Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Taking Our Carrots to Paris

"“Leave the sticks to others. We are carrot people.”"

If we had one do-over for our presentation at the Paris COP21 Climate Summit, it would have been to bring along a voice recorder so we could have a better recollection of our talk. Caught up in the moment, trying to make non-functioning audio, video and skype connections work, and quickly, the idea of recording slipped by. We have only what we can pull from our feeble memory, so here we go.

Sarah Queblatin
Sarah Queblatin, GEN's excellent coordinator, introduced the panel and our humble network, then handed off to Geun Jeong of Green Korea, who showed some harrowing images of Korean children being scanned for fallout from Fukushima but through slides, video and music, focused on alternative energy futures for her country, rising spontaneously from the grass roots. She handed off to Richard Siren and Lileana Lewinski of Asociacion Protoger who spoke about their work in Argentina and Africa redesigning the built environment by recovering the native vernacular of natural buildings. We then brought in GEN President Kosha Joubert by Skype.

Kosha Anja Joubert
This is one part we really wish we had recorded, because Kosha's talk was marvelously comprehensive, taking us around the world to give the audience a taste of what might be possible if we could but pause and reason together. As the room filled with UN delegates from around the world, we glimpsed L. Hunter Lovins, Dr. Tom Goreau, and many other familiar faces joining us. The next best thing to a transcript we can do is to provide some of Kosha's slides here, to give our readers a feel for the story she wove. She also co-edited a book to go with the talk, Ecovillage: 1001 Ways to Heal the Planet.

Then, as GEN's allotted time grew short, it was our turn to take to the microphone and give a rousing close about the weaknesses of the proposed treaty, the cost of 20-years delay, and the need now to go beyond zero and take more carbon from the atmosphere than is being emitted. “Emissions reductions will not save us now,” we said, “but photosynthesis can.”

We pointed to the sources and sinks, saying the atmosphere was passing its pollutants and heat to the oceans but the oceans were already overwhelmed. Only vegetation and soil remained as viable sinks. As climate warms further, as it must, they too will be stressed and absorption will diminish. Time is of the essence.  We showed our slide from Exxon's recent report saying that the world will still be 85% dependent on fossil fuels in 2040. They base their conclusion on images such as this one, and assume that everyone would just as soon exchange the bullocks and handmade plow for a large horsepower tractor.

Actually, that method of plowing is obsolete. It releases gigatons of greenhouse gases from the very place where we can still safely store them — in the soil. That style is being replaced with a suite of tools that produce more food per land area and net sequester more carbon every year, build soil, store water, and increase the resiliency of land to withstand storms, floods and droughts. Our tools include no-till organic farming, agroforestry, aquaponics, keyline design, holistic management, remineralization, biochar from biomass energy production, and permaculture. According to recent report by the UN Commissioner on Human Rights, “ecoagriculture” is the ONLY way we are going to feed the population of the world by 2040. Then we need to go beyond that and perform what Mark Shepard calls “restoration agriculture,” building back the web of life and returning us to a garden planet.

Here is just a quick example, taken from a ecovillage in Tennessee. This field is being plowed with a keyline plow that aerates the soil rather than turns it over. The shakers at the back drop biochar into the trench to permanently sequester carbon while providing habitat for the soil food web. The compost tea, brewed just the night before, is injected at the root zone by hoses running the length of the plow shank. The tractor can be easily converted to run on either ethanol or biodiesel, depending on the engine type. Less than one percent of this field could supply the needs of that tractor for fuel, and it can come from waste product after the harvest is taken for food. Doing this every year adds 10cm of dark horizon to the soil, and ten years of doing builds dark earths, rich in microbial life and carbon, a meter or more deep. This can be and has been, done anywhere.

Biochar is so amazing you could almost call it magic rather than science. It is the secret of the terra preta soils of the Amazon. It is the quintessentia of indigenous wisdom, nearly lost in the Columbian Encounter. By pyrolyzing woody biomass, such as woody wastes after producing food and fiber, the charcoal takes on a crystalline form that remains in the soil for thousands of years. There are still remnants of biochars formed 400 million years ago in some places. This process, which can profitably co-produce food, energy, buildings and other products, could take carbon that would otherwise reach the atmosphere and oceans as CO2 or methane and safely store it back in the earth.

