Sunday, August 25, 2019

Treeplanting Olympics

"Withdrawing 700 gigatons of carbon from the atmosphere could be accomplished by as early as mid-century, assuming we stop adding more."

While switching from fossil to renewables is needed for ecological, economic, and health reasons, it is no longer sufficient to stabilize the global climate, as our best scientists have repeatedly been telling us. What is required now is a direct, rapid, massive, effective, timely, verifiable and sustained carbon dioxide removal (“CDR”). Whether that is viewed as economically beneficial or detrimental depends largely on whether you are still using the economics of an earlier century or the New Climate Math.

Composing a power-point en route to the GEN-Europe meeting in Italy last month, I fashioned a slide that went something like, “Pakistan held the record for most trees planted in a single day—847,275—set in 2013 until India planted 49.3 million in one day in 2016.” India then raised their own record to 66 million in 2017. “Isn’t it time that record was broken again?” I asked.

But, by the time I got to Italy, Ethiopia had smashed India’s record with 353,633,660 tree seedlings transplanted in 12 hours. Their national pride at stake, one million Indians turned out on August 11 and put 220 million trees in the ground, a personal best, but not a new world record.

Ethiopia's goal is one billion trees and they are on track to reach that. Ethiopians don’t just produce great marathon runners. They also sprint.

I proposed to my audiences in Europe that there be a new tree planting Olympics. Wouldn’t it be great if on one day each year, or one week every four years, all nations vied to set a new world record?

But it is not that simple. First, they have to stop deforestation and land degradation. Second, they have to reconsider the types of industrial plantations many of these countries are planting. Designed for biomass electricity or steam, they are no more real forests than marches are music. Real forests sequester 40 times more greenhouse gas than faux forests do.

Jahr Bolsonaro was installed by the late David Koch and Cambridge Analytics CEO Steve Bannon using the same Dark Cloud methods as worked for BREXIT and the US 2016 election.

In 2017, Frank Michael and I prepared a presentation at the 7th World Congress of the Society for Ecological Restoration in Foz do Iguassu, Brazil, that we called Climate Ecoforestry, in which we examined some of the main questions that come up around tree planting. Frank passed away before the conference and the trip was canceled, but here are some of our results, in Q&A format:

How many trees need to be planted to restore the atmosphere to safe concentrations of greenhouse gases?

Several trillion. The precise number will vary by region because of seasonal variation, growing conditions, and rotation potentials. Please keep in mind that most of the long-lived greenhouse gases sent skyward during the industrial era have been absorbed by the ocean, which remains in approximate equilibrium with concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Any attempt to thin the atmosphere of carbon dioxide will be met by ocean off-gassing, so it is necessary to approximately double the number of trees planted to achieve a specific desired drawdown. If we wish to remove all the legacy fossil-origin carbon in the atmosphere (approximately 350 gigatons), we would need to withdraw 700 gigatons.

How much land would that require?

There is no shortage of area for planting. After the last Ice Age, there were 6 trillion trees on Earth. Now there are 3 trillion. Putting those lost forests back into the landscape will be difficult in some areas that have since become degraded or desertified. Nonetheless, there are at least 1.5 billion hectares, about two Canadas or one Russia, that are already available, with suitable fertility and water, without impinging on existing farms or neighborhoods. Another 1.5 billion hectares can be added by carbon farming, integrated agroforestry, silvopasture, and greening the desert, and likely more than that could come from marine permaculture—harvesting seaweed and algae.

How quickly could that be done?

Withdrawing 700 gigatons of carbon from the atmosphere could be accomplished by as early as mid-century, assuming we stop adding more. It does no good to try to remove carbon with one hand if the other hand keeps adding it (at a steadily accelerating rate).

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) defines "climate-smart agriculture" as "agriculture that sustainably increases productivity, resilience (adaptation), reduces/removes greenhouse gases (mitigation), and enhances the achievement of national food security and development goals." Our prescriptive model shows that if Climate Ecoforestry were implemented at the rates of 200-300 Mha/yr (five Spains per year) over an eventual area of 4.8 Gha (5 Brazils), it could store all current anthropogenic emissions, and achieve the goal of restoring pre-industrial CO2 atmospheric levels, while supplying many other benefits to humanity and the natural environment. It would operate over a long enough period to allow an orderly shift of financial assets to renewable energy generation, storage, and new carbon economy infrastructure development.

By addressing the social inertia component of the problem we can enter upon a virtuous cycle of solutioneering that might enable us to go beyond mere survival. Stabilizing the climate and regreening the planet could redirect the role of humans from top polluters and predators to instead become protectors, partners, and stewards.

What would need to be done after the planting to assure the result is as we want?

