infrastructure is in place to handle large quantities of materials. Biochar and rock minerals have been used by traditional cultures who learned from experience. The black soils of the Ukraine, for example, are the remnants of a forest burned down, and half of the carbon in the soil is biochar.
This transcript has been machine generated using “otter.ai.” Prior to using information from the transcript, please watch the video to catch any obvious errors.
Metta Spencer 00:00
Okay, hi, I’m Metta Spencer. Today, let’s talk some more about soil amendments, because there’s a real chance that we can make a difference in the quality of our food. And in the amount of food that we produce and in the healthy, healthiness of the environment when we don’t poison it with chemical fertilizers, and we can even reduce climate change by using the right kind of rocks. If we put rocks on our soil all pulverized we can, we can make a lot of improvement in this world. So it’s worth talking about and we’ve had some conversations already. But today, I have three new experts they are not all that new to me, because I’ve seen one before several times, but two experts that I’m getting acquainted with today, Dr. Tom Goreau, is in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He is the president of the Global coral reef Alliance, which is a nonprofit organization for coral reef protection and sustainable management, and he is the coordinator of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development Partnership in new technologies for small island developing states. What a mouthful. That’s one word. He’s also co author of geo therapy, which is really relevant to us today. Because although I really would like to talk to about coral reefs. We’re going to talk mostly about rock dust today as soil amendments. So now in Massachusetts, is Joanna Campe, who is the Executive Director of remineralize the Earth. She’s an NGO addressing enhanced weathering for carbon removal. That’s what that’s the codeword for rock dust. And in Vermont, in Bridgeport, Vermont, is Thomas Vanacore. He’s the founder and owner of rock dust local in Vermont, and he’s an expert on quarrying stone. So I’ve called upon him several times, because everybody I mentioned, as an interviewee already knows Tom and says, he’s, he’s the man to talk to. So I’ve already invited him a couple of times before, and it’s good to have him back. Now. We will we also have two members of the Canadian Pugwash group with us, Ellen Judd, who is a retired professor of anthropology University of Manitoba, is I think, in Winnipeg, and here closer to home for me is Adele Buckley, who is a physicist and engineer, and a very important key member of the Canadian Pugwash group, for many years, she’s carried the heavy lifting. So good morning, everybody. It’s nice to see you all. So, I’m going to start off with Tom Goreau, because we were already into a good conversation. And, and let me start off by asking the connections among the various research projects that you carry on, because I know your chief focus has to do with coral reefs, which is one of our interests too, because we’re interested in the technology of brightening clouds as a way of cooling the water in the ocean. And some people are trying that in the Australian Great reef, Great Barrier Reef, but But you also are an expert on enhanced weathering of rock it can you explain any connection between these particular interests.
Thomas Goreau 03:59
The common thread between what I do in these very different habitats is we try to look at how to regenerate severely damaged ecosystems in the most efficient way. And because every place we go in the coastal zone, they’re dying. I mean, it’s really tragic to see especially if you’ve been diving as long as I have, but on land the same thing we see the destruction going on. And essentially, if we don’t figure out how to regenerate all our ecosystems very quickly, we’re going to be in deep trouble with with global warming, because that’s one of the major mechanisms we can use to remove co2 is enhanced natural mechanisms we’ve been destroying. So my common thread is trying to find ways to enhance the growth of ecosystems. So with regard to soil, you know, I studied ag geochemistry and where we are interested in understanding what makes plants fertile. There are some 20 elements to all life needs, you have to have it if you want to be healthy if you don’t, you’re severely deficient. 20 different elements and we’re used to thinking plants just grow off air and water. But in fact, they get hydrogen, carbon, oxygen and nitrogen from those but everything else, all those other essential elements come from the ground from the soil, they come from the minerals in the ground that are releasing those elements slowly from the rock face. So, so that that’s where that limits the growth of plants. Most places we go, the plants are limited by some deficiency or another. And what we do with chemical fertilizers, we just dump nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium on them. And all the other elements that they need are missing. So the result is they can’t take up the elements they need, because whacking the other essential elements. So, so we’ve been looking into really using rock powder and biochar as natural mechanisms to regenerate the entire ecosystem. So that’s, that’s how my interest came about.
Metta Spencer 05:51
So you’ve also looked at biochar, which I’ve been enthusiastic about for, for a long time, the combination seems, is there merit in combining them?
Thomas Goreau 06:03
Well, I don’t, I’m not sure if you wanted to do this, but I’d like to show four quick images.
Metta Spencer 06:08
Thomas Goreau 06:08
If I, if I can’t do it now, or I can do it later.
Metta Spencer 06:10
Thomas Goreau 06:11
We’ll map a basalt. Now, the thing is many different kinds of rocks, Each place has a different rock underneath, because of its different geological history and how humans have used it. So each place has a different spectrum of missing elements. But the salt is the one that has most of them in the most balanced level, you know, certain certain kinds of rocks are rich in one element but missing in others and so forth. So the salt is really one of the best, it’s extremely widespread in the world. So that’s one reason why we we focus on the use of it now, I did some experiments in Panama with the salt powder. And then what we did is we simply grew trees for five years, hundreds of trees and in local soil, that was extremely impoverished and in rock dust from a basalt quarry. And what you can see here is the trees grew nearly seven times faster in the rock dust in the local soil, and it was enriching all these elements. So we analyze phosphorus, iron, and all these essential elements pretty much were enriched, so we didn’t measure all 20 of them, but you can see what happens. So basically, by remineralizing the soil and adding the minerals that are missing, we can provide tremendous growth. Here’s rock powder alone, we didn’t add biochar and biochar is is also important because biochar is like, like charcoal. It’s any form of carbon, you burn it without oxygen, you make a char some is low quality, some is high quality depends what you make it from and what the temperature and pressure and how long you do it and all that. So there’s a huge difference. People are calling very different materials biochar, but there’s a huge range of properties. But the point is, the raw biochar and you see in red actually inhibits the growth of pea seedlings.
