Showing posts with label Scotland. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Scotland. Show all posts

Sunday, September 13, 2020

The Great Pause Week 26: Beer Cascades

"The Scots forest smallholding system is inherently democratic. It encourages innovation and prevents exploitation and waste."

Last week we looked at the Scottish distillery & pub chain BrewDog and its pledge to remove twice as much carbon from the air as it emits every year. It is buying carbon offsets until it can ramp up its reforestation strategy and it has purchased, with crowdsourced punk equity, 2,050 acres just north of Loch Lomond, where it will restore 1400 acres of native woodlands in the highlands and 650 acres of peatland in the lowlands. One of the premiums for punks who contribute will be access to the BrewDog Forest nature camp for hiking, partying, and retreats.


BrewDog’s reforestation design goals, besides carbon sequestration, are biodiversity, natural flood attenuation and rural economic development. I cannot begin to express how important these other goals are. If you’re narrowly focused on hauling down CO2, you could, through dumb design, plant acres of non-native monocultures. That is not a forest. That is an impoverishment.

Not long ago I watched Outlaw King, a 2018 fictional recreation of how Robert the Bruce III, ancestor of Prince Charles, liberated Scotland from England in the early 14th Century after the martyrdom of William Wallace, as depicted by Mel Gibson in Braveheart. The filmmakers laid in many long sweeping shots of grassy highlands. I had to ask Mr. Google if it was true that Scotland was barren of trees in that time. “T’was,” He said.

The felling of trees didn’t wait for the clearances of the clans to make room for English sheep. They began in Roman times. The Caledonian Forest dates to the last glaciation ending about 7000 BC. It reached its maximum extent about 2000 years later when the climate warmed wetter and windier. For millennia, wildlife and humans flourished in a mosaic of trees, heath, grassland, scrub and bog until the dawn of herding and agriculture. There stands a yew in Glen Lyon estimated at 3000–5000 years, before hieroglyph was first set to papyrus in Egypt. 

Yet, by the time the legions of Rome defeated the Caledonians in AD 82, at least half the forests were gone, felled to build homes and barns and heat them in the long dark winter months. The Romans did their best to harvest and export the other half.

By the time of the Industrial Revolution there was still enough forest left in Scotland for charcoal to cold-filter whiskey and feed the blast furnaces of Birmingham. Then, in the 1919 to 1927 period, with a world reeling from the twin disasters of trench warfare and the Spanish Flu, two British lords, Simon Fraser and John Stirling-Maxwell, launched a plan of land-settlement allied to forestry that could still serve as an ecovillage/eco-regions blueprint today.

Fraser and Maxwell created smallholdings of approximately ten acres, let for £15 a year. With men and women to care for the small trees and companion livestock and crops, the holdings were a great success and filled a genuine need in the rural countryside when Scotland entered the Great Depression. 

“In practice, of course, these smallholdings attracted the cream of our men whom we were glad to employ on full time….”

Later government studies saw the program more as harm prevention than a profitable enterprise, reporting that it “was never a directly economic proposition, but in the pre-war days when motor traffic was lacking and it was much more important than today to have a solid caucus of skilled woodsmen living in the forests, the indirect benefits were inestimable.” (Ryle, Forest Service, 1969

The Scots forest smallholding system is inherently democratic. It encourages innovation and prevents exploitation and waste. From 1934 and onwards the government recruited woodsmen, including the Women’s Timber Corps, groups of conscientious objectors, and workers from Belize to replenish lost highland forest and improve timber stands.

Unfortunately, these battalions of the underemployed ignored the 31 species of deciduous trees and shrubs native to Scotland, including ten willows, four whitebeams and three birch and cherry and a hundred other species so prized by the smallholders (and by pine marten, twinflower, crested tit, Scottish crossbill, black grouse, capercaillie and red squirrel). Instead, they covered almost half of the all forest land in the country with Sitka spruce and another 20% with Douglas fir, lodgepole pine, larches, and Norway spruce. The government foresters seemed to be preparing for another Ice Age.


This has left a gaping hole in the cultural fabric for the BrewDog punks to fill. 

