Sunday, April 28, 2013

Fomenting Ferment with Sandor Katz

"... Saturday morning the koji has powdery sporulation. The tempeh from Thursday found its way to supper last night and will be in lunch again today. The mauby needs a stir, then is ready to bottle. The kefir water gets raisins to help it grow...."

The Art of Fermentation
Sandor Katz lives a couple hours across Tennessee from us, so on a delightful April weekend we decided to spend four days attending his Wild Fermentation Intensive. Sandor is quite the celebrity these days — after profiles in The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, and Michael Pollan’s new book, Cooked, Sandor’s own encyclopedia, The Art of Fermentation, still in hardcover, has galloped through several printings for Chelsea Green. Readers of Resilience will find scores of references to Sandor over the past few years, as sustainability bloggers have come to recognize the importance of fermentation to sustainability.

Sandor remains humble and accessible, despite being whisked around the world to rub elbows with celebrity chefs and food editors, take part in red carpet gastronomic events in Japan, France and California, or opine in various fora like Bioneers, the Mother Earth News Fair and TED. Today he is in Brooklyn and then Los Angeles, then the Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine in County Cork, Ireland, then back to Tennessee, then on to Vermont, Oregon, Florida, Wisconsin, and Seattle in June.

For several years he has been doing very intimate, down home workshops and for this purpose has outfitted a rustic kitchen stadium in the basement of a house across the road from Short Mountain Distillery (makers of quality Tennessee Moonshine since 2012). This kitchen has everything needed for a dozen people to rub elbows while chopping vegetables, stuffing pickle jars, or heating raw milk to 180°F. Sandor keeps the workshops small enough to allow hands-on experiential learning, and cheap enough for anyone to attend, providing camping and self-cooked meals from his refrigerators and freezers stocked with the produce of his farming neighbors.

Arriving on Thursday, we were immediately plunged into two cultures that Sandor wants to get into the incubator right away — tempeh and koji. As Sandor describes his personal journey into fermentation — having too much cabbage and not wanting to let it go to waste — he is boiling a pot of cracked, organic soybeans and millet (the splitting was done by the hand-crank mill at the end of the counter, and the beans came from the same source as The Farm’s organic tofu and soy milk) until the hulls separate and can be skimmed off. After half an hour of participant introductions, the beans and millet come off the stove and are drained. As he pours the hot mix into two large mixing bowls to cool, Sandor is telling us about the Cultured Pickle Shop in Berkeley where he learned about a second ferment of kombucha juice with turnips.

The narrative — a practiced patter of pickling wisdom and microbial factoids — does not let up as he gently turns the beans with his fingers to cool. When the bean-millet mix is ready to inoculate — he inserts a meat thermometer to see if it is under 100° — he pours the starter from a small mixing bowl where the packaged powder (Rhizopus oligosporus) has been reviving in lukewarm water, as would a bread yeast, into the large mixing bowl and resumes fondling.

Now he demonstrates for us the method, first developed by the late Keith Steinkraus at Cornell University, of taking a zip-lock pint sandwich bag, laying it over a grilling screen, and perforating it with a grid of holes at one-inch intervals. We all take turns making perforations, filling each bag with about a pound of inoculated beans, flattening the contents and setting them into the incubator. The incubator is not a laboratory instrument, but befitting this Tennessee basement across from a moonshine still, is an old broken refrigerator with a lightbulb on a thermostat to keep it at 85-95°F.

When he is traveling, he sometimes takes a standard Dollar General plastic tub, a metal oven pan and a tubular aquarium heater. Filling the metal pan with an inch or two of water, he submerses the heater, set to 85-95°F, lays pan of water with heater in the tub, puts a rack on top, and is ready to incubate cultures.

Kefir feeding on raisins
Tempeh started, Sandor moves on to his pot of boiling barley, which will provide the substrate for koji. He tells us that the latest craze sweeping Tokyo is koji and salt, which is not that great tasting and not traditional, but people are snacking on it as if it were cheese doodles. When the barley is cool, he spreads it into cheesecloth-lined wooden trays and inoculates it with miso starter (Aspergillus orizae), in much the same fashion as the tempeh. Into the incubator it goes.

Now its time to make supper and Sandor has mixed chick peas, lentils and rice into a reddish paste that has been sitting quietly at room temperature to form sambar, something akin to chili. He steams up a pot of rice and breaks out some fermented daikon radish pickles and mixed vegetable krauts.

Over supper Sandor tells us the four main reasons people learned to ferment were (1) alcohol; (2) preserving food outside season; (3) detoxifying otherwise inedible food; and (4) saving energy. Ferments were the original fast foods.

Day Two begins, after eggs and sourdough pancakes, with sour tonic beverages. Mabí, also known as mauby, comes from a bark of a tree (Colubrina elliptica) found in the Caribbean, which naturally Sandor has a 5-pound sack of (from an importer in Connecticut). He says the name is a contraction of the creole “ma biere” (my beer). He has original mauby starter culture was smuggled home from St. Croix but he says kefir can also work as a starter. The process starts with brewing the bark into tea, then aerating back and forth between cups, and bottling it with some sugar. He suggests bottling it in plastic so you can tell if it is getting pressurized and relieve the pressure before it explodes. By Sunday the bottled mauby is a sweet fizzy soda.