Frank Michael
Carbon drawdown by photosynthesis occurs at different rates in different regimes. Ranked from lowest to highest rates of drawdown are grasslands, low brush, plantations, temperate forests, and old-growth rainforest. However, even rainforests reach a point where they are nearly carbon-neutral because whenever they drop leaves or the old trees and vines die, the biomass is biologically decomposed and carbon returns to the atmosphere.

It is in the establishment phase, dominated by young plants, that plant ecosystems sequester the most carbon. This is one reason some, like the Savory Institute, argue for rotationally grazed grasslands—they essentially remain juvenile and continue along at peak sequestration. But the same can be accomplished, to greater effect, with managed forests, in a pattern Frank termed “step-harvest,” a part of our Climate Ecoforestry strategy. That strategy also recommends:
  1. Use naturally-charged biochar soil plugs to grow mixed-species seedlings. Add biochar to the soil at the root level when planting saplings in the field.
  2. Include sun-loving, fast-growing, and water-pump taproot pioneer species saplings, spaced to shade and protect other saplings.
  3. Patch harvests will consist of non-surviving saplings first, and poorly-thriving trees next.
  4. Trees clustered in beneficial microbiomes will be identified and protected, and the mother trees will be preserved.
  5. Biochar manufacture will take no more than 50% of the harvested biomass.
  6. Forest products will have limits that depend on a) the biome's productivity; b) the climate requirements; c) the health of the stand; d) the amount of disturbance that logging would inflict on the ecology; and e) a 100-year embodied carbon standard for lumber use or furniture design. 
What is Climate Ecoforestry?

At its essence, ecoforestry envisions a systemic blending of humans with natural systems that can include forest product biorefineries, biochar production and use, ecovillages, and fulfillment of most of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. But let me go back to the point about step harvest first because it not only keeps the largest sequestration engine—mixed-age, mixed species forest ecosystems—running at top speed, it also provides the financial underpinning to make the whole system attractive enough to get buy-in at the grassroots.

A step-harvest system functions much in the same way the traditional milpa system developed by indigenous peoples does: a patch of forest is cleared and widely diverse new growth springs up or is densely planted. In a natural system it may be birds and wandering mammals doing the planting or in a cultivated area it may be farmers, but the result is similar. As the canopy begins to close, layers of dappled light form and some individual plants may be thinned out to benefit others. These thinnings, if left on the forest floor, would release greenhouse gases. Instead, humans can intervene and use those thinnings to produce value-added products—leaf protein; bio-oils; roundwood; lumber; and biochar, for instance (the number of products is limited only by the imagination). Making biochar also co-produces energy and oils and the carbon takes on a hard, almost mineral form that will not decompose quickly—on the order of centuries to millennia. Having biochar as part of the cycle preserves your gains, like cashing in after you have just won a large poker pot and thereafter hazarding only a small portion of your winnings.

The tree-planting cycle can in principle be repeated indefinitely by beginning again on the same land, harvesting the oldest trees, and densely replanting saplings in the same forest cells with biochar-amended soil. Also, relatively marginal land can be restored, allowing mixed-use forest expansion into previously unsuitable territories.

Because these step-harvest/biorefinery systems benefit rural communities, essentially creating microenterprise hubs, it is thought that large numbers of people will mobilize and allow more parts of their landholdings and more populated areas to host trees. The city of Stockholm, Sweden is a good example of this. By mid-century we could reach the required 4.8 billion hectares (6 times the area of Brazil) needed by our estimate to restore pre-industrial equilibrium.

What are the big unknowns?

After a few more decades of business-as-usual, extreme climate volatility could make forestry and agriculture difficult and no longer cost-effective over large regions of the world [Solomon et al. 2011]. Furthermore, at the current atmospheric CO2 concentration of over 415 ppm, the planet has passed a threshold into a region in which a methane-emissions-driven runaway climate is more likely, and where even more severe amplifying climate feedbacks are possible. One example is the giant seaweed bloom now forming off of Africa and Brazil, which, as that material decays, will send massive plumes of methane and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Another example is the gigantic release of methane from melting permafrost, now running decades ahead of schedule.
Trees and the natural understory form microbiomes of mutual support and reciprocity. In desert or mountainous regions, the more severe the environment, the smaller the microbiomes, but these tree and plant communities have shown much greater resilience to all kinds of stresses.

It should also be noted that while we now have four centuries of experience warming the planet, we have almost no experience cooling it (although two historic examples have been described here before). Large unknowns are lurking in our best calculations.

The model is unable to predict uncertainties that may propagate through global resource depletion, financial collapses, wars, and human population expansions, especially in vulnerable regions. Climate Ecoforestry's benefits could be nullified, for instance, if the world's population continues to grow at present rates. More people require more food and more land, adding to the burden.

How would all of this be paid for?

