Back in 2009, I described various ways to try to deliberately engineer the Earth system to reduce the severity of climate change and noted:

The first way to do this is to encourage the growth of biomass. This is relatively easy, but has limited potential. Biomass is like a giant carbon cushion: it can be thick or thin, but it cannot keep growing forever. Increasing the amount of biomass on Earth could draw down the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere a bit, but only if we also manage to cut our greenhouse gas emissions to practically zero.

Now that Prime Minister Trudeau has pledged to plant 2 billion trees as a climate solution (using expected pipeline revenue, to try to justify Canada’s continuing fossil fuel expansion) it’s worth having a post specifically on the limited ability of tree-planting to combat the problem.

A recent Slate article notes:

The notion that any significant percent of the carbon humanity spews can be sucked up by planted trees is a pipe dream. But it got rocket boosters in July, when Zurich’s Crowther Lab published a paper, in Science, proclaiming that planting a trillion trees could store “25 percent of the current atmospheric carbon pool.” That assertion is ridiculous, because planting a trillion trees, one-third of all trees currently on earth, is impossible. Even a start would require the destruction of grasslands (prairies, rangelands, and savannas) that reflect rather than absorb solar heat and that, with current climate conditions, are better carbon sinks than natural forests, let alone plantations. Also, unlike trees, grasslands store most of their carbon underground, so it’s not released when they burn.

The Crowther paper horrified climate scientists and ecologists, 46 of whom wrote a rebuttal, explaining that planting trees in the wrong places would exacerbate global warming, create fire hazards, and devastate wildlife. They rebuked the authors for “suggesting grasslands and savannas as potential sites for restoration using trees” and for overestimating by a factor of 5 “potential for new trees to capture carbon.”

Counter-intuitively, growing trees in order to burn them could actually be more of a climate solution, provided we develop the carbon capture and storage technology and infrastructure needed to bury the resulting CO2.

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The protagonist of a YouTube channel about blacksmithing which I have been watching used the aphorism “Buy once, cry once” as a rhetorical justification for buying high-quality tools. If you buy the right thing the first time, you cry once at the expense. By contrast, if you buy an inferior alternative you will cry the first time not getting what you want, cry every time you use the inferior item, and then cry when you cave and buy what you should have initially.

It seems like a reasonable mark of distinction to apply to products which truly serve their function admirably and seem capable of indefinite high-utility use.

I use mechanical pencils a lot, and have in one sense or another since around elementary school. Occasionally the ability to erase is a large part of the appeal, but it’s mostly the particular quality of writing on paper with graphite. I find it ideal for taking marginal notes in books and making my own index on their opening pages, as well as for annotating academic journal articles and dissertations. I also find a pencil ideal for the final close edit of a hard copy which I do with important pieces of writing, and among the better tools for use in a paper daily calendar.

I’ve tried a few higher quality mechanical pencils over the last few years. A couple of years ago I bought an $8 Uni Mechanical Pencil Kurutoga Pipe Slide Model 0.5mm, Blue Body (M54521P.33) which I highly commend for build quality and writing experience. The retractable tip has been completely reliable, and it provides an easy way to store the pencil in a soft case without worrying about it breaking the tip or poking a hole in the bag. I also got the $16 Rotring 300 Mechanical Pencil, Black, 0.7mm. Again, I have enjoyed the experience of using it, finding that it sits most naturally for ready use on a desktop since there is no way short of a protective sleeve to carry it in a way that won’t risk being pointy. I can’t figure out if the rotating lead firmness indicator has any effect on the pencil’s function, but the mechanism overall is solid, reliable, and pleasant to operate.

I have also tried out ex-Mythbuster Adam Savage’s recommended (36 for $12) Paper Mate Sharpwriter 0.7 mm mechanical pencils. They’re not designed to be refilled or have the eraser replaced, and come with something around three leads inside each. They each include a shock absorber to reduce lead breakage, and I would say they actually work 90% as well as any of the far more expensive options on this list. They are a great tool to give away or scatter around in every possible place you may want to jot a note.

The Buy Once, Cry Once choice, however, is the $50 Rotring 800 Retractable Mechanical Pencil, 0.5 mm, Black (1854232). The metal body is solid like no pencil I’ve ever held and the retraction mechanism is impressively smooth and satisfying to use. A mechanical pencil becomes a reliable and easy-to-carry tool when you can keep it with the lead in ready-to-use state while it is clipped comfortably into a pocket. The Rotring 800 also totally pulls off the task of being much heavier than the everyday cheap versions of an object, but more usable as a result. I find the solidity and mass of it helpful for writing with a good balance of speed and legibility.

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In my spare time I’m excited to be reading Gudrun Harrer’s: “Dismantling the Iraqi Nuclear Programme: The Inspections of the International Atomic Energy Agency, 1991-1998”. I’ve long been curious about the work of the IAEA and it looks like a fascinating and well-supported source.

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