Published on Peak Surfer on February 19, 2017
Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner
We first latched onto the notion of catastrophic climate change back around 1980 when we were a young attorney taking quixotic cases involving impossible-to-rectify injustices like cancers among atomic veterans, trespass of sacred sites or nuclear waste disposal, and shoving those insults under the noses of attorneys-general, judges and justices to try to get a reaction.
Occasionally we would finesse a surprising win and that helped attract donations to keep the enterprise running and the entertainment value high, attracting more donors, and so it went.
One such case was against the deepwell injection of toxic effluent from the manufacture of pesticides and herbicides by agrochemical companies in Mt. Pleasant, Tennessee. The effluent in question had been extracted from an aquifer and tested by State laboratories where was quickly ranked as the most concentrated poison they had ever pulled from the wild. A single green fluorescent drop killed all the fish in the tank. There were 6 billion gallons injected under Middle Tennessee from 1967 to 1980. It made Love Canal look like the kiddie pool.
As we mustered our arguments to go before state regulators and appellate judges, we were compelled to counter some rather absurd arguments being advanced by the mop-up squads of high-priced attorneys for the companies. They said, “Heckfire, Tennessee has plenty of water,” meaning there was no good reason to protect the nonpotable (mineral-rich) waters of the Knox Aquifer a mile down.
Apart from the fact that the Knox is an artesian source of water for area industries and thereby already protected from “contaminants” whether toxic or not by the federal Safe Drinking Water act, we advanced two principal lines of argument, bringing in expert witnesses and entering scientific studies into the record.
Our first line was population growth. Tennessee was growing and what may seem like a lot of water in 1980 may not be nearly enough in 2080. The second line was climate change.
We argued that global warming was advancing, just as scientists had been consistently predicting for the past hundred or more years, and that it would put pressure on water supplies not just in Tennessee, but across the continent.
At that time science suggested warming in the 20th century of about half a degree Celsius. Those were the good old days. Nonetheless, persuading a country judge that global warming was real and something to be concerned about was no mean feat.
We had to pull out the big guns. We went to our local congressman and got his assistance to troll the federal agencies for useful studies. We holed up in Vanderbilt science library poring over journals and books on climatology. We spoke to some key figures in the field at that time — Stephen Schneider, Susan Solomon, Kerry Emanuel, Edward A. Martell, Mario Molina — and we assembled that advice into legal briefs and memoranda.
The case lingered on for a number of years but by 1985 had been largely resolved by gutsy State regulators, who wrote new rules that essentially prohibited hydrofracking. The companies shut down the injection wells, closed their factories soon after (the phosphate ores that had attracted them in the first place having long since played out and the costs of hauling in by train making the location uneconomical) and moved on. The litigation cost meter ceased running and the death threats stopped. But we were still beset by unshakable malaise.
We had seen the future, and it was different than we had previously imagined. It was not our father’s future.
The materials gathered over the course of ten years were published in our book, Climate in Crisis: The Greenhouse Effect and What We Can Do. The book came out on the heels of two other fine 1989 books that said essentially the same thing: Stephen Schneider’s Global Warming and Bill McKibben’s The End of Nature, all to resounding popular disinterest.
Fast forward a quarter century and we were still very much in a funk about what the future holds. When our granddaughter was born in 2005 we felt very sad for her.
We were still tracking the literature, still going to conferences, still speaking with experts, but until the International Permaculture Conference in Sao Paolo, Brazil in June, 2007 we had not found much to call hope.
It was at the Ecocentro do Cerrado that year that we caught a first fleeting glimpse. Andre Soares and his partners were conducting experiments in recreating terra preta do indio – the Amazonian Dark Earths. They were, not coincidentally, massively sequestering carbon while growing wholesome food.
Just over a year later, in September 2008, the Permaculture International Journal sent us to Newcastle, England to report on "Biochar, Sustainability and Security in a Changing Climate,” the 2d International Conference of the International Biochar Initiative, with over 225 attendees from 31 different countries and over 70 presentations. That, and some intervening trips back to Brazil to visit the archaeological sites near Manaus, provided the source material for our 2010 book, The Biochar Solution: Carbon Farming and Climate Change.
For those readers who might be new to biochar, the Virgin Energy Challenge offers this quick synopsis:
Biochar is a relatively low-tech approach inspired by the terra preta soils found in the Amazon basin. These black, fertile soils were created in pre-Columbian times by indigenous farming cultures. They mixed wood char, crushed bone, and manure into the otherwise relatively infertile Amazonian soil to build crop beds. The wood char, though not a fertilizer per se, served to buffer nutrients from the bone meal and manure. It apparently served as a soil analog of a coral reef. Its porous structure and nutrient buffering surface area created a favorable microenvironment for communities of soil fungi and other organisms that aided soil fertility.
Terra preta soils, once well established, appear to be self-sustaining. So long as crop cover protects them from wind and water erosion, they maintain their high level of soil carbon and productivity long after additions of the materials that built them have stopped. In fact they gradually increase in depth as new material composts. In the Amazon basin, thick terra preta soil beds built as far back as 450 BCE remain productive and highly valued by local farmers to this day.
Terra preta soils were initially thought to be peculiar to the warm, wet environment of the Amazon basin. Research has shown, however, that similar results can be obtained in temperate regions by amending soils with formulations of biochar and other ingredients tailored to local soil and crop conditions. The amount of carbon that can potentially be stored in this manner is huge; the amount currently stored as soil carbon has been estimated as 2,300 GT, nearly three times the 800 GT of carbon now present in the atmosphere. If soil carbon could be increased globally by an average of just 10%, it would sequester enough carbon to return atmospheric CO₂ to pre-industrial levels.
The issue with biochar then is not the amount of carbon it could ultimately sequester in the soil; it’s (surprise!) economics. There’s little doubt that a well designed program of soil building, incorporating use of biochar as an element, would be an effective way to sequester carbon while providing long term economic value to farmers. It would boost crop yields while reducing the amount of fertilizer needed. It would also reduce water runoff and nutrient leaching while improving drought resistance. On the other hand, biochar is costly to produce and distribute in the amounts needed, and it may take decades for the considerable investment in soil quality to pay off financially.
The key to success for biochar will come down to technology for producing it from local resources, and dissemination of knowledge for how to employ in in a broader program of soil building. A sense of the complexities can be found in a document from the International Biochar Initiative: Guidelines on Practical Aspects of Biochar Application to Field Soil in Various Soil Management Systems. The three VEC finalists developing biochar display the diversity of product and business strategies possible for addressing these complexities.