Financial returns for planters, managers, and landholders are obtained by selective harvest in regularized steps. Forests are managed by holistic, regenerative design. The periodicity of step-harvests is a function of growth rates of the various species, local conditions, and climate. So, for instance, fast-growing Bambuseae such as Phyllostachys aureasulcata will double in biomass annually in both temperate and tropical climates within a range of known latitudes and elevations [Hidalgo 2003]. Plantations can take 3 to 5 years to establish before harvest commences, and then harvest is regulated to neither harm the grove nor hinder grove expansion if expansion is desired. A harvest of, for instance, 30 percent of the grove — the oldest culms — would be sustainable if soil fertility is replenished as the method contemplates.

A second example would be a hardwood temperate forest, seeded with diverse species, including those that favor ground cover and understory. Depending on seeding density, the canopy may take 1- 20 years to close, but in the interim, poorly developing, thickly sown, and less desirable varieties can be removed at regular intervals, opening space and increasing nutrient flows for the more desired varieties and diversities. The biomass being removed annually is approximately the same each year following establishment. At full maturity, the forest can either be left alone to continue its somewhat slower sequestration work, or it can be “patch harvested” and reseeded to recover its high juvenile growth rate.

Agroforestry provides many useful products and services to modern economies but is often outcompeted in the marketplace by other methods of production. It can financially succeed or fail based on site selection, local markets, and other factors that raise or lower risks. [Haugh 2006] To reach the global scale of response required by the pace of climate change may require added entrepreneurial incentives. Biochar can supply many of these.

Biochar can be used as a carbon fertilizer; a compensatory fertilizer for trace elements; a compost accelerator; a substitute for peat or vermiculite in potting soil; a silage moderator; a feed additive/digestive supplement; a robiotic/nutriceutical; a litter additive; a slurry treatment; for manure composting; for water treatment in fish farming; as insulation; for air decontamination; for decontamination of earth; as humidity regulation; as dust and pollen scrubber; as electromagnetic radiation screen; as a barrier preventing pesticides getting into surface water; for oil spill remediation; for biogas slurry treatment; as active carbon filter for smoke and exhaust; as pre-rinse additive; as a media for composting toilets; for carbon fiber; for electronic semiconductors; for batteries; for metal reduction; for alloys; for cosmetics; for soaps; for skin-cream; for therapeutic bath additives; for paints and stains; for food colorants; for energy pellets; for poisoning control; for detoxification; as a carrier for active biopharmaceuticals; for functional deodorant underwear, socks, shoes and fabrics; for thermal insulation for clothing; for filling for mattresses and pillows; in cement, concrete, asphalt and steel; and as an avenue for greenhouse gas mitigation. [Schmidt 2014]

In each of these transformations of forest products reside opportunities for microenterprise. Merely managing a forest for carbon sequestration would not provide adequate returns to attract investment of capital or labor. By cascading forest products, the system can finance itself without the imposition of regulatory incentives and disincentives or by the diversion of funds from other sources.

The startup phase of tree-planting requires that a modest quantity of biochar (~5 ton/ha) be made available for the initial plantings. After the first three step-harvests in years 1-4, the projects generate their own biochar for forestry, plus a considerable surplus for agricultural use.

What odds do you give that we will actually do this?

About one percent.

And if we don’t?

We will all die.
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Sunday, August 18, 2019

The Dark Cloud

"Skynet needs to send a terminator back to 1984 and take out Mark Zuckerberg’s mom before he can grow up and steal the Facebook idea from Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss. "

In Superman the Movie (1978), Chris Reeves in red and blue cape and tights gets into a green-screened wind tunnel and hangs by wires to simulate Superman flying around the world so fast that he reverses its spin and moves time backward in order to save Lois Lane.

Sadly, we don’t have that kind of power. If we did, I would be tempted to start by reversing BREXIT and TRUMPXIT but would  quickly realize that I’d have to be more like Arnold Schwarzenegger going back to 1984 to kill Linda Hamilton before she can give birth to the leader  of the resistance movement against Skynet and its army of machines ten years from now, in 2029. I’d need to go back to 1984 and take out Mark Zuckerberg’s mom before he can grow up and steal the Facebook idea from Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss.

In The Great Hack, a film currently streaming on Netflix that every voter should watch, it is revealed that we have not had a fair election in many years and that in all likelihood—absent a thorough overhaul of every electoral system in the world—we never will again.

The Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim documentary examines BREXIT and TRUMPXIT through the lens of Cambridge Analytica’s CEO, Alexander Nix, Parsons School of Design social media professor David Carroll who sued CA to see his own gathered data, CA whistleblowers Chris Wylie and Brittany Kaiser, and Guardian reporter Carole Cadwalladr.