We described a typical biochar cascade,  acknowledging the work of Hans Peter Schmidt at the Ithaka Institute in Switzerland. We described the profitability of these approaches, building upon each other to provide yields at each step, rather than creating the necessity for massive subsidies, as in the case of “clean coal,” to make the system function. Rube Goldberg inventions, like the kind Bill Gates wants to see, don't work. Healing is what nature knows how to do; you merely need to unleash that power and stand back.

A study of the Findhorn ecovillage in Scotland compared the ecological footprint of the U.K. and Scotland ‑ energy, transportation, food production, industry, tourism, residential, etc. - to the ecovillage and found that Findhorn’s footprint is less than half that of the national average. When you add in Findhorn’s reforestation effort - Trees For Life in the Caledonian Forest - the village sequesters ten percent more than its footprint, and that number is growing. Earthaven in North Carolina sequesters 30 percent more than its annual footprint. The Farm in Tennessee, which manages 20 km2 of forest, annually sequesters five times its own footprint.

We held up the Biolite Stove, which sequesters carbon while cooking your food, with no smoke, no ash, only biochar, and it produces electricity from the heat at the same time. We gave examples of how that technology was going to village scale in a variety of settings, using everything from Dorisel Torres' clay stoves to 100 kW Power Pallets from All Power Systems. We showed how in Kenya, adding biochar to the garden made with clean stoves doubled the yield in the first season and made the crops much more drought and pest resistant.

We spoke of our emerging business model – eCO2 – using social permaculture, indigenous wisdom, large scale offsets for biodiversity and multiple-ecovillage watershed economies to go to scale at the diffusion rate required to bring the planet back into normal Holocene range by mid-Century. We spoke of the consequences if we did not, but we were more carrot than stick in our talk. We are carrot people.

We showed how Maslow's heirarchy of human needs is being degraded by climate change, but that with permaculture and ecovillages, we can reverse the process. Ecovillages are about designing our future as something we all want, rather than as something we are forced to accept in exchange for energy and commercial products. If we look at the heirarchy of human needs, we all want the same things, no matter where we live. Climate change, energy’s hidden costs (such as resource wars), and population pressures are forcing us down the pyramid, to where simply getting enough food and water, or shelter, each day becomes our entire goal. Ecovillages move us in the other direction, while cooling the planet.

Ultimately we will need to find a way beyond zero. Carbon neutral will not be good enough. The two degree goal will not be enough. The longer we take to curtail our use of fossil fuels, the more steep will be the decline required to get that legacy under control. If we start by 2020 and bring emissions down 6 percent every year, by about 2045 we still need to net sequester carbon - we need to take more out of the atmosphere and oceans than we put in. We know now that for every degree of global temperature increase, the amount of methane being released from melting permafrost is equal to 1.5 times our current (2015) emissions. At 2 degrees warmer, melting permafrost will still be emitting 3 times what we are today, even if we stopped fossil extraction completely. So we have to get beyond zero and net sequester. It is the only way. Putting it into the earth is the only safe and inexpensive way to sequester that much carbon, and ecovillages are showing the way, with style, enjoyment, and lots more good food.

We closed with two images: the first a supertanker, representing all the world's governments, trying slowly to change global policies, by consensus, from the top down; the second a shoal of fish, that could be just as large, moving just as fast, but capable of turning instantly and taking a new direction. This is what ecovillages bring to the climate discussion.

We are not speaking of what might be, with some conceptual planning document, untested in the real world. We come to the United Nations from 20 years or more of actual work on the ground. We are strong enough now to be reaching out to help in emergencies, with refugees, and rebuilding after disasters. We do that from bases of power, not from fragile seeds.

Today, in this time, in these places, we bring optimism and real hope, not because it might be done but because we are doing it. Ecovillages are better places to live. They show a path to the future where life, although consuming far less, is better. In most cases it is vastly better than everything else around. We are here because what looks to many as the end is for us only the beginning. We have ambitious plans, not merely for ourselves, but for humanity, the forests, the oceans and the earth. This is how it will be done. This is the only way it can be done. And we are doing it.