Caleb bottles kombucha
We went on to start water kefir (with a slice of papaya for sugar), drain whey from curds of clabbered raw milk, and start a ginger bug. Sandor’s friend Caleb dropped in to show us how to make a carbonated kombucha tea, and we proceeded to make a variety of sour tonics and bottle them up for later sampling. Caleb likes grape juice, lemon juice, lime juice and various fruit teas. Kombucha is a SCOBY (Symbiotic Community of Bacteria and Yeast) that comes from Tibet, but is sensitive to flavors (although it seems to do well in apple juice) so a second fermentation of the liquid is needed to produce a flavored beverage.

The ginger bug is just a thumb of grated ginger, 3 Tbsp sugar (can be cane syrup, maple syrup, agave, etc.), and water in a mason jar with a cloth cover. In 2 days it’s ready for second fermentation. We age it in plastic bottles with turmeric and grapefruit juice.

Sandor ladles idly

After a tour of the distillery and samplings of Short Mountain Shine and Apple Pie, we are back to make some idly, using fermented black lentils (de-husked) and rice. The fermentation process breaks down the starches to be more readily metabolized. The batter is poured into idly dishes that are stacked into trees and suspended into a pot of boiling water to steam or be baked in the oven. Dosa is a fried preparation of the same batter. Our lunch is idly dressed with sambar, and more pickles and chutney.

Afternoon finds us working with vegetables making kraut and kim chi. We each bottle up a mason jar of carrot and cabbage kraut to take home. The tempeh is already turning white.

Moving miso to ferment for 2 years
Saturday morning the koji has powdery sporulation. The tempeh from Thursday found its way to supper last night and will be in lunch again today. The mauby needs a stir, then is ready to bottle. The kefir water gets raisins to help it grow. Soybeans have been boiled the previous evening, cooled and injected with natto starter. After a cool night they will go into the incubator for the rest of the day.

The kim chi is undisturbed in a large, covered pot but later today we will can it. We are heating raw milk for yogurt, doul and kefir. The buttermilk sat out for 24 hours and is clabbering. We all take a taste. Yum. The viscosity in the kefir is called “kefiring” and is not a cause for concern. Sandor is oft heard to note from a USDA source that in two centuries of records, there has never been a reported case of food poisoning from fermented foods.

Sandor refers us to the late Lynn Margulis’s essay “Sex, Death and Kefir”  as he puts the milk on the stove and stirs. He is denaturing it at 180° so that the bacteria of the yogurt can reweave the strings of protein. He has two strains of yogurt starter, one the Lactobacillus Bulgaricus that forms the basis for all Western yogurt cultures, and the other a rarer Lebanese strain. We mark our mason jars “B” and “L.”

Sandor tells us about skyr, an Icelandic yogurt that has nothing to do with yogurt, greek yogurt, and vily, a rare milk culture that forms a colloidal solid. We make 10 quarts of yogurt, 5 each of “B” and “L.” Sandor then starts a sorghum porridge that will get a 48-hour fermentation into a tasty cake. Our Saturday supper includes the last of the tempeh, bacon-fried in coconut oil with Italian spices, and a Japanese natto dish: egg yolk, uncooked stringy natto, white rice and Dijon mustard, strong on the horseradish. We contribute a six-pack of Oatmeal Stout homebrewed by Jon Hatcher at the Ecovillage Training Center, and Sandor uncorks some bubbly mead.

Sandor Katz
After three days, Sunday is a bit of a blur and we’ve stopped taking notes but we seem to recall something about alcoholic beverages and putting up crocks of miso. Persons braver than might be expected dive into a deep, ancient kraut barrel in Sandor’s root cellar and rebottle years-old ferments until his jar library is emptied. We tour Sandor’s home on Short Mountain, an 1820s log cabin being remodeled, and the adjacent ecovillage. We gather wild ramps, nettles, poke salat, and reishi. We ate, we hugged, we exchanged addresses and we parted.

We will next see Sandor July 27, when he comes to The Farm for our workshop on Fermaculture,  mixing the basics of food preservation with an introduction to permaculture design.

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.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Droning On

Home drones you can legally own
Several thousand years ago, men discovered the sling, boomerang and javelin and took a step back from the actual point of hand-to-hand confrontation with rival groups. Then came the bow and arrow, the catapault and trebuchet, each of which increased the range and the damage inflicted, while protecting the user by dint of distance. 

Then came gunpowder, cannons and guns, and warriors took another step back. Then came aircraft, submarines and ICBM's, more refinements in defensive confrontation.

And then came drones.

Any comparison of President Obama’s war-fighting with that of his predecessors would quickly establish his preference for unseen death from the sky rather than boots on the ground. Given the technical bankruptcy of the United States (16-30 trillion in debt on 2 trillion in annual tax revenues), drones are also a whole lot cheaper way to run a war.

The only hitch is, they are illegal.

Not that being illegal should stop a president. US presidents always keep whole stables of lawyers busy telling them, essentially, that if a president does it, it is legal. The Attorney General, whom the US Constitution empowers to serve as a check on the President, has been emasculated. Eric Holder is just an updated version of Alberto Gonzales, the President’s yes-sir, no-sir, whatever-you-say, sir guy.

One might hope that international law might deter a president, but seeing how the Nuremberg obligation of a soldier to disobey any and all illegal orders to participate in war crimes has been stripped from the defense of Bradley Manning, that hope must also be seen as forlorn.

Just for the record, drone warfare is illegal. In every technical sense, it is “terrorism.” That it is used by an almighty sovereign government through a military chain of command does not make it less terroristic legally, or as a weapon. Eventually, it will likely fall under a specific treaty banning its use. That does not make it any less illegal now.

