T236. Carbon Capture and Storage

 

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Project Save the World Podcast / Talk Show Episode Number: 236
Panelists: Michael Barnard
Host: Metta Spencer

Date Aired:  29 April 2021
Date Transcribed and Verified: 15 May 2021
Transcription: Otter.ai
Transcription Review and Edits: David 

 

Metta Spencer  

Hi, I’m Metta Spencer. Today we’re going to go to Vancouver. Because I’ve just made a new friend who’s in Vancouver, it’s Michael Barnard. He is a man of many parts. He obviously knows his way around technology, all kinds of technology, kind of a renaissance man of technology. And in fact, he’s so sophisticated that I wouldn’t dare try to introduce him and say what he does, because I would be sure to mess it up. So good morning, Michael. And would you be so good as to tell us a little bit about yourself. So, you can sort of do a self-introduction, if you don’t mind? What is this thing in the background?

Michael Barnard  

Thank you very much for having me, Metta, I’m very pleased to be here. The thing in the background is actually a project I’m working on. With my firm distance.com, distance technologies and a local architecture practice, human studio architecture and urban design, focused on increasing sociability in the built environment. That’s a five-storey office building, or five-storey residential building with a courtyard, what we’re doing is using 3D agents in a virtual environment, to run around the building and encounter one another and determine which designs of the building are more sociable versus less sociable. And, and that’s in line with my focus on public health. And, you know, social good projects, you know, which is the reason I’m here today. The public health stuff, I mean, we’re doing in the middle of COVID, which Metta, you know, in our chatted about an original conversation week or two ago. But COVID is actually being managed in Canada by the Panorama public health surveillance project, something built in British Columbia, I had the privilege of working on for 18 months.

Metta Spencer  

These days, I see little green lines, zigzagging around this building. Is this kind of graph of where people move inside the building complex?

Michael Barnard  

Well, no, that’s two agents in space, who can see one another, the green line is the laser between their eyes.

Metta Spencer  

And then why are they trying to see each other?

Michael Barnard  

Well, just because when you walk out of your building, you see your neighbor, you say, Oh, you start learning to recognize them, you’ll say hi. And then eventually you’ll establish familiarity with your neighbors. And at a certain point, you say, Well, you know, we haven’t seen Fred for a while, I wonder if he’s okay. So, there’s just a creation of community, creation of social environment. But that’s not what we’re here to talk about today. Today, we’re here to talk about another big part of my brain, not technology, not public health, but something that has strong implications for both technology and public health, and that’s climate change solutions.

Metta Spencer  

Do you mean by a man of, a Renaissance man, an English major, who’s also doing climate change?

Michael Barnard  

whether certain solutions will scale or not, and whether they’ll be a substantive part of our solution set. But the point there is more that I spend time thinking about how people internalize behavior. And I’ve spent time looking at behavioral psychology, and behavioral economics to determine what things will actually work in terms of being acceptable to people and will actually get past that barrier of human nature. And so,

Metta Spencer  

boy, it sounds like you are dealing with some of the things that absolutely keep me awake at night. And I mean, literally, I spent a lot of time in bed, thinking about how we’re going to break through some of the human problems that I see are wrecking democracy, frankly, making it impossible to make good political decisions. … climate change is the most obvious example. Because COVID as well, you know, people who … don’t want to wear masks, or that’s what we came to talk about. So, we know. Today we’re going to talk about carbon capture. that’s big enough topic.

Michael Barnard  

Let’s talk carbon capture because I’ll share, a I’ve got a couple of slides here. One of the things I am you know; carbon capture is touted as one of the big solutions for climate change. Now, this is a map of all the largest carbon capture sites in the world.

Metta Spencer  

Hold on. Right off the bat. I think we have to be careful about when we use the word “carbon capture and sequestration” because there’s there are things that trees do and then there’s what I guess is generally called DAC “direct air capture” from the from the air with machinery,

Michael Barnard  

and that’s multiple types. Yeah… these are not direct air capture. I’ve spoken to the leading people in direct air capture globally, but these are specifically… So, there’s … three levels to this, the first level is at source. So, emissions from smokestacks and coal plants and stuff like that. Or emissions from normal oil and gas extraction processes. That’s what these are these are “at source capture and sequestration” facilities —

Metta Spencer  

is that, are you saying those little blue dots are the only ones in the world or these are just happened to be the big ones

Michael Barnard  

— as of 2019, these are all of the ones that were sequestering, above a million tonnes a year, which sounds like a lot. I’ll get into the context for that in a minute. The second type is “direct air capture”, which I’ll talk briefly about. The third type is “biological pathways”. My thesis is very simple. mechanical and chemical, direct carbon capture doesn’t work, it won’t scale. There’s no value proposition for it. The scale of the problem is vastly above the scale of the ability of those technologies to scale —

Metta Spencer  

So you’re saying direct air capture and smokestack capture kind of thing. Neither of them can be scaled.