There are a few errors in that account, but they are trifling. Biochar is not a “relatively low-tech” approach, it is about as low-tech as you can get. Some Amazonian deposits, similar to those “as far back as 450 BCE,” are ten times older than that. Most estimates put soil carbon at 2500-2700 PgC, not 2300 PgC. You don’t need to increase carbon content to 10 percent globally, 5 percent would probably do it, but remember: we were at 20-plus % soil carbon before the age of agriculture and most soils are hungry to get that back. Building it back with biochar makes a more permanent repair, not just moving the furniture around, as other Virgin Challenge competitors — BECCS (Biomass Energy Carbon Capture and Storage), direct air capture and holistic grazing — do.
Biochar gave us hope, but it did not, in and of itself, solve the climate crisis. We asked that question at the close of our book — “Can it scale quickly enough?” The answer, from what we have seen at the recent UN climate conferences and the lack of early adoption as the dominant farming paradigm, is — “Probably not.”
The rapid rise of global temperature that began about 1975 continues at a mean rate of about 0.18°C/decade, with the current annual temperature exceeding +1.25°C relative to 1880-1920 and +1.9°C relative to 1780-1880. Dampening effects by the deep oceans and polar ice slow the effects of this change but global temperature has now crossed the mean range of the prior interglacial (Eemian) period, when sea level was several meters above present. The longer temperature remains elevated the more amplifying feedbacks will lead to significantly greater consequences.
While global anthropogenic emissions actually declined in the past decade, there is a lag time for consequences. The rate of climate forcing due to previous human-caused greenhouse gases increased over 20% in the past decade, mainly due to a surge in methane, making it increasingly difficult to achieve targets such as limiting global warming to 1.5°C or reducing atmospheric CO2 below 350 ppm. While a rapid phasedown of fossil fuel emissions must still be accomplished, the Paris Agreement targets now require “negative emissions”, i.e.: extraction of CO2 from the atmosphere.
In a recent Soil Day paper presented to the American Geophysical Society and the Society for Ecological Restoration, Harvard professor Thomas Goreau wrote:
“Already we have overshot the safe level of CO2 for current temperature and sea level by about 40%, and CO2 needs to be reduced rapidly from today’s dangerous levels of 400 parts per million (ppm) to pre-industrial levels of around 260 ppm.”
Goreau, citing the work of John D. Liu and ourselves, provided his prescriptions:
"Current rates of carbon farming at typical current levels would take thousands of years to draw down the dangerous excess CO2, but state of the art methods of soil carbon sequestration could draw it down in as little as decades if the percentage of long lived carbon is raised to as little as about 10%."
Here we note that Dr. Goreau’s arithmetic is much better than the 4 pour 1000 or Holistic Management calculations we criticized last week. Goreau has distinguished labile carbon from “long lived carbon” and not limited land area just to existing farms. He advocates 10 percent rather than 4 tenths of a percent. He continues:
While all soils can, and must, be managed to greatly increase soil carbon there are two critical soil leverage points that will be the most effective to reverse global climate change, namely increasing the two most carbon-rich soils of all, Terra Preta, and wetlands. These are the most effective carbon sinks for very different reasons, Terra Preta because it is 10-50% carbon by weight, composed of biochar, which can last millions of years in the soil. Wetland soils can be up to pure organic matter, because lack of oxygen prevents organic matter decomposition. Wetlands contain half of all soil carbon, and half of that is in marine wetlands, which occupy only about 1% of the Earth’s surface but deposit about half of all the organic matter in the entire ocean. Yet they are often ignored in both terrestrial and marine carbon accounting. Marine wetland soils have more carbon than the atmosphere, but are being rapidly destroyed in the misguided name of “economic development.”
Biochar is what soil scientists call “recalcitrant carbon,” meaning that it does not readily combine with other elements unless high temperature heat or some other catalyst is present. Consequently, as much carbon as can be gleaned from the normal “labile” carbon cycle and turned into recalcitrant carbon can be kept from the atmosphere. We know from the experience of the terra preta soils that it doesn’t just stay out of the atmosphere for a few seasons, it traps carbon in the soils for thousands of years.
Switching to renewable energy will not arrest climate change. None of the schemes that involve planting trees can succeed unless they also include biochar. None of the claims of Allan Savory, Joel Salatin or the Holistic Management movement for mob grazing, or any of the claims related to organic, no-till, animal-drawn carbon farming by Eric Toensmeier, Michael Pollan, Vandana Shiva and others pencil out to reverse climate change unless you include biochar. Even then, the area required for biochar-augmented conversion of land-use, farming and forestry is massive — something like 7-10 Spains per year, and maybe more. Anything less than that and the ship goes down.
When we first grasped this in Brazil in August 2006, it provided our first “ah ha!” moment. But then we concluded it likely can’t scale fast enough, by gradual adoption through word of mouth or a few good books, to prevent Near Term Human Extinction. In October 2007 we called that our "Houston Moment," not in the sense that "Houston we have a problem" but because we were in Houston at an ASPO meeting when it dawned on us — it may already be blown. The death sentence for our species — in the next century if not this one — could have been handed down even before we were born.
The problem is not the science or the efficacy of the solution. The problem is human willingness to change. There also seems to be something called profit that always complicates matters. We will tackle that, and offer some possible ways forward, in our coming posts.
Published on Peak Surfer on February 12, 2017
Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner
By combining compost with biochar, or feeding biochar to those herds of migrating herbivores, the story could become one of negative emissions — net sequestration — almost immediately, continuing indefinitely. "
Let's summarize: so here we stand. The ocean is going out, the fish are flopping in the sand. Do we stay and scoop them up or do we run for the hills?
If the problem we have is too much carbon in the sky (and conversely too little in the ground), then the solution is to deprive the sky while feeding the ground.
And yet, for much of the climate change policy community, biochar is still not on their radar. It’s too new.
In 2011 a Duke University study by the Technical Working Group on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases reviewed the research literature to assess the state of knowledge on the mitigation potential of a wide range of agricultural land management activities. They reported:
Out of 42 practices reviewed, 26 seem to have positive mitigation potential. Eleven of those were supported by significant research (more than 20 field or lab comparisons), 13 by a moderate level of research, and two, while promising, have little research.
Despite an 8000-year track record of adding and holding carbon in soils, biochar was among those last two. The other was mob grazing through Holistic Management.
Eric Toensmeier’s book, The Carbon Farming Solution, which is otherwise excellent, falls into this trap, falsely labeling biochar untested and potentially dangerous.
He may draw this conclusion from two seriously flawed (not to say insidiously undermined) studies by the US National Academy of Sciences and the UK Royal Society. Both of those studies lumped biochar under the heading of geoengineering and then assigned it to the same dumpster as all the other already debunked carbon capture schemes without bothering to speak with any actual biochar scholars.