Imagine, for a moment, how a typical Miami resident might feel if one of their neighbors was, say, Luis Posada Carriles. Posada Carriles is an international fugitive who blew up a commercial airliner, Cubana Flight 455 from Barbados to Jamaica, killing all 73 passengers and 5 crew, including 11 Guyanese medical students and 5 North Korean government officials, in 1976. He was the Director of Counterintelligence at Venezuela's FBI equivalent, the DISIP, from 1967 to 1974, but at the time of the bombing he was in the employ of the CIA. Although sought for extradition to Barbados, Venezuela and Cuba, he is currently living in Miami as a free man, under the protection of the US Justice Department. The Cuban-5, undercover intelligence officers for the Cuban government now serving life sentences, often in solitary confinement, in US prisons for spying on Posada’s Miami terror ring (they were rounded up by the FBI when Cuba shared intelligence on the Miami terror ring with the Bush administration as a gesture of mutual interest after 9-11) were viewed as a threat to Posada’s security by Gonzales.

But, imagine if North Korea decided to stop wasting time in court, or wanted to avoid the risk of sending secret assassins, and just sent a drone.

Under the Obama Doctrine of Drone Warfare, North Korea is entirely within its rights to identify Posada Carriles as a potential and imminent threat. Anyone associating with Posada or in close proximity would be, by the Doctrine’s definition, a “militant.” Any unfortunate children nearby who might be caught in the missile strike would be “collateral damage,” the same as the more than 175 Pakistani children now known to have been killed by CIA drones between 2004 and 2012.

Imagine, then, the outrage felt on the Miami street outside that café where Posada was caught having a double expresso. Imagine the horror at all the carnage. Maybe North Korea gets Posada, maybe it doesn’t. Surely there would be calls for revenge strikes on North Korea, and one can only speculate where that might lead, now that Korea has the ability to hit California with nuclear-tipped warheads.

Christof Heyns, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings and Summary or Arbitrary Executions, told a conference in Geneva last year that President Obama's drone attacks constitute war crimes, as China and Russia had alleged in their formal filing with the UN Human Rights Commission. 

Specifically, Heyns said, many targeted killings take place far from areas in armed conflict and the Obama Doctrine includes secondary strikes on rescuers who are helping the injured after an initial drone attack. Both of those kinds of attacks are by legal definition war crimes.

Notably, it is the second type mentioned by the UN Rapporteur for which Bradley Manning stands accused of treason for refusing to cover up the crimes he witnessed as a military intelligence analyst.

This thing that is being debated in UN hallways and Geneva press conferences cannot be talked about in US courtrooms. The US Supreme Court has now ruled it outside the scope of judicial review. Whether the CIA is involved in targeted assassinations is still classified, even though it is widely reported that 98% of drone victims, about 4000 civilians by ACLU estimates, are non-targeted individuals as can be seen in this vivid graphic. 

Ian Seiderman, director of the International Commission of Jurists, told an ACLU conference that "immense damage was being done to the fabric of international law." But the best rule of law that the President might be want to think about to is probably not the UN Convention on Human Rights or the Geneva Convention, but the Golden Rule.

Firing missiles from unmanned robots from an altitude of 20,000 feet, controlled electronically from 7,000 miles away is an act of cowardice. Obama kills helpless victims seemingly without incurring any personal risk at all. It is exactly like torture, and it serves little purpose other than to terrorize a population. More significantly for all USAnians, it degrades and dehumanizes the perpetrator more than it does the victim. And in the end, what is destroyed is the fabric of law, something built over centuries, and without which, we are all at greater risk. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Climate and the Khans

"What we have to learn from Genghis Khan is that forests actually can work to bring climate back into a second Holocene. What we don’t yet know is whether they can provide sufficient food to support Anthropocene populations after petrocollapse."

There are periods in Western Civilization’s history that lack the glamor of the ages of empire or the steady march of progress that seemed to characterize the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans or other remarkably advanced societies. Between military adventures we tend see the periods of hiatus and re-consolidation as “dark” or “middle” ages. Nothing much was going on, we think.

These periods comprise a largely un-rediscovered history. The fascination of the dominant university narrative with militarism also leaves out vast areas on the periphery, where a lot of innovation began. We know about the Silk Road and the exchanges between East and West that it augured. We also know something of the slave and precious metal industries, and the cultural influences that flowed between North and South.

The Mongol Empire, established by Genghis Khan in 1206 and lasting through the 13th and 14th centuries — generally considered in the west as a part of the descent in the post-Roman world into barbarism — was the largest contiguous empire in the world, covering 16 to 22 percent of the Earth's total land area, and dominating a population of 100 million. Having that much land, as we shall see, can have implications for Earth’s biomechanical systems, depending on the management style of the small group of Khans in control.

We tend to think of the Mongol ‘barbarians’ the way we think of Klingons or Dothraki, but Genghis Khan (a title meaning “universal leader”) was elevated based on his policy of forbidding looting and sharing the spoils of war amongst the warriors, rather than sending it back home to aristocrats. He was thus seen as a loose cannon and an army was sent out from the Kurultai (general assembly) to reign him in, which he promptly defeated.

Genghis Khan came up with a number of military innovations that fueled his army’s prowess in battle. He organized his troops into cadres of ten men, divided his imperial guard into day guards and night guards, dispensed with most privileges of class and family, ended women’s slavery and permitted them to divorce, promoted religious freedom, encouraged literacy, and stopped internecine conflict in order to better concentrate on Mongolia’s external goals.

Khan’s sons and grandsons were just as ambitious but not as wise as their patriarch, and when he died in 1227, leaving them an empire twice the size of Rome, they expanded outwards in all directions and, rather than promoting social equality and other benefits for their new constituents, were more inclined just to massacre them.