Cambridge Analytica, it is revealed, used the data they mined off Facebook with Mark Zuckerberg’s blessings to create psychological profiles of every UK and US voter. They then bought a broad sweep of social media ads to seed manipulative videos, fake news, and influencer memes into the daily news feeds of swing voters deemed by the algorithms to be most susceptible. In the case of TRUMPXIT, it only required a few swing voters in 3 states to win the election.

Trump’s 77,000 margin, giving him the electoral college, was acquired by filling the social media diet of “influenceables” in those three states with hefty doses of “Crooked Hillary” stories and videos, some concocted by astroturf non-profits made up for just that purpose. It was the power of the Big Lie. Influenceables read the same fake news over again so many times they came to think it is true, and vote accordingly. Millennials are a herd of sheep.

All this traces back to a time even before Zuckerburg got to Harvard and started conning the Winklevoss twins. White House plumbers Donald Segretti, Tim Elbourne, Ronald Louis Ziegler, H. R. Haldeman, and Dwight Chapin had co-developed ratfucking—creative tricks and underhanded tactics at fraternities, sororities, and underground fraternal coordinating organizations—to swing student elections at the University of Southern California during the Reagan governorship. That attracted the attention of USC Trustee and Director of Central Intelligence John McCone and also of future Presidential candidate Richard M. Nixon. As President, Nixon installed the ratfuckers in the basement of the West Wing, but long before that, McCone used some of their tactics in the Dominican Republic to take out President Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina; in Laos to lure the Hmong (then known by the derogatory name Meo) to fight a counterinsurgency which backfired into a complicated three-way civil war that hit the Hmong hard; in Ecuador, to overthrow President José Velasco Ibarra and subsequently his replacement; in British Guiana, using the labor unions to take down the democratically elected Cheddi Jagan; in the 1964 Brazilian coup d'état; and in Mongoose, a secret campaign to assassinate Castro.

Zuckerburg's platform has made all that so much easier.

Amer and Noujaim lay out a chilling case, using Carroll as the representative of an everyday person who just wants to know what info the Dark Cloud state has on him, and Kaiser, who went from handling Obama’s social media image to join with Nix to help the “Leave” party win in the Brexit election, and then had no problem working with Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, in the process buying herself a lifestyle of yacht parties in the Bahamas, massages beside infinity pools in Thailand, and power lunches with A-list celebrities. Despite showing how weaponized social media is now right-wing-shifting governments on six continents, Amer and Noujaim don’t completely connect the dots between CIA ratfucking, Steve Bannon, and Charles Koch.

" Kochland is a dazzling feat of investigative reporting and epic narrative writing, a tour de force that takes the… #5 in Professional Investment in Commodities on Amazon

In a new biography of the Koch Brothers, Kochland, Christopher Leonard explains how Charles and David Koch acquired huge businesses, insulated their liability, created a vast political influence network to remake the Republican Party, and thwarted climate change legislation by being the smartest guys in the room, if not particularly wise.