For the geoengineering techno-utopians, methods of atmospheric carbon extraction such as BECCS, air capture of CO2 or limestone salting imply estimated costs of 100 to >570 trillion dollars to deploy, and entail large risks with uncertain feasibility and duration. Among the uncertainties is our ability to muster sufficient political consent to impose expensive taxes and tariffs on carbon emissions in order to justify the economic burden of these efforts. When faced with dire economic environments, the public may simply choose to disregard moral duties towards future generations.
Biochar, in contrast, requires no tax subsidies (although that would accelerate the needed conversion) because it provides enough financial rewards as a renewable energy source and biofertilizer to justify the cost of making it from various woody wastes, most of which are burned away. It is easy to verify — just do annual or decadal soil tests — and easy to perform life-cycle costing because it has been commercially available for many years.
When we use terms like “carbon-minus” or “carbon-negative” we set off associations that immediately cause the majority of us to back away, or to regard the information as detrimental to us in some way. Last week we spoke of the important work on cognition provided by Alfred Korzybski’s theory of general semantics.
Just as an aside, one of Korzybski workshops, in the Autumn of 1939, was attended by a 25-year-old William S. Burroughs and the 36-year-old Samuel I. Hayakawa. Hayakawa, the nephew-in-law of Joseph Stalin, went on to become president of San Francisco State College (where, among the students he trained, was Stephen Gaskin) and a US Senator for California (1977-83) where he had untold influence on the seductive rhetorical practices of silver-screen-idol-turned politician Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party he led, later catalogued by George Lakoff in Don't Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate.
We know that words that seem threatening, such as those that imply, hard conditions, forced austerity, higher taxes and so on, trigger a denial reflex in the human brain, one which was not possessed by our mammalian ancestors but which is important to our genetic survival. Once we realized that not only is it our karma to kill to live (right down to the billion of helpless microbes in every teaspoon of tofu), but each of our fates to suffer and die, we would go raving nuts were it not for the saving grace of the denial reflex.
So what should we use instead of carbon-minus? We like “cool.”
Cool soothes the brain and chills the endorphins that might cause denial impulses to form. Cool is chill. We are more relaxed, more receptive.
An example of "cool" branding was provided by the pilot Carbon Minus Project in Kameoka City, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan. The Hozu rural farmers' cooperative, concerned about the overgrowth of bamboo that was destroying satoyama (managed forest commons) began producing bamboo biochar to amend their soils. Using a "Cool Vege" brand to denote the benefit of carbon sequestration, the university assisted cooperative demonstrated impressive success in marketing their produce to climate-conscious consumers.
Nothing stands in the way of the "cool" brand being extended to any product or service that reverses climate change. It is a sticky meme.
4 pour 1000
There are other reasons that good solutions may not get traction that have less to do with our fight or flight reflex. At COP-21 in Paris in 2015 the French government backed an initiative called 4 pour 1000. France had obtained pledges from over 25 countries – and would bring that number to 50 during COP-21 – as well as hundreds of food, agriculture and research organizations.
The "4/1000 Initiative: Soils for Food Security and Climate" was a voluntary effort launched through the Lima-Paris Action Agenda.
"The conclusion is simple," said French Foreign Minister Le Foll. "If we can store the equivalent of 4 per 1000 (tons of carbon) in farmland soils, we are capable of storing all man-made emissions on the planet today."
"This is the most exciting news to come out of COP-21," said Andre Leu, president of IFOAM – Organics International. "By launching this initiative, the French government has validated the work of scientists, farmers and ranchers who have demonstrated the power of organic regenerative agriculture to restore the soil's natural ability to draw down and sequester carbon." It positions farmers as the pioneering climate heroes of the next generation.
But then what happened? At COP-22, France still featured 4 pour 1000 in its literature and displays, but it had attracted few new adherents or pledges in the year since Paris. There were no real success stories to point to, no carbon fields waving in the sunlight. Just hot air.
Food writer Michael Pollan, in a Washington Post Op-Ed during the Paris summit, wrote:
Marin County ranchers have found that applying a single layer of compost, less than an inch thick, to rangelands stimulates a burst of microbial and plant growth that sequesters dramatic amounts of carbon in the soil – more than 1.5 tons per acre. And research has shown that this happens not just once, but year after year.
If the practice were replicated on half the rangeland area of California, it would sequester enough carbon to offset 42 million metric tons of CO2 emissions, roughly equal to all the CO2 emitted by the State's electric utilities each year. Adding an inch of compost to all the rangelands each year would sequester as much as electric utilities, residential and commercial emissions combined.
What is left out of that calculation are the big gorillas in California's emissions picture: the industrial sector (77 million metric tons) and transportation, most notably the freeway system (200 million metric tons). California would need to convert its deserts to rangelands to get that much carbon locked away every year.
That is really the problem with 4 pour 1000: the math doesn’t pencil out. Le Foll’s goal of adding 0.4 percent carbon to just existing farmlands will not revert the atmosphere and oceans to pre-industrial harmony. Spreading an inch of compost, as Michael Pollan suggests, won’t do it either.
While compost stimulates soil organisms and that moves carbon down from the surface into the root zone for longer sequestrations, most compost decomposes closer to the surface and emits greenhouse gases in the process. That is just the labile carbon cycle, get used to it.
There is also this problem in Allan Savory’s chemistry. When those advocating Holistic Management, after the fashion of the Savory Institute and others, claim that they can build deep carbon in soils by mob grazing on rotational pastureland, they are speaking of labile carbon. Labile carbon never stops going around. More ominously, climate warming accelerates soil outgassing. One of the standard nightmare scenarios that could even be playing out as we write this involves long-stored labile carbon in swamps, peat bogs, grassy plains and permafrost that may be liberated in one enormous carbon pulse that sends Earth's atmosphere to something akin to that of Venus in a very short time.
Personally we love compost, dung beetles and mob grazing. Compost is the nearest farming gets to a cure-all: it holds the key to recovering dead and damaged soils. It’s cheap and easy, works anywhere, and once it has time to do its magic, any of the common problems of farming and gardening go away. Plants get healthier, animals get stronger, and societies become more secure. Our foods become more abundant, disease-resistant and nutritionally dense.
Compost can be seen as the basic food supply of any garden. It provides a circular economy. It closes the loop between human uses and what gets left afterwards. It supplies the microbial decomposers, re-arrangers and transporters who turn wastes back into resources and deliver them in forms and on schedules that plants need.
But if you are a microbe or a dung beetle, you need more than food. You also need shelter. You need a habitat that helps you survive and encourages you to thrive. And if you are a climate scientist, or just someone concerned with rapid warming of the planet, you are looking for a real solution — something capable of rebalancing the various carbon stores between land, ocean and atmosphere.