This began in the campaign in Russia near Kiev in 1237 with the massacre of Ryazan, then extended into Hungary and Croatia, where the ironclad Templar Knights were defeated by the Golden Horde in 1241. With Eastern Europe laid bare, the Mongolian capital of Karakorum was adorned with a large silver tree that dispensed various drinks, crafted by Guillaume Boucher, a Parisian goldsmith. The aristocrats grew fat and wealthy again and internecine warfare between brothers’ and cousins’ armies once more became common. Religious intolerance led to massacres of captive Muslim populations, and famine and putting whole cities to the torch became mere battle tactics. When the Mongols eventually lost control of their empire, the chaos and reprisals that followed were not pretty, but the Turkic tribes that seized the western end of the Silk Road planted the seeds of the later Sunni Ottoman Empire, the native Chinese who overthrew the puppet Yuan Dynasty created the isolationist and artistic Ming Dynasty, and the Samurai who defeated the Mongols in 1280 unified Japan for its first time, spreading a samurai style of Zen Buddhism and the giddy notion that Japan was favored by God and could never be defeated, which persisted until 1945.

It is estimated that 30 to 60 million people were slaughtered under the rule of the Mongol Empire, roughly 30 to 60 percent of the Empire’s population at its peak. Bubonic Plague factored into the decline in Europe, but the populations of Russia, Hungary and China fell by half in fifty years. To speed their way towards future conquests, Mongols punished urban centers that refused to surrender. So, for instance, after the conquest of Urgench in present Turkmenistan, perhaps the wealthiest city on the Silk Road at the time, each of 20,000 Mongol warriors was required to execute 24 civilians. After the fall of the Mongolian Empire in China, 30 million were killed in the violent overthrow of the Yuan Dynasty.

If it is somehow imagined by right-wing US Congressmen, New York Times columnists, and other climate deniers that somehow we humans are the victims of natural cycles of sunspots and freakish weather, the legacy of the Golden Horde should settle that question. We, as a species, are profoundly entangled with planetary biomechanical cycles, including weather.

As we described in The Biochar Solution, the Colombian Encounter, which may have directly caused the deaths of 100 million native inhabitants of the Americas, wiping away all traces of their cultures, languages, and domesticated plants and animals, also changed the climate of the planet, triggering the Little Ice Age from the 16th to 19th Centuries, including three particularly cold intervals at 1650, 1770 and 1850.

According to studies performed by the ARVE Group in Lausanne, Switzerland,  the forests of the Americas, growing in the deep black earths built over millenia by native milpa agriculture, sequestered 35-40 GtC between 1525 and 1600 following the Columbian Encounter. These new findings, based on newer datasets and better models,  are considerably higher than earlier estimates and in the range needed to explain the 7-10 ppm CO2 drop observed.

We’ve referred to the work of William Ruddiman who first linked the Black Death to a decrease in agricultural activity that had climate-altering impacts. Ruddiman is author of Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum: How Humans Took Control of Climate, which propounded the "early anthropocene" hypothesis, the idea that human-induced changes in greenhouse gases did not begin in the eighteenth century with advent of coal-burning factories and power plants but date back to our early agrarian ancestors 8000 years ago. By 3000 years ago, cumulative carbon emissions caused by anthropogenic land cover change were between 84 and 102 GtC, translating to about 14-20 ppm increase of atmospheric CO2.

Clearing forests for hunting, gathering, and agriculture put carbon into the atmosphere, warming the world by small increments. And, whenever humans have disappeared from an ecosystem, en masse, reforestation absorbed back carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which cooled the world. Many recent studies of lake sediments, ice cores and tree rings now support the theory that depopulation in the Americas was a major contributing factor for the Little Ice Age. One example is a drop in carbon dioxide levels observed from ice cores taken at Law Dome, Antarctica.

Left to cyclical variations in the orbit and tilt of the Earth, we should by rights be on glide descent into another glaciation. Land use changes, beginning with the deforestation of Egypt and China, arrested that trend and ever since has kept us in the steady holding pattern we call the Holocene.
Eocene Arctic. That little creature with the furry tail
in the tree branches was our most direct ancestor.
Alas, the Holocene was too much of a good thing, and with the discovery of cheap, abundant energy slaves living close to the surface belowground some 150 years ago, the Age of Oil ushered in the Anthropocene, with uncertain prospects for survival of our civilization, barring some Deus Ex Machina.

The overdue glaciation has now been cancelled, and in its place has been scheduled the second coming of the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum with crocodiles in the cypress and redwood swamps of the Arctic, palm trees in Greenland, Antarctica a subtropical rainforest, and sea surface temperatures at the equator within 5 degrees of boiling. Given the unprecedented slope of the rising exponential curve of change, and the sheer volume of fossil carbon now being withdrawn from land and banked in the atmosphere and oceans, the new PETM may be just a brief train stop on the track to Hell. Venus, move over, here we come.

Except, on that Eastern hilltop, surveying his battlefield, with eyes cast toward the setting sun, stands the great and mighty Khan.
According to a 2011 study by a group at the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University, when the Mongol hordes invaded Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, cultivated fields returned to forests, scrubbing some 700 million tons of carbon from the atmosphere.

We now have the example of two great genocidal conquerors turned climate heroes — Christopher Columbus and Genghis Khan. In both cases, the greenhouse effect was shown to have direct correlation to changing human population and land use. It should be no surprise that today, with a world population North of 7 billion, boosted by high-GHG-emission technological lifestyles, that we are experiencing a runaway greenhouse warming.

