Sunday, May 21, 2017

Atlantic Crossing

"There are some black swans in aviation’s future that could tip its economic balance. The three biggies are peak oil, climate weirding and cyberwarfare."






We are in London this week and on our trip across the pond we could not help but think how much more we would much prefer to have gotten here by sail.

Sadly, there is a distinct competitive advantage that favors passenger jets. If following tradewinds for an ocean crossing means devoting days and weeks for such travel, clipper ships are not coming back any time soon. Still, given the past century’s advances in materials and computing power, there are great opportunities for innovation in Atlantic crossings.

There are also some black swans that could tip the balance against flying. The three biggies are peak oil, climate weirding and cyberwarfare.
 

A foretaste of what the future sails may look like, we can go to companies like Kite Ships and SkySails, each of which develops various forms of large, free-flying sails without masts, which are anchored at the bow of the ship with long, adjustable ropes.

They are hoisted and reefed automatically and are controlled and positioned by wind situation by means of an electronic control system. The automation does not require additional crew and the lack of a fixed rig does not disturb the ship in port. The sail is deployed several hundred meters high, and draws advantage of winds that are smoother and stronger than at sea level.
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Norska Vindskip has another vision, appealing in its simplicity. The designers intend to remove the sails and rigging altogether, but believe they can achieve 80 percent emission reductions by an aerodynamic vessel design where the hull itself acts as a sail. The vessel is designed as a hybrid, which first accelerates on gas and then balances between wind and supportive gas to maintain a constant speed. When the ship comes up to speed it encounters a backwind. Although this apparent wind gives effect on the hull’s symmetrical aerodynamic profile, and generates traction even when there is no wind – there is a contributing factor to large emissions reductions. The concept includes a computerized navigation system using GPS and weather data to adjust the route continuously, to constantly give the ship the most optimal angle to the wind as possible. It is thought then to hold 18 knots in average and large portions of the time is powered exclusively by wind.

18 knots is still not the same as 570 miles per hour. A 6-hour crossing by a 757 would take 170+ hours at Vindskip speed — a week-long voyage. Surely we can do better. We need a killer app for ocean crossings.

Will Nodvik, who studied Computer Engineering at NYU Tandon School of Engineering, writes on Quora:

The foiling AC-72s sailed [in 2013] during the America’s Cup top out at around 40 knots in super heavy conditions. Average container ships move at around 20 knots. The mast on an AC-72 is 40m high. Keep in mind that this mast is a rigid wing. The AC-72 is the lightest, fastest, most highly advanced boat. These masts are the strongest material possible since no expense was spared in their construction.

Forty knots (46 mph) is still only 8 percent of the cruising speed of a Boeing 747. Figure three and one half days, if top speed could be held the whole way.


The America’s Cup Challenge resumes this June in Bermuda’s Great Sound. The AC-72 (72-foot) yacht that Oracle Team USA sailed to a historic come-from-behind 9-8 victory over Emirates Team New Zealand on San Francisco Bay in September 2013 is gone. Obsolete.


Replacing it is a smaller, lighter AC-50 (50-foot) catamaran with 79-foot carbon fiber wing sail and new alloy hydrofoils to give it near zero drag. All the competitors in this year’s trials are expected to fly above water for 100% of the race time.


The sail’s drag is one-third to one-half that of four years ago, while producing about twice as much power. The control system comes from the Airbus A350 XWB airliner, compiling a terabyte per race collected from as many as 1,000 sensors fed into the Oracle Exadata supercomputer for instant analysis. Oracle will predict wind patterns (within half a knot accuracy) all the way down to 100-meter or even 50-meter grids on the racecourse. The sailors — a six man crew (down from 11 in 2013), need only glance at smart watches connected to a small onboard Linux server, to know what they need to do.


Speeds approaching 60 mph are possible in the Bermuda races—about 20% faster than in 2013. That would get us down to a two day Atlantic crossing.

More importantly, the days spent on crossing by sail put nothing into the atmosphere except the breath of the sailors. Today’s commercial passenger fleet is responsible for 3 to 5 percent of climate forcing, on its way to 15 percent according to some IPCC projections. Clearly it is going in the wrong direction.

From Wikipedia:

In October 2016 the UN agency International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) finalized an agreement among its 191 member nations to address the more than 458 Mt (2010) of carbon dioxide emitted annually by international passenger and cargo flights. The agreement will use an offsetting scheme called CORSIA (the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation) under which forestry and other carbon-reducing activities are directly funded, amounting to about 2% of annual revenues for the sector. Rules against 'double counting' should ensure that existing forest protection efforts are not recycled. The scheme does not take effect until 2021 and will be voluntary until 2027, but many countries, including the US and China, have promised to begin at its 2020 inception date. Under the agreement, the global aviation emissions target is an 80% reduction by 2035 relative to 2020. NGO reaction to the deal was mixed.