Metta Spencer 07:07
Thomas Goreau 07:25
Mature biochar, which is biochar that’s been aged with compost and rock powder in blue stimulates the growth. And that’s because biochar isn’t the fertilizer itself. What it does, it holds on to nutrients and holds on to water and makes them available to the fungi that feed the roots. So, if you mix the two of them together and use mature biochar with rock powder, you get tremendous spent (sic) so that means that they should always be used together. And that’s one problem we have in the field people regard them as different activities. Here’s another fun figure here we Joanna and I did some projects where we added biochar and basalt powder to different farm fields here, and one day I came and I, I counted the earthworm casts, you know, this is earthworm you know, excrement sitting on top of the, on top of the soil now, the I was led to this by Charles Darwin whose last book is on the subject, by the way on, on earthworms anyways. And he went around counting earthworm castings. So, I did the same and what happened is with the basalt powder, we got, you know, huge increases in earthworm activity. Not much with biochar, you know, anywhere, you know, huge increase from 82 to nearly 100 times greater density so, so feeding feeding the soil with the right elements doesn’t just feed the plants it feeds the whole network of recirculating biochemical and biological systems in the soil but we also need to enhance yet to maintain the recycling. We’re killing that with commercial agriculture, because all we’re doing is adding poisons to stop the recycling. So we do this, you know, we get enormous benefits. I think that’s it for figures. I just wanted to show you those. Let me now stop sharing the screen.
Metta Spencer 08:05
Oh. Oh, okay. That’s fascinating. Absolutely wonderful. But, you know, it’s a little site off question that one of my other interviewees who’s interested, she’s a forester, and she said that earthworms are not indigenous to to Canada, or I don’t know where else.
Thomas Goreau 10:03
Yes that’s right they’re brought in from Europe.
Metta Spencer 10:04
And she treats them as an alien species. And I don’t know whether that’s, I mean, I had always been told the earthworms, we should love them.
Thomas Goreau 10:16
Yes well the thing is, if they died in Canada during the ice ages, it just got too cold for them. And they weren’t able when it cooled warmed up again, they basically re introduced exotic species from Europe that came in with the seeds in the soil. So exotic species are everyplace and in some places, we’re getting disastrous consequences. Yeah. But then something in some cases, they can be benign or beneficial. So there’s, it’s a mixed bag and native species can be harmful as well. So you know.
Metta Spencer 10:43
Okay, well, I won’t worry about them, then. That’s its good to know what they do.
Thomas Goreau 10:47
Well it depends.
Metta Spencer 10:49
Okay, very fine. Fine. Well, now I want to say hello to Joanna. Tell me Joanna, what your project is your your remineralize The Earth is an NGO I believe.
Joanna Campe 11:00
Yes that’s right. I, Remineralize The Earth has been an organization since 1996. I started a long time ago, actually, in the 1980s. I went based on the work of a book called The survival of civilization, by John Hamaker and Don Weaver. So this was something that I read, felt was very important and wanted to make a difference around. Then I went down to the co2 hearings at Senator Albert Gore in 1986. So then I, you know, went to a climate conference where actually the scientists just laughed at the idea of using rock dusts and soils. They said, Ah, it’s all silica. And they were chemistry based scientists that have now, you know, scientists do much more for agriculture, biological management, as well. So that makes a tremendous difference. But we advocate re mineralization, and they’re actually slight difference and overlap between green mineralization and enhanced weathering. So I think remineralization to keep it very simple. We, we we know to compost, compost is like a household word. You know, we know that we have to return the organic matter to the soils. Well, we’re saying the same thing how our soils formed. They’re formed over millennia by glaciation by volcanic eruptions, and alluvial deposits. So rocks are the most abundant resource on Earth, you know, one of the most abundant resources. So this is the way soils are formed. So it’s a very, extremely natural process, not only do we need to recycle the organic matter, we also need to recycle the mineral nutrients. And especially today, because with industrial agriculture, all the minerals and (inaudible) elements of importance, and it’s really up to 70 minerals and trace elements have been, you know, depleted and our soils so the foods we eat are lacking in those minerals, which tremendously affects our health. So it’s extremely important to be able to grow nutrient dense food and applying rocked dust organic matter, you know, rock dust with all different kinds of biological techniques, rock dust goes along with everything, you know, whether it’s compost, permaculture, it’s, it’s you could say, we’ve gone from going from organic, to sustainable to regenerative agriculture. It’s really a key of regenerative agriculture.
Metta Spencer 13:57
Okay, well, you know, I heard some, there’s a sort of a meme that I’ve I’ve read, saying that there’s about 60 more generations of nutrients in the soil. And after it when we’ve raised 60 more crops, we will have used up the world’s supply of minerals and nutrients. And therefore, we better start turning things around and start not only conserving the soil and keeping it from eroding and blowing away, but also re, restoring it, renourishing the soil with replenishing it with materials and so on. So I presume that that is something you became aware of long before the rest of us.