And that’s where biochar comes in.
The Coalition on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases (C-AGG) is a multi-stakeholder coalition whose participants include 150 organizations including agricultural producers and producer groups, scientists, environmental NGO’s, carbon market developers, methodology experts, and investors, and other proponents of voluntary agricultural GHG mitigation opportunities and benefits. According to their website:
Despite the critical and pivotal role the agricultural sector can play in climate change mitigation and adaptation, climate change policies and programs are largely directed at point-source emissions reductions activities and approaches. Agricultural and land use GHG mitigation opportunities pose a different set of challenges that require different approaches more appropriate to the sector. Diversity and change are inherent characteristics of agricultural systems.
- Developing appropriate incentives, tools, and decision support systems to scale sustainable agriculture and climate change solutions
- Achieving agreement on monitoring, reporting, and verification (MRV) frameworks and metrics to quantify greenhouse gas emissions and ecosystem services
- Supporting asset value generation for sustainably managed landscapes and development of thriving carbon and ecosystem service markets and results-based payments
Once you begin to measure whether and when what happens in the soil stays in the soil, some conclusions become unavoidable.
The recalcitrant carbon cycle — biomass to biochar — locks carbon up for thousands to millions of years. While useful to stimulate the soil biology, it has the added benefit of holding more oxygen and water, which better mitigates the damage of extreme weather. It also helps the nitrogen cycle, another thing that is seriously out of balance but seldom mentioned.
By combining compost with biochar, or feeding biochar to those herds of migrating herbivores, the story could become one of negative emissions — net sequestration — almost immediately, continuing indefinitely.
And that’s where fake news comes in.
We encountered critics of biochar even before we wrote The Biochar Solution. The loudest of them is Biofuelwatch, an organization we previously respected but no longer do because they are tone deaf to serious and friendly correctives. Because they are close with many social justice, ecology and indigenous rights organizations, their completely irrational proclamations against biochar have been picked up by many in the environmental community and repeated as if they had not already been shown to be not merely without merit, but ridiculous.
In our book we discussed the critics' arguments that we thought had some merit – such as the temptation for large landowners to monocrop genetically modified plantations of fast-growing trees to make biochar for carbon credits — and what could be done to require biochar to be produced more responsibly. Indeed, the word "biochar" should itself connote ecologically responsible sourcing and production, in much the same way that "biodynamic" cannot be used by food growers who don't follow the rules.
But the outlandish claims by Biofuelwatch, repeated loudly and frequently — statements like “No matter how it is done, or what is burned, combustion creates pollution,” “soil carbon is not so much determined by the molecular structure of the carbon itself, but rather by surrounding soil ecosystem properties,” or “pyrolysis is difficult to control and remains largely unproven for commercial application” continue to find traction both in the alternative media and in policy reviews.
These spurious arguments continue to engage a series of very public but false debates. They happen at high profile events and in respected journals but they are false in the sense that those arguing for biochar are using science — laboratory testing, review and re-testing in the real world — while those arguing against are using only polemic, and will not waiver from patently absurd, well-disproven claims even when backed into a corner.
Biofuelwatch’s Rachel Smolker occasionally gets it right, as when she argued:
Forests, soils, ecosystems all are far more than agglomerations of carbon. They are intricate, multidimensional, interconnected, and complex beyond our imaginings and hence beyond our ability to measure, manipulate, and control.
In that, she may not be far wrong.
These previous essays have laid out the different dimensions of our problem: a runaway climate threatening near term human extinction; a mode of social organization in conflict with fixed biophysical limits; trusted authorities failing to get it right; confirmation and normalcy bias obscuring our vision; and orphaned solutions sitting it out while the clock ticks. In our next post we will begin to explore a way out of this swamp.
This post is part of an ongoing series we're calling The Power Zone Manifesto. The next installment, the introduction to Book Two: The Solution, appears next week. We post to The Great Change on Sunday mornings and 24 to 48 hours earlier for the benefit of donors to our Patreon page.
Published on Cassandra's Legacy on Feb 21, 2017
Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner
Let me start with something to dispel the confusion about what models are for. When you deal with complex, adaptive systems, models are NOT meant to predict the future. As John Gall said in his book on complex systems, "systems always kick back" – to which I may add, "and sometimes they kick back with a vengeance". (another way to express this concept is "forecasting always fails.")
But if dynamic models cannot predict the future, what are they good for? Simple, they are about being prepared for the future. Think of the Paris climate treaty of 2015. It was the result of millions of runs of various climate models, none of which claimed to predict "the" future. But these models are tools to prepare for the future; they tell you what may happen, depending on what you do. They are tools to shape political decisions. Out of all those runs, a goal was extracted, a setpoint, a number: "we don't want temperatures to rise of more than 2 °C and, for that purpose, there is a limit to the amounts of fossil fuels we can burn." It was a political decision that took into account not just what the models say, but what could be concretely achieved in the real world. No model would give you that number as an output.The Paris agreement was a masterpiece of diplomacy and of communication strategy because it concentrated so much noise into a simple, stark, number: a goal to reach.
And there we stand: with Paris, we set the goal, but how do we get there? This section of policy planning was poor in Paris, where the best that could be done was to line up the INDCs, the intended nationally determined contribution; that is how single countries think they could reduce emissions. That's not planning, it is a first stab at the problem; it shows the good will to do something, but no more. As they stand, the INDCs won't get us far enough.
So, we are again at the task of getting prepared for the future. We know that we need to reduce carbon emissions, but how fast? Besides, it is not just a question of reduction, it is a question of substitution. We need to maintain the essential energy services to the world's population: surely, as a society, we can shed a lot of fat and keep going, but without a minimum of energy input, the system collapses. At the same time, we need to maintain the current input without exceeding the emissions limits. A difficult challenge, although not an impossible one.
Here, we need models, again. No model can tell you exactly how to get there, but models will tell you what is likely to happen given some choices and some decisions. And out of the models, you have to extract a concrete, politically feasible goal: how to invest the remaining resources into attaining the Paris objectives? In other words, what fraction of the world's GDP need to be invested in the transition to a renewable economy?
Giving an answer to this question is the ambitious task of the MEDEAS project which has now reached a full year of work and set up the basis for an extensive modeling effort. MEDEAS takes an approach mainly based on system dynamics, similar to the one of the well-known "The Limits to Growth" approach. It is not the only ongoing project in this area, others projects take different lines of approach. But in al cases the idea is to build up knowledge on what is needed for the transition. Some data are already available that tell us we need a major effort to replace fossil fuels fast enough. The transition that won't come by itself, pushed by purely economic forces. But we need to explore the issue more in depth before these considerations can be turned into a number that can be agreed upon by the interested parties. We need to take into account both what's needed and what is politically feasible. Then, we will have a goal to reach.