It should also be evident that the only viable way out is a forest path.

But what about clean coal or the Kyoto Protocol, you may ask?

The carbon sequestering techniques available to us can be divided between those that require further research and development, conventional financial methods of capitalization, or an industrial infrastructure that may not survive economic contraction (for example, ceramic honeycomb filters coated with immobilized amine sorbants deployed on coal-burning power plants), and those that require none of these and can be begun at the smallest scale, using few or no special tools, without benefit of loans, savings, or even an exchange currency.

Tree planting is a more viable strategy post-petrocollapse, than is the manufacture of artificial trees and their deployment over the scale of land area required to make a difference.

Forests also confer advantages not available to fossil-energy-made structures, such as resilience, self-repair, ecosystem services, preservation of biodiversity, etc.

What we have learned from Genghis Khan is that forests actually can work to bring climate back into a second Holocene. What we don’t yet know is whether they can provide sufficient food to support Anthropocene populations after petrocollapse. Can we have the regreening, without the gore?

Food forests are a frontier being explored by permaculturists, and while we can see that strategy already working to sustain large populations in the tropics, whether it can do so outside the tropics is an open discussion. Work in edible forest design by Eric Toensmeier,  David Jacke,  Martin Crawford and others is showing steady progress. Geoff Lawton and Brad Lancaster’s  pioneering work in greening desert-scapes will also contribute, as will the work of Alan Savory and Wes Jackson in productive savannah and prairie ecologies.

It may be a good thing that tropics and deserts hold the most promise for building food forests. We will be experiencing a greater abundance of both in the decades to come, until we collectively grasp these concepts and go back to gardening our planet, the way we always have.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Colombian Renaissance

"In Colombia, the ecovillage movement is ceasing to be seen as the alternative, hippy, or maladjusted parts of society, but rather are coming to be known as 'the people.' The are the 99-percent, the cultural center and point of reference."

After a 2 week permaculture course in southern Belize — the part that Guatemala is making noises about annexing — we returned to Colombia, a place we last visited at the height of La Violencia 15 years ago.

In the late-90s our hemisphere-wide ecovillage network had decided to host a series of meetings around Colombia and we were fortunate to have among us some skilled negiotiators able to obtain safe passage between the various factions, traversing areas where kidnappings and atrocities were commonplace. In one town where the mayor invited us to speak, he was killed shortly after we left. It was near there, in February, 2005, that a joint army/paramilitary “anti-terrorist” battalion funded by the United States moved in and massacred members of the peace movement, most of them displaced refugees, killing eight people, including 3 children.

Biogas from sewage
Less than a month later, then-President Uribe justified the killings, saying, “The peace communities have the right to establish themselves in Colombia thanks to our regime of liberties. But they cannot, as is practiced in San José de Apartadó, obstruct justice, reject the Public Force… In this community of San José de Apartadó there are good people, but some of their leaders, sponsors and defenders ... want to use the community to protect this terrorist organization.”

On February 13, 2013, Colombia’s constitutional court ruled in favor of the claims of the survivors of that massacre, who now urge supporters to send a letter to President Santos, urging him to use this historic court ruling to recover the relationship between Colombia and the peace community.

Since we visited and gave our first village design courses more than a decade ago, the ecovillage movement has been wedding Colombian grassroots organizations – the Campesinos, Indigenous and Afro-decendant people — into action-oriented environmental networks. The ecovillagers, Red de Ecoaldeas Colombia when we last visited, reformed 7 years ago into Renace Colombia. RC is developing a multilayered strategy for greater communication with other networks, sectors and movements in the country, as well as developing capacity to incubate new ecovillages and other varieties of experimental human settlements.

There are 16 ecovillages throughout Colombia, five or six of which are still in the formative stages. The longest existing ecovillage is 28 years old.

Some recent achievements of Colombian ecovillages:
  • Pachamama Ecovillage in Quindio is exporting full containers of their organically treated bamboo as building material in Spain and the Caribbean.

  • Aldea Feliz in Cundinamarca won the Fulbright Commission grant to build an ‘ecoshop’ with high green architectural standards. 

  • By the end of 2012, all the major ecovillages in Colombia will have their own Maloka — an ancestral house of gathering in the Amazonic tradition. 

  • Atlántida ecovillage in Cauca is the main training center for Latinamerica for leaders of Dances of Universal Peace. One of Colombia’s indigenous traditions is the “mambeo,” artistic decontamination of the world, merging the mind with the heart.

The movement is ceasing to be seen as the alternative, hippy, or maladjusted parts of society, but rather are coming to be known as “the people.” The are the 99-percent, the cultural center and point of reference. Another Colombian tradition is the “minga,” the whole community working together for a purpose, whether to build a house or make a garden — what those of us who live in Amish country call “barnraising.”

Renace brought the “Vision Council” (Consejo de Visiones) methodology to Colombia from Mexico in 2012, and changed its traditional annual ecovillage gatherings into an open space with clear facilitation for dialogue between alternative movements, of which the ecovillages are just one part. For the 2013 Vision Council, they decided to deliver 4 different parallel and simultaneous gatherings in 4 different bioregions of the country, as a contraction/expansion dynamic, to be introduced as a new national initiative in 2014.

We are also directly involved in the production of the first Ecovillage Design Education programme (EDE) in Colombia with the full 160 hours curriculum from Gaia Education, as a pioneer course offered sequentially in 3 different ecovillages. We were invited to instruct the ecological module and for that week we lived in the Pachamama village, just down the lane from the bamboo drying sheds. We also got to visit La Pequeña Granja de Mama Lulu, a one-hectare permaculture agroforestry project that rivals the best examples of futuristic eco-agriculture we have seen anywhere in the world.