Joanna Campe 14:52
As far as holes go and nutrient density. There was an organization that came out of our organization is called the bio nutrient Institute. And they do. They’re doing a lot of research around nutrient density in terms of biological soil amendments and rock dust and so on. Yeah, so I think the nutrient density aspect is tremendously important for agriculture. But thinking about forests a lot, you know, the forest is not healthy. It’s giving off co2, and it’s not storing carbon. So we want our forests as healthy as possible. And also, you know, we’re tending to be at the end of the interglacial period. And so you know, forests tend to die off at the end of the interglacial. So we need to strengthen them and rock those makes them drought resistant, resistant to insects and disease, that changes the pH. So the uptake of nutrients is higher. And so if you think about all the forest fires in California, for example, you know, Remineralization would probably do a lot to keep that from happening. And there’s actually one researcher there. Who is saving the California dying oaks of the California oaks that are dying. And he has a website called Live Oak, something like that Live Oak [Sudden Oak Life]. Yeah. And his name is Lee Klinger. So, So yes, we can, there’s so many ramifications, because it’s something so basic, you know, when I first read this book, The Survival of Civilization, for me, it was just dirt under my feet. And really what I came to understand when I read that book, was there is this vast Micro Universe, under our feet with support the whole life?
Metta Spencer 16:59
If I could ask you more about this thing about saving forests with remineralisation? That’s first I’ve heard of that. How does that theory go?
Joanna Campe 17:08
Well, just to give you an example, in Europe, see research on remineralization already was really taking place in the 1960s with Dr. Peter von Fragstein, and many rock dust companies in Europe, where through the decades have been selling, rock dust up for agriculture. But one study from the University of Munich showed a study in central central Europe, that when rock dust was applied to a pine forest, there were it got four times the timber volume over 24 years. And one application of rock dust lasted 60 years. So in other words, if you compare the differences, there was at 60 years they needed another application of rock dust. And, for example, in the study that Tom did, in Panama, all the trees that didn’t have the rock dust and none of them survived. And the particular, you know, particular trials that he just mentioned, would greatly benefit by adding rock dust to, you know, to soils. And the other thing I want to just mention quickly, because it’s really not Canada is agro geology. I know that you interviewed Dr. Peter von Frangstein. And you know, agro geology started in Canada that is geology and the service of agriculture. And
Metta Spencer 18:49
Are you thinking of Peter van Straaten?
Joanna Campe 18:52
I mean, sorry, Peter van Straaten. Yeah. Thank you for correcting me. Yes, Peter van Straaten. And so that was founded in Canada, but it was specifically in the beginning focus on laterite soils, and tropical soils because in tropical soils, chemical fertilizers get washed away by the intense rainfall where as rock dust is heavy, it stays in place. And so, Brazil now is the country that has done the best remineralization in the world. They’ve done research and development for decades. They have remineralized over 5 million hectares. So a lot of soybean production now and they they have sold something like over a million tonnes of rock dust a year. So that is an example of a place and Peter van Straaten has done a lot of work there because now there are hundreds of students and universities doing their theses and everything and so he has spent a lot of time in Brazil.
Metta Spencer 20:03
Are they using it for the forests? Or it sounds as if you’re talking about farming?
Joanna Campe 20:10
Yes, it’s for agriculture in Brazil. There is an interest in agroforestry and agroforestry there is a wonderful project there at a place called Sitio Semente (sic), s-e-m-e-n-t-e where they use one rock dust application with no outside inputs they’re after. And they grow. They grow vegetables, fruits, coffee and cacao in one system one agroforestry system.
Metta Spencer 20:49
Yeah well, excuse me, I’m really interested in this agro forestry in this case, is raising food in the same in the forest with under the trees or raising trees that produce fruits and nuts. Is that what you mean? I mean, I the agro I understand, but how is it related to forestry?
Joanna Campe 21:11
Yeah, so let me just say for an example, to look at a Sito Semente, I said it incorrectly. And yeah, so they are create creating a system for raising food that is more like a forest. And using trees, they’re planting vegetables underneath. They’ll have different stages and different stages at different times. So there’s a wonderful video that you can watch called from Garden to Forest. And if you look at that it has subtitles in English. It’s very inspiring.
Metta Spencer 21:47
Okay, fascinating. Okay, Tom Vanacore. Hi, how are you?
Thomas Vanacore 21:52
Good. Thanks. Great, great conversation. So I’m, I’ve known Joanna and Tom Goreau for a lot of years, a bunch of different things you can find if you search around on YouTube, integrating forestry and, and perennial and annual crops together, especially in the tropics, but it’s it’s also being done and being adopted in the northern climates. There’s some places where this is happening now. So it’s certainly something that’s important to look at.
Metta Spencer 22:29
Well, when when we talk about Brazil it’s almost always about the cutting down of the rainforest to create and beef ranches and things like that. But and also farming but the farm as I understand it, the soil is so poor, that the farming you only get a few seasons, and then you have to move on because and then the soil was no good.
Thomas Vanacore 22:57
Metta Spencer 22:58
Now, are you saying that there’s a way of, of rehabilitating the areas in which they have depleted that they’ve cut down the rain forest for farms
Thomas Vanacore 23:10
Metta Spencer 23:10
And left a mess behind them.