Michael Barnard  

Nope. And it’s pretty simple to explain why. But you know, the, the one that will scale is biological mechanisms. And I’ll talk more about the biological mechanisms. We’re going to start by being dismissive of the mechanical and Industrial processes. So, these are the sites. I’ve looked at all of them, I’ve assessed multiple technologies… for sequestering carbon. I’ve done a case study on carbon engineering, which is the big Canadian “direct air capture” solution… spoken directly to David Keith, he was unhappy with my coverage of his approach. I spoke to Graciela Chichilnisky and Peter Eisenberger, who were behind the Global Thermostat “direct air capture” thing a decade ago.

Metta Spencer  

But there’s one there’s something in Switzerland, Climeworks.com

Michael Barnard  

I haven’t… talked to any of the Climeworks people, but I’ve assessed their technology haven’t published on it. The problem is multiple fold. So, let’s just start with the scale of the problem. Okay. We’re over 1000 billion tonnes of excess CO2 in the atmosphere that we’ve put there. And we are good at putting in 30 to 40 billion tonnes a year… billions with a B, so 30 to 40 billion tonnes a year. The biggest facility in the year captures a million tons — a year. That’s

Metta Spencer  

okay, what a billion is… a billion is 1000 million,

Michael Barnard  

right? Yep.

Metta Spencer  

Okay. And so, we’re talking about totally different scale of magnitude.

Michael Barnard  

It is a scale of magnitude problem. Exxon claims to have the most sophisticated and the best track record for carbon capture sequestration industry. And they do but that, so that’s problem one — is just these facilities just are tiny compared to the scale of the problem. The second problem is that… all of these dots, 90% of them are used for enhanced oil recovery. Enhanced oil recovery means you pump CO2 down into a tapped-out oil well, and the chemical properties of CO2 mix with the oil and loosen it up, they basically turn tar into liquid, and they pressurize it so then it can be pumped out the other end. For every tonne of CO2 you pump underground in enhanced oil recovery, you get a quarter of a ton, a ton of new petroleum. And a ton of new petroleum turns into three tons of CO2.

Metta Spencer  

So, for one ton of co2, you get three tons of co2 at the other end. Hey, go.

Michael Barnard  

And that’s not the end of the shell game. Let’s take let’s take Exxon’s… the facility that they really love to talk about… the Shute Creek processing facility in the Permian Basin in United States. It’s one of the ones over here.

Metta Spencer 

Yeah,

Michael Barnard  

The Shute Creek facility… pumps up natural gas that has too much CO2 mixed in with it to be saleable. It separates the CO2 from the natural gas. It sells the natural gas. It pumps the CO2 over to the tapped-out oil well and pumps it back underground. So, it … It puts it back underground and gets more oil. And it gets more oil than it pumped out.  So, there’s no net benefit at all from Exxon’s facility, it’s actually a shell game… they’re pumping CO2 out to put it down somewhere else to get more co2.

Metta Spencer  

Okay… already you know, me, I’m not very good at arithmetic. And grade four was about my, my, my level, but I think I can, I can figure that

Michael Barnard  

— one’s pretty easy to figure out. Another one, which is a great facility is the Sleipner facility over here on the North Sea. The Sleipner is… Odin’s horse or something like that, you know, but the Sleipner facility is run by Equinor, which is the Norwegian National Petroleum Company. It’s a natural gas facility in the North Sea, and they pump out natural gas. And once again, it has too much CO2 in it. So, they strip off the CO2, and they pump the CO2 back underground. And when they pump the CO2 back underground, they get a tax credit for carbon sequestration. And so, they’ve avoided about, by my calculation, about $1.7 billion US by taking CO2 from underground and pumping it back underground. So, yeah,

Metta Spencer  

now that right there, you just made the slam dunk case, for carbon pricing as the carbon fee or carbon tax, rather than a cap-and-trade kind of deal, right there —

Michael Barnard  

… there are different ways to sort out all of these types of things. But the reality is that all of these blue dots, 90% of them are just oil and gas companies creating more problems, rather than less. If we take the natural gas… from when the Sleipner plant puts CO2 underground, that natural gas goes on to be burned. So, the CO2 they extract, and then put back under ground is a 25th of the CO2 that’s created when the natural gas is burned. You know, so there is no net benefit… I call carbon capture a fig leaf for the fossil fuel industry.

Metta Spencer  

But they’re doing this they’re getting credit… like a cap-and-trade bookkeeping system, not because if they had, if somebody had to actually pay for every bit of greenhouse gas that was produced and emitted, then this couldn’t happen, right?

Michael Barnard  

— if they actually had to pay and they had to… add it to the price… the economics of oil and gas would be very problematic. If we think about the North America, oil sands that you and I contend with as Canadians as a concern. Let’s take carbon capture sequestration and use — there’s a global market of 230 million tons a year for all carbon capture, use and sequestration. So, 230 million tons a year,

Metta Spencer  

global market for? What do you mean by a global market for it?

Michael Barnard  

CO2 is a commodity, it’s like, you know, it’s like baking soda or oil or water. It’s something that gets purchased in bulk and used for various things…

Metta Spencer  

There’s so much more of it that that we, it’s amazing that anybody would pay to get it would have no problem is trying to get rid of it.