The agreement has critics. It is not aligned with the 2015 Paris climate agreement, which set the objective of restricting global warming to 1.5 to 2°C. A late draft of the agreement would have required the air transport industry to assess its share of global carbon budgeting to meet that objective, but the text was removed in the agreed version. CORSIA will regulate only about 25 percent of aviation's international emissions, since it grandfathers all emissions below the 2020 level, allowing unregulated growth until then. Only 65 nations will participate in the initial voluntary period, not including significant emitters Russia, India and perhaps Brazil. The agreement does not cover domestic emissions, which are 40% of the global industry's overall emissions. One observer of the ICAO convention made this summary:

Airline claims that flying will now be green are a myth. Taking a plane is the fastest and cheapest way to fry the planet and this deal won't reduce demand for jet fuel one drop. Instead offsetting aims to cut emissions in other industries, although another critic called it "a timid step in the right direction."

But now imagine what happens when the ring wraiths start to arrive. On one side we have peak oil — for conventional liquid fuel production that happened in the US in 1969 and globally in 2005. 

Dmitry Orlov explains:
[S]ustained and even slightly increased levels of per capita energy use have been enabled by constantly increasing debt that has temporarily compensated for the rising costs of energy production. The overall effect of this has been to depress both energy consumption and economic growth. Energy prices are low because that is all the consumers can afford and energy producers are forced to borrow to make up the difference between their production costs and their earnings. When economic growth stops and goes into reverse (what the French call décroissance) the debt burden becomes unsupportable, energy companies go out of business and per capita energy use drops precipitously. Thus, the phenomenon that has allowed per capita energy use to set some modest new records has produced an Olduvai plateau, which will be followed by an even steeper Olduvai cliff once this scheme, essentially one of attempting to borrow against the collateral of a nonexistent future, eventually fails. This moment is not far away: as I write this, the energy business has largely stopped being profitable, and there is a growing wave of energy companies entering bankruptcy.
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Engineers like to work with physical quantities, and are loathe to admit that something that is essentially a game played with numbers on pieces of paper—which is what debt is—nevertheless can act as a physical motive force by forcing people to act. Its most dramatic physical manifestation is in depleting nonrenewable natural resources more rapidly and more fully. 
There are still pockets of oil fields that have not yet peaked, mostly in the Middle East, but on average, we are now into the decline phase. Ponzi land schemes support the popular fiction of a gold rush in “unconventional” liquids (fracked gas, shale oil, and the like). Prices at the pump are kept artificially low at this stage of the grift, as bigger fools are drawn into ever-more-risky real estate plays in the fracking patch, offshore, in the Arctic, and to the ends of the Earth, but sooner or later the real costs of these expensive, low-octane plays will bubble to the surface.

Petroleum explorer Colin Campbell many years ago compared our current moment in geological history to arriving at the tavern after final call and being so thirsty you take out your pocket knife and cut up the carpet to squeeze out any last drops of spilled beer (and whatever else might be there).
There are occasional headlines that some new discovery is a game changer, but those pieces of news never look at the data. Discoveries worldwide peaked decades ago and have not kept pace with extraction for many years. The situation is especially acute in post-peak producer nations like Venezuela and Mexico, the new normal for petrodollar addicts — destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix. Any flare-up in tension in the Persian Gulf or other oil region can suddenly squeeze supplies with serious, world-shaking effects.

As Jan Lundberg of Sail Transport Network is fond of saying, “sailboats will have no fuel supply problem.” Airplanes are another story.


Virgin Atlantic Airways flew a Boeing 747 from London Heathrow Airport to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport on 24 February 2008, with one engine burning a combination of coconut oil and babassu oil. Greenpeace's chief scientist Doug Parr said that the flight was "high-altitude greenwash" and that producing organic oils to make biofuel could lead to deforestation and a large increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Also, the majority of the world's aircraft are not large jetliners but smaller piston aircraft, and with major modifications many are capable of using ethanol as a fuel. Another consideration is the vast amount of land that would be necessary to provide the biomass feedstock needed to support the needs of aviation, both civil and military.


Climate change may have more surprises. The second ring wraith can be glimpsed when they spill your drink between you and the serving cart, thanks to unexpected turbulence. A report published in Nature Climate Change by Paul Williams, a researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Science stated: 

"air turbulence does more than just interrupt the service of in-flight drinks. It injures hundreds of passengers and aircrew every year – sometimes fatally. It also causes delays and damage to planes."