Thomas Vanacore 23:13
Metta Spencer 23:13
Is there a way of wringing restoring the quality of the soil?
Thomas Vanacore 23:18
Right, and the way to the way this is being done now in the tropics is to is to go into those clear cut areas and and stripped out areas and apply a good heavy application of the broad spectrum rock powders at one time, and then start bringing in this this technique of it’s a combination of permaculture, forestry, management and annual annual production. So food crops tree crops, and using the biomass that’s being generated by the the forestry, the trees, basically pruning the trees and using the biomass that’s being created by the fast growing trees in this environment to to recycle biomass and build soils underneath the canopy. So it begins as a spice, sparse, sparsely populated tree environment and slowly starts closing in the as the canopy closes in, you know, the diversity is changing. So it’s a type of permaculture. So this this is really something that will probably be more and more important in the north where there are these large swaths of monoculture that that could potentially turn into a desert in the absence of intervention, you know, as global warming starts, super heats in the atmosphere, there’s the potential of drought, or the extremes will make monoculture more and more tenuous. And so this this idea of integrating farm integrating agroforestry, you know, into monoculture technologies in terms of resiliency of growth is one that I think is very, very important to look at, as a strategy for survival into the future. And rock minerals can be a base, sort of a foundation, it doesn’t even necessarily have to be repeated high doses of rock minerals, you can, you can actually go out one time in preparation for these transitions, and go out at, you know, heavy applications potentially, and, and those benefits will last for decades, or you can integrate the way you know, we’re doing it in a smaller applications within whatever farm management is happening. So this is important, I did want to go back to Tom Goreau and and and Joanna’s comment about the forest fires and the pH of the the the atmosphere, the rain that’s falling as a result of, of a burning, and smoke and the pH of the oceans. And how this is this all relates it’s a global system is both terrestrial system, land, land, what’s happening on the land, and what’s happening in the ocean, and the ocean is probably the biggest driver of climate. And, of course, Tom, Tom is going to correct me if I’m wrong here. But what we’re seeing in the ocean is a precipitous drop in, in the pH of the ocean, which is really representation of what what’s happening on land. So the integration of the terrestrial application of rock minerals with, you know, abundant growth of of healthy plants and the, the, the environments in the ocean and maritime environments restoration are very closely related, and need to be looked at together in a whole system’s approach to climate mitigation. So I think that’s something that conversation should really, we should elaborate a little bit on that because they’re, they’re intimately connected.
Metta Spencer 27:24
Yeah. Especially maybe Tom was already telling me about a connection with the, the coral reefs that he’s very concerned with?
Thomas Vanacore 27:36
Very much. So. Tom
Metta Spencer 27:39
Do you want to there are two Toms here, so I have to be careful.
Thomas Vanacore 27:42
Metta Spencer 27:44
Tom G., do you want to talk about coral reefs a bit and how it’s connected to soil?
Thomas Goreau 27:52
Well, let me say this, I mean, the thing is that it’s increasing co2 in the atmosphere from fossil fuels. It’s a major acid in the ocean. So as we increase that the ocean becomes more acidic, and then the limestone can dissolve. So that’s, that’s a progressive thing. It’s been going on ever since we started putting more co2 into the atmosphere at the temperature is the really deadly issue for corals. So not, not the acidity, the temperature is what’s killing them right now. I just like to come back to what you mentioned about Brazil, because in 1980s, actually played the first measurements of greenhouse gas emissions and in the Amazon, from deforestation. So we’re doing a lot of work on that. And it’s true that after you burn the forest down, you raised one crop of corn and you’re burned out the nutrients forever, you have to abandon the land edge, and I saw a great deal myself and what happened with the cattle. But the thing is, that’s also where biochar was invented by Amazonian Indians 1000s of years ago. That’s an Amazon. It’s an indigenous invention. And what they did in the middle of the worst soils in the world is they built up the richest soils in the world, which are the so called black, dark earth. So the Amazon, Portuguese (inaudible) Indio. And that’s what we’re, we’ve just their knowledge was lost by genocide from European diseases 500 years ago. And so we’re slowly relearning that, but actually, it’s going to be key to regenerating the Amazon. But you’ve got to bring in you can make the carbon from any any weedy biomass, which is all we have in a lot of the deforested areas of Amazon now because it’s coming or weeds, the biodiversity has collapsed. Biomass is collapsing ecosystem services have collapsed. But as Tom, the other Tom pointed out, you bring in some basalt powder, you can recharge the system to grow much faster, much better. And if you manage it, right, keep recycling that stuff for decade after decade. You know, it’s long lasting boost and so we believe the Amazon can be regenerated but it’s very close to the tipping point of turning into semi desert I think in 1968 or so, Robert Goodland at the World Bank wrote a book called Amazon from Green Hill to Red Desert. Okay. And he forecast that this would happen it is it is indeed.
Metta Spencer 30:14
Okay, now how would this work? Because for biochar, if you on the kind of scale that you would need, you’d need to be cutting down trees to make the biochar, right?
Thomas Goreau 30:27
Right but you could do that from the weedy trees that have taken over there is in these forests where there used to be 500 species of trees, you now have three species of useless weeds. That’s the stuff to turn into biochar it was in Brazil, half the land that has been deforested has been abandoned. Because the weeds are out of control, they can’t mange them.