Speaking with Terry Gross on the Fresh Air podcast, Leonard explained that rather than use their vast holdings in oil and gas pipelines to earn transport revenues, they used them to mine data. With supercomputers in their Texas headquarters, they tracked every exchange, marking quantities, prices, and trends. They fed in weather data to predict shifts in supply and demand. Then they made tens of billions of dollars on shorts, puts, and derivative instruments in futures markets. When they got into politics, they used Big Data with equally great effect, quickly establishing the Tea Party to undermine Clinton and Obama and bludgeoning pro-climate Congressmen into towing their climate denier line.
After defeating cap and trade legislation supported by both parties, the Kochs bought up leases in the Permian Basin and became the world’s number one atmospheric methane pump. James Howard Kunstler writes:
The Permian Basin in Texas is very large, but the best plays are developed in the so-called “sweet spots” and there’s a limited amount of them. They are the places that the producers developed first, and when they are played out, the next round of plays will be in spots not-so-sweet (or productive) — possibly not worth drilling. The character of the shale oil wells is also way different from the old conventional classic oil wells. The old wells cost about $400,000 (in current dollars). It involved just sinking a pipe into the permeable source rock. The oil came out under its own pressure at the rate of thousands of barrels a day.  Eventually, you put a simple pump-jack on the well (the “nodding donkey”) and it produced for decades, like running a cash register. Shale oil wells cost between $6- 12 million. They require technically demanding horizontal drilling and fracking, with additional costs in highly technical labor, water for fracking, sand to hold open the fracks, chemicals to aid the process, and a gazillion truck trips to deliver all the water and sand (and take the oil away). Shale wells produce maybe a few hundred barrels a day for one year, after which they typically deplete by over 60 percent. After four years, they’re done. The oil is also different. Shale oil is typically ultra-light. It contains little-to-none of the heavier diesel, kerosene, jet fuel, and heating oil distillates, making it less valuable.
Trouble in the credit markets could shut down shale production for a period of time and create dire problems for the American economy. That could happen in 2019 as poorer-performing companies fail to get new financing. As mighty as it seems to be, the industry is fraught with fragility. Meanwhile, discovery of new, producible oil has fallen to the lowest level since the 1940s, after three recent previous record low years. Current low oil prices at around $45-a-barrel may give Americans a false sense of security. Low prices are mostly indicative of the collapse of the demand for oil at the global margins and among the large US demographic that cannot afford it anymore — that is, the impoverished former middle class. As the damage becomes more obvious, we could hear calls to nationalize the oil industry. The attempt to do that would collide with the aforementioned trend for government to become more strapped  for revenue, more impotent, and more incompetent.
The Kochs made their move early, when the sweet spots could be optioned for pennies because everyone assumed a carbon tax was coming. As Leonard told Gross:
Within months of the defeat of cap and trade, Koch Industries started making a series of large investments in South Texas where the fracking revolution was opening up all these sources of crude oil. The investment went pouring into that. Koch created a crude oil superhighway in South Texas that went directly to its refinery in Corpus Christi.
From 2012 to 2015, Steve Bannon was recruited to be Vice President and co-owner of Cambridge Analytica by the Mercer family that co-owned Bannon’s alt-right Breitbart News. Bannon and the Koch Brothers had been supporting the campaign of Ted Cruz, but when Donald Trump upset Cruz to gain the Republican nomination in 2016, the entire Big Data, big money, ratfucking operation shifted to Trump Tower. While Rachel Maddow may rant about some Russian troll farm and Wikileaks stealing the 2016 election, the hacking of the DNC server—snaring Clinton and Podesta in email hell— the FBI later learned, was an inside job involving a confidant’s data dump to a thumb drive. That was not Russia. That was ratfucking plumbers. Kaiser describes to Amer how the “Crooked Hillary” handcuff logo with the cuffs appearing in the two ‘o’s in “crooked” was dropped onto the Facebook timeline, Pinterest, Linked-In, Snapchat, and Twitter feeds of thousands of Facebook data-derived “influenceables” in battleground states. The expenditure, possibly employing Koch backing and server farm crunching, was hundreds of times that which Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment attributed to the Russian Troll Farm.

Skynet needs to send a terminator back to 1984 and take out Mark Zuckerberg’s mom before he can grow up and steal the Facebook idea.

After a short stint in the White House following his slam-dunk victory, Bannon announced his intention to become "the infrastructure, globally, for the global populist movement," and took his brand of Big Data savvy and Big Finance backers to national populist conservative political movements around the world.
These include France's National Front (now the National Rally), Hungary's Fidesz, the Italian League, the Five Star Movement, the Brothers of Italy, Alternative for Germany, the Polish Law and Justice, the Sweden Democrats, the Dutch Party for Freedom, the Freedom Party of Austria, the Swiss People's Party, the UK Independence Party,  the Flemish Vlaams Belang, the Belgian People's Party, Spain's Vox, the Finns Party,  the pan-European identitarian movement,[ Republika Srpska's Alliance of Independent Social Democrats, the Brazilian 2018 Jair Bolsonaro presidential campaign, and the Israeli Likud. Bannon believes that these movements – along with Japan's Shinzo Abe, India's Narendra Modi, Russia's Vladimir Putin, Saudi Arabia's Mohammad bin Salman, China's Xi Jinping, Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and America's Donald Trump, as well as similar leaders in Egypt, the Philippines, Poland, and South Korea – are part of a global shift towards nationalism.

Is there a way back from this precipice? You can bet that any law banning political advertising on social media would be struck down by the Koch-built Supreme Court. It may already be too late to put the cork back in the bottle. The trickster is out. Artificial intelligence, if not yet sentient, is in control. Call it Segretti’s Revenge.


You encourage me to do more and then tell you about it. Help me get my blog posted every week. All Patreon donations and Blogger subscriptions are needed and welcomed. Those are how we make this happen. PowerUp! donors on Patreon get an autographed book off each first press run. Please help if you can.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Accelerating Climate Solutions

"When politicians set a lofty goal like zero emissions, engineers scramble."

In 1834, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote of the USA: “I know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind and real freedom of discussion as in America.” Two centuries later USAnians still persist in erecting barriers to the ideas of other cultures.

While making breakfast in the home of my host, Stephen Peel, the principal civil engineer for Cloughjordan Ecovillage, I happened to peruse one of his journals, the August 2019 issue of New Civil Engineer. My eye was drawn to a news item, “Net Zero rules to hit infrastructure pipeline,” describing how road, rail, and energy projects in the UK will have to ensure compliance with new, stricter carbon emissions rules. Earlier this year, Great Britain’s last P.M., Theresa May, announced that, in light of disastrous floods and fires, heatwaves and deep freezes, the government has thrown out the timetable enacted in its Climate Change Act of 2008 and adopted the recommendations of its scientific committees for net-zero carbon by 2050.