Michael Barnard  

I’m not gonna disagree, but there’s a $230 million market for it. People pay for its use enhanced oil recovery is 70 to 80 million tons of that global market. So right there, you’re sitting there. And remember, the scale of the problem is 1000s of billions of tonnes and we’re talking 230 million tonnes. Right. So the so people, people talk about carbon use, they’re talking about… 230 million and trying to make that two billions. There’s no use for all that CO2. But people do buy CO2, greenhouses use CO2 to enhance growth.

Metta Spencer  

So, factories, presumably —

Michael Barnard  

Soda pop companies use it. A lot of it’s used to create fertilizers… And fertilizers we need, but we don’t need billions of tons of fertilizer. So… if you think about the oil sands… I calculated the total emissions from extraction and processing of oil sands petroleum, the, you know, the thick crude that the Alberta produces. Alberto’s annual emissions alone — not for using the oil, not for burning, though — just for extracting and initial processing, are as much as the global use of all CO2 for all enhanced oil recovery. Just one province of one country already blows the budget for that. And so, this is the scale problem. If there’s the scale problem, and there’s the bait-and-switch problem, the fossil fuel companies are doing a lovely bait and switch, they get their social license to continue to extract oil. And they convince everybody that all we have to do… [is] capture it, and we can put it somewhere. But there is no place to put it that’s big enough, and there is no use of CO2 that big —

Metta Spencer  

Now, if they just pump it into an abandoned oil well, or you know, any other kind of mine underground, coal mine or something, and they can seal it. So, it isn’t going to get out. That’s pretty good burial, you know, enough holes in the ground from old wells, to be able to pump a lot of that stuff under there are no —

Michael Barnard  

not a chance, not 1000s of, billions of tons. Okay, that’s the scale of the problem. We don’t have room for it… there’s nothing mechanical that can deal with that. There is a solution, though. So, I do, as I said at the beginning, I do want to show you this chart that I created. So, one of the things I did in 2019, when I was looking at these sites, I did an assessment, saying how much had actually been captured. And the 45 million tonnes for the global carbon capture and storage market, from 1973 to 2019, includes the most generous calculation I could do for the enhanced oil recovery people. So, for the enhanced oil recovery, I asserted that they would get .25 tons of oil for a ton of CO2, which is the low end of the scale, the minimum end, and then that turns into .8 tonnes of CO2 when it’s extracted, so I’m giving them a 20% credit for enhanced oil recovery. In reality, as I said, it’s typically going to be two to three times the CO2. But I was trying to be generous, right? And being generous. They’ve captured 45 million tonnes of CO2 since 1972. Remember, the scale is billions and 1000s of billions of tonnes, they’ve captured 45. Now, what I also said was, huh, what else could we have done with that same capital expenditure — not the operating costs, not the salaries, just the money spent to build the facilities. And I applied that in each… year that money had been spent to build one of these carbon capture plants. I said, let’s build the amount of wind energy we could have built in that year, with the capability of wind energy in that year, because every megawatt hour of wind energy or solar energy avoids a megawatt hour of coal or gas. And so, you can say, I’ve got a megawatt hour of wind, energy, electricity from wind, I’ve avoided a megawatt hour of coal and gas, and that’s an average of about 750 kilograms of CO2. From those sources, it’s about a tonne of CO2 from a megawatt hour of coal… about 500 kilograms of CO2 from a megawatt hour of gas. And so, you can average those out, right. So, what I did that,

Metta Spencer  

comparing this gas and coal, say it again.

Michael Barnard  

So, coal is a lot more; carbon gas has some hydrogen in it. So, the coal when it burns produces more CO2 than the gas does. about twice as much. So, you get about a tonne of CO2 from a megawatt hour of coal, that’s how much it produces. And you get about a half a tonne of CO2 when you produce a megawatt hour from gas generation,

Metta Spencer  

Megawatt hour is you’re talking like a measure of electricity production.

Michael Barnard  

Yep. Now you’ve got a home and you… you’ve got a condo. But if you had a detached home, the average Canadian gets about 10.7 megawatt hours of electricity they use every year for their home for their homes. Right. So that’s your carbon data. If you got 10.7 megawatt hours, and you’re in Alberta, you know where the total CO2 per kilowatt hour is 790 kilograms per megawatt hour. You’re creating like eight tons of CO2 just from your electricity in Alberta. And then… much lower in BC and Quebec and Manitoba and Ontario,

Metta Spencer  

but my apartment is producing about that much?