Metta Spencer 30:47
And by weeds, you mean trees?
Thomas Goreau 30:51
Well, but different different species, they’re trees, they’re vines, they’re shrubs they are just things that grow fast, but they don’t have useful products, or much biomass.
Metta Spencer 31:01
So you take, you okay, I’m trying to figure out how you’d work this. Okay. So somebody comes down, they cut down the rainforest, they raise a crop or two, and then they have to go away because they can’t grow anything. So then you you wait for the local for the place to regenerate a little bit of weeds and you cut it and you cut those weeds down and make biochar into it and put it on the soil.
Thomas Goreau 31:25
Yes, that’s correct.
Metta Spencer 31:26
Going over a period…
Thomas Goreau 31:26
That would make biochar add rock dust and plant fruit trees to build up the biomass.
Metta Spencer 31:33
And you mix it with rock dust right there. Right?
Thomas Goreau 31:36
Metta Spencer 31:36
Where do you get your rock dust? Is this basalt?
Thomas Goreau 31:40
That’s an issue. That’s an issue because transportation determines the cost. The Amazon is infertile because the sources of basalt are far away. But there are sources in Brazil all over Brazil, that can be trucked for the same cost as regular fertilizers.
Thomas Vanacore 31:55
Yeah. So there’s
Joanna Campe 31:57
Can I speak? There’s a, there’s a project for the Amazon right now with Dr. Suzi Huff Theodoro. And they would be using a dam sediment for remineralizing I believe, so. And then Brazil has not been energy independent and very much wants to and imported all its fertilizers and so on. And they have many sources of rock dust, I mean, very plentiful sources. So…
Metta Spencer 32:28
Thomas Vanacore 32:28
And I think that’s an that’s an important point to make is that although basalt rock is in a well balanced, plentiful mineral. There are many sources of the alkaline silicates and other types of placers available regionally, almost in every region, that can be suitable for re mineralization. Now, of course, it takes doing some analysis and doing some work with the materials to understand them better. But, you know, the idea that we can take regional or local materials for our mineral, and and combine that with biomass to produce a bio mineral fertilizer, I think, is really the key and the way forward to climate mitigation, because it really circumvents the reliance that the forest and especially the agricultural community has on imported fertilizers at distance. In other words, most of the fertilizer that’s been produced commercially is is only been produced in very few places. As an example, one of the reasons why nitrogen fertilizer became so expensive over the past year or two is because of the war in the Ukraine interrupted the supply of fertilizer coming out of the Balkan regions. And so the entire, the entire global economy and fertilizer was disrupted by a, a war, a proxy war in, in the Ukraine, and so, you know, global climate mitigation cannot be reliant on a source coming from one area, because it’s, it’s impossible to do that. We have to we have to work within local resources that are in abundance, using regional sources and regional supplies. And I think this this is where I remineralization and agroforestry and this sort of biologic management is key. And it’s pretty much the largest climate mitigation, I’m saying technology and sort of putting that in quotes because it’s, it’s more of a management strategy and it’s applied technology rather than, you know, reliance on an engineered or an engineering approach to climate mitigation. Thanks. Adele has a question.
Adele Buckley 35:06
Yeah, maybe I have a couple of but but the first one is, and pardon my ignorance, but I don’t know what is the chemical composition of basalt or any of the other rocks that are proposed for this this job? That Could you could you not make them artificially? Or what is the energy required to grind up rock to add it is another question? And then of course, this the idea of agro forestry is interesting, I think, because what, there’s a lot of trees being planted in deforested places in Canada, British Columbia, other places. But maybe those trees will never grow properly or do anything useful if the soil or growing in isn’t any good anyway. So if you could comment on some of those questions, please.
Metta Spencer 36:05
Let’s go to Tom Goreau for a change. Okay, Tom Goreau, you want to try replying to Adele? You’re muted, I think. I think you’re muted. I can’t hear you.
Thomas Goreau 36:26
I think Tom Vanacore to answer the question better than I can. But I mean, the thing is, that look, basically all basically all the elements are found in rocks, except for what’s some what’s in the air in the water you know. And what’s in the air in the water is only a small fraction of the minerals that are in the rocks. And that’s where the minerals, you know that in most plants and animals they come from the ground, and so we’re talking about maintaining those supplies, and keeping them recycled in a way that maximizes the biomass and the biodiversity and the efficiency of recycle, we need all of those together. And what we’re doing now with mismanaging the environment is we’re wiping everything out, you know, we’re destroying all the things we need to survive in the long run.
Metta Spencer 37:13
Thanks. And Tom? Yeah, again, what is basalt made up mostly?
Thomas Goreau 37:18
Well, that’s a lot. There’s a lot of different minerals. I mean, I could give you the names. And if you’re not not a geologist, they wouldn’t mean anything to you. But basically, they’re different minerals that are compounds of a lot of different metals, aluminum, silicon, oxygen, and calcium. Everything’s in there. Everything’s in there, and little tiny crystals that have slightly different composition. That’s, you know,
Metta Spencer 37:44
Adele do you have further questions about this.
Adele Buckley 37:49
Yeah but at how, how do you are is every basalt the same as every out there? Or? I thought they were that was just one kind of rock but maybe it’s maybe it’s a classification of many different kinds of rock. But one of my you know, concerns here is, Is there enough of this rock to grind up? I think there probably is and, and what does it cost?
