Rethinking Carbon and Climate Change:
In a new film, a maverick scientist calls for valuing Biotic Carbon
To tackle enhanced global warming that leads to climate change, we need to better understand the global carbon cycle.
Critical to this understanding is distinguishing between fossil carbon (coal and petroleum) and biotic carbon (photosynthetic biomass – living matter capable of absorbing atmospheric carbon).
Biotic Carbon offers a ‘lifeboat’ to a world in search of solutions. Valuing biotic carbon can transform the role of farmers and rural communities currently sidelined in global climate change negotiations.
Current methodologies of carbon trading have seriously warped both economics and ecology. What takes place today is more like carbon laundering.
These outspoken views are expressed by Dr Ranil Senanayake, a Lankan-born, globally experienced systems ecologist with four decades of experience across Asia, Africa and Latin America.
The maverick scientist, who originated Analog Forestry in the 1980s, shares these views in a new web video produced by TVE Asia Pacific (TVEAP).
“Biotic carbon represents the energy of the sun. Collected by the plants, which is life, and given to us as human beings. Remember, everything solid in our body, our bones, our skin everything solid was made solid by a plant somewhere, sometime in the past. So, if we are what we recognise what we are, if we recognise biotic carbon for what it is and that we are a part of an integrated system. That is what I would encourage people to appreciate. That we are indeed a part of an integrated system and biotic carbon represents us. Photosynthesis biomass is the engine that allows us to sustain ourselves into the future.”
- Dr Ranil Senanayake
The video is based on an interview with science writer and TVEAP Director Nalaka Gunawardene, filmed in Colombo in mid March 2012.
In search of planetary triggers that set off the current accelerated climate change, Dr Senanayake goes back five centuries to the time before the Industrial Revolution. He argues that global warming started with the systematic removed most forests of the planet – for timber, ship-building, wars and large scale plantation agriculture.
He makes a clear distinction between fossil carbon – coal and petroleum that captured atmospheric carbon millions of years ago – and biotic carbon found in photosynthetic biomass in trees, corals and algae.
Biotic carbon represents the sun’s energy, collected by plants and available to human beings. Yet until now, no value has been placed on living (biotic) carbon; instead, only its products – such as timber, fruits and cereals – are valued.
Recognising and valuing biotic carbon, alongside fossil carbon, would provide an economically viable way to better balance the carbon budget. Dr Senanayake wants the value of photosynthesis biomass to become a part of the lexicon of the United Nations climate negotiations.
Rethinking Carbon and Climate Change: Ranil Senanayake speaks
Dr Ranil Senanayake: Maverick Scientist and Eco-Entrepreneur
Ranil Senanayake obtained his PhD as a Systems Ecologist from the University of California at Davis in 1978, where he worked under Professor Michael Soulé, the US biologist best known as an early promoter of conservation biology. He also worked as a researcher with the well known oceanographer and TV personality Commander Jacques Yves Cousteau.
After returning to his native Sri Lanka, he briefly worked for the government as a consultant to a major river diversion programme (Mahaweli). When he questioned some of its development premises and practices, he was dismissed.
For the past three decades, he combined the roles of researcher, university teacher and activist. He has been a consultant to many governments in Africa, Asia and Latin America, as well as various UN agencies, development organisations and conservation organisations.
In these and other assignments, he has consistently played the roles of conscientious expert and passionate public intellectual. In particular, he has been vocal about the indiscriminate use of pesticides and chemical fertiliser in farming; the use of exotic tree species for monocultures in the name of forestry; heavy reliance of imported petroleum energy sources for developing Sri Lanka’s economy; and the erosion of biological diversity at the levels of habitats, species and genes.
Author of numerous scientific papers, media articles and presentations, he has served on the UNEP committee that produced the comprehensive and authoritative Global Biodiversity Assessment.
Dr Senanayake is the originator of the environmental restoration system known as Analog Forestry, which mimics the natural forest and strengthens rural communities -- socially and economically – by nurturing tree species that provide commercial products. He field tested analog forestry in Sri Lanka through the non-profit entity Neo-Synthesis Research Centre (NSRC) that he set up with like-minded scientists and conservationists in the 1980s.