Most scenarios that achieve the Paris targets of limiting catastrophic heating to 1.5°–2.0°C rely on large-scale carbon dioxide removal (CDR) to drive net emissions negative after mid-century. Scenarios that overshoot emissions in the first half of the century must return Earth to the Paris temperature target or some barely habitable climate still within reach, by going strongly negative in the second half. This strategy is sort of like underdog Muhammed Ali doing Rope-A-Dope for 8 rounds in the Rumble in the Jungle or Silky Sullivan falling 41 lengths behind the field only to run the last quarter mile in 22 seconds. For this Hollywood-style come-from-behind finish, conversion to renewables and near-term experiments in CDR need to start now and prepare to ramp up rapidly, much the same way Big Pharma is prepping its vaccines. Once the best CDR methods are proven, they’ll need to operate for a century or so and become ubiquitous — an investment involving financial flows of billions to trillions of dollars per year.

And that’s the world’s plan. You can argue that it is a bad plan. You can say that CDR is fairy dust. You can point out that nobody in their right mind would take such a risk on the habitability of the whole planet, but that’s our designated plan. It wasn’t crafted, drafted, negotiated, and voted. It is the default result when you can’t negotiate and vote something meaningful because wealthy interests are spending billions to make sure you can’t. That, and the neurological discount factor Homo Sapiens evolved even before the last glaciation.

Variation among the different CDR methods’ constraints of scale, cost, or profit structures suggests governments and financial institutions will likely produce some rough ordering of these methods over the next decade or two. After studying this subject for many years, my best guess is that the low hanging fruit will shake out to be the natural varieties of negative emissions technologies (NETs) such as tree planting and conversion of photosynthetic wastes (from aquaculture, forestry and agriculture) to biochar and all its value-chains of products. The leading study on that in 2017 concluded we could pull 11.3 billion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere and ocean annually by 2030, at a marginal profit, and double that if we paid carbon credits and subsidized the drawdown at $100/ton. If the switch to renewables will bring man-made emissions down from 40 billion tons per year to half or a quarter of that by 2030, NETs could be actually pushing us back into a comfortable Holocene climate by mid-century, although admittedly there are still a lot of unknowns. 

For the BrewDog punk foresters this will be an opportunity to tap more potentials from their ecological restoration of the highlands, lowlands and other locations. A single tree can sequester 100 tons during its lifetime. If it falls and rots on the forest floor, all that goes back to the atmosphere. If it burns in wildfire, a large part will go back to the atmosphere. If it is harvested before it dies or is changed into biochar when it does, that 100 tons becomes a credit in the climate bank. By step harvesting — overplanting and then thinning at regular intervals — the greater sequestration intensity of juvenile trees can multiply the 100-ton average drawdown rate by orders of magnitude, and all that photosynthetic wealth can be turned to valuable, durable products.


While it is possible BrewDog could be paid upwards of $100/ton for CO2 removal on a carbon exchange like Nori or Puro, more likely the aforementioned scheme of smallholder forested lots would generate far more income for rural Scotland by reviving lost crafts. Woodsmiths could build homes of timber and straw; fence and furnish them with coppiced poles and roundwood; heat and generate home power with firewood and pellets (using smokeless stoves like the Biolite, that produce both electricity and biochar); harvest fruit and nuts and process them; extract leaf proteins and medicinals; graze animals in the under-stories; and make biochar, bio-oils, and wood vinegar for fertilizers, mold-proof paints and plasters, insulation board, biocrete, polymers, electronic conductors and fuel cells, carbon fiber for 3D printers and structural wraps, water and whiskey filters, rubberizing compounds, lubricants, cattle-, aquaculture-, and poultry-probiotics, carbon black, graphene, and kitty litter. Brand all those new products BrewDog BioPunk. Build not only woodland homes, but homebrew Cool Labs.

This kind of distributed economic ramp compares favorably to BECCS (Biomass Energy with Carbon Capture and Removal), DACCS (Direct Air Carbon Capture and Removal — artificial trees), enhanced weathering (spreading rock dust), and other contrived, exotic CDRs which have yet to be proven at scale, cost $40-$1000/ton and likely will have significant impacts on water use, biodiversity, and other ecosystem health indicators. 

The three most discussed means to accelerate CDR — (1) profitable products incorporating the removed carbon, (2) emissions-pricing policies like offset credit exchanges, and (3) government contracting at a scale that dwarfs the Manhattan or Apollo projects — all assume a stable world economy. In other words, they are prone to disruption in an era ravaged by the four horsemen of the Trumpocalypse:

  • Killer virus(es) on the loose;
  • Economic collapse;
  • Racial conflict and rioting; and
  • Extreme weather.

