The Oyster’s Example
Observe the way the Earth has subtracted, concentrated and secured its active elements for the long-term. -Earthen Principle №3
UNLIKE A CAR, A ROCKET LAUNCH OR AN EBOOK, the Crassostrea gigas Oyster removes, concentrates and stores carbon out of its environment. In so doing, it not only provides it’s own home, but also a valuable ecological contribution to our common home. By extracting calcium and carbon from the ocean around it, oysters build their shell out of calcium carbonate. On average, 13% of an oyster shell’s net weight is carbon.i At the end of the oyster’s life, the shell falls to the bottom of the ocean floor. There it and countless other shells are buried by feces, carcasses and other carbon-laden organic matter raining down from life above. Over time, the buried shell is completely secured from sun, friction and oxidation. Effectively protected from degradation, it can be eons before its carbon and calcium have a chance to cycle back into biosphere.ii
An oyster’s shell embodies the third phenomenon that has characterized the Earth’s greening of the planet — the inevitable draw down of its active elements into secure storage. As we saw earlier, the Earth has slowly and steadily subtracted its carbon into concentrated, geological deposits over the last billion years. Like the Earthen principles of indefinite cycling and biosphere-benefit, this principle is reflected in all Earth’s organisms. Whether it is the fallen carbon carcass of an animal, bacteria or oyster shell, within every organism is the tendency for its active elements to be compacted and secured for the long-term in a cumulative process known as sequestration. Over the eons, with countless plants, animals and oysters assisting, billions of tons of carbon were sequestered this way. With the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere reduced, the climate stabilized and the biosphere grew more stable, livable, abundant and green with life.
Just as all Earthen processes tend towards sequestration, so too must our human process intend and realize the same if they are to be green. For our processes to be ecological contributions, they must have a plan and the result of concentrating and storing their active elements. This is particularly pressing when it comes to the element of our age — carbon.
For example, take a fossil fuel powered car. Driving a car is dependent on the extraction and burning of ancient concentrated carbon stores. Since this process releases carbon loose into the atmosphere without any plan for its re-collection, it fails to meet the principle of sequestration. Likewise, creating a product from plastic. As we saw earlier, plastic is made from petroleum derivatives. Although a plastic product remains relatively dense, compared to the immensely concentrated deposits from which it’s carbon originated, it’s manufacture is decidedly expansive. Like the burning of fuels, plastic products do not have the intention, nor the result, of long-term carbon sequestration. As such, the production of plastic fails to meet the Earth’s principle of towards-sequestration.
In order to be green, we must ask of our enterprises: Does the process lead to the concentration, compaction and storage of carbon? Only processes that do so indefinitely and for the long-term can be considered an ecological contribution.
In this way, the principle of towards sequestration helps us make sense of our management of disposed plastic. Currently used plastic is processes through various industrial means — dumping, recycling and incineration — that lack any intention of long-term securing and storage. While our plastic eventually ends up somewhere — it tends to be in a state of ever greater de-concentration — mixed up with other wastes, loose as CO2 after being burned, or photodegrading into micro-plastics that disperse widely.
Around the world, enterprises are exploring the farming of oysters not only as food, but for their carbon sequestration potential. Such oyster enterprises, lead to carbon being stored into layers of shells at the bottom of the ocean floor. Consequently, the principle of sequestration is fulfilled. Likewise, enterprises that cultivate bamboo, farm crops or preserve forests, in so far as biomass is created, cycled and carbon stored, also embody this principle.
Of course, just because a process meets the criteria of towards sequestration, does not mean that it is green. Just as the Earth’s process of greening the planet embodied all six principles, so too must our processes if they are to be authentic ecological contributions. Concentrating plastic, farming a crop, growing bamboo, maintaining a forest, even cultivating oysters can fail to be green no matter how much carbon is sequestered — a phenomenon known as green deserts.
Indeed, despite being a champion at securing carbon, oysters can nonetheless end up releasing more than they sequester! When farmed on their own in a mono-culture, Crassostrea virginica oysters have been shown to release more CO2 in their respiration than they store in their shell (iii). Research shows that it is only when oysters coexists with an assortment of other species, do they remove and store more CO2 than they produce. In other words, only when a reef reaches a certain level of functional biodiversity, do oysters become carbon net-subtractive — our next Earthen principle.