If you want to know more about MEDEAS, you can see the MEDEAS website. There is also a MEDAS newsletter, still in a preliminary phase. And, if you would like to be involved, contact me (ugo.bardi(strangething)unifi.it)
Below: an intense discussion held in Brno about the project with the coordinator, Jordi Solé from Barcelona and two Italian researchers from Florence, Sara Falsini and Ilaria Perissi.
Published on The Doomstead Diner on February 22, 2017
Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner
The world has been into The Collapse Phase since 2008, but it still has a long way to go. Financial collapse, energy collapse, environmental collapse, food collapse and population collapse are all looming. They are all interdependent, and it's due to ALL of them at the same time. Energy works according to the simple rules called The Laws of Thermodynamics, so it is easily quantified, and I find it easiest to be absolutely sure about that scenario. Others may focus on different aspects, but there the problem is more difficult to quantify.
With Peak Conventional Oil having come and gone, and Fracked Oil being so expensive that no one is making a profit on it, even with artificially relaxed environmental standards and ultra-low interest rates, the very best energy resource we ever had is now on the decline. If you measure the production rate of coal in tonnes per year, we are nearly at Peak Coal. But if you measure it in Joules (of Energy) per year, the lower grades (energy-wise), and subtracting the energy needed to move the stuff to where the demand is, mean Peak Coal has happened too. Peak Gas is not too far away either – a decade or two, depending on the rate at which demand for it grows, pipelines can be laid, new power stations built, and new transmission grids laid. So Peak Fossils is probably with us NOW.
Renewables (wind and solar) seem so obvious a solution at first sight, but the energy needed to build all the infrastructure to make it work, replacing the Fossil Fuel infrastructure which has been built up over a century, cannot be done in time to be completed before the Peak Fossils decline really bites. Of course if we had started 30 years ago, we could have done it comfortably, and we could make a significant start on it right now, but the full energy transition can never be completed. At some stage the question will come before governments: do we cut back on fossil fuel availability to free up the energy available to make more renewable infrastructure, or do we "keep the lights on" now and in the end fall short of total energy availability? – no prizes for guessing the outcome. So Peak Fossils is also Peak Energy.
And Peak Energy means Peak Industry, since all manufacturing requires energy. Yes, we could get more efficient at manufacturing, but that would require throwing away the old machines and making new, better ones, and that requires MORE ENERGY. It's a vicious circle. It may not be completely vicious at the moment, but it will be, as Peak Fossils progresses further into the decline phase. This represents an entirely new way of looking at thing – building more new stuff always worked pre-Peak, but it doesn't work post-Peak.
Peak Industry means Peak Jobs, and Peak Jobs means Peak Money-to-Spend in the shops. So it also means Peak Profits, and that just won't do because that means Peak Investment, Industry, Jobs and Everything.
There is NO SOLUTION – industrial civilisation is doomed without lots of cheap energy.
It's bigger than Trump, Xi and Putin can handle, so of course it's bigger than little old you and me can handle. We call it "Cognitive Dissonance" when people don't "get it". We call them "sheeple" and marvel how stupid they are, continuing to accept all the positive growth bullshit the Establishment puts out on the news every day. But what is so different about you that others can see? You still drive to work everyday, pay your taxes, buy your food in the supermarket, get new gadgets to play with – don't YOU look like a sheeple too, to the other sheeple? I know you "get it", because you're here at the Diner, but aren't you overwhelmed by the prospect of the future too, and sheeplish too? – I know I am.
When you have apocalyptic thoughts like this, they say there is something wrong with you. They call it "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder" or "Asperger's Spectrum Personality Disorder" or "Oppositional Defiant Disorder" or "Nihilist's Syndrome" or the catch all "Generalised Anxiety Disorder" or … whatever. Don't worry about it, because you are right – the system is fucked, and this can't go on for much longer. There will be a big die off, and whoever is left at the end will have to live without civilisation as we have known it.
Having a gun won't help, except in specially contrived Bruce Willis movie circumstances, where you are always awake and a perfect shot, and all the zombies are stupid and lousy shots.
Living in an old Minuteman missile silo, stocked with supplies, and hiding behind a pile of gold bars and your stash of solar panels, isn't going to help much. And what kind of life is that anyway? You can hide in the wilderness, living off the land, if you and your family are all super-fit and lucky – just like the gorillas and chimpanzees. But Nature tells us over and over again that it doesn't allow the old, sick or hungry to survive for long.
Zoo animals live approximately twice as long as their cousins in the wild, but what a price they pay. A life behind bars, with nothing to do. It's no wonder they all pace up and down and bang their heads on the walls. Regular meals, veterinary treatment, maybe even a mating now and then, but no stimulation of catching an interesting scent on the wind, only the stink of your own shit underfoot, and no thrill of the hunt.
So if you are a Killer Whale and you want to live a long time, go live at SeaWorld and do tricks in a pool for the audience.
But if you want to grab that fucking seal and thrash it about in the air for fun, then better to do that in the wild ocean somewhere, and put up with a shorter life ending in crippling injury and starvation, like all your ancestors did.
Civilisation breeds the survival instinct out of people, and instead grants them Human Rights (well, the rich ones anyway). I was watching a sob story on TV last night about this poor woman whose unborn babies all had Spina Bifida and had to be aborted, until the most recent one, where a team of 40 surgeons operated on her foetus in utero to correct the worst of the genetic faults. Amazing – that anyone should bother. But then we kid ourselves that we deserve it, because we all have Human Rights, don't we? It says so in the United Nations Declaration. Cue violins.
Some of Humanity will have less far to fall. If you are not lucky enough to have the United Nations on your side, then you will just have continue to manage living off the land as best you can. Your babies will mostly die in the first 5 years, so you had better have lots of them. Once your teeth are gone, your eyes too weak to see, and your bad back means you can't hunt any more, then it's time to go for a one-way trip to see the lions.
Such is Life as Nature meant it to be, so get used to it.
Published on The Doomstead Diner on February 14, 2017
Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner
Above is a link to a set of slides in pdf format which you can present to your family and friends, on why the IPCC projections are watered down guff, why climate catastrophe is inevitable and why you should stop worrying about it. The slides are largely self explanatory however two slides require elaboration which I have provided below. Before presenting this information to others I recommend you listen to David Wasdell's "facing the harsh realities of now" talk http://www.apollo-gaia.org/harsh-realities-of-now.html at least 2 to 3 times. His summary is probably the best compiled by anyone to date (although he ends with a delusional message that solar energy can save us, which is unfortunate).
