Published online 9 January 2008 | Nature 451, 113 (2008) | doi:10.1038/451113a


Could global gardening fix climate change?

Biomass proposal could hugely reduce carbon dioxide levels.

Using biomass fuel on a massive scale in combination with carbon sequestration could return atmospheric carbon dioxide to pre-industrial levels within decades, according to a new analysis.

Peter Read calls his proposal global gardening. To make it work, an area the size of France and Germany would have to be enlisted for growing biomass fuels for a quarter of a century .

“You can manage carbon dioxide using biomass.”

“This is the first time it's been demonstrated that you can manage carbon levels in the atmosphere” using biomass, says Read, an economist at Massey University's Centre for Energy Research in Palmerston North, New Zealand. Such a move may be necessary to avoid abrupt climate change, he says.

Referees at the journal Climatic Change rejected Read's paper, but editor Stephen Schneider elected to publish it as an editorial commentary.

“Peter has some very clever and controversial ideas,” says Schneider, a climatologist at Stanford University in California. “ Climatic Change has long been a venue where clever and controversial ideas can get aired — as long as they are in perspective.”

Read envisions an array of plantations supplying commodities such as energy and timber, as well as a livelihood for countless communities. A second phase could combine biomass energy with carbon sequestration, moving society to the point where it sequestered more carbon than it emitted.


Gregg Marland, a climate researcher currently working at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Laxenburg, Austria, has numerous doubts about the proposal, including crop productivity, implementation and land use. He co-authored a commentary suggesting that it's unclear whether Read's vision is “a dream or a nightmare”.

But it's still a useful thought experiment, he says. “I think what Peter has done is paint a picture: if we really get into trouble with carbon dioxide, how can we back off?” 

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