Two of those attending the EDE were the founders of the EcoBarrios (eco-neighborhood) Project in Bogotá, Carlos Rojas and Anamaria Aristizabal. That program produced remarkable transformations in the lives of urban dwellers, with a period of government funding in 2000-2003 enabling 180 city-neighborhoods to plant gardens, create public art and develop seed exchanges, among other improvements.

The Ecobarrios Project convened hundreds of neighborhood leaders, provided training courses in each district, designed projects according to particular needs of a neighborhood, and employed transparent participatory processes and the labor of the community. A survey in 2003 showed an increase in social capital with new micro-enterprises employing some 15,000 people. While 70% of urban garden and similar projects gradually diminished without Colombian government financing and the continuity of a support organization, 30% were still operating ten years later and replicating EcoBarrio projects had spread to Venezuela, Mexico City and Chile.

Bamboo Drinking Cup
From 2003 until 2010, after the government suspended EcoBarrios’ support, Aristizabal and Rojas went to work in the creation of ecovillage Aldeafeliz near Bogota and Renace Colombia. Rojas is now one of South America’s delegates to the Global Ecovillage Network board.

Renace is in dialogue with several government branches and regional institutions about a project for the transformation of 100 indigenous villages that were victims of forced relocation. What is planned are 100 healthy and thriving ancestral ecovillages, combining the best practices of the native heritage with those of the modern sustainability movement.

Each member community of
Renace is building a
Maloca, the traditional meeting
hall in Amazonia.

After examining models of ecovillage networks in Brazil and Senegal, Renace sees their incubator program evolving into a non-profit, quasi-governmental agency, establishing quality standards and transferring technology and green enterprise models. In the fertile ground of post-civil-war social rebuilding, these young ecovillagers are capable of opening up historically closed circles of politics and economics, in a kind of reverse “disaster capitalism.” They have a plan, they are ready, and the opportunity is now.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Returning to the Deep

"Like our religious traditions, the agriculture we are accustomed to is a 5000-year-old relic that grew surpluses, but also bequeathed enormous and spreading deserts, centralized and hierarchical wealth systems, standing militaries, and a seemingly intractable global ecological crisis."

Claudia Gonzales takes the Bicimachina for a spin
We originally posted a version of this piece to The Great Change in March, 2009, as a two part essay we called “Going Deep.” We find ourselves now, in 2013, back in Belize for our annual permaculture design course and, rather than reinvent, we are revising and republishing that earlier post, now even more relevant to these times.

These days we speak in many venues of food forests, or edible forest design, and our audiences may look back at us very skeptically. Western Civilization was founded on savannah grasses, irrigation and the plow, and, like our religious traditions, the agriculture we are accustomed to is a 5000-year-old relic that grew surpluses of grains, but also bequeathed enormous and spreading deserts, centralized and hierarchical wealth systems, standing militaries, and a seemingly intractable global ecological crisis.

No green chlorophyllic cells can photosynthesize 100% of the sunlight that falls on an unfiltered square inch of ground in a day, so most of that solar energy is bounced back to space or lost to heat. Multistoried polyculture forests with climbing vines and groundcovers, on the other hand, share dappled rations of light as a community and have far greater absorption, production of oxygen, retention of nutrients, and a greater potential to provide food, should they be so directed.

So it is, that when we learn that in the collapse now underway resides the seeds of a different style of agriculture that does not carry all the historic baggage that burdens us, we may, with good justification, rejoice. Our space here in this corner of the cyberverse has become a string of such celebrations.

We have an elderly friend who lives in the Yucatán jungle and talks to birds. After rising at first light and listening to one morning’s conversation, we asked him what they had to say.

“They are sad,” he said. “Nostalgic for what was, but is gone. Each year there are fewer of them, and they want the world put back the way it had been. They are a bit frightened at the unfamiliarity of everything now. The seasons have changed. Everything has changed. They are sad.”

It was very strange that we were having this conversation while standing in one of the richest concentrations of biodiversity on the planet, a broadnecked peninsula at midpoint on the migratory flyway between the Southern and Northern Hemispheres. It rang true for us, though. We also miss the familiar, and are worried for the planet, if not for our own family, our remaining years here, and what will unfold in this decade to come. That is why we welcome the opportunity to return to Belize each year at this time.
Belize has a diverse society, composed of many cultures and speaking many languages. Because of its British heritage and Commonwealth status, English is the official language, although only about half the people of Belize speak it and for more than half of those it is a second language. Kriol, Spanish, and at least three Mayan languages are more common to most children. With only 320,000 people, Belize’s population density is the lowest in Central America — comparable to Iceland. Less people live here today than during the classic Maya period. Unfortunately, as a Catholic country with easy immigration, the population growth rate is 2.21 percent, one of the highest in the western hemisphere. Given its natural wealth, that is small wonder.

When Christopher Nesbitt invited us to teach the annual Permaculture Design Course at the Maya Mountain Research Farm, we immediately agreed. The course has been taught in the past by many wonderful teachers — Penny Livingston, Larry Santoya, Toby Hemenway —  and our previous forays into the neighborhood, including a visit to the Belize Agroforestry Research Center in 1991, told us that this was a very special location. The students we have attracted are even more impressive than our teaching cadre and include Culture Change’s Jan Lundberg (2011), Local Future’s Aaron Wissner (2012) and now, The Automatic Earth’s Nicole “Stoneleigh” Foss (2013).

