Monday, April 22, 2013

Multiplexing Capitalism

"There is a lot of fine detail needed to separate the work of ecological repair from Ponzi-the-Clown traditional business models common to shark-tank TV shows, weekend webinars and MBA-mills. The line between monopolistic robber barons and “green business” triple-bottom-line eco-entrepreneurs has been muddied by the human profit motive and capitalism’s ROI imperative."

Since putting forward our comprehensive plan to reverse civilizational drift towards extinction and regain the breathing space of a habitable Holocene for a while longer — in The Biochar Solution: Carbon Farming and Climate Change (New Society 2010) — we've been sent a lot of interesting items, too many to be able to thoughtfully respond to, or even keep up with, but recently our friend Hans-Peter Schmidt gathered some of the better climate saving strategies together for publication in Ithaka, his journal of ecology, winegrowing and climate farming.  He also thoughtfully translated it into English for those like ourselves who are not so fluent in German.
Some years ago here at the Ecovillage Training Center we put together a seminar series we called “Financial Permaculture.” Two of our fantastic organizers for that series, Gaia University students Ethan Roland and Greg Landua, have now gone on to write an ambitious book on the subject that reformulates the whole notion of capitalism in the hopes of supplanting version 1.x with something robust enough to stand up to the challenges of contraction and collapse. Regenerative Enterprise: Optimizing for Multi-Capital Abundance proposes we upgrade traditional laissez faire capitalism to get to the next plateau, which is more compassionate, steady-state and earth-restorative. There is a lot of fine detail needed to separate the work of ecological repair from Ponzi-the-Clown traditional business models common to shark-tank TV shows, weekend webinars and MBA-mills. The line between the monopolistic robber baron model pioneered by Rockefeller, Vanderbilt and Westinghouse and the alternative promoted by “green business” triple-bottom-line eco-entrepreneurs has been muddied by the human profit motive and capitalism’s ROI imperative. Roland and Landua have significantly advanced the discussion by creating a bright line formula for marking the distinction: Stop buying, selling, and trading in degenerative goods and services.

Printing For More Trees

Another book underway by an author who helped us teach that seminar series, Eric Toensmeier, is called, Carbon Farming: A Global Toolkit for Stabilizing the Climate with Tree Crops and Regenerative Agriculture Practices. Eric launched a kickstarter campaign on April 3rd and received 104% of his target in just 8 days, so we look forward to an early manuscript.

Back to Hans-Peter Schmidt, who is a wine producer in Valais, Switzerland. Hans-Peter has been doing field trials with biochar for several years and has concluded that “biochar is much too valuable (and expensive to produce) for it to be just worked into the soil without having it used at least once for other [financially beneficial] purposes – whether as storage for volatile nutrients, as an adsorber in functional clothing, as insulation in the building industry, as energy storage in batteries, as a filter in a sewage plant, as a silage agent or as a feed supplement. Such uses can be followed by use in a farmer’s slurry pit or in a sewage plant, before being composted.” Only then should biochar be worked into the soil at the end of this “cascade” to create Terra Preta soils. He compiled 50 such uses and published them in Ithaka.

Animal Farming:

1. Silage agent
2. Feed additive / supplement
3. Litter additive
4. Slurry treatment
5. Manure composting
6. Water treatment in fish farming

Soil Conditioner:

7. Carbon fertilizer
8. Compost
9. Substitute for peat in potting soil
10. Plant protection
11. Compensatory fertilizer for trace elements


12. Insulation
13. Air decontamination
14. Decontamination of earth foundations
15. Humidity regulation
16. Protection against electromagnetic radiation (“electrosmog”)


17. Soil additive for soil remediation (for use in particular on former mine-works, military bases and landfill sites.)
18. Soil substrates (highly adsorbing plantable soil substrates for use in cleaning waste water; in particular urban waste water contaminated by heavy metals)
19. A barrier preventing pesticides getting into surface water (Sides of field and ponds can be equipped with 30-50 cm deep barriers made of biochar for filtering out pesticides.)
20. Treating pond and lake water (Biochar is good for adsorbing pesticides and fertilizers
as well as for improving water aeration.)

Energy Production:

21. Biomass additive
22. Biogas slurry treatment

Wastewater Treatment:

23. Active carbon filter
24. Pre-rinsing additive
25. Soil substrate for organic plant beds
26. Composting toilets

Drinking Water Treatment:

27. Micro-filters
28. Macro-filters in developing countries

Industrial Applications:

29. Exhaust filters for controlling emissions
30. Room air filters
31. Carbon fibers
32. Biodegradable plastics
33. Semiconductors
34. Batteries
35. Metal reduction


36. Soaps
37. Skin-cream
38. Therapeutic bath additives

Paints and coloring:

39. Food colorants
40. Industrial paints (including flame-retardant geotextiles)

Energy production:

41. Hydrogen storage cells
42. Substitute for lignite coal


43. Detoxification
44. Carrier for active pharmaceutical ingredients


45. Fabric additive for functional underwear
46. Thermal insulation for functional clothing
47. Deodorant for shoe soles


48. Filling for mattresses
49. Filling for pillows
50. Shield against electromagnetic radiation


Amazonian Dark Plasters

One area that is of special interest to those of us in the natural building and permaculture communities is biochar’s unique qualities as a plaster or render. In combination with clay, lime or cement, biochar can be added to sand at a ratio of up to 50%. According to Schmidt, “This creates indoor plasters with excellent insulation and breathing properties, able to maintain humidity levels in a room at 45 – 70% in both summer and winter. This in turn prevents not just dry air, which can lead to respiratory disorders and allergies, but also dampness through air condensing on the outside walls, which can lead to mold developing.” (see [in German]: Biochar as building material for an optimal indoor climate).

Schmidt tried these dark plasters in his wine cellar and discovered that they absorb smells and airborne spores. They kept his cellar sterile of molds. From a baubiologie standpoint, the potential for schools, hospitals, factories and offices is enormous. This could be one way of remediating “sick building” syndrome. Schmidt’s “cascading” idea is precisely the kind of new industrial paradigm that Roland and Landua are proposing and also the kind of integrated carbon sequestration that Toensmeier advocates.

You have to love it when a plan comes together.

Says Schmidt, “Biochar can also be applied to the outside walls of a building by jet-spray technique mixing it with lime. Applied at thicknesses of up to 20 cm, it is a substitute for styrofoam. Houses insulated this way become carbon sinks, while at the same time having a more healthy indoor climate. Should such a house be demolished at a later date, the biochar-mud plaster can be recycled as a valuable compost additive.”

We will be teaching a climate farming short course here in Tennessee in June of this year and again in Norway in early July.

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