An elevator discussion on climate

NOTE: In an elevator, at a conference on climate change. Each paragraph represents a different speaker.

Well folks, that movie made it clear. There is too much carbon in the atmosphere.

It's grim. But I'm not buying the emissions reduction solution, as obvious as it might seem. According to the IPCC, even with zero emissions (hah!), it will take way too long for atmospheric carbon dioxide to subside to safe levels, and we lose the cooling aerosol effects immediately. So we've got to take out the legacy load.

Isn't there a technology for capturing carbon out of the atmosphere?

Well, maybe. But it takes lots of energy and capital expenditure to collect and concentrate a trace gas into a huge, somewhat hazardous, disposal problem. Who is going to do this, or pay to have it done? "Not me, said the horse."

What about trees? Don't they capture carbon?

Some say the Amazon will burn. There is already too much human and climatic pressure on trees and forests for them to absorb and hold the excess.

What a huge, insoluble problem we've got! And look at the multiple styles of denial, hopelessness, survivalism, and insanity it is generating! (Not to mention the passenger miles to these conferences.) Anyway, here's my floor. G'bye.

Instead of trying to wipe out the problem, let's add to it: There is too much carbon in the atmosphere, and not enough in soils.

Great, now we have two problems instead of one! An excess, and a scarcity.

Don't you see? These two problems are one solution. There are people on every continent who have figured out how to turn air into dirt. They are rapidly converting atmospheric carbon into water-holding, fertility-enhancing soil organic matter, using free solar energy that doesn't even require a capital-intensive collection system. Read The Omnivore's Dilemma, and check out and If we can spread this practice, or rather the complex multiplicity of locally adapted practices . . .

Nope. It's still insoluble, and here's why. Our habits, ideologies, institutions, conventional wisdom and loyalties, policies and programs, our preference for technology solutions or best practices, our ignorance of biological processes, and face it, some significant economic and political interests, will all try to maintain the two halves of the solution as separate problems. Not many people realize they're one solution. You've heard there's no silver bullet, right? We want to keep it that way. We're more comfortable with tough compromises, with sacrifices, we think they're necessary. Anyway, here's my floor. G'bye.

OK, let's add to it again: There is too much carbon in the atmosphere, not enough in soils, and we're not used to connecting the two.

Hmm. We've still got a tough problem, but it's different, and potentially a lot more people can be involved in the solutions. We can build pathways and bridges. In fact, this is a great opportunity to spread the news about the carbon cycle, the water cycle, how the biosphere works.

There is too much carbon in the atmosphere, not enough in soils, and it's a great opportunity to realize the connections.

But we don't have the educational infrastructure or institutional awareness to do this, and the media and so on are still hooked on the conflict.

There is too much carbon in the atmosphere, not enough in soils, it's a great opportunity to realize the connections, and move past old conflicts into new awareness.

You're relentless! These opportunities scare me. I'm almost more comfortable with the insoluble problem, like we started with. And I got another meeting I need to go to, about cap and trade. Here's my floor. G'bye.

Dwight Eisenhower said, "If a problem cannot be solved, enlarge it."