Erich J. Knight said...

Soil Biology is our only way to rapidly and massively draw down CO2 from the air to offset our ongoing and past carbon emissions, It Could safely and naturally restore the hydrological cycles by increasing biogenic aerosols and cloud albedo that could readily cool the planet by the 3 watts/m2 needed to offset the now locked in greenhouse warming effects and avoid the Storms of Our Grandchildren.

The French have lead the way recognizing Soil Carbons' value and committing to build Soil Carbon by 0.40% annually. Putting them on the road to Carbon Negativity before anyone else.

A combination of Best Management Practices, (BMPs), for Agriculture, Grazing & Forestry with bioenergy systems which build soil carbon can deliver the giga-tons of carbon necessary into the soil sink bank.

Ag BMPs; 1 GtC
New Forest & BMPs; 1 GtC
Pyrolitic Bioenergy, Cooking Stoves; 0.83 GtC
Industrial Pyrolitic Bioenergy; 2 GtC
Holistic Grazing; 2+ GtC

Over 6 GtC,
So soils & biota can do more than half the 10 GtC reduction job.

The World Bank Study;
Biochar Systems for Smallholders in Developing Countries:
Leveraging Current Knowledge and Exploring Future Potential for Climate-Smart Agriculture

Has very exacting analysis of biomass usage & sources, energy & emissions.
Also for Onion farmers in Senegal and Peanut farmers in Vietnam.

If we replicate the Ecologic Services of the extinct megafauna, since 7 billion of us makes us the new Megafauna, then we could build back Soil Carbon with massive increases of Net Primary Production. An ecology not seen for 12,900 years.
An Ecology not limited by Phosphorous, Sodium & lost Soil-C.
A great synergy of the work restoring mine scarred lands & developing consumer, Horticultural & Agricultural markets.

Biochar systems have so many market applications yet to be cultivated; "Carbon Fodder" feeds for Livestock in the EU, Australia & Japan, Plant Chemical Communications, (plant signaling), even Char building materials such as Biochar-Plasters which block Cellphone signals, the potential markets are massive.

CoolPlanet's investors & CEOs project (assert) that they will be the first Trillion Dollar Company, based on their $1.50/Gal. cost to produce Bio-Gasoline. Biochar the by product.

For a complete review of the current science & industry applications of Biochar please see my 2014 Soil Science Society of America Biochar presentation. How thermal conversion technologies can integrate and optimize the recycling of valuable nutrients while providing energy and building soil carbon, I believe it brings together both sides of climate beliefs.
A reconciling of both Gods' and mans' controlling hands.

Agricultural Geo - Engineering; Past, Present & Future
Across scientific disciplines carbons are finding new utility to solve our most vexing problems

2014 SSSA Presentation;
Agricultural Geo-Engineering; Past, Present & Future.

Joe said...

What is your suggestion for a small farm scale biochar retort? I would like one that can accept a full size pickup load of stick-wood or chips.

Here in Hawaii I have seen how Josiah Hunt does it with a soil pit and I have seen versions cobbled together from oil drums, but nothing of the size or type I would really like.

Producing large quantities of flammable gas is not something to be done carelessly, so a well done retort should have some good built-in safety features. The Exeter looks pretty good, but is made in the UK. Any recommendations for a good retort with some track record and made in the US?

Albert Bates said...

Joe, it sounds like what you might be looking for would be something like the Kon Tiki. https://www.biochar-journal.org/en/ct/39-Kon-Tiki-the-democratization-of-biochar-production

These are not commercially produced (yet) but the plans are available and anyone can find a machine shop that could build one. These are still evolving however, so watch The Biochar Journal for the latest improvements.

There are almost as many ways to solve this problem as there are people making biochar. We personally use the pit cone method, but that is because it lends itself well to what we have a lot of -- bamboo. We described the pit cone at length earlier this year on this blog.

Good luck and stay safe.




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