Increasing atmospheric instability is one of the hallmarks of global climate change. 

The third ring wraith brings with it the threat to aviation posed by errant cyber-viruses loosed by incautious government and corporate handlers. We were warned by Wikileaks founder Julian Assange on March 9 after he was informed by the hacker community that sloppy spycraft in the cyberwar arena has set in motion open source viruses capable of taking down major infrastructure, anywhere. As of the date of that press conference, 22,000 ISPs in the US had been infected with a backdoor opened by NSA/CIA. 

On May 12, that backdoor was exploited by a malware attack beginning with the British National Health System and the German Rail System, and eventually reaching more than 150 countries. “What happened with the Shadow Brokers in this case is equivalent to a nuclear bomb in cyberspace,” said Zohar Pinhasi, a former cybersecurity intelligence officer for the Israeli military, now the chief executive of MonsterCloud, which helps mitigate ransomware attacks. “This is what happens when you give a tiny little criminal a weapon of mass destruction. This will only go bigger. It’s only the tip of the iceberg.”

“The Central Intelligence Agency lost control of its entire cyberweapons arsenal,” Assange said.  “This is an historic act of devastating incompetence to have created such an arsenal and stored it all in one place and not secured it.” 


Brad Smith, Microsoft president, asked what would happen if the United States military lost control of “some of its Tomahawk missiles” and discovered that a criminal group was using them to threaten some country unless ransom was paid. But why use missiles when you can take control of commercial airplanes, just like in Die Hard 2?

Given the possibility that the air control tower managing your landing might suffer a “blue screen” attack as you make your descent, wouldn’t you rather be sailing?

“Navigare necesse est, vivere non est necesse.” (To sail is necessary, to live is not).  — Pompey


This week we have been resuming our talks with the Commonwealth of Nations to devise a strategy and timeline for reversing climate change using the permaculture tool kit. A key factor in the race to scale will be climate finance, and with that in mind we have bought to London a discussion of our concept for a ReGen Fund to issue “Cool Bonds” — lending instruments backed by carbon removal. Some of the projects we’ve discussed in previous posts — the Maya Mountain Research Farm in Belize, Ecosystem Restoration Camps, the Sunshine Ecovillage Network in China, Cool Labs in México and the Dominican Republic, and others — are prime candidates for putting that money to work. But there is another new piece on our chessboard.


Over the past few weeks we have been working with a ship’s architect on the concept for a mobile educational platform we are calling “Noah’s Ark.” The idea is for a research vessel not unlike Jacques Cousteau’s famous Calypso, that could move between moorings in places like New York, Miami and London and bring aboard researchers, activists, students, investors and others to meet with our change agents whom we are now calling Ambassadors. It would be a mobile networking hub, replete with television studio and conference hall.


To introduce our Cool Bond/ReGen Fund and Noah’s Ark, we joined with  Cloudburst Foundation and Project Noah to produce a short video.


This post is part of an ongoing serial we’re calling The Power Zone Manifesto. It is a series of building blocks that describe our existential climate dilemma and the only possible way to escape it. We post to The Great Change and Medium on Sunday mornings and 24 to 48 hours earlier for the benefit of donors to our Patreon page. We offer ecovillage apprenticeships, including Cool Lab trainings, this year at The Farm in Tennessee April through July and will be teaching a full permaculture course in Ireland in August. We will be on speaking tours in Brazil, Germany, India and China in late 2017.
 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Scool is In

"Youth, with unpruned neurotransmitters performing at lightning speeds, overcome obstacles and learn faster than adults. "




Human minds, like no other earthen species we know, move backwards and forwards in time.

That may be too bold a statement. We have to admit we do not really know how other species think, and a little humility is probably in order. There may be lifeforms we share this planet with that are, by human standards, clairvoyant. Our world is a quantum entanglement of life that constantly co-evolves its relationships with companion lifeforms on an otherwise lifeless rock hurling through cold space.

Our companions sometimes interact in ways we might call telepathic or teleportating for lack of other words to explain mysterious — nigh impossible — communications of information or materials.

As we try to imagine how we can possibly scale climate-reversing, ecoforestry-based economic paradigm shifts quickly enough to matter, we return to our oft-repeated premise: the problem is more social than technological.

We don’t need to discover anything to do this. We know how to do integrated agroforestry that more than pays for the effort after re-establishment; indeed, it provides hefty return ratios of food, fiber, water and social resilience in volatile times. This is a ten-thousand year-old technology. Despite unprecedented climate, energy, political and financial shocks, we know how to draw carbon down from the greenhouse blanket. We know how to make cool labs that offer myriad rewarding microenterprise opportunities from cascades of beneficial products and services that, when all is done, leave beneficial biochar deposits in soils for millennia. 

