Many Questions about Soil and the Carbon Economy

Carbon Capturing Crops – image from here.

Listing some of the things I don’t yet understand about soil and the carbon economy:

  • What happens to carbon when plants photosynthesize? I mean, I (sort of) get it, that they “breathe in” CO2, but then what? I’ve been imagining that they break the CO2 into oxygen (O2) and carbon (C) (how exactly?)- the oxygen goes back into the atmosphere and the carbon goes – where? Into the soil, into the plant’s leaves and roots? How does this work?
  • I get it that “organic matter” is 58% carbon. We use this factor when we extrapolate the carbon mass in a soil sample from the mass of organic matter. (But why 58%?) And is all organic matter the same? I mean, is a piece of jarrah wood the same in carbon content as a blade of grass or humus in the soil?
  • How does the proposed carbon economy work? Here’s a ham-fisted version of how I imagine it: polluters pay money for tonnage of carbon dioxide emissions. That money is put in some sort of trust account, and paid to people who can demonstrate that they are pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. OK, fine. But doesn’t that mean that the emissions of the rich are just written off, getting them off the hook? Doesn’t that mean they can carry on with business as usual?
  • What are some of the possible “revenge effects” of the carbon economy? I dunno, I’m thinking about Kevin Rudd’s ceiling insulation scheme which was meant to kickstart the Aussie economy during the global financial crisis but ended up incentivising a whole lot of shonky operators to set up get-rich-quick businesses installing insulation (and people died as a result).
  • Ecosystem services as a commodity. What are the pros and cons of putting a price on services to the ecosystem?

There are more questions! But those will do for now…
Meantime here is a fairly easy to follow article about the processes of carbon drawdown through agriculture.

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