A low-tech solution to global warming

The following is my very-low-tech solution to global warming. I believe that it will work.

The beauty of it is that the capital structure and social organization necessary to generate the program are already largely in place.

The problem with my proposed solution is that it is perfectly counter-intuitive. “Dyed-in-the-wool” environmentalists won’t like it.

The idea is simple. There are about 50,000 unfilled strip mines, world wide. Old railroad rights-of-way lead up to nearly all of them. Also, the entire United States, and much of Europe, is already set-up for paper collection (for recycling). Also, Weyerhaeuser Corporation has developed species of extremely-fast-growing soft wood pulp trees.

We need to end paper recycling, and instead, in each major economy, back-fill a giant strip mine, carefully lined to prevent water table infusion, with every scrap of paper and piece of wood we can lay our hands on, collected by the current paper collection mechanism and moved to the strip mine by rail. By doing this, we make fast growing pulp trees our atmospheric carbon collectors.

When each strip mine is full, we need to cap it, and collect any and all methane released by the back-fill and burn it to make electricity.

I believe that the back-filled strip mines will be about 90% efficient in keeping carbon in the ground, and, after burning, the 10% of the carbon expressed as methane will be returned to the atmosphere as “re-capture-able” CO2. Because the methane is being burned to generate electricity, a growing portion of our electricity production can be retired.

At the same time, the nations must outlaw use of any trees for paper pulp except extremely-fast-growing pulp trees, grown on a mass basis in tree farms across the face of the Earth. Additionally, cellulose must be built into as many additional products as possible, to generate additional opportunities to sequester carbon by depositing the products in the landfills when use is completed.

The full system described here would have to be put in place. We can’t just end paper recycling. That would turn every landfill in the country into unregulated generators of uncollectable methane. We would have to restrict paper production to fast-growing pulp trees, so that the CO2 collection by the pulp trees is efficient enough to keep up with planetary additions to the atmospheric carbon inventory, and to keep the world from defoliating the planet at a higher rate. Finally, the strip mines would have to be lined, to discourage methane generation and methane release into the water table (since methane is water soluble). Unregulated water table infusion might otherwise gradually convert every cellulose molecule in the strip mine to methane and leach it out into the water table. Additionally, dyes and inks and other additions to the cellulose might form exotic leachates, under pressure. Current landfill science can assist in the choice of liner.

Such difficulties must be considered against the backdrop of our current global warming crisis. In just a few years, global warming has mutated from a theory laid-out in Mr. Gore’s film to blasting hot Summers to Greenland melting to the threat of inundation of population centers around the world’s estuaries. I believe that even the alarming current global warming estimates fall far short of adequately stating the problem confronting us. There is almost no time to solve the problem. We have to move, now, now, now.

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