Biosphere Processes 101

Basic biosphere processes such as water cycle, carbon cycle, both driven by solar energy, and which do much more work than industrial energy.

Living from livestock: Sam Bingham's 1984 classic available for download

In 1984 Sam Bingham wrote a short book for Navajo country called Living from Livestock. Though one or two items are outdated (such as the recommendation to build radial grazing cells) it is a wonderfully illustrated and trenchant introduction to the relationship of grazing to ecosystem function in an arid environment. Thanks to Sam we are able to offer it as downloadable pdfs. (Right click, Save As, to download.)

Allan Savory on desertification and climate change

Allan Savory gave this talk in Ireland in November 2009. About 58 minutes.

Natural lawn mowers can benefit the carbon cycle

Dung beetles for pasture improvement and carbon accrual

Methane: ruminant livestock a minor player in atmospheric levels

Methane is an important greenhouse gas that contributes to global heating. But methane emissions from ruminant digestion play a minor part in atmospheric methane levels, according to a recent article published on the website of the International Atomic Energy Agency's Animal Production and Health branch.

James Lovelock on the separation of biological and physical science

Lecture to the Royal Society in October 2007 by James Lovelock. "Climate change on a living earth," 65 minutes. Lovelock eloquently depicts the fragmentation of scientific understanding, which makes us unable to grasp global heating or to counter it. "In our hubris, we believe that we can be stewards of the earth long before we understand it."

Carbon cycle graphics

Attached are several diagrams of the carbon cycle.

Water cycle experiment

Can we unscramble the egg?

If we quit adding carbon to the atmosphere, it won't stop global warming anytime soon. That's why people are hoping that there are ways to get the extra carbon out of the atmosphere, and that we can put these billions of tons of it somewhere safe.

Breaking apart carbon dioxide, or extracting carbon dioxide from the air, takes work. Work means energy. It's the reverse of combustion. There's a triple problem here: the technology itself, the disposal, and the energy to do the work.

It's a common saying that you can't unscramble an egg. You break an egg into a bowl, break the yolk membrane with your fork, mix the yolk thoroughly with the white, and stir it around in a hot skillet. The cooking uncurls the egg proteins, breaking some chemical bonds and causing new ones to form.

Now we've got a scrambled egg. The egg proteins won't go back to their raw configuration when they cool, and even if they did it's impossible to wield the fork in such a way as to separate the yolk from the white. Roomfuls of the latest and greatest laboratory equipment, the best Google algorithms, or even all the king's horses and all the king's men would not unscramble our egg. The mixing and cooking are irreversible processes.

It's a familiar impasse. Can we change the way we see the problem?

Feed our scrambled egg to a hen, and tomorrow she'll lay us a new egg. Her metabolism—a product of evolution rather than technology—will break down the complex scrambled egg molecules into simpler ones and reconstitute them, with losses of course, into a new, raw egg.

Biosphere processes

Over the last decade the concept of ecosystem services such as filtration, regulation, pollination, and food production have gained currency. But these ecosystem services in turn depend on even more basic biosphere processes:

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