Michael Barnard  

Your apartment, probably not because you’re in a condo in in Toronto, you’re probably in the… six megawatt hours and you’re on the Ontario grid. So, the entire grid is about — because of nuclear and the wind energy that hasn’t been shut down by the Ford administration, and the solar that’s in there that hasn’t been shut down by the Ford administration — it’s actually a pretty reasonable CO2 per kilowatt hour. It’s like 200 kilograms for a megawatt hour. So… your carbon footprint for electricity, you’re probably about 1.2 tonnes a year, just for your electricity… it’s better than Alberta. Okay, now, and there’s a couple of reasons for that, you’re in a condo, so you’re sharing heating and cooling with your neighbors. Right. And so that’s an energy efficiency matter. And secondarily, you have a smaller space. So that’s an efficiency matter. And third, you’re on a grid that’s not as dirty as Alberta’s. But point of that is: we can actually make a comparison; we can say we know that every megawatt hour we produce with wind or solar displaces fossil fuel generation. Yeah. Right. And so, I made some —

Metta Spencer  

bad that way. But yeah, you can put those on the same graph. If I did

Michael Barnard  

Yeah, here’s the graph. So, this one basically says, given the most generous reading of the enhanced oil recovery, and given the most conservative capacity factors and ability and costs for wind energy, we could, we would have avoided about three times as much CO2 emissions just by building wind energy, instead of all the carbon capture that’s being built globally, everywhere in the world.

Metta Spencer  

Okay, now, I’m trying to imagine what my friend, I have a friend who’s enthusiastic about the idea of carbon capture, not direct air capture, but carbon capture. She thinks that… we should put more into it. Now, the question I’ve imagined she would ask is… How difficult is it to create such facilities for carbon capture at source, as compared to the wind? Building a wind turbine, for example? I mean, if it’s a whole lot easier to put some sort of little gadget on a smokestack, then it might be worth doing anyway, even while we’re trying to switch over to wind energy, because, as they say, inevitably we’ll take a long time to make that transition over to solar and wind. And now, I don’t know …  I’m imagining what she might say. But is that the kind of argument that you would have to answer.

Michael Barnard  

Sure, and I’ll answer it very clearly. So, in Saskatchewan, we have the Boundary Dam project. That’s a coal plant that had carbon capture and sequestration bolted onto it. And the carbon that was captured was pumped underground for enhanced oil recovery in Saskatchewan. The idea was the enhanced oil recovery revenue was going to pay for the carbon capture. The problem is, there were two problems. One is it ran at 40% of projected efficiency for a year and a half and nobody noticed. Second, it cost a lot more than they expected. So now, every megawatt hour of electricity has a… wholesale cost of $140 per megawatt hour. Now I’ll turn that into kilowatt hours, because you pay about 12 cents per kilowatt hour in Ontario, well, in Saskatchewan, the wholesale but that’s your retail cost with all the other adders. The wholesale cost of electricity for this Boundary Dam facility was above Ontario’s retail cost and close to Saskatchewan retail cost, it was just too expensive to operate. So, while they’re keeping it running, the Saskatchewan Power Utility, the premier said they’ll never build another one and they’re not expanding carbon capture in Saskatchewan. So that’s a Canadian example, now give you the Petra Nova example down in southern United States. There’s a big coal generation facility, they have, I think, 12 boilers on the facility, and they bolted on carbon capture to one of them. The idea being that they would, you know, test this out. So, this is only one boiler out of 12. So, they’re already down at 8%. But then they’re only capturing about 30% of the CO2 that was coming out of the boiler. And this is actually fairly standard efficiency. For at-flue capture, it’s easy to capture 30% of it. It gets… increasingly expensive to capture 100%. Right. And so that place, they spent billions of dollars, and it failed, they’ve actually removed the Carbon [capture], they actually had to set up… a natural gas plant to create the energy to capture CO2 from the coal plant. Because capturing and running a carbon-capture process takes energy. The big part, which I learned a decade ago, is that every CO2 capture process uses a chemical or sorbent-based technology, which requires a bunch of heat, then, to separate the co2 from the thing you’ve captured it with. And that heat has to come from energy. And typically, that comes from natural gas. And so, you kind of sit there and you look at this and go, so we’re gonna spend a lot… we talked about David Keith and Carbon Engineering, their initial process as defined and as explored, uses natural gas to power the process, they create a half ton of CO2 from the natural gas for every tonne of CO2 they capture from the air. And so, then they actually have in their design process, they have three different carbon-capture technologies, they have one for the air, and then two for the natural gas emissions. It’s, once again…  more and more and more to try and get to that 100%, they have to do two separate carbon-capture processes on the seat and the gas emissions, to capture all the CO2 to get up to that, close to 100%. And so that’s the problem. We have a scale problem and the carbon capture doesn’t get anywhere near the scale. We have an enhanced oil recovery problem in that it’s used to create more oil and hence more CO2. And we have a shell-game problem in that most of the stuff that people are claiming value from the CO2 was already sequestered underground, they pulled it up and put it down somewhere else. And then we get to the air carbon capture problem. The air carbon capture problem is Houston Astrodome. It takes one point you know how big the Houston Astrodome is, right? It’s one of the biggest enclosed spaces in the world. It’s this enormous building, it takes 1.1 Houston Astrodome’s worth of air to get a single ton of CO2. Because CO2 is really diffuse, it’s a great space blanket that makes making your atmosphere warmer. But I did promise and we only have 28 minutes left. So, I want to start talking about the solutions. Because I’ll make it really clear, the technical and chemical solutions that people are touting, especially the fossil fuel industry, are not fit for purpose. But there are solutions.

Metta Spencer  

Oh, there you go. You’re gonna make me happy now because I’ve been saying forestry and agriculture, re.