Thomas Vanacore 38:16
Well, let me jump in here a little bit. First of all, the basalt rock is plentiful across the the earth. At one point, I believe that in the geologic history of the Earth, the entire planet was essentially covered in this volcanic magma, these primary magma, which was a basalt or basalt, like rock, and over the over the eons, some of it has gone down and others have come up but the point is, it’s it itself is widely dispersed across the Earth. However, there are many types of rock minerals that are similar in that they’re alkaline. In other words, they have the base cations, the calcium, magnesium, the sweet, the Sweet Minerals, for lack of a better word that that are required for most healthy plants to grow. And they’ve been crushed, processed, milled, ground, pulverized for, forever. I mean, the rock the rock industry is probably the oldest industry on the planet, I mean from toolmaking to, you know, to milling to extract metals, it’s, it’s always been done. And in the industrial era, many of these rock types, including the basalt are actually crushed and pulverized for other other purposes besides, other than agriculture or forestry, they’re they’re used for construction aggregates they are used for building materials. They’re used for cement, concrete. They’ve been put into cement and concrete which is then been removed to be salvaged, etc. So there’s an there’s a legacy stockpiles of these sorts of materials that are in huge abundance in a number of different places adjacent to Canada, in Canada, and have also been associated with other industries. So to begin with, there is plentiful material, rock dust type materials, or previously pulverized materials that have been associated with industrial activities. And that continued to be produced from industrial activities, including transport, and infrastructure to make available a huge abundance of these materials that would be repurposed or recycled as byproduct to begin with. Eventually, if this really became a climate mitigation initiative globally, it’s foreseeable that in the not too distant future, new sources of material would have to be processed. And there’s been some very, very good lifecycle studies to show that even though it takes energy to pulverize rock minerals to powders, the amount of energy that’s being put in if it’s if it’s done through a sustainable or renewable type energy systems, and not transported over great distance, using fossil fuels, on balance, you actually come out on the positive side of the ledger for your thermodynamic accounting. In other words, you still are doing some some very, very important work and it still make senses from an engineering and thermodynamics standpoint. And the other thing is, is you’re doing multiple benefits, you have multiple benefits, you’re not just growing a plant, you’re actually feeding a population, you’re you’re growing building materials, or you’re producing medicines and other sorts of things. So it becomes integrated in a whole system approach. It is very easily justifiable if it’s done correctly. So I hope that I hope that addresses some of your questions.
Thomas Goreau 42:15
I did want to add one more thing, I mean, that that is to say that the supply of minerals from weathering has always been there in soil has been driving life. And we’ve been interfered with that, that natural release. And that’s one reason why our ecosystems are running down, they’re running out of what they need to survive. So, you know, we mineralisation can play a key role, it clearly challenges in places that are very big and very far away from sources. But the fact is, we’re going to have to do this on a huge scale if we want to reverse climate change mean, fastly big nuclear. But the other point I want to make is, the actual weathering, the release of these elements from the rocks means that the crystals are breaking down, releasing the elements. So that’s called weathering. And that’s done by co2, co2 is consumed and absorbed in the soil in the act of releasing those essential elements. So the weathering itself is also significant co2 source in the nature, it’s a way that co2 is removed from the atmosphere, but it normally takes millions of years. And we have to do it much more quickly now.
Metta Spencer 43:21
Yeah we’re looking at not only the value of enhance what rock weathering for the quality of the soil, but also as a climate mitigation strategy. And I don’t have a clear impression. I don’t even know whether anybody’s made consistent calculations about how much we can count on that methodology as a as a as a specific technology to reduce climate change. How much of the world’s co2 can be captured and sequestered this way? Let’s assume let’s just stick to Canada. And we don’t, I don’t know what parts of of Canada needs has soil that needs to be fixed and which parts are just doing fine. But let’s assume that all of the parts of Canada that need their farms to be re enhanced with rock dust and biochar do so. And with the optimum amount of, of rock dust, how much difference is that going to make on climate reduction? How much of co2 can you sequester?
Thomas Goreau 44:44
The answer is, if you use the very best technology we have. It could basically solve the problem but the practices that we’re using now are adding to it because basically, almost every commercial farmer is running down the carbon in their soil. They’re oxidizing in their soil organic matter, they’re wiping out their biomass and adding that to the atmosphere. So with, you know, conventional practices that will take forever, we use the best practices that could be done in principle in a couple of decades or generations. But it’s not a single solution. The point is, we have to apply all the solutions to remove carbon that we have available, increasing biomass, increasing weathering, and all that. I mean, basically this, there’s a lot of people proposing single solutions. And none of them are really enough by themselves. But together they all are.
Metta Spencer 45:36
Yes, yeah. I mean, the wonder for this technology, is it. It’s good, both for the soil and for the climate issue. But if we just looked at the climate issue alone, how important a methodology would you say that is, in comparison with some of the other interventions that have been proposed such as you know, we’re talking about cloud brightening a while ago? That’s one that you might compare it to? How much can you count on it to, to help reduce climate problems by absorb absorbing co2 That’s already ambient.