We know how to cascade ecovillage designs into eco-districts, eco-regions, and eco-nations — all sequestering more carbon than they emit and transforming human civilization from a destructive, consumerist, extractive meme to probiotic, symbiotic, circular human ecosystem that heals the damage we have caused since first disturbing the earth with fire, irrigation and the plow — guns, germs and steel.

What we lack are the experienced guides to show us the way. Many of those we could have had fell as victims to genocide centuries ago.

When we were at the International Permaculture Conference in London in 2015, we urged those we met to raise a Permaculture Army. We were not in jest.
 

In 2015, we met with the multigenerational peoples of a remote valley in the Dominican Republic that, with the entrance of a new road and a bridge across a seasonally impassable river, had been slated for unrestrained tourism sprawl. We took the time to listen to their dreams.

Because of quick action by a far-sighted alternative development partnership to coalesce government and landowners and thwart the cultural invasion (at least for the moment), that valley has been rescued from the fate of so many scenic places overrun by hotels, resorts, restaurants and spas in search of the quick buck.

So, what do those people dream? Given the choice between the tourist trade and their heirloom paradise that traces their own and the plants’ and animals’ genetic lines back to the time before Columbus, they naturally chose… neither.

In formal design charrettes and informal gatherings, they made it clear they had no wish to perpetuate their current situation. They lacked basic health care. The ocean fish stocks they depended upon to feed and provide for their families were disappearing. No-one wanted to buy their coconuts. Their children left for school in distant cities, lost their valley ways and as soon as they were old enough, moved away to find low paying jobs in order to acquire motorbikes and iPhones. What the elders asked for were local health clinics, local markets for coconut and fish, and a school that would teach skills most useful to improve their lives, like regenerative agriculture and sustainable fishing.

John and Cynthia Hardy
Providing the health clinic is not difficult. We quickly found local markets for coconut and fish. Examples of schools that meet the specifications of the village are also not hard to find. One of the best is John and Cynthia Hardy’s Green School, opened in September 2008 with 90 students and a tailor-made campus that emerged from the jungle and rice fields of Bali. It has since grown to approximately 400 students. 

The Bali campus is designed around the principles of an organic permaculture system, and the students cultivate an organic garden as part of their learning activities.

Buildings are constructed primarily from renewable resources including bamboo, local grass and traditional mud walls. The campus has been reported as an example of the large-scale building potential of bamboo architecture, especially “The Heart of the School” — a 60-meter long, stilt-structure constructed with 2500 bamboo poles.

In January 2015, the Green School high school students launched the Bio Bus, a student-led social enterprise to provide sustainable transport services to Green School students, teachers and community. This initiative looked at solving the transportation system to the rural setting of Green School, which mainly consisted of private cars, carpooling and motorbikes. The Bio Bus now has three 18-seater buses that run purely on biodiesel (B100) made from used cooking oil.
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The school consists of four learning neighborhoods - Early Years, Primary School, Middle School & High School. Special programs include Green Studies, environmental science, entrepreneurial learning, and the creative arts. The structure is the Three Frame Day which includes the Integral Frame, the Instructional Frame, and the Experiential Frame.

The school "prepares students to be stewards of the environment, teaching them to be critical and creative thinkers, who champion the sustainability of the world and the environment."

Now imagine a Green School like that going into that valley in the Dominican Republic. One can be in every ecovillage. They, or something very similar, already operate in many of them. We have such a school at The Farm.

If solutions to climate change are to be found, they will come from those with the most to lose.

Prof. Guy McPherson, by way of explaining why he left the conventional state-run university where he was a tenured professor, said recently:

I was using classroom anarchism as my approach. Anarchism means taking responsibility for yourself, and for your neighbors; learning from each other. In my classrooms I would just show up with a list of questions and then, Socrates like, I would just throw questions at them.

I gave them all the notes I would be using to teach on the first day of class. So they had everything I had. They could just read ahead 20 minutes before the class started and they knew everything I knew, except what I had in my head. So we just had a conversation.

I was pointing out that there is another way to live. There is another way to learn. There is another way to teach, beyond what almost everybody is exposed to.

This is how we will train our change agents. We will build ecodistricts like in the Dominican Republic and we put Green Schools there. They needn’t be just the Green School for children. They can offer vocational retraining and enrichment courses for adults. In these places we can also build Cool Labs, as microenterprise incubators, and as part of the lifelong learning immersion pedagogy. The labs can also offer business opportunities for graduates.