Why the IPCC's information selection process is deeply flawed:
In October 2013 at the Griffith University Southbank campus in Brisbane, I attended a talk by Professor Nathan Bindoff, a climate scientist from the University of Tasmania who is highly regarded by the international scientific community and who was chairman of many previous IPCC proceedings. He presented the IPCC fifth assessment report.
The knowledgable audience were less than convinced about the IPCC projections, which were out of date even before AR5 was published and we asked him specific questions about the IPCC process and assumptions.
He described their process of information selection: scientific studies for inclusion into or exclusion from the IPCC report are selected by a large number of government employed scientists from around the world. However it is not a democratic process where, say, if more than half of the group decide a particular paper is important, it is included. The IPCC uses a "lowest common denominator" process whereby if just one member of the audience objects to any part of any paper, it is completely thrown out.
Dr Bindoff described the process where perhaps a couple of hundred scientists sit in a room and painstakingly go through every line of every paper submitted. He mentioned that typically by the third day, 80% of the originally submitted peer reviewed scientific studies have been thrown out, to be completely excluded from IPCC consideration.
Clearly this is not honest science, it is a political process designed to select only the most watered down, low ball estimates, so as to fabricate the most optimistic future climate scenarios. This explains why report after report, real world events have exceeded the worst case IPCC projections eg ice loss, sea level rise, severe weather events etc.
Why the IPCC's climate sensitivity calculations are grossly inadequate:
When specifically questioned, Dr Bindoff also admitted that the IPCC had completely ignored the most important climate event ever since the Earth was hit by a dinosaur killing asteroid 66 million years ago: the release of methane from the Arctic coast which has gone ballistic since around 2008. To me this confirms that the IPCC is a bogus pseudoscience body perverted by governments addicted to fossil fuels and that they only tell the public half the truth.
Arctic methane release is just one source of methane they have ignored and methane release is just one of the so-called "slow" feedback loops they have ignored, which are in fact occuring much faster than anticipated.
The IPCC calculate future temperature rises based only on the direct greenhouse effect of CO2 and a few fast feedback loops which themselves have been grossly underestimated. For example the IPCC grossly underestimated the loss of Arctic sea ice and therefore grossly underestimated the loss of albedo over the Arctic and therefore grossly underestimated the magnitude of this feedback loop.
There are other new, previously unanticipated, self reinforcing feedback loops which are now coming to light and therefore also completely off the radar of the IPCC eg the ingress of warm air into the Arctic due to marked weakening and waviness of the North circumpolar jet stream. The IPCC can hardly be blamed for not considering that, however it shows how the rapid onset of real world events quickly render their assessment reports obsolete.
Why Guy McPherson's prediction of NTHE by 2026 due to global warming is complete nonsense:
Just as the IPCC have misrepresented things by selecting only the most unreasonably optimistic scientific papers to promote their views, similarly GM has misrepresented things by selecting only the most unreasonably pessimistic scientific papers to promote his views.
We do not know what the most probable future scenario is, nobody does, but let us make an assessment of circumstances in the year 2100 based on a worse than worst case scenario. Let us assume all people in the Northern Hemisphere will be dead by 2100.
The IPCC AR5 worst case sea level rise by 2100 of 1 metre has now been rejected by most climate scientists since publication of a paper in 2016 by James Hansen and colleagues. That other doyen of climate science, Dr Michael Mann, had some reservations about the Hansen paper, but many scientists now regard a 2 metre sea level rise by 2100 as possible.
Hansen had however in an older paper projected as much as a 10 metre sea level rise by 2100, so let us instead adopt this worse than worst case scenario.
We know that complete melt of both the Greenland and West Antarctic ice shields will raise sea levels by more than 14 metres https://water.usgs.gov/edu/sealevel.html
By implication, the worse than worst case sea level rise of 10 metres by 2100 means that some of the Greenland and/or West Antarctic ice shield will still be intact in 2100, and indeed most of the ice on the Antarcticic continent will also be intact then.
Ice moderates nearby air and water temperatures. Cold melt water flowing into the sea keeps that sea temperature cool, which in turn keeps coastal areas bathed in that sea cool.
Therefore high latitude coastal areas in the Southern Ocean (the southern tips of NZ, Chile and Argentina and some islands eg the Falklands) will remain relatively cool even if GATR rises by 8 or 10degC by 2100. Those areas in the deep south will still have habitats with moderate temperatures conducive for growing food and rearing livestock in the year 2100 (and for substantial time after), even using this worse than worst case scenario. By definition, survival of even a small number of people means that human extinction will not occur by 2100 even based on this worse than worst case scenario. For someone to declare that NTHE will definitely occur by 2026 is thus completely nonsensical, is not scientific and is based on nihilistic ideology, not logic or reason.
As the Antarctic ice melts it is almost inevitable that humans will migrate to Antarctica if all other parts of the world become too hot.
Published on Peak Surfer on January 15, 2017
Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner
We are in a crisis of civilization but most people, by and large, have not realized it yet. It is as if we are a prizefighter in the ring with a stronger opponent and we have just been dealt a knockout punch but we are still on our feet, uncomprehending of what has just happened. It is not as though the fight can continue. We will shortly be on the floor. It is not as though we will suddenly bounce back, alert and still fighting. We are done. We just don’t know it yet. If we are lucky, our opponent will relent for the moment it takes us to go down, sparing us another, potentially lethal blow from which we would be completely defenseless.
Lets bore in on the illusion that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), having been awarded the Nobel Prize, has prescribed a rescue remedy to “avoid dangerous interference with climate” if nations are willing to take it.
Perhaps you concur with that conventional wisdom even while lamenting that national governments lack spine.
“The scientists have been the finger-pointy adults in the room on this issue,” said Andrew Revkin, former NY Times reporter and author of the dot earth blog. But the IPCC quickly learned that not only did it not have any authority to set policy, it was an object of ridicule. It came to expect that any advice it gave would be resisted and so it took measures to soften its approach. It fed governments baby food — sugar coated, easy to digest, and somewhat shy of full nutrition.
Case in point: the IPCC future scenarios (RCPs for “Representative Concentration Pathways”, and ECP’s for “Extended Concentration Pathways”).
Over the course of many years the IPCC science community produced RCP and ECP models representing a broad range of climate outcomes, based on the peer-reviewed literature. The RCPs and ECPs are defined by their total radiative forcing (cumulative measure of human emissions of atmospheric pollution from all sources expressed in Watts per square meter) starting in 2005 and accumulated change by 2100 in the case of the RCPs and 2300 in the case of the ECPs.
In 2011 the figure to the right appeared in the journal, Climatic Change:
The dark grey area contained the range of estimates previously deemed to be 90% certain. The blue line — RCP 8.5 — is tracking closest to actual data at the moment, and so the light great area was added to extend the range to a 98% certainty for 2050-2100.
