Cultivated by humans for centuries, bamboo is a grass which grows very quickly, reaching its full height in one growing season. It can then be harvested for pulp or other purposes or allowed to grow to maturity. After harvesting it will re-sprout and continue growing.
Drawdown: The most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming (edited by Paul Hawken) is a book which discusses 80 ways of reversing global warming and a further 20 possibilities as "coming attractions". According to an article in this book, bamboo can play an important role. ( For more information about these solutions check Project Drawdown )
“Bamboo rapidly sequesters carbon in biomass and soil, taking it out of the air faster than almost any other plant, and can thrive on inhospitable degraded lands.”
Added to these impressive qualities is the fact that it has the compressive strength of concrete and the tensile strength of steel. It has a wide range of uses. In building it is utilised for frames, flooring and shingles. It is also used for scaffolding in Hong Kong and other parts of Asia.
Furniture is made from it as are utensils such as chopping boards, chopsticks, and wooden stirring spoons. It is also used to make baskets and other containers, as food for both humans and animals, and for biofuels, charcoal and increasingly for fabric for clothing such as t-shirts and socks. It can also be used for paper, producing six times as much pulp as a conventional pine plantation.
As a grass, bamboo contains minute silica structures – phytoliths. These resist degradation longer than other plant material, remaining in the soil for at least hundreds of years.
According to Drawdown “The combination of phytoliths and bamboo’s rapid growth make it a prolific means to sequester carbon.”
An added benefit is its ability to replace high emissions products such as cotton, plastics, aluminium, steel and concrete - meaning its carbon reduction impact is even greater.
A proviso to its use is its capacity to be an invasive species damaging existing natural ecosystems. This means any expansion beyond its current approximately 80 million acres worldwide should be in appropriate locations such as already degraded lands.
This is an amended version of the article that was published in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on June 3rd.