Michael Barnard  

And… this is the agriculture side of that. So right now, we’ve got a bunch of the Earth’s surface under agriculture, and that agriculture is pretty crappy… it’s emerged out of subsistence farming, globally. And they figured out, they break up the earth… remove the boulders and stuff like that. I personally dug up a garden in North Bay when we moved into a new house and moved all the boulders down, and all did all that stuff for my mom, because I was a teenager and I had lots of energy. And it was easiest way to keep me from breaking stuff that was useless. And that’s good. The first time creating arable land, the first time you have to break the soil, you have to get rid of the stuff, the roots, the stumps, you have to get rid of the rocks and stuff like that. But after you’ve created arable soil, we’ve gotten into the habit of high tillage agriculture. And everybody’s seen that you run a plow across and it tears up a furrow of ground that it throws off to the side. Well, there’s three or four problems with that, first of all, is that plow-pan thing over here. Basically, you end up with this compaction layer in the soil, because you keep running heavy equipment across it. That prevents stuff from going through it as easily. And you end up with that problem. The second problem is your —

Metta Spencer  

these diagrams are fascinating. On the one hand, you’re talking about, well, the kind of farming my grandfather used to do. He ran a plow up and spit out his whole life 60 years with a plow. Now, but now this, you’ve got rocks, layers of all things, but this plow pan, the thing that you’re saying is, it’s hard is way down there. It’s not up towards the top. Is that right?

Michael Barnard  

That’s 20 centimeters down. It’s like a, almost a foot down.

Metta Spencer  

I didn’t know that. So, the top part is still fluffy enough that way down there that it gets packed in.

Michael Barnard  

So that’s problem one. Problem two is you can see the root network on the right. What happens is that every time what I’ll do… Statement two is, every time you run a plow across that top 20 centimeters of soil, what you’re doing is you’re ripping it up, and you’re turning it over. And then the biomass that’s in the soil, a lot of it immediately decomposes, emitting the CO2 that it had captured. So, if you got some corn roots in that top 20 centimeters, or some roots from some grain or something like that, what you’re doing is you’re enabling it to decompose rapidly. And when it decomposes, it emits CO2. And so, when you till… one of the first things you’re doing is you’re automatically getting rid of the CO2, that the root structures of your plants had put underground, at least for a while, right? Because underground, they still decompose just more slowly and differently. And there’s different things that processes go on. But the third problem… it’s kind of a bigger problem, when you when you till you’ve got that plow-pan, you don’t allow that network of bio pores to draw the carbon down underground where it can be sequestered for the long term. So, you’ve got a short-term carbon sequestration problem. Every time you tell, you throw a bunch of CO2 that was captured… since previous tillage into the atmosphere, but to there’s this lovely thing called glomalin…. Now glomalin is a protein which exists on fungus threads underground… I don’t know how much time you spent talking mushrooms with people, but mushrooms are a huge deal. This mycelium networks underneath the ground are this massive alternative layer. If you read “The wisdom of trees” or what is it, this great book by a Canadian about trees?

Metta Spencer  

I think I did I read a book like what you’re describing whether same title, I don’t know but about trees having a social life.

Michael Barnard  

Yeah, part of it is the types of fungus that exist underground. Now, the value proposition here I looked at the CSIRO, I rarely say that acronym out loud. But that’s the Australian primary scientific research facility that has done a lot of work on climate change and climate action… the equivalent of NASA in the United States, for example, and in you know, most of the work that gets done on climate gets done at a CSIRO. And they did a lot of work on soil carbon-capture techniques… assessment after a bunch of time and I did a lot of research and I published on this… what I found and I talked to experts around the world and advocates and non-advocates… it came down to glomalin. So, there’s, once again, there’s that short term thing. If you don’t tell that short term thing is really nice because you don’t automatically release the CO2. But if you get rid of that hard pan… the second problem is when you till, you disrupt the mycelium network, the fungus roots under the soil, and the fungus roots under the soil have this glomalin and that’s what binds carbon into long-term chemical depositions under the soil. So, it takes about 150 years for the glomalin pathway into long term sequestration to occur, but every time you till you disrupt that pathway — and so when we move to low tillage agriculture… from a carbon sequestration perspective, we automatically get the short-term benefit, which is useful for a decade or two, which is good. But we also… when we go to low tillage, we also start enabling this long-term pathway to occur. And so, all of the land that’s under agriculture, we want to turn into low-tillage agriculture to allow both the bio pores to get the glomalin process going, and to prevent the biomass that’s under the soil from just automatically turning back into CO2. The good news there is that’s a big win. We could get… all the agricultural soil, we get 20-30 years’ worth of stuff because soil stuff scales, and mechanical industrial stuff doesn’t scale. But we have a lot of land under, under agriculture. Right. And there’s two aspects to this that are worth thinking about. Three or four actually, the first one is about 80% of the land in the world is under control of corporate agribusinesses.