Getting to the Research Farm is its own wild side adventure. You can fly or bus to Punta Gorda Town on the coast – we recommend the 8-seat air shuttle from Belize City that takes about 45 minutes with 3 stops along the way – and then by bus (daily at noon) or taxi up to San Pedro Columbia, the little village in the highlands of the Maya Mountains that is the jumping off point for the river travel up to MMRF.

Toledo, with a population of 27,000, is the least globalized and most rustic district in Belize. The pyramid city of Lubaantun, near San Pedro Colombia, is a Late Classic Mayan ceremonial and commerce center where the famous crystal skull was found by the teenage daughter of archaeologist F.A. Mitchell-Hedges in 1926. Chris quips that on the Research Farm you can’t throw a Frisbee without hitting a Maya ruin. In the Classic Era this was the settlement of Uxbantun, a suburb of Lubaantun.

The journey in travels up river past Lubaantun by the Columbia Branch of the Rio Grande. A boy with a dugout “dory” canoe takes you up river for $24 Belize dollars — US $12 — per person. All of the dory men know the location, 2 miles (1 hour) up river at the shallow bend with the tall stands of bamboo on the starboard shore. Alternatively, with the help of a hired guide, you can take the rugged mountain trail there.

The river’s source is a massive spring that bursts from the ground a quarter mile up river from that bamboo bend. It emerges from a vast underground river system that drains the 100,000 acre Columbia River Forest Reserve, a uniquely pristine natural area of broadleaf tropical forest, replete with howler monkeys, jaguars, monarch butterflies and birds of paradise. The Reserve continues rising up the slopes of the Maya Mountains until they spill over into Guatemala. The landscape is strongly karsified, riddled with caves and some of the largest cenotes in the country (one is 800 feet deep and 1/4 mile wide). Shallow caverns of quartz-rich rocks provide breeding habitats for many animal populations.

Christopher Nesbitt had come to Belize at age 19 and decided to emigrate and buy a piece of land on the river two years later in 1988. At the time, the land was in cattle and citrus, as are many of his neighbor’s farms today. Chris is a sort of lanky John Malkovich with a scraggly beard and a wry sense of humor.

Christopher worked for Green & Blacks at Toledo Cacao Growers Association from 1997 to 2004. His job was to manage an extension program that would help smallholders develop strategies of agroforestry that would favor both biodiversity and cacao production. During this period he also worked for Plenty Belize doing solar power installations and as a trainer for Peace Corps volunteers in the region.

In 2004, Christopher and a board of directors comprised of Belizeans working in agriculture formed a non-profit organization and made the Research Farm its principal asset. After years of gathering specimens of vanilla, the farm established a gene bank of 250 wild vanilla vines and began keeping growth records on them. In 2007, they formed the Organic Vanilla Association (OVA).

Vanilla — the kind we find in little brown bottles or in ice cream — is the cured, fermented fruit of the perennial hemi-epiphytic orchid Vanilla planifolia, a rare endemic found in the under-story of lowland forests of Central America. Because of the careful attention and specific horticultural technique required, vanilla produces best when cultivated by a person who is personally acquainted with each specific plant, rather than on a plantation. For this reason, most of the world’s commercial vanilla is grown by farmers who own less than 5 acres.

Christopher is demonstrating how vanilla can be grown most profitably in the way that the ancient Maya did it, as part of an agroforestry polyculture. His hillside landscape is a tree-based agricultural system that resembles the structure, complexity and interconnectivity of the native ecosystem, providing ecological services such as erosion control, air purification, soil and water retention and wildlife habitat.

In Belize, as in other parts of the world, wild vanilla stands have been decimated, and untold genotypes lost. With its low population density, Toledo District still has many wild remnant stands. This research has identified 27 distinct species so far, including a self-pollinating variety.
As Christopher takes our small class on a walk around the hillside above the river, we are shown the products of two decades of careful plantings. Christopher divides his new seedlings into three categories, depending on when they can be harvested. Vanilla vines climb cacao and peach palm trees. The near-term pioneer crops are the annuals like corn and beans, or the pineapple, pigeon pea, squash and melons planted between the corn contours, along with perennials like nopale cactus, yam, purslane, basil, amaranth and gourds. The intermediate crops are perennials like avocado, golden plum, zapote, sea almond, allspice, bamboo, palms, breadfruit, coconut, coffee, coco-yam, banana, citrus, mango, cacao, papaya, tea tree, euphorbia, noni, blackberries, gooseberry, chaya, ginger and pineapple. They will yield sweet fruits, jams, wines, basket-fiber, soaps, beverages and medicines after a few years of fast growth. The long term crops are samwood, mahogany, cedar, teak, Malabar chestnut, sea chestnut and other slow-growing trees that will close the over-story. All of these species provide additional services to the ecosystem not usually calculated in the government agronomist’s bottom line.

An important feature to the tropical landscape design is the creation of soil. Here in the equatorial latitudes much of the nutrient value of soils is carried in the standing plants, and the process of transmitting soil elements through decomposers and carriers to next year’s crops is very fast. Loss of soil by over-exposure, short swidden cycles (15 years was traditional but population pressure has been collapsing rest periods to 3 to 5 years), and erosion during the intense rainy season, is the normal pattern on most farms, and many farmers struggle to supplant those losses by increasing fertilizer applications, at unreckoned cost, both to farm profits and the soil.

We have a number of local agronomists in our class and last night Nicole Foss took the opportunity to give a short slide show on farming in the context of peak oil. While Belize doesn’t have a lot of oil, it does export some when the prices are high enough to justify extraction, but it has no refineries. Nicole explained why farming with fertilizers, GM seeds and all the usual petrochemical inputs of modern agriculture was such a bad idea, pointing to the example of what has happened to rural India, where agrochemical dependency has led to one of the highest rates of suicide in the world.