London, New York, Copenhagen, Johannesburg, Los Angeles, Montreal, Newburyport, Paris, Portland, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Monica, Stockholm, Toronto, Tshwane, Vancouver and Washington DC had already made the 2050 pledge before 2019. More have made it since.

Tocqueville also wrote, “General ideas are no proof of the strength, but rather of the insufficiency of the human intellect.” So it is that when politicians set a lofty goal like zero emissions, engineers scramble. This is what is so enjoyable to watch here in Europe, and so depressing to think about when I get back to the States.

New Civil Engineer reports that:
There are currently 64 applications which are at the pre-examination or pre-approval stage, 19 of which are road projects, six relate to rail works, while 27 are energy projects. The remaining projects include two interconnector cables as well as the Gatwick and Heathrow airport expansion projects.
All of these now have to be revised in light of the 2050 target.

On the chopping block are a £6.8 billion Lower Thames Crossing, a new M54 to M6 link road, and several upgrades to the A1. As we gravitate from gas to pedal and sail power, these hardly seem necessary anyway.

To hold to the Paris 2°C goal, we’ll now need to degrow GDP by 11% per year. Imagine half the number of commercial flights in 2027 as in 2020, half the number of ocean cargo ships, half the number of mass-produced consumer products. Then imagine one-quarter by 2034, one eighth in 2041. Now try to imagine what attempting the 1.5°C goal will mean.

Had we begun when the Kyoto Protocol went into effect in the late ‘90s, the slope would have been a gentle 2% — less than the average annual economic growth rate of the past century. By 2050 we would only have to retreat to the global economy of 1990, easy enough to imagine. But it’s now too late for that; too much carbon under the bridge and the floodwaters are still rising, even now.

In its third runway plan, Heathrow Airport claimed the expansion would only take up only 1.2% of the UK’s carbon budget in 2050 — but excluded international flight emissions from its calculations. It admitted the new runway would increase passenger numbers from 74 million to 135 million. London mayor Sadiq Khan, Greenpeace, and several London councils have sued, arguing that the government failed to properly consider the full impact of expansion on the 2050 goal. Protesters are encamped.
Now plans to expand Marseille Provence Airport have been judged by France’s Environment Authority to have underestimated the climate impacts of 7.5 million additional passengers per year from 2027. Expansion is halted.

In Stroud, plans for the world’s first timber football stadium, with 5000 seats and an eco-park, have been resubmitted to local planning officials after being knocked back on the first attempt.

Other beneficiaries could be the bubbling hydrogen fuels industry. At a national rails conference, a plan was unveiled to power local commuter trains by hydrogen to replace the need for expensive electrification on smaller or difficult routes. Trains in the UK are already getting solar farms installed along their routes to electrify the tracks. Railway Industrial Association decarbonization task force technical director David Clarke said, “70% of the UK rail fleet is already fully electric, so we are looking at the remaining 30%, that’s about 3,400 passenger locomotives [not including 1,000 bi-mode diesel and electric hybrid trains] and a further 850 freight locomotives. We will need to deal with these under net zero.”

“However, we need to think about where our hydrogen comes from, it currently takes 3kW of energy to produce 1kW of hydrogen, so until we are making that with entirely renewable energy it’s not completely green,” Clarke added.

According to the New Civil Engineer, the greatest challenge to meeting the 2050 target could be decarbonizing domestic heat. Speaking at the Aurora Summer Renewable Energy Summit, Committee on Climate Change chief executive Chris Stark told the audience, “Putting in place a proper policy to do this over 30 years is the single biggest policy challenge facing the government and industry right now. Unless there is a plan to deal with decarbonizing heat alongside other plans for the power sector, it will be extraordinarily difficult to reach net-zero.”

“We have calculated the capital cost of retrofitting houses with heat pumps alone at around £300bn, and the conversion to hydrogen at £200bn — both very big numbers and imply changes in people’s homes they might not be comfortable with, that’s the challenge.”

Looking out my window here in Cloughjordan Ecovillage in County Tipperary, Ireland, I am gazing at a meadow that is soon to become a constructed wastewater wetland and, as part of that, will support a beautiful willow forest rotated on a three year cycle to generate carbonizable biomass from treated sewage.

My comfy surrounds on this chilly Fall day as I sit and write this are warmed by the ecovillage’s district heating plant. That biomass energy system is poised to benefit from the coming three-year willow rotation cycle and then, potentially, be also a source for biochar to go back into the constructed wetlands to reduce odor while speeding nutrient assimilation by the growing biomass, aquatic and terrestrial. New Civil Engineer should visit this kind of ecovillage before it becomes overly concerned about climate pollution impacts of home heating. £300 billion could endow a vast expanse of tree-to-biochar wetland systems for home heating while meeting other needs in that same space. Yo! Engineers! It’s called permaculture.

