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"Undoing The Past For The Future"

Why Become a Carbon Trapper?

Global Warming! That's big. I mean to say we're talking global, the whole world, the planet, planet earth. You can't get much bigger than that without space travel to another planet. And we, that's us humans, haven't found another one that we could live on. And they say this one's warming up, not in a good way with long warm summers and cosy winters but more of deserts and droughts, failed crops, starving people and violent storms. Not perhaps in your local neighbourhood but, as we now live in a global economy with food and products being shipped all over the world, something that happens on the other side of the planet, will effect you, your family and your friends.

The trouble is they say we're to blame. They being the anonymous beings that know more than you and I about such things. Well even if we are to blame, there's not much lil' ol' me can do. After all there are millions of humans and if we all caused global warming then we should all put it right. But whose going to be first in the queue? Anyway how did we cause it in the first place?

Remember that last purchase you made? Well whatever it was it would have needed materials to make it and someone to do the making, using some machinery that someone else had already made. Even if was food, it would have been grown somewhere, possibly processed into something and then again shipped to the shop where you bought it. All of which needs energy to do.

Out of sight out of mind.

So where does this energy come from. Well electricity comes from a socket in the wall, the heating oil comes in a tanker from the depot down the road, the gas comes from a pipe under the garden and coal comes from a bag! Well sort of. The electricity was probably generated at a power station that used coal, gas or oil and they wouldn't have bought the coal in bags or the oil from a tanker. More likely it came straight from the centre of the planet via the hole in the ground some other humans had drilled or the coal from another hole in the ground another load of humans had dug. Bits of the planet are getting used up to make the energy that runs our world!

So what's wrong with that? Well if we keep using up the planet, eventually there'll be nothing left to live on. A bit like standing on a sand castle as the tide comes in, the result is inevitable. Eventually you will have to abandon your last refuge and run for shore. Difficult if it's the planet. Trouble is that while we're all using those precious non-renewable resources, what's left might kill us all before we even need to abandon the ship. That residue will either float up into the atmosphere or get buried. Out of sight out of mind.

We are all carbon based life forms.

Bad idea! Just because you don't see the glass door when you walk into it, doesn't mean it won't hurt you. Ignoring something that you know is there, won't make it go away. Global warming is caused by certain gases left over when we use up that oil or coal, something that took billions of years to make. It is said that the main culprit is dear old carbon dioxide, the stuff we breath out. So why do we breathe it out if it does so much harm. Well we are all carbon based life forms.

All life on this planet is carbon based. This means that not only is our body made with a lot of carbon, when we convert food, 'our fuel', into energy to live, we take in some gases like oxygen and nitrogen, convert it into energy or store it, and breathe out the stuff we don't need. The plants and animals we consume are all carbon based. From the smallest algae to the largest tree or the minute bacteria to the biggest whale, taking it in or releasing it, the carbon is there somewhere.

Over the billions of years that this planet has been spinning round the sun, all this life has been living and then, when its time is up, dying. When it died whether an animal or a vegetable, it fell to the ground to be returned to the soil. Over those billions of years it got buried so deep, some was to become black goo we know as crude oil while some was to become the black rock we know as coal. When we burn the coal or oil, or turn the oil into hundreds of different materials, we are using something that took billions of years to form and as we do so, we release some of the carbon as Carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere.

Trouble is we're using it up at such a rate that the carbon dioxide gas is getting into the atmosphere quicker than any natural process can remove it. While it's up in the atmosphere it has the effect of covering the planet with a sheet of glass that lets the sun's rays in but traps the heat in the same way as the glass in a greenhouse. That's why its called a greenhouse gas. Even if it didn't heat the planet up, too much in the air and we'd all begin to suffocate. We're a long way from that problem but the greenhouse is already here.

The solution is simple.

And the solution is simple. Take all the carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Easy so get on with it! Not so easy though!

We are all being encouraged to reduce the amount we produce, reduce our carbon footprint to use the jargon. The easiest way to reduce our CF is to leave all the oil and coal buried underground out of harms way, but we're all too used to the life we've been living and without any alternatives, that's not going to happen overnight. Remember we're not just talking about using less fuel in cars but all those millions of products that have oil based materials in them, anything plastic for starters, chemical fertilisers used in farms and gardens, all sorts of items you may not associate with oil.

There are hundred of projects trying to reduce carbon footprints. Whole countries have signed up to reduce theirs, large companies are spending millions trying to fall in line with new government guidelines and individuals are doing there bit by fitting low wattage light bulbs or shunning a gas guzzling car. The power companies are trying to grab it before it leaves their chimneys, bottling it and burying the bottles. Should we be burying all our fizzy drinks to prevent the gas escaping? After all the fizz is carbon dioxide, not really going to happen but what could we do? Something that won't mean a huge change in lifestyle.

If you stopped everything you are currently doing, eating, buying stuff, heating, perhaps even breathing, you will become carbon neutral. Your actions are no longer releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Can't be done can it? Well in some things yes it can.

Don't just be carbon neutral, try to be carbon negative!

I was recently discussing our new wall insulation (as you do) with a guy from the local planning department and, on hearing that we had a wood burning stove, he pointed out that if we were able to keep ourselves warm using wood alone, we would be 'carbon neutral' and we could forget all about double glazing and insulation. The reason? The tree whose wood we were now burning would only release the carbon dioxide that it had taken up while it was growing. There would no more pollution than before the tree had been growing, perhaps only a few decades ago. Even if it had been a mature hardwood tree, it would still have only taken a hundred or more years to grow, not the billions of years it took to make the coal or oil.

So that set me to thinking. If that tree only released the carbon dioxide because I had chosen to burn it, so long as the tree stayed as wood, the carbon would stay trapped in the wood. That means that all our wooden furniture, or even the bits of the house made of wood, they all had trapped carbon in them. And while it was there it would be carbon negative!

We could of course leave the tree standing to carry on collecting the carbon dioxide for us. But if we harvested the tree and planted another, we could begin to trap that carbon in our environment, safely, not spend money bottling and burying it, let nature do it for us. After all its being doing it since the dawn of time.

You may have already bought yourself one of those jute shopping bags to avoid using the supermarket plastic bags. Inadvertently you have begun carbon trapping. The jute, another carbon based life form that would have taken less than a year to grow, trapped some carbon dioxide and if you can make that bag last longer than the year it took to grow the net result is some carbon dioxide out of circulation. Your use of that bag has trapped some carbon until it goes into land fill or is burnt and releases the carbon again. The manufacture would have used some machinery and energy so the product itself isn't completely carbon negative but by using a material that trapped some carbon instead of the plastic bag that will release carbon from the oil it was made from, you will have removed some carbon from atmosphere.

There are many items in use today that were once made of wood, and still are. Some have stood around for hundreds of years, many years longer than the trees that went to make them. You only need to visit your local church to see wood that has been working away for us holding up the roof for centuries.

Its not just wood but any natural material, the jute bag, woollen clothing, cotton sheets linen, leather. If we can all begin to buy and use, for as long as possible, products that have trapped carbon, we can begin to ease the strain we are putting on our planet.

Go on, we've all got to pull up our cotton socks and get on carbon trapping. No need to sacrifice a raccoon to make a hat, just choose your purchases thoughtfully and start creating tomorrow's antiques by making sure they last longer than the material took to grow. Become a carbon trapper and begin undoing the past for the future.

Adrian Hepworth - info@carbontrapper.co.uk

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