Enterprises that cultivate and enhance oyster reefs, forests and grasslands towards rich biodiversity can lead to carbon sequestration that it far exceeds the carbon released. Such enterprises that directly sequester carbon and fulfill all of the other Earthen principles, are unique and important. As both authentic and direct ecological contributions, they have a deep green value in-and-of-themselves. Their carbon sequestration has a value to our other enterprises that are striving to be green.
Like our cars, rockets and ebooks.
Of course, rockets and cars do not achieve any direct subtraction and storage of carbon themselves. In fact, they result in great amounts of hydrocarbon fuels are burned and released into the atmosphere! Likewise, an ebook. The servers that spin for an ebook’s sending and storage require electricity in their running. This too has a carbon footprint.
However, by connecting a carbon-additive process with a deep green process, greeness can be achieved through correlation. By correlating every ebook sold with a tree, every car with a grove, and every rocket with a forest, the process can indirectly, yet authentically, fulfill the principle of storage.
This process of connecting grey impacts with green is known as offsetting. Although, it is not new — the unprecedented confidence in ecological contribution is.
By ensuring that our sequestration processes do far more than just sequester, a portal opens to a dazzling opportunity.
Enterprises that are currently grey can be harnessed to deep green enterprises — sequestration processes that we can be finally confident are the ecological contributions we long for as they fully and directly follow the Earth’s example.
Then, as industrial processes lumber on through the inevitable last churns of our petro-capital economy, we can use them to accelerate the arrival of the green world we so long for. Those enterprise that have long operated with grey deficits can move into the green. They can begin to compensate for their current grey impacts as they work to repay the carbon and plastic debts they have incurred — thus supercharging Earth focused enterprises. Meanwhile, new enterprises can launch right from the get-go as innate ecological contributions.
For although the principle of towards storage is binary — either fulfilled or not — the principle of net-subtraction is dynamic and of grand and limitless potential. ‘Carbon neutral’ and ‘Zero-waste’ and ‘net-zero’ are not the goals — they are are the starting point. Once on the path of correlated sequestration, there is no limit to the ratios of correlation and to the greatness of green we can achieve.
This was the eighth post in a series laying out a new theory of Green. In the next Earth Ethics segment we’ll take a look at the Carboniferous age, in which a dramatic period of net-subtraction enabled life to flourish on the planet like never before.
An Earthen Ethic will be available for sale on the GoBrik.com platform in June 2021. Each ebook purchased will correlated to 2Kg of plastic and 6.3 Kg of CO2 secured from the biosphere — see the full impact report.
Russell Maier is based in Indonesia, where he and his partner Ani Himawati tend a food forest garden that provides their fruit and greens. Together they track their household plastic and CO2 impacts. Their monthly household plastic consumption of 0.8kg/month is 14% of the Indonesian average. In 2020 their household CO2 emissions of 2046 Kg were 46.5% of the Indonesian per capita average. Meanwhile, their trees, bamboo, ecobricking and offsetting enabled them to secure 286% more CO2 (5851 kg of CO2 ) and keep 2200% more plastic out of the biosphere than they consumed (5.5Kg). See Russell’s full household plastic disclosure. See also the full green impact accounting statement of the enterprise of developing Earthen Ethics, its publication and its sale. Russell and Ani are leaders in the global regenerative ecobrick movement.
i Carbon Sequestration Potential of Shellfish, The Fish Site, February 2009 https://thefishsite.com/articles/carbon-sequestration-potential-of-shellfish
ii Fodrie FJ, Rodriguez AB,Gittman RK, Grabowski JH, Lindquist NL,Peterson CH, Piehler MF, Ridge JT. 2017 Oysterreefs as carbon sources and sinks.Proc. R. Soc.B284: 20170891.http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2017.0891
iii Research comparing shell farms and shell fish within an ecosystem concluded: “We… demonstrate that decade-old experimental reefs on intertidals and flats [shell fish farms] were net sources of CO2… resulting from predominantly carbonate deposition, whereas shallow subtidal reefs… and salt marsh-fringing reefs… were dominated by organic-carbon-rich sediments and functioned as net carbon sinks” See Fodrie FJ, Rodriguez AB,Gittman RK, Grabowski JH, Lindquist NL,Peterson CH, Piehler MF, Ridge JT. 2017 Oysterreefs as carbon sources and sinks.Proc. R. Soc.B284: 20170891.http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2017.0891