Metta Spencer  

80% Yep. Oh, wow

Michael Barnard  

Smallholder farmers are a rounding error. I people get annoyed with me because I … don’t really care about family farms. Unless they’re —

Metta Spencer  

all right. All right. I’m, I’m, I’m following you with enthusiasm. Good. I’ll tell you why. But go on.

Michael Barnard  

Yeah, because it’s much easier to change an agribusiness practice than a family farms practice. There are only a few hundred agribusinesses that control the vast majority of the land under agriculture in the world. And the nice thing about agribusiness, corporations is they’re sociopathic. They’re highly rational. And they seek maximum value. And they do it with spreadsheets, and things like that. They do cost-benefit analyses. They don’t do it based upon what they think is nice, they do it about what maximizes their value. And that’s good, because that means policy levers that provide carrots and sticks will actually change their behavior very rapidly, you can go to those several hundred … agribusinesses. And you can incent them to go to low-tillage agriculture. And you can penalize them for not doing it. And you have a small number of actors. And you can get a large benefit from it. You can also institute corporate-monitoring programs with mandated monitoring of fields. And then you can put in place penalties for false monitoring. And you can do that because you’ve got a small number of of actors again, right, if you wanted to go to the second problem is a lot of the smallholder farmers are subsistence farmers or close to subsistence farmers. And subsistence farmers are calorie strippers. They stripped every calorie they can for heat and food out of the atmosphere. If you look at Haiti versus the Dominican Republic, down in the Caribbean, they’re the same Island.

Metta Spencer  

I’ve seen pictures, one half is brown, and the other half is green.

Michael Barnard  

And that’s because on one half, it is a very poor country… and they’ve got subsistence farmers everywhere and they strip every calorie including cutting down every tree… take heat, water for their family to be able to cook food so they don’t die of food poisoning. And so we’ve got to move all the smallholder farmers, the subsistence farmers off the land, we can’t prevent them from being on the land, we have to move more to agribusiness, which really sounds is contra-indicated, counterintuitive. But we’ve got we actually have to give those subsistence farmers, those people in poverty who are stripping calories, something other to do — our universal basic income, guaranteed jobs, something so they stop stripping the calories and that land can go fallow again. And that’s the third part is a lot of the land that we have under agriculture today is wasted. The land that’s in agribusiness, land is highly productive. The Green Revolution is almost entirely an agribusiness revolution. And that’s been a massive advantage over the past 100 years. And smallholder farmers, a lot of them are subsistence farmers and…  they have very poor yields per acre. And it’s hard to change them because they speak 500 languages, and they’ve got to feed their families and they’ve got to feed them today. Right And so, avoiding that means giving them something else to do and giving them sufficient, enabling them to feed their families and moving to agribusiness

Metta Spencer  

Um, let me say where, I mean you are setting me up to have such fights with all kinds of people. All my friends are going to say no, the way to go is to try to give land back to small, small farmers etc. Okay, but the other thing is, I have done a couple of shows with a guy named Tom Newmark, who is the head of something called The Carbon Underground. He has a farm in Costa Rica, kind of a demonstration project of how to do it well. It’s a wonderful… speaker, I mean, a very fun, fun person to talk to, but a very smart. And some of my, the people of my, my community, my network who watch this, say, well, that guy is a greenwasher, because his argument was very similar what you’re saying, He says he works with going out and trying to, to deal with government officials, but also corporate leaders in the food industry. Because he says they are the people who are going to make the difference, they can put pressure on the people actually on the ground… digging holes, or whatever. And that they, they know that we’re ruining the soil. And we don’t have that many crops left in the soil before we’re all going to starve to death from depleted soil. And so, they are aware the corporate industry and food… that they’re going to have to make some changes. So, they’re the ones they’re the place to go to get some changes made. And so, you know, my friends say no, this guy is giving a justification for this corporate world [to]… take power away from ordinary citizens, the good yeoman farmer was a backbone of democracy… Jeffersonian theory, and so on. All of that is, you know, he’s undermining that. So, you’re just making a situation where I have to walk in and talk to these people. I don’t know, for it.