If you were assigning likelihoods, you would probably give RCP 8.5 a pretty high probability now, but bear in mind you are just looking at where the line begins to arc upwards in 2016 and there is no real evidence that the arc will then settle into a straight line and even bend back down a little in the 2090s. It could as easily turn straight up and shoot off the top of this chart in the 2040-2075 interval.
The other three lines were chosen in 2011 to represent a few selected RCPs that expressed the confidence range. Each RCP could result from different combinations of economic, technological, demographic, policy, and institutional futures. For example, the second-to-lowest RCP assumes technological improvements and a shift from manufacturing economies to service industries but does not make any efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions as a goal in itself. The highest line represents industrial expansion as usual, or, alternatively, industrial contraction supplanted by runaway methane releases, radical deforestation, change of arctic albedo or some other phenomenon, or combination, that keeps the rate of forcing growing even though industrial GHG emissions decline.
The scenario process then moves to translating what effect each Watts per meter change would have on the biosphere.
These scenarios have been developed by the same means humans have planned for their future since we first started keeping history: by observing past events and projecting that process of development into the future. It is entirely linear. Pattern recognition.
Granted, when you are projecting an observed exponential rate of growth into the future (such as a doubling rate for CO2 concentration, which can be taken from Keeling’s Mauna Loa data) at some point the curve turns a corner and rockets upward until the distinction between linearity and non-linearity becomes moot. Like a broken clock, even linear models will be right occasionally in a non-linear world. What the IPCC models do not do, and cannot do, is predict the geobiological results of non-linear change. That’s unknowable.
[T]he present anthropogenic carbon release rate is unprecedented during the past 66 million years. We suggest that such a ‘no-analogue’ state represents a fundamental challenge in constraining future climate projections.
— Zeebe, R., A. Ridgwell, and J. Zachos. 2016. Anthropogenic Carbon Release Rate Unprecedented during the Past 66 Million Years. Nature Geoscience 9:325–29.
|Observed decline in global sea ice to Jan 2017|
A second problem is that the RCPs only look from 2005 to 2100, a little less than a century. Consequently, they do not consider what changes may occur before Earth’s systems may recover equilibrium with the new forcings, a process that can require millennia. For example, estimates of global average sea level rise were recently revised to 2 meters this century, based on observations of ice loss in Antarctica. Those studies did not include observed loss of ice in Greenland and so the revision is still too low. And yet, we know from the geologic record and the equations of thermodynamics that equilibrium for present concentrations of GHGs take global sea level to about 23 m (75 feet) higher than today and average global temperature to about 17 degrees C (30 F) warmer. (Goreau, T.J.F., 2016. Regenerative Development for Rapid Stabilization of CO2 and Climate at Safe Levels, Soil Carbon Alliance White Paper). Even applying the ECPs, the equilibrium state will not likely be achieved by 2300. It could take a few thousand years.
The only thing holding this global tsunami back is the cold depth of the deep blue sea. Deep sea holds around 95% of the heat in the climate system. It is the biosphere’s thermal battery. The deep sea is now just above freezing, but it is warming. If we stopped adding GHGs today, it would take about 1600 years for the ocean to stop warming. Additions are not slowing down however — they are speeding up.
Implicit in the failure of the IPCC to model non-linear dynamics and long-term equilibrium is the gap in information being communicated to decisionmakers regarding the potential for the unexpected. One “known unknown” is the capacity of critical failures to cascade complimentary forcings. Any sound policy response should be building resilience and antifragility to buffer against these unknowns. Employ nature as a hedge. Instead, nature is being rapidly removed and in its place we are being sold risky geoengineering schemes.
IPCC prides itself on taking the conservative approach and being non-alarmist, but it does not offer hedges. To the contrary, it makes grand speculations based on science fiction. The most recent annual reports assume that as we pass some as yet unknown threshold of political pain, presumedly around mid-Century, human civilization will implement large scale CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage) and begin pulling legacy carbon back from the atmosphere.
Anyone who has seriously studied this assumption (the US National Academy of Sciences and the UK Royal Society, for instance) has concluded it is one part wishful thinking and 9 parts fairy dust.
CCS does not exist.
Experiments at putting liquefied carbon dioxide into geological storage have been both horrendously expensive and remarkably ineffective — leaking back to the atmosphere relatively quickly. The technology only holds promise for those unwilling to crunch the numbers. In that camp are most of the national delegations to the UN climate talks and much of the business world.
Technological fixes, after all, would be so much easier than systemic social change.
Of the 400 scenarios that have a 50% or better chance of no more than 2°C warming . . . 344 assume the successful and large-scale uptake of negative-emission technologies. Even more worryingly, in all 56 scenarios without negative emissions, global emissions peak around 2010 . . . In plain language, the complete set of 400 IPCC scenarios for a 50% or better chance of meeting the 2°C target work on the basis of either an ability to change the past, or the successful and large-scale uptake of negative-emission technologies.
— Anderson, K. 2015. “Duality in Climate Science.” Nature Geoscience 8:898–900.
Over the next few months, this weekly blog will sketch our manifesto. We will try to set forward a multitrack approach that has a realistic chance of reversing climate change within the short window of time required. It is no secret — it does it by building resilience and letting nature do the heavy lifting.
Motivating this change is another matter. It is our view, born of our experience, that nothing short of extreme social change is capable of relieving the existential crisis of climate change and nothing short of extreme crisis will be capable of motivating that kind of extreme social change. If we learned anything from 2016, it is that people are clamoring for change.
So, buckle your seatbelts. We are going to crash. What it looks like on the other side of that crash, however, is utterly charming. It is not like being hit by Conor McGregor and going down hard in the first round. It is more like a snowboarder’s crash in powder or a kiteboarder on water. You can get back up.
We need not fear the power zone, but we should be cautious as we approach.
Published on Peak Surfer on January 1, 2017
Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner
For a couple of months prior to my trip I had been working on my Facebook Page, Frackfree Tennessee, trying to assemble every news story out there about Standing Rock in one place in order to spread the word. I also got involved in organizing shipments to Standing Rock and raising money to fund them. I began to get to know the people working on the issue and to talk to those who had made the Journey. Some Middle Tennessee Standing Rock supporters had a meeting at my house. “When are you going?” people would ask me. Then it came together in a matter of four days.
Michael, Lynn, and I set out on December 1st for Standing Rock. We rented a four-wheel drive, high-clearance pickup truck because we were told that we would encounter mud and ice. We were glad we did. We managed to raise $5,000 in four days. On board we carried a wood stove, a new chain saw, a cooler full of donated meat, $500 worth of herbal remedies, and lots of food. We made the thousand-mile trek in 24 hours.
