A fair amount of my mail — electronic, conventional — comes from people who Know that they have The Answer to our environmental woes. The Answer varies from year to year — I’ve been doing this long enough to remember cold fusion — but never the tone of Absolute Certainty that their project (hydrogen! flywheels! nuclear power!), and theirs alone, will prevent global warming and put this planet back on its proper course. Often there’s a hint (well, a Confident Accusation) that anyone who doesn’t agree is part of the conspiracy designed to shield the public from The Truth. (There’s also a subset of people who know the true identity of The Problem — often, in their minds, population growth — and are convinced that anyone who doesn’t absolutely and immediately agree is being Politically Correct.)
I never know what to do with such correspondence. On the one hand, I admire people who step forth strongly in a crisis and attempt to offer a solution. I’m more of a ditherer, better at analysis than action. On the other hand, Capital Letters frighten me. After twenty years of studying climate change, if I’m sure of anything, it’s that there’s no one fix that will save the world. The problem is our world — the one we’ve built in two hundred years of burning fossil fuel — which at least in its affluent precincts is based entirely on filling the atmosphere with carbon. It’s so big a problem that we need to change just about everything — from technology to behavior to our sense that the economy must keep growing. And so to almost any monotheist, I’m a heretic.
About a year ago I began getting Capital Letter letters from people advocating a new technology called biochar.
This is an excerpt from the article published in the March/April 2009 issue of Orion. Purchase this issue, take advantage of our free trial offer ($19 for six gorgeous issues) for the print magazine, or subscribe to the equally beautiful digital edition ($10 for six issues) for the full text.