In order to rescue ourselves from climate catastrophe, we need to radically alter how humans live on Earth. We have to go from spending carbon to banking it. We have to put back the trees, wetlands, and corals. We have to regrow the soil and turn back the desert. We have to save whales, wombats, and wolves. We have to reverse the flow of greenhouse gases and send them in exactly the opposite direction: down, not up. We have to flip the carbon cycle and run it backwards. For such a revolutionary transformation we’ll need civilization 2.0.
A secret unlocked by the ancients of the Amazon for its ability to transform impoverished tropical soils into terra preta—fertile black earths—points the way. The indigenous custom of converting organic materials into long lasting carbon has enjoyed a reawakening in recent decades as the quest for more sustainable farming methods has grown. Yet the benefits of this carbonized material, now called biochar, extend far beyond the soil. Pyrolyzing carbon has the power to restore a natural balance by unmining the coal and undrilling the oil and gas. Employed to its full potential, it can run the carbon cycle in reverse and make Earth a garden planet.
Carbon Cascades looks beyond carbon farming or biomass energy to offer a bigger and bolder vision for the next phase of human progress. Authors Albert Bates and Kathleen Draper propose four frameworks: soils restoring balance to carbon, nitrogen, and related cycles, enhancing nutrient density in food, rebuilding topsoil, and conditioning urban and agricultural lands to withstand flooding and drought; water being cleansed by carbon filtration and trophic cascades within the world’s rivers, oceans, and wetlands; a shift in urban infrastructures—buildings, roads, bridges, and ports—to incorporate drawdown materials and components, replacing steel, concrete, polymers, and composites with biological carbon; and economic reorganization to incentivize carbon drawdown.
Fully developed, this approach costs nothing—to the contrary, it can save companies money or provide new revenue streams. It contains the seeds of a new, circular economy in which energy, natural resources, and human ingenuity enter a virtuous cycle of improvement. Carbon Cascades offers bold new solutions to climate change that can begin right now.