In 1840, Tocqueville said, “Every central government worships uniformity: uniformity relieves it from inquiry into an infinity of details,” merely a variant of what he said about the disutility of general ideas six years earlier. Platitudes may win elections, but it takes timber and nails to build bridges. Or willows and biochar to deal with our shit.

You encourage me to do more and then tell you about it. Help me get my blog posted every week. All Patreon donations and Blogger subscriptions are needed and welcomed. Those are how we make this happen. PowerUp! donors on Patreon get an autographed book off each first press run. Please help if you can.

Sunday, August 4, 2019


"A foray into genealogy prompts some observations about the Anthropocene."

 Last week, an historic heat wave inflicted life-threatening temperatures on Europe and shattered all-time high temperature records in multiple countries. On Thursday, Paris registered a heat-stroking 108.7 °F, breaking its record of 104.7 °F set in 1947. England, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands all topped historic highs. Unable to cool themselves, French nuclear reactors dropped 6.6 GW from the grid just as air conditioning was cresting a new peak. In England, rail service out of hot cities to the cooler countryside had to be cancelled when steel tracks began to warp. And yet, the next day, Friday, the penultimate stage of the Tour de France was cancelled mid-race by sudden summer ice and hail which turned to slush, flooding roads and bringing a small landslide tumbling down onto the course.

Amid all this climate of chaos, I rented a bike and cycled the paths of Romney Marsh, in southeastern England, ghost-hunting. 

Through a series of happy accidents I learned a couple years ago that I am descended from the Shaker hymnist and explorer, Issachar Bates, founder of Pleasant Hill Shaker Village in Kentucky. This opened an interesting chapter in genealogy for me as I was then able to learn the time and place of my family’s arrival to North America.

Lydd memorial park with All Saints church behind
In 1623, my 8th great-uncle, 24-year-old John Isaac Bates, departing the small farming town of Lydd, Kent, in the indenture of Abraham Piersey, a wealthy slaver and plantation owner, boarded the ship Southampton, and arrived, in January 1624, to the Jamestown Colony. John grew for his master the first crop of tobacco to be exported to England and, after seven years of that kind of toil in Kent County, Virginia, became a free man. It is recorded that his oldest son, my 7th grand-uncle George Bates, met George Fox (1624-1691), founder of the Quaker movement, and became an early convert.

Note the third name from the top
In 1635, at age 41, my 8th great-grandfather, Clement Bates, also of Lydd, who was 17 when the King James Version of the Bible was published, gave up his class position, sold his estate and possessions, packed his wife and five children, aged 2–14, and two indentured servants aboard the three-masted, square-rigged Elizabeth, and sailed for Plymouth Colony. Why this second Bates decided to leave a place where the Bates family had been born and died for more than 400 years is a complicated story, involving Popes and Kings, religious tribal feuds, apostates and evangelists, but suffice it to say he thought a better life would be found in the New World. Like his relative, George the Quaker, my 4th great-grandfather Issachar had a religious conversion when he met Mother Ann Lee, and became a Shaker, eventually founding a utopian pacifist communal society of 500 converts on 2000 acres in the Kentucky hill country.

When I first had a look at Lydd on Google Earth it was apparent to me that this was a spot of land not long for this Earth. It would, perhaps within the course of this century, dip beneath the waves and probably not re-emerge for a million years. I was likely wrong about that, as we shall see, but the idea was powerful enough that when I found myself with a week to spare between a book-signing event in Gloucestershire and a permaculture design course in Ireland, I decided to make a return pilgrimage.

Rye Harbour Nature Reserve
I trained to Rye, rented an e-bike and scooted to a BnB caravan rental adjoining Rye Harbour Nature Reserve. Each day, I took the bike to the limit of its 50 km range as I roamed Romney Marsh, trying to get a sense of what it would be like for a family going back to at least James Bate in 1200 and possibly earlier. Neither Lydd nor Bate is listed in the Domesday Book written in 1086 (the “great survey” taken at the order of William the Conquerer following his Norman success at the Battle of Hastings). Hastings was one of my day trips, although I would have to say Battery Hill, a significant climb from Pett Level to the Napoleonic war cannon battery above Hastings, is appropriately named for the challenge it offers an e-bike. I was able to recharge in Hastings, thanks to the garage outlet of my gracious host, Craig Sams, founder of Green & Black and CarbonGold. 

