Last week, Richard Branson announced some of Virgin’s profits will be plowed into developing alternative energy, up to as much as 3.0 billion dollars. This is a good and noble thing to do, but also requires discussion. What if all those profits are invested in the hydrogen fuel cell sector (a very inefficient use of funds), or into biofuel plantations that deforested the planet?
Also of concern is the possibility these funds will be put into CO2 sequestration programs instead of CO2 absorption programs. That is, why aren’t we digging aqueducts to refill the Aral Sea using surplus water from the Volga River since the Caspian Sea is rising? Why aren’t we tunneling through the mountains north of the Ubangi River, so we can divert some of its water into the Sahel to refill Lake Chad? These water projects could create a million or more square miles of restored ecosystems in the Aral Sea and Lake Chad basins. And they will absorb CO2.
Why aren’t we planting new forests in the Congo, instead of burning away more forests to grow Cassava, a biofuel? Why aren’t we planting new forests in the Amazon, instead of burning them to grow Sugar Cane, another biofuel?
Why shouldn’t an investment in carbon sequestration go instead into stopping desertification? What if biofuel plantings were only allowed on desertified lands? Or even more restrictive, biofuel plantings would only be allowed as the vanguard plantings, to begin to restore desertified topsoil, often immediately followed by plantings of more permanent forest plants. To avoid any deforestation, have you thought of factory farming biofuels?
The original forest canopy on the planet earth constituted over 20 million square miles, and at this time there are only about 12 million square miles of forest in the world. To think this change in land use, combined with the increasing presence of urban heat sinks on the planet (also something that can be ameliorated by planting trees), is not responsible for global warming is counterintuitive, to say the least. Put the forests back.
When only 5% of the carbon dioxide emissions each year into the earth’s atmosphere are from human sources – at most, many estimates cite an anthropogenic CO2 contribution of only 2% – and over 40% of the world’s forests are gone, you have to conclude the presence (or lack) of forests has something to do with higher atmospheric CO2, and/or higher global temperatures! Forests are cool, deserts are hot. Not only are something like 8 million miles of forest are gone in the last 50 years, but there are equal millions of square miles of new deserts in the world. Deserts are on the march along with deforestation on a planet with only 56 million square miles of land surface.
Through desertification and deforestation humans have transformed about one-third of the entire surface of the earth from cool to warm. Sir Richard Branson should be lauded for putting his profits into alternative energy research. Finding clean, cost effective, renewable energy alternatives to coal and oil is a great thing – photovoltaics, windmills, batteries, green buildings and countless other innovations are all great ways to produce, store and conserve clean energy. But before any of these Virgin profits go to investments in CO2 sequestration, we believe they instead should go to reforestation and reversing desertification. That would yield obvious side benefits – less CO2, a cooler planet, and new life zones where food and timber can be harvested sustainably.
To think we could be set to further deforest and desertify this planet because biofuel is “carbon-neutral” is a sad thought indeed. And in that regard, please good Sir, think carefully about where to send the proceeds of your noble act.