Books of the Year: Cool heads with an answer to global warming

It has been my year of biochar, and my reading reflects this. Our biochar firm Carbon Gold was co-financed last year with VenEarth, a Silicon Valley fund. We closed the deal while I was at the UN Poznan climate talks in Poland this March.

by Craig Sams
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

We had already lobbied the EU and buttonholed Nicholas Stern to get across the biochar message: turning woody biomass into charcoal - biochar - means carbon can be permanently sequestered in the soil. Biochar is viable without subsidies - it is more profitable as a soil improver than being burned. The carbon in biochar is stable in soil for centuries. It buys time to reduce emissions by increasing solar, wind, tide and geothermal power. I've gone from Green & Black's to blackened greens.

My reading in 2009 kicked off with Lord Stern's A Blueprint for a Safer Planet: How to manage climate change and create a new era of progress and prosperity. His message was clear: take action now on climate change and every pound spent will save more in the future.

Investment for future savings is commonplace to successful business management; now it's gaining political traction. Stern's book helps bridge the gap between climate change and finance. It shows how we can deal with the short-term economic crisis, achieve medium-term sustainable growth and ensure longer-term prevention of 'devastating climate change'.

Stern argues forcefully that 'deniers and cranks' should not be funded by vested interests in the coal and oil industry. His advocacy of vegetarianism has highlighted the climate-change impact of how we produce and consume food.

Biochar has been controversial, with the Biofuelwatch campaign group taking an uncompromising stance. Its concern that biochar must not become another subsidised ecological disaster like biofuels is valid. Universal standards of sustainability can address this concern - biochar is too important to be neglected. The debate went on, with George Monbiot raging against biochar in the Guardian. The publication of Biochar for Environmental Management: Science and technology brought in hard facts. This tome contains the research and science needed to form a balanced view of biochar. Written by respected academic advocates of the technique, Johannes Lehmann and Stephen Joseph, this book is the resource needed to consider how biochar can help in reducing atmospheric CO2 while increasing soil carbon and fertility.

The best book yet for a holistic overview of the climate crisis is Al Gore's beautifully produced and powerful Our Choice: A plan to solve the climate crisis - the ideal Christmas present. It brings a rising awareness of the smallness of the climate crisis - that the same behaviour that could avert global warming could also improve quality of life and create a more stable society. By the end, you glow with optimism that global warming can be averted, not just painlessly, but with beneficial consequences.

Gore, like Stern, believes that we can do good and do well, and sets out persuasive examples of how to reduce consumption and emissions and enjoy a better quality of life. Our Choice is a heartening read and full of pictures that make you think - with text used to emphasise and illustrate. In the end, it's about good management, making decisions on allocation of resources to maximise desired outcomes. We can do it.

I never read novels, except on those rare occasions when I do. Fortunately, my wife was just off to San Francisco for a week as I became hooked on Stieg Larsson's compelling Millennium Trilogy. I buried myself in the books, starting with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The corruption of Swedish government, business, police and secret service is vividly illustrated in a gripping thriller. It is comfortingly set in faraway Stockholm and the female protagonist, Lisbeth Salander, is a remarkable literary creation: tough feminist, hacker, punk and vulnerable young lover. Larsson died shortly after delivering three complete manuscripts to his publisher, frustrating what is a growing cult following.

- Craig Sams' 2008 book, co-written with his wife Josephine Fairley, is Sweet Dreams (Random House), the story of Green & Black's, the chocolate company they founded

A Blueprint for a Safer Planet - Nicholas Stern, The Bodley Head £16.99
Biochar for Environmental Management - Johannes Lehmann and Stephen
Joseph Earthscan £49.95
Our Choice - Al Gore, Bloomsbury £16.99
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson, Quercus £7.99

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