Only a fourth possibility, CDR organized like the Scots’ forest smallholding system, with local cooperative structures meeting basic needs, is truly anti-fragile. The story could as easily be kelp forests in the tropics, rebuilding fish populations and coral reefs while softening hurricanes. Or it could be grasslands in Mongolia, holding back the desert while marketing salad bar yak. 

Or the story could be beer brewers in Scotland, bringing back the trees of Caledonia while they sip their punk ale.



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Sunday, September 6, 2020

The Great Pause Week 25: Carbon Negative Beer

"Watt recognized, like few others in business, that carbon neutral is not good enough. We have to go beyond zero not decades hence but now. Today."


Almost all ancient civilizations had a God of Beer. Recently another ascended from out of nowhere, or rather, from the world of beer, but I am canonizing him less for being a Beer Olympian than for getting into the Legion of Drawdown Superheroes.

Into our epic saga of how human life on Earth came to be rescued in its final desperate hours comes punk brewmaster James Watt. In 2007 he launched, with Marvin Dickie, a string of pubs called BrewDog, that grew to 102 bars across the globe and craft beer brands today consumed in more than 60 countries. In 2010, they claimed the world record for the strongest beer ever made with a 110-proof IPA called “The End of History,” with a nod to Francis Fukuyama.

That beer sold for 700 pound sterling per bottle, making it also the most expensive beer in history. A government panel tasked with encouraging responsible alcohol consumption criticized another, less potent (18.2%) of BrewDog’s beers named for the firebombing of Tokyo. Watt’s thumb-to-the-nose response was to create a low alcohol beer and market it as “Nanny State.” A warning on the label of BrewDog’s Tactical Nuclear Penguin (32%) states: “This is an extremely strong beer, it should be enjoyed in small servings and with an air of aristocratic nonchalance. In exactly the same manner that you would enjoy a fine whisky, a Frank Zappa album, or a visit from a friendly yet anxious ghost.”

Tactical Nuclear Penguin began life as a 10% imperial stout in June 2008. The beer was aged for eight months in an Isle of Arran whisky cask and eight months in an Islay cask making it the company’s first double cask aged beer. After an intense 16 months, the final stages saw the beer stored at -20 degrees in an ice cream factory for three weeks. As the beer got colder, BrewDog Chief Engineer Steven Sutherland decanted the beer periodically, leaving only ice in the container, creating more intensity of flavors and a stronger concentration of alcohol for the next phase of freezing. The process was repeated until it reached 32%.

 — Mike Hanlon, New Atlas

Like its beer ghosts, BrewDog’s team spirits soared, along with its stock value

Until Covid struck.

On March 18, 2020 Watt emailed his shareholders:

I am writing to tell you that things over the next few months are going to be very, very difficult for us.
Covid-19 has already had a colossal impact on our business and we have lost almost 70% of our revenue overnight.
The reality is our business, and the vast majority of businesses, now face a fight to be able to survive and make it through this crisis.
We have two main priorities at the moment. Number one: survive. Number two: preserve as many of the 2,000 jobs we have created at BrewDog as possible.

Watt signs his emails, “Emperor Penguin.”

Twenty of BrewDog’s recently opened bars closed permanently, sending their penguins off the floes. A drive-through service was offered in some locations where alcohol sales were still permitted. Part of the distillery began making a hand sanitizer, which the company gave out for free. But there was no escaping how catastrophic the pandemic was becoming for them. 

Before he put on a hops apron for the first time, Watt had been a licensed sea captain with an honors degree in law and economics. He also self-styled himself a loudmouth punk, an anti-business businessman. His 2016 paperback, Business for Punks, did not excise profanities but still managed to land Penguin as a publisher and hit high up the Amazon business charts. 

One piece of his book’s advice may explain how Watt later earned my recommendation for climate solutions sainthood: “In marketing, lead with the crusade, not the product.” Before the crisis, Watt had gone to Professor Mike Berners-Lee, researcher and author of How Bad are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything, at the Institute for Social Futures of Lancaster University. Berners-Lee’s team, Small World Consulting, penned BrewDog’s Sustainability plan, titled Make Earth Great Again

BrewDog’s breakthrough brand was Punk IPA introduced at a moment when craft beers were exploding. Recognizing before most that the key to craft was keeping it local, BrewDog kept its pubs edgy and intimate and spread them out, stocking them with limited edition local beers.

