Mass-production of charcoal is so 18th century—but call it "biochar" and it may help save the planet, the Economist reports. Farmers could burn millions of plants into charcoal each year before the plants die and release stored carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, scientists say. Then, with the Earth's CO2 emissions cut by up to 20%, the biochar could be buried to improve soil quality.
But implementing biochar plans may get tricky. Critics say farmers will grow crops on virgin land to make up for lost harvests, releasing more CO2 and methane. Others note that countries will want incentives like carbon offsets for executing the plans. One interesting side-effect: Third-world farmers could char for cash, and learn how to burn things in charcoal ovens that don't fill the air with toxic soot.
(Read more charcoal trade stories.)