In the middle ages, upward mobility was non-existent so it is fair to assume, not having been listed in the Domesday Book, that my family was not among landed gentry, but my 19th great-grandfather, born in 1270, is listed as being a “Senior Master” or one of the King’s Court judges, during the reigns of Edward I and Edward II. In those times “s” was added to a surname to signify the son of a patriarch, so Bate became Bates with the judge’s son, also a judge, and thereafter.

All Saints church, Lydd
All Saints Church, Lydd, from 4th Century. Worshipers included Romans, Jutes, Saxons, Vikings, Normans, Tudors, Stuarts and Lyddites. Partly destroyed in the Blitz, it has since been restored.

Rather than progress through the centuries of John begat Henry who begat Albert, or describe that lovely old Saxon cathedral in Lydd, I would rather pause the bicycle here beside the track through the marsh and assay the lay of the land. One of the first clues that I could be wrong about Lydd going beneath the waves as Greenland melts is an observation that it has been moving in the opposite direction for nearly 800 years.

Prior to the 13th century, Lydd had been a part of the Cinque Ports, a confederation centered around the city of Romney, where the river Rother flowed out of the Rother Valley in Sussex, past the large Isle of Oxney, home to the city of Wittersham, past the towns of Tenterdem and Appledore and out to the Dover Channel through the grand harbor at Romney. On an island across the bay from prosperous Romney was my little ancestral town of Lydd.

As the closest point across open water from Calais, this was where the Romans had landed, and then the Normans, and where Napolean and Hitler had planned to arrive. It was within sight of the beach at Lydd that the tall ship parade of the Spanish Armada had passed in 1588. However, by that time Romney had ceased to exist, Lydd had ceased to be an island known for its pirates and smugglers, and what existed in their place was a broad expanse of lowlands with broadscale wheat farms and sheep herders. The Roman harbor was gone, the Norman landing beaches were gone, and the world had changed for the Cinque Ports. 

The unexpected change had come on a single day in 1287. A great storm blew out of the Atlantic and struck Romney, first with destructive waves that sank the great trading fleet at anchor and uprooted the cobblestone streets, and then by a great upheaval of stone pebbles from the sea floor. Known locally as “shingle,” these round beach pebbles are typical of the coastline in this part of the world, and when I went swimming with Craig Sams near the Hastings pier, on the hottest day ever recorded in England, we wore rubber sandals to protect our feet. 

The Great Storm of 1287 was a disaster from which the port never recovered. Midley, a tiny island between Lydd and Romney, was washed over and lost. Today only the lonely ruined arch of its Norman church can be seen standing in a marsh field. Shingle blocked the river and the Rother changed direction, moving its outlet to the Atlantic a few miles westward, near Rye, suddenly a new peninsula. As the grand harbor silted in near Romney to the east, the surviving residents of Rye to the west entered into an era of fabulous prosperity for their new river port. Lydd eventually joined the mainland, with shingle continuing to build on its ocean side, and leeward the Romney Marsh gradually became fertile sheep pasture and cropland, owing to accumulations of river silt with nowhere to go.
The Midley Arch
Successive storms over the intervening years, along with wartime earthworks like seawalls and Martello towers to fend off Napolean, have built tall dikes of shingle from Hastings to Dungeness that work in much the same way the dikes of Holland do. Greenland may melt, the glaciers of Antarctica may calve, but Lydd will abide. My descendants, should they survive the coming heat, can visit this place even if the sea rises several meters above Romney Marsh.

The storm of 1287 inoculated it like a vaccine. It is ready for the Anthropocene.
National Bikepath Marker
Great changes are afoot. They are in rapid acceleration as if towards a singularity. For one who likes to wander, I am fortunate in that in my line of work it is more carbon-efficient to go to my audiences than to have them come to me. Already this year I have spoken to thousands of people from more than 40 countries and much what I have to teach is merely to do as I do: plant climate-restoring trees, bamboo, vegetable gardens, and marine ecosystems with at least 20 times the drawdown as my personal greenhouse footprint. I don’t expect all 7 billion of us can do that, but at least those of us who travel about as Emergency Planetary Technicians must. 

What I saw in Lydd is that the crisis is already upon us, it’s just not evenly distributed. The Irish ecovillage I am in as I write this is in one of the fortunate places — for now. Eventually all the Arctic, Antarctic and glacial ice melt will add so much cold fresh water to the Atlantic that the great circumnavigational current will slow and when that happens the occasional severe cold snaps caused by the warping of the polar jet stream could set into Ireland as a permanent condition, dooming agriculture and making life miserable. The same calamity could befall the marshland sheep farms around Lydd. 

Which is why now is the time for change. We are the generation born to the responsibility of doing it the right way. And quickly.

It is now too late to register for my Permaculture Design Course in Ireland but not too late for the International Biochar Initiative tour of Finland, followed by my Biochar MasterClass in Estonia. Please join us!

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