Last year while we were at the COP22 Climate Summit in Marrakech we had the opportunity to travel 15 miles out of town to the edge of the Agafay Desert with ecosystem regeneration visionary and filmmaker John D. Liu. There we visited the glampsite of Terre des Etoiles and worked alongside Hopi Rainkeepers building stone check dams in desert wadis. Behind the check dams, where the Hopi knew the soil would accrete when it rained, we planted tree saplings that Terre des Etoiles founders knew from their studies would withstand the harsh conditions and eventually reestablish a Mediterranean forest, holding carbon and pushing back the desert.

Styled like a Bedouin oasis, Terre des Etoiles offers adventure visitors a night in the desert. It has a kitchen garden and organic farm with horses, camels, goats, rabbits and hens, Berber-rugged bivouac of ten tents, with showers done in traditional Moroccan tadelakt (lime plaster), traditional food and a scenic bar with local beers, honey wine and shisha pipes. After dark a jaw-dropping expanse of stars fades in over the snow capped peaks of the Atlas mountains. 

John Liu was there because, like ourselves, he was interested in how humans can learn to live on this world without destroying it. After documenting China’s progress of restoring the native ecology of the Loess Plateau, he came to the conclusion that ecosystem regeneration is our only possible future. Solving the climate dilemma is not about flying halfway around the world to attend a conference, listening to presentations, drawing up mind maps on a white board, photographing that and writing a report. It is about growing biomass, building soil, and restoring healthy, healing ecosystems.

More importantly, Liu grasped the potential of youth as the principal agents of the great change that has to happen. After all, those born before 1980 lucked out. They’ll be dead of natural causes, if nothing else, before the real climate catastrophe takes hold (if we are lucky). Anyone younger than that is going to get a stern taste of the Anthropocene to come. And those kids are already starting to realize they have the most to lose.

Once they fully appreciate the direction we’re headed, why would someone who will most likely live long enough to suffer the second half of the 21st Century not be motivated to change their future?

Research into the teenage brain has exponentially exploded over the past decade, from 2,734 citations in 2003 to 5,885 citations in 2013 to a cumulative 118,909 citations in print as of last week.
We now know that overall brain size plateaus around age five, followed by significant and rapid reorganization beginning around age eight and lasting into the early twenties. If bigger brains were smarter brains, then African elephants and some whales would be 50 to 75 percent smarter than humans. Smart comes not with size, but with separating wheat from chaff. Our brains are still organizing that part and we age into our 20’s.

The most notable rewiring during teen years occurs in the frontal lobe, which is responsible for organization, planning, decision-making, working memory, and impulse control, among other executive functions. Teens and 20’ers are risk takers, which is why since the dawn of history they have been thrown into uniform, given a weapon, and sent into combat. Youth, with unpruned neurotransmitters performing at lightning speeds, overcome obstacles and learn faster than adults.
Liu has devised a new means to harness the energy of youth to transform their future, and just maybe save their lives. With support from Regeneration International, the Permaculture Research Institute, the World Permaculture Association, Global Ecovillage Network, the Club of Rome and the Commonland Foundation, he has selected severely degraded locations to set up Ecosystem Restoration Camps. A grassroots movement to back his ideas has been growing since July 2016. The first camp is on the ground now in the Altaplano region of Spain. 

With over a 1000 pledged members coming together, in 2017 Liu’s objective is to finance and manage the first Ecosystem Restoration Camp and from there to help set up more camps worldwide. Already a broad community of researchers, landscape designers, farmers, gardeners, engineers and many other professionals are converging on Spain.

Re-enfranchised youth from over 75 countries are working shoulder to shoulder, just like our small group that left the COP22 conference and went to join the Hopi Rainkeepers last year, moving rocks and planting trees. This first camp, and the camps that will follow, will restore the surrounding landscape and restore ecosystem functions. They will cascade environmental, social and economic value.

These are the Cool Schools of the future, or SCOOLs. There are opportunities for everyone to help but it is mainly the youth of the world who will make this happen. And at night, around the campfire, they will sing, dance, and look up at the stars and say, “this is what it is to be human.”


This post is part of an ongoing serial we’re calling The Power Zone Manifesto. It is a series of building blocks that describe our existential climate dilemma and the only possible way to escape it. We post to The Great Change and Medium on Sunday mornings and 24 to 48 hours earlier for the benefit of donors to our Patreon page. We offer ecovillage apprenticeships, including Cool Lab trainings, this year at The Farm in Tennessee April through July and will be teaching a full permaculture course in Ireland in August. We will be on speaking tours in Brazil, Germany, India and China in late 2017.

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