Thomas Goreau 46:16
Well removed. So Cloud brightening is only a short term solution, because you have to constantly keep pumping it into the atmosphere because it settles right out in a day or two. Whereas with co2, we’re talking about something that lasts for many years in the atmosphere. So you know, in a sense, in the long run, we have to control greenhouse gases. In the short run, we’re going to have to use alternative methods to avoid serious overshoot. And that’s where we’re headed now. We’re headed for really a catastrophic situation…
Adele Buckley 46:45
I’d like to talk a little bit about who is we that is, who are the decision makers? How did you get this adopted on a wide scale? I like, I just happened to read a newspaper article a couple of days ago, which was paid content, it said, McCain Foods is helping potato farm farmers in New Brunswick to produce better, you know, to do better agricultural practices. You know, maybe they’re putting rock dust in how do I know, but in any case, who is going to execute these things that are that are necessary?
Thomas Goreau 47:31
Well, it’s hard to say governments have managed to completely dropped the ball, you know, just had the 27 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and they failed for the 27th time in a row to stop global warming. So it’s clear, they’re not listening. You know, when I say we really am referring to those, the scientists to be innovators are out there, with their hands in the dirt or in the water out there trying to make a difference and developing the cutting edge techniques that are going to be needed. I mean, unfortunately, you know, for each farmer, who is regenerating their soil, the biomass and the biodiversity, and they they’re doing incredible jobs, there are 1000 or a million farmers are doing the wrong thing. So you know, public education is going to have to be key. And there’s got to be government support for people to do the right thing on a large scale. If they don’t do it in time, we’re in serious trouble. We really are,I mean, that’s this is based on, you know, the times.
Metta Spencer 48:23
Let’s get down to brass tacks. Let’s say that that Pugwash goes to talk to Justin Trudeau and convinces him to get Canada, the Canadian government engaged with incentivizing and instructing all farmers in the country to use biochar and rock dust in the right form the right combination, and to start putting it on their soil now. So now, here, we have a new project and, and you’re in charge of designing this, this system where we’re going to teach the farmers and we’re going to pay them a little bit or give them some sort of financial incentive to try it out. And then after a while, we think that maybe they’ll, they’ll see the value of it and want to keep it, keep it up because it’ll improve their crops.
Thomas Goreau 49:19
Canada probably produces the most wood waste of any country in the world, it’s left to rot and that stuff was turned to biochar, the trimmings on the off cuts and the stuff that be can’t used in the lumber industry that could revolutionize Canadian agriculture. And the people trying to do that, in Quebec in particular there is a friend of mine, very active in that clearly.
Thomas Vanacore 49:39
So I think for the for the Canadians, just as Tom was saying, if, if you present the initiative rather than sort of a mechanistic engineered solution as more of an integrated solution, which is what we’ve been talking about now for several conversations where you take forestry the industry, the forestry industry, you take the agriculture industry, you also look for municipal sources of waste, which would be biomass being produced a tremendous amount of biomass is is coming out of waste, green waste in the places where they’re collecting and harvesting any kind of biomass. The combination of these and repurposing of these materials into bio mineral fertilizers is the beginning of a regenerative approach to agriculture, forestry and the environment in general.
Metta Spencer 50:35
Now hold on, now you’re saying something a little different to me, you’re gonna take clippings from trees, pruned trees and, and the grass that they if they mow the lawns in the public parks and things like that, and all of the waste biomass, and you do what to it to produce this um?
Thomas Vanacore 50:59
Well instead of landfilling it or letting it go to rot and a pile, you’re actually converting it to these materials to biomass or bio mineral type fertilizers. Which are rich in minerals.
Metta Spencer 51:00
Thomas Vanacore 51:00
Is this like composting it or making it into biochar? Or what do you what are you doing? Well, depending on where it is, it’s all of the above. If it’s if it’s woody biomass, that’s long, that’s a great distance from any end user, you could convert that material to bio carbon biochar, you could take the gas that’s coming off of that pyrolysis process and you know, and actually power the mills with with the gas. So there’s a cycling of energy and a reduction of loss of energy. You take that biochar, you bring it into contact with minerals, bio minerals, and biomass. That’s your fundamental, that’s the basis for bio mineral fertilizers. And so various types of those scenarios can be put in place depending upon where things are being done. For instance, you have a big challenge out on the prairies because you know, what they’re doing is growing grain and then shipping the grain away. Well, there’s processing that’s happening on the on the prairies, there’s there’s biomass that’s being generated and, and some of those farms are starting to move towards regenerative type practices and where they’re getting their biomass is either from their from the from the waste products, or the byproducts of their, of the grain industry and grain processing, or they’re taking municipal waste, green waste from the cities and they’re converting that into biomass fertilizers. Our, our suggestion is put the minerals with the biomass fertilizer, so you’re in other words with the biomass or you remineralizing, the biomass, then and then you’re applying that material.
Metta Spencer 53:00
With, with with rock dust.
Thomas Vanacore 53:03
With rock dust with rock minerals, which is the missing link, because you have to add, you have to intervene in the carbon cycle somewhere. In other words, to make the change from where the trajectory that we’re going in now, which is, you know, basically climate chaos to stabilizing the climate, it requires an intervention, it requires a change of it of energy.
Metta Spencer 53:28
Yeah Tom Goreau said earlier on, that not just that biochar is not all the same thing, that some some of it is very different from others and you don’t want to act as if any biochar is equal to every other kind. Okay, now, I was envisioning a thing where we have at the local public park every Saturday, we have a little biochar maker all the people could bring their, the week’s supply of garbage from the from the gardening and all that, and trimmings of their hedge and whatnot, and bring it there and somebody would be on duty to make it into biochar. But now all of this is going, the biochar one week is going to be composed of certain things, and next week, it’ll be quite a different set of things. You if you made an all purpose biochar of whatever comes that week, it’s going to be a big mix of things, and how will you know where and how to use that?