“We have been a Marmite* brand pretty much from day one,” Watt said, in a long LinkedIn post responding to critics of his perceived arrogance. 

*Marmite is a distinctively UK, black, salty spread made from spent beer grains, invented by Justus von Liebig in 1902 (its called Vegemite in Australia). 

“People often criticize us, sometimes for good reason too. All companies make mistakes, we have made many on our 13 year journey and we are always happy to hold our hands up when we get something wrong, and we have done so on many occasions.”

At the end of August, BrewDog announced that it had become the world’s first carbon-negative international beer brand. This time, it had got something right. Really right.

BrewDog dug itself out of the hole the pandemic had dug for it the same way it had built its brand in Northern Scotland. It went to the people with its crowdfunding initiative, Equity for Punks. It raised £73m (US$ 97.6 million) over six rounds to “scale up without selling out.”


  • The brewery and UK bars are now wind-powered. 
  • BrewDog turns its spent grain into green gas to power the brewery. 
  • It is building an onsite anaerobic digester to turn wastewater into clean water and produce CO2 to carbonate beers. 
  • It is electrifying its vehicle fleet.
  • In building local brewing sites across the UK, EU, US and Australia, it has significantly reduced the miles its beer travels to reach the consumer. 
  • It purchased 2,050 acres just north of Loch Lomond, where it will plant one million broadleaf trees to restore 1400 acres of native woodlands in the highlands and restore 650 acres of peatland in the lowlands. The reforestation design goals, besides carbon sequestration, are biodiversity, natural flood attenuation and rural economic development. We’ll talk more about this next week.

Last month Watt told the trade journal Beverage Daily (put on your best Scots’ brogue): 

“The scientific consensus is clear: we are sleepwalking off the edge of a cliff. Unless the world confronts the urgent carbon problem, science tells us that the results will be catastrophic. There has been too much bullshit for too long. Governments have proved completely inept in the face of this crisis. The change our world and society needs has to come from progressive business and we want to play our role and nail our colors to the mast. Huge change is needed right now, and we want to be a catalyst for that change in our industry and beyond.” 

Other initiatives outlined in the report include: 

  • Repurposing cans: “Due to print-ready processes, minimum run sizes, errors in production and errors in forecasting, almost one billion perfectly good drinks cans never get used every year. We have one million old-branded cans ourselves which we have re-labelled and launched on our e-commerce platform. And we will continue to repurpose any wasted can into a PUNK IPA beer.” 
  • Mega Beer that replaces 20% of barley with surplus fresh bread. 
  • Bad Beer Vodka using beer that would otherwise be wasted (such as beer that does not meet quality standards or is too old) to develop a zero waste vodka. 
  • Overworks Sour Beers that use fruit that is cosmetically defective or near the end of its shelf life. 
  • Alcohol-free BrewPup dog biscuits made from spent spelt, along with recycled-plastic Punk IPA bottle toys. And if your dog has a thirst, BrewDog makes Subwoofer IPA, an alcohol-free, hop-free, non-carbonated doggy beer with added B Vitamins and Probiotics.

Watt recognized, as few others in the spirits industry, or any other business, that carbon neutral is not good enough. We have to go beyond zero not decades hence but now. Today.

BrewDog has pledged to remove twice as much carbon from the air as it emits every year. Work on the forest is expected to start early in 2021 but in the meantime the company will be working on a series of projects for offsets. 

If this were mainstream media, our tale could wrap up here — a story of inspired creativity and turnaround in the face of global challenges. But I am not your usual storyteller. I am a determined sequestrator with high, nigh impossible, goals. Next week I will take this story up a notch by looking at what BrewDog might have done, and may still do, to multiply their carbon cascades.




Your Patreon donations and Blogger subscriptions are needed and welcomed. You are how we make this happen. Your contributions are being made to Global Village Institute, a tax-deductible 501(c)(3) charity. PowerUp! donors on Patreon get an autographed book off each first press run. My winter book, Dark Side of the Ocean, is shipping out now. My next book, Plagued, should be out in a few months. Please help if you can.



 

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