At MMRF, pioneer species like banana, vetiver grass, pigeon pea, corn and a mixture of timber trees have been seeded out into the areas adjacent to the buildings. Swales and terracing have stopped hillside erosion during the rainy period and Chris continuously seeds out fresh milpas, so there is always plenty of food to be harvested. There is no shortage of fresh food in every season, and today we will be eating a half dozen varieties of fruit, and equally diverse carbohydrates, fats and proteins.

Many of the Research Farm’s neighbors in the Toledo District have been mis-educated in government-run ag schools subsidized by seed and chemical companies. They see trees and farm crops as in opposition — one or the other, but not both. Through the work with the cacao cooperative, and now in creating the vanilla co-op, MMRF is spreading an old meme — resiliency and profit from polyculture agroforestry. Students of ours from prior years’ courses are models of self-sufficency and innovation that are spreading a viral meme in a dozen local villages.

Christopher pauses in the shade of a large avocado he planted in 1989. “More avocados than can be eaten by one family,” he says, pointing upwards.  He plans to start a piggery and goat shed and feed the pigs and goats the surplus avocados. He wants to use their manure to make methane for his kitchen. He also plans a tank and pond aquaculture system.

Shelling fermented cacao beans
After taking a Permaculture Design Course in 1991, Christopher put swales across his hillsides and added a number of ground hugging plants and vines to keep the soils shaded and protected from erosion. For him, cacao was the keystone plant in the system, and there was good reason that the Maya placed a high social value on it, beyond its health and nutritional qualities. The scientific name Theobroma means "food of the gods".

Raw cacao beans contain magnesium, copper, iron, phosphorus, calcium, anandamide, phenylethylamine, arginine, polyphenols, epicatechins, potassium, procyanidins, flavanols, and vitamins A, B, C, D, and E. Long before Belgium chocolate, the ancients mixed it with maize, chili, vanilla, peanut butter and honey to make beverages and confections. The Aztec and Maya cultures used the beans as currency, a practice that persisted out in the Yucatan until the 1840s. Given world prices in the US $1200 (industrial grade) to $5000 (fair trade organic) per metric ton range, the beans are a form of currency still.

When Mayan women go into labor they are given a big thick mug of toasted cacao, cane sugar and hot water. Because it is rich in calories and healthful, that big mug can see them through days of labor and the recovery afterwards.

While many of the world's flowers are pollinated by bees (Hymenoptera) or butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera), cacao flowers are pollinated by tiny flies, midges in the order Diptera. This makes cacao less vulnerable to some of the problems associated with other pollinators. Cacao trees do not require fertilizer or other agro-chemical inputs, and are only rarely attacked by blights, fungi and viruses in small holdings. Moreover, every time an old cacao tree falls over, it throws out a new main stem, so many trees in Belize that are now in production are original stock — centuries old.

On the stones outside the kitchen, under the roof and out of the rain, Christopher has a bowl of cacao beans fermenting. They are left there for a week and grow a fine white spiderweb of hyphae as they incubate.  He didn’t need any starter, the airborne yeasts did the job. After 7 days, it is rinsed, ground, and toasted. This year we brought with us a new cacao grinder for the farm, donated by a new branch of Bicimachina in Mexico. It is a modified recumbent bicycle that lets you grind many kilos of cacao in a short amount of time. Chris is salivating at the wow factor this will have when his neighbors see it.
Most of the rain in Southern Belize falls in July and August — hurricane season — and tapers off to December. They get 100 to 160 inches in that period. The Research Farm has been known to get abrupt heavy rains in late February or June, so normally we hold the permaculture design course well into March, when the dry season has established itself, the river is lower and tamer for taxi traffic, and the trails to Lubaantun are more easily negotiated. This year we are catching a bit more rain because we are personally overscheduled, leaving here March 2 to teach an Ecovillage Design Course in Colombia.
Belize has 574 reliably reported species of birds. About half never leave the tropics. The chorus around us varies through the course of a day, but it never ends from dawn until dusk. At night the predators come out of the forest, so Christopher puts the chickens and ducks into the coop and latches the door. They do well feeding on the leaf cutter ants during the day, but they are domestic creatures, and this is still a jungle.

Coming back to this place has become an annual migration for us, to get back in touch with the inner heart of nature. Back to the source. It may be that in the coming years, trips of this distance will become less simple than hitching rides on great steel birds via Travelocity and might instead involve booking sail passage from Key West or traversing Mexico by donkey cart, but for now, we are using whatever tools we still have to learn as much as we can about how to grow food this way while also restoring the planet to the garden it is trying to be. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Naming Superstorms

"A reckoning awaits in the largest write-down of assets in history. We rate these companies a strong sell."

After Superstorm Sandy struck New York and New England, Bill McKibben suggested in the Daily News that we should be naming storms after the principal purveyors of climate change.

In that spirit, here is our suggested list for the National Hurricane Center to use in naming storms this coming year:

Abu Dhabi
J&L Supply
Royal Dutch Shell
YPF Repsol

And, by the way, if ever there were a good use for Credit Default Swaps, investors could do worse than to short these companies, because their assets, largely oil and gas still under the ground, are works of fiction. That carbon cannot be extracted without killing us all, so a reckoning awaits in the largest write-down of assets in history. While we claim no special expertise in stockbroking, we’d rate these companies a strong SELL. 




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