Michael Barnard  

Couple of last couple of things about this, I’m going to talk directly to this point, in 1800 95% of everybody were involved in agriculture directly, or in secondary roles related to food distribution. Today, it’s 3%. Those… 92% of people are people who go to universities, make computers, who do financial… banking stuff, who are the knowledge workers and who have leisure to create art. You know, the art of history is the art of the 1%. The art of today is the art of the 80%. The agricultural revolution has been tremendously valuable in terms of enabling us to flower as a species, well beyond the people who have to get up at dawn before dawn, you know, 11 months of the year, and do crop and animal husbandry-related activities. That’s the efficiency of agribusiness in corporate scale. And to be clear, we’re keeping ahead of a Malthusian problem. Because of agribusiness and the green revolution, a study came out recently, I read a couple of weeks ago, basically… we have achieved since in the past 40 years a very substantial increase in efficiency per acre. Because of the agribusiness and green revolution stuff we’re doing — we’ve lost 21% of that to climate change disruptions. Right. And so, if we had not been moving the needle in terms of efficiency per acre, we would have gone backwards in terms of efficiency per acre. In the past 40 years, we’ve taken a billion people out of abject poverty, into what by our standards is still abject poverty, but they’re actually able to make ends meet much more readily. We’re taking people being out of the position of being calorie strippers, and making them able to have more leverage jobs with a higher value for them and their families. We’re helping people stop living nasty, brutish, and short lives. But we only have 10 minutes left, and I do want to talk about treats. So, let’s talk about the best possible carbon capture technology. Let’s imagine we’re in 2100. We’ve got this nanotechnology, right. It’s a small compact thing, and you throw it on the ground. And… if there’s water and soil, what it does is it absorbs some of the water and it starts to grow. And it shoots a solar panel above ground to capture the sun and it shoots little pipes down under the ground, builds them underground to get to water, and it builds it up and then it builds out these pipes to give a scaffold to keep the solar panels erect and it drives the solar panels upwards to maximize the amount of light that hits the solar panels. And it has this structure that it builds and it harvests carbon from the atmosphere to make the pipes and to make the solar panels and to make the mass That it grows up and this amazing nanotechnology device. We there’s a hundred of different varieties of them that exist in different temperature and water and sunlight conditions, that some are better on slope, some are better on the flat, some are better for… some types of, you know, there’s some natural predators who like to eat these things. And we have those today. They’re called trees. This amazing nanotechnology, which is vastly beyond anything we can do. That self-assembles itself into a store of carbon for long term sequestration. All we have to do is plant seeds and seedlings

Metta Spencer  

and water them and weed them. And —

Michael Barnard  

No, no, no, no, no, you just have to plant them and step back, because they’ll figure out how to survive because that’s what they do. You have to plant the right type of tree for the right area, you have to plant multiple types of tree in an area. And you have to leave them alone for a long time. But if you leave them alone, they just turn into a mature forest. Life survives. And so if we take this as an example, let’s talk about scaling. I planted 12,000 trees with a friend on 25 acres in one weekend.

Metta Spencer  

Okay, how’d you do that?

Michael Barnard  

Well, he rented a tractor and it had a trailer behind it and the trailer opened up the soil. And we had racks of seedlings and I sat on the trailer. And I reached over and I put a seeding down into that opened up piece of soil between my legs. And then it closed it up behind me and we just kept driving all over his farm planting black walnut, and pine and beech and oak, and maple. We planted 12,000 seedlings — two guys, two days. And we drank a fair amount of Creemore beer in the evenings.

Metta Spencer  

It sounds like your truck was compacting the

Michael Barnard  

soil. Oh, not saying it’s perfect. But the nice thing about a tree is that it breaks through those pans. Because it’s turned, it’s taken the soil and it turned it in it took a farm area a quarter acre 25 acres, a quarter section, I think it amounts to north of Creemore, south of Collingwood, we turned into a forest. I took a picture of that forest the last time I was up in that neck of the woods, and I sent it to my friend who now lives in Australia, Rob Large, I’ll have to tell him and his wife who… studies parasites that I meant that I dropped their names. But that’s two people, two days 12,000 trees — and 12,000 trees means oh, a tree consumed after about 40 years a ton of CO2. So that’s 12,000 trees. Oh, that’s 12,000 tonnes of CO2. This is a big part of my own personal carbon offset that in my climate action, that and living in a tiny apartment and low carbon electricity and not owning a car because I live downtown so I can walk and bike everywhere. But that’s scalable. Now let’s talk scalability. Let’s talk about the numbers, a study out of Switzerland did a machine learning study of the world — we’re gonna get into big numbers again, Metta, my apologies but some of your friends some of your guests are going to be some of your viewers must be numbers nerd so I’m gonna give them some numbers. We used to have 

Metta Spencer  

I met these Zurich people… the trillion trees people.

Michael Barnard  

Yeah, I spoken to the lead researcher on that I was part of a study I did… I published a big report. Last year, Paul Werbos wrote the foreword for it… we’re talking on machine learning, as applied to clean technology and climate solutions. So that was one of my big reports from last year. But the Swiss guys, you know, there’s three or four big numbers here. First of all, we used to have 6 trillion trees on the face of the earth. Now we only have 3 trillion trees, we’ve cut half of them down. And a lot of them were cut down by those subsistence farmers. Because they stripped the calories off the land. Right? It’s just we were locusts. As if human beings were locusts. We cannot… avoid being locusts with intelligent practices and the right stuff. So we need the machine learning people said, the Swiss people said, if we planted a trillion trees, we’d get a bunch of carbon benefit. That’s about equivalent to changing agriculture. We could get like a couple of decades worth of emissions captured. Before we lose ground again, right? And once again, that turns into the glomalin pathway, it exists in forests as well. Once we have that long term, carbon 150-year, long term permanent carbon sequestration, as well. But a trillion trees is a lot. I recently ran the numbers for Pakistan, because I did.

Metta Spencer  

I also you got to really plant 2 trillion because half of them are going to die.

Michael Barnard  

Oh, but the other nice thing about forests is once you plant a tree, once you plant a tree, it’ll plant other trees by itself. Right? And so you don’t really have to plant 2 trillion because you plant a trillion in the right way.