Thomas Goreau 54:28
Well, let me answer a bit of that, I mean, the way that you make it was where we began with this question is you if you burn the biomass, it goes to co2 into the atmosphere, so you got to burn it without oxygen. And that’s the trick, that’s called pyrolysis, where you make the full char. Now the quality of the char depends on what you put into it. You know, leaves and algae are not as good as hard wood, for instance, in terms of the amount of carbon you’re going to get out the end. If you do it to really high temperatures, you wind up with nothing but Carbon, Carbon Black. Everything else is driven off, if you do it in low temperatures you’ve got the other elements that were in the ash of the plants. And so those can, those will act to release fertilizers too low quality stuff. So your mixture of both kinds is really needed. Now, if you consider what happens when a tree falls down, the leaves are going to rot and decompose and turn into co2 within a year, it depends on where you are where I’ve come from a lot less but depends in tropics. But anyway, so so it doesn’t last very long. If it turns into biochar, how long it lasts depends on the quality the low grade stuff might last years, 10s of years, hundreds of years, 1000s of years, the high quality stuff actually losts hundreds of millions of years, quite amazing. You can find the ash from forest fires that are 350 million years old, where you can see every plant cell, when you look at the ash in the microscope is it just things have been carbonized in place so so in fact, see that’s a form of carbon that practically lasts forever. The reason you need the rock powder with it is because the high surface area that provides holds on for the water, the nutrients that get released by weathering from the rock powder. So they’re their ideal complements. That’s the idea.
Metta Spencer 56:18
Okay, now we’re not going, if we went out and we say farmers, just take some biochar and some rock dust and put it together and put it on your soil, you’re not going to do any harm, we’re not sure that you know exactly the right mix to use.
Thomas Goreau 56:30
A little compost.
Metta Spencer 56:32
Is it going to is is it gonna do any damage to anybody with with that kind of all purpose in poorly defined set of instructions on what to use and what combinations and stuff because if we say that every farmer in Canada has to be taught individually, what his particular plant field needs, and maybe he has fields have different needs. And each field needs to be assayed and tested all the time. And then the the mixture of biochar and, and rock tests that you put together has to be finely calibrated to meet their demands, that’s not going to work too well. But if we just say in general, farmer, go get yourself some of this stuff and put it together and and try it out, it’s going to work, it’s going to do something for you, and it won’t hurt anything, is that fair enough? But will we hurt somebody?
Thomas Vanacore 57:29
Well you’re, you’re not really talking about the way this would be done. If you’re actually wanting to ramp up and scale up into a climate mitigation initiative, you would have to actually have in place the volume capacities to address the proper management and best management practices on this farm, what you’re going to have to do anyway, in order to make improved agricultural practices a reality, and the farmers are going there already. I mean, most, most of the farmers are already starting to see if they haven’t already that something else is needed, if not for anything else, then to avoid the astronomical cost of synthetic fertilizer. So something else is going to be done. And our suggestion is by biologic management, and the use of these materials is, is, is an answer. And so to try to micromanage every farm, to try to micromanage, you know, 150 sources of materials in 150 different ways that as you said, that’s not going to work, but it will work if you take advantage of the the logistics and infrastructure that’s already in place. To handle large quantities of materials, and, and in some cases, convert some of those to biologic management and in other cases build new, then all of a sudden, you have the infrastructure to integrate fully with, with what is already being done, because they’re already taking soil tests. They’re already spreading materials on their fields they are already handling huge quantities of biomass. And, and rather than in the case of the biomass, rather than landfilling, or just piling it up and let it rot. You’re actually saying, well, that’s a good source of feedstock for bio mineral fertilizer, remineralized fertilizers in that has a climate benefit and a benefit to to humans because of the nutrient density, so forth. So it’s, it’s subtle, but it’s, it’s effective because we’re working with what’s already there.
Metta Spencer 59:45
Okay, well, we’re on our way. We just don’t know how to get there quite yet. But yeah, I’ll get back to you because all of you have been very, very helpful today, and stimulated a whole bunch of new questions in my own mind. Anybody have any urgent thing you want to say before we say goodbye.
Thomas Goreau 1:00:02
I just want to say that people can experiment and half of the ones who experiment biochar use raw biochar and get negative results, because they don’t mix it with rock powder and a little compost. That’s key. So they’d benefit. One thing I’d say is that many people know this by experience, because all traditional cultures that move on go back to their old campsite, because they’re more fertile because of the ash mix in them. That’s how the Amazonian has learned those in ancient times in the first place you know. So there’s a lot of common knowledge that goes in. And the other thing is that in every place in the world where forests were burned, cut down and burned to make agriculture and pasture. About half the carbon in the soil is biochar from the ancient fires that they burned. So the Ukraine, the black soils of the Ukraine that are the richest soils in the world, are the remnants of a huge forest that was burned down. It’s half the carbon in it is biochar.
Metta Spencer 1:00:57
My goodness, my goodness. Okay, well, I know I learned something new every time I talk to you guys. Thank you very, very much. It’s been fun. And I’ll probably get back to you because I’m not through. Okay.
Thomas Vanacore 1:01:09
Metta Spencer 1:01:10
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