Metta Spencer  

No, you’re not gonna get more than half of them survive.

Michael Barnard  

Oh, the point is, but the point is, if you plant a trillion, another trillion will get planted by the trees themselves, they’ll just be a year or two behind.

Metta Spencer  

Except that that those that trillion trees have to survive and plant the next trillion. And half of them don’t.

Michael Barnard  

I know, I’m not disagreeing point is that, you know, if we get to a trillion trees, we’ve got a win.

Metta Spencer  

Oh, sure. Yeah, it’s certainly better than nothing.

Michael Barnard  

Now, Pakistan has made a commitment to plant a billion trees.

Metta Spencer  

Now, look… a trillion is 1000 billion. So, a lot of countries go around saying, oh, we’re gonna plant a billion trees. Hmm. Well, you and 1000 other countries, we might get there. But well,

Michael Barnard  

This is the point of scaling. Right? So how do we scale? So, what is the scale for Pakistan? So, I did a calculation, I said, let’s assume that we have three different numbers that we would apply in some blend to figure out how many trees a country should plant. And so, I said, maybe the gross domestic product, compared to the gross domestic product of the world, that would be a good ratio. Right. And Pakistan has 216 billion annual GDP, and there’s about … 80 trillion annual GDP. And so that one says they should probably plant two and a half billion trees. So, a billion trees aren’t far off. From a population perspective, there’s a different ratio. And from a landmass perspective, there’s a different ratio, you kind of add those up. So, they should be planting somewhere between three and 10 times as many trees given those ratios, now, but the bigger the country, you know, and the more GDP, probably the more trees they should plant. Right. And so, Canada with our massive wheat fields, and our, you know, on… some semi arable land, we got a lot of trees up there already. But we clear-cut a lot of trees, too. I’ve walked through, clear-cuts are nasty places. All that non arable land in … Haiti, which is currently stripped for calories, that brown land, we should be planting with trees, we should you know, it, I worked it out, it would take about 8% of the total landmass of the earth to plant a trillion trees. It’s only 8%. That gives a lot of trees. Right. So that’s not bad.

Metta Spencer  

Yeah, but a lot of this, that 8% is in places like the top of a mountain where there are no roads, and you can’t get people in to do the planning and say, oh, but that’s trivial now,

Michael Barnard  

because now we have tree planting drones. Got these industrials, yeah.

Metta Spencer  

But I looked into this tree planting drones and they’re not nearly as good as I would wish. I was so excited when I heard about tree planting drones. But their survival rate, it varies from what kind of tree you’re talking about. But I’ve been the people I’ve talked to have actually done some studies of it. First of all, the companies won’t tell you what their mortality rate is. They won’t even they don’t even want to talk to me. But the people who’ve done some research, also don’t want to talk about it, because it’s not very good. The results 

Michael Barnard  

Point so do we care if we plant 10 seedlings to get three to survive? Personally, I don’t because seedlings are cheap. We can over-plant to your point. Similarly, in let’s just take China because we only got like a minute left. So, let’s take China. As of the last as of 2016. China had been planting trees as an intentional practice for 26 years. It started in 1990. At that point, they planted an area of the size of France with 38 billion trees. So, they were almost 4% of the way to the trillion trees by themselves. And then, in 2019, they actually diverted 60,000 soldiers from the Red Army to plant trees. So, China, and once again, this is a calorie-stripping story during the, you know, mistakes of the Mao era, they did. They devastated the landscape. They devastated the environment. And now they’re making up for that. And in part, they’re doing it for the secondary benefits of trees. They’re doing it to reduce air pollution, because trees make the air clean, and they’re beautiful. And they provide natural place, habitat for all sorts of things. And they provide durable wood products for engineered hardwood construction. And for other durable wood products, which sequesters the CO2 permanently in a different way than the glomalin pathway. So, we can plant a trillion trees, we can plant 2 trillion trees, we can we have the technology, we can do this, we can change agriculture. And those are scalable, effective ways that actually have marvelous secondary benefits for humanity. But the entire mechanical and chemical stuff. It’s just nowhere near a tree or a field.

Metta Spencer  

You know, I’m 1,000% in favor of everything you’re saying. And, you know, I I’ve seen some issues about how hard it will be to do. But I really do think this is the way to go. And my concern is with people who say, we don’t really need to do that all we really need to do is reduce carbon emissions. And we and I say, Ah, it’s way past the point where carbon emission reduction will do the job, we have to do we have to actually take stuff out of the air. And the trees and agriculture are easily the most promising way to do it

Michael Barnard  

For sure is and the last thing I’ll say on this is that I did a read a study recently of case studies of policy globally, seven case studies of country policy, and all those case studies, almost all of them except for oil producing countries, were focused on biological pathways for carbon sequestration. The world’s governments get this we get a lot of PR from the fossil fuel industry of a carbon capture. The average citizen doesn’t get this but government policy advisors do get this.

Metta Spencer  

Well, these little videos going to help move the public opinion that this has been not only fun, but very, very enlightening. Yeah, you’ve brightened my day for sure.

Michael Barnard  

Thanks so much.