According to plan we went straight to the home of a Lakota family that Michael had gotten to know on a previous trip. Frank and Rochelle Bullhead were our gracious hosts for the next four days and even though we did not sleep at the camp, we found ourselves right in the middle things. Frank and Rochelle were central in the various “actions” over the past few months. Frank showed us where he had been shot with rubber bullets and bean bags and described how the police had jabbed him in the kidney, the only one he had left, and arrested him; they put a number on his arm and put him in a dog cage. The Morton County army sprayed them with water in 25-degree weather. Rochelle wore her traditional dress and faced down the national guard on numerous occasions. Both had been sprayed a number of times with mace, pepper spray and tear gas while praying.
We went to the camp shortly after our arrival. My first impression of the camp was one of awe and excitement; it was huge and full of life. Tents and tipis and yurts, Indian youth on horseback, drums and whoops, people of every description setting up camp, a line of cars and buses that poured in all day long. Three thousand veterans and a host of new water protectors swelled the population from four thousand to over twelve thousand. The energy in the camp was electric.
The line of flags along the road represented the 350 indigenous tribes who had made the journey from all over the world, from South America to Alaska, from Hawaii to Siberia. This was unprecedented, and many of these tribes had been enemies in the past. What they had in common was the threat of exploitation by energy extraction companies and polluters who have made their billions at the expense of indigenous people. As each tribe arrived they did their dances and were welcomed in prayer ceremonies. The site of so many different colorful flags was awe inspiring.
There were challenges ahead, of course. The infrastructure was not set up for these numbers, and the strain on the organizers was beginning to show. Many newcomers had arrived in small two-wheel drive cars and Michael and I found ourselves pushing cars and trucks that were getting stuck on Facebook Hill. We met one large group of young people from Chicago who were just getting off their bus and were pretty sure they had just landed on the moon. They intended to spend the night in their bus and did not seem very warmly dressed. Being from Chicago myself I thought I had seen winter, but later I saw what a North Dakota winter was like.
Facebook Hill, so-named because it was one of the few places you could get a signal, had a great view of the camp. One of four camps, Oceti Sakowin was growing by leaps and bounds. From there you could see that tents were set up amid several frozen ponds in the flood plain of the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers. Come Spring most of the camp would be under water. We met a man there who was charging his cell phone on a stationary bike. And we were told to beware of the helicopter that was omnipresent overhead. No one was really sure if it was the helicopter or the semi-trailer peaking over the hill that was intercepting data and draining cell phone batteries: 21st century cyber warfare.
Frank and Rochelle’s son-in-law, Isaacs, was head of the Oceti Sakowin camp. The tall, very spiritual 28-year old warrior explained to us the arrangement of tipis at the center of the camp. This was the sacred Lakota Council Fire Circle that had not been seen in a hundred and fifty years. The seven tipis were in the shape of buffalo horns and represented the different branches of the Lakota tribe. Each tipi was occupied by a representative of the different branches. Isaacs, who had been staying in the camp since its inception, represented the Lakotas of the Great Plains. In the center was the fire circle and a campfire that had been burning for eight months and had fire keepers that never left who were very serious about their jobs. The field around the Fire Circle was kept free of tents and we were told not to stand on the east side of the fire where the buffalo horns came together because that is the direction the spirits came from.
That first night we made supper over our camp stove and sat around the Council Fire talking to people and listening to organizers discussing strategy. We heard that earlier that week a gift had been delivered to the Morton County Sheriff’s office, a peace offering of food and supplies. The Sheriff had sent out a plea for local residents to help them because all their money had been spent “protecting” the pipeline. The water protectors wanted to share the bounty of the camp.
Many of the veterans who had arrived seemed ready to tangle with the Morton County Sheriff and the national guard. The elders and camp organizers met and voted to refrain from marching in the morning in order to keep peace. It was rumored that the Sheriff had moved one mile back from the barricaded bridge, evidently wanting to avoid a confrontation. Things were happening fast.
Michael, Lynn, and I decided to go to the Prairie Knights Casino for a cup of tea and to check out that scene. Eight miles south, the casino was filled with people from the camp, easily recognized by their heavy winter gear. Being on the reservation and controlled by the Lakota, the casino proved to be an invaluable resource: a place to get warm, grab a hot meal, and get cell phone reception. All the rooms were full, mostly with gamblers on weekends, but the camps had reserved a few. When the snow storm hit two days later over a thousand campers took refuge in the hallways.
After spending a cozy night on the Bullheads’ floor we returned to camp. The place was buzzing with activity. Cars and buses continued to pour in. The veterans were organizing for some sort of action and the horse-mounted young security force was herding people assembling on the road back to camp. There was to be a prayer meeting of all twelve thousand people at the main fire. As we were heading in that direction we came upon the Bullheads. Frank, with tears in his eyes, said two words: “We won.” The Army Corps had revoked the permit for the pipe line!
What ensued was joyous celebration on a grand scale. Hugs and whoops and big smiles everywhere. The drums were beating, everyone was dancing and singing and praying. Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II gave the announcement and then invited the elders to pray at the Council Fire. One Indian told me that the tribes had not won such a victory since Custer. And it just happened to be Custer’s birthday!
The Council Fire circle was a powerful gathering of chiefs and elders. It was both celebratory and solemn at the same time. Stories were told, reminders given of the importance of the victory over the pipeline company. And of course no one was under the illusion that the fight was over. This was only a chapter in the ongoing struggle to preserve the earth and all its inhabitants.
That evening we once again met with friends in the cafeteria of the casino. A snowstorm was on the horizon and getting around would soon be difficult. That night, sleeping on the Bullhead’s floor, we got our first hint of what was coming as the wind howled and whistled outside. I had never experienced unrelenting 30-50 mile an hour winds and total white-out conditions. I got pinned against the truck trying to fold our large tarp! As Michael said, “Feels like the wind could just cut you in half.”
We tried to make it back to camp or to the casino in our four-wheel drive but gave up after a couple of miles. The Lakota people said that this is what you do in a blizzard: hole up and wait. And so we spent the next 28 hours snowed in, eight Indians and three whites in a small house. It proved to be pretty enjoyable as we shared cooking and cleaning duties and got to know each other. We watched movies, including a family favorite, Avatar. Albert Red Bear, a Lakota religious leader who had dropped by the day before, was full of stories. Reba was delightful and a great cook. Lynn gave “readings” with her Earth Cards. Dawson, the seven-month-old, was so good. There were endless discussions about the day’s events and the future of the camp.
Unfortunately, we were under a deadline to high-tail it home. When the sun peaked out the next afternoon we decided to make a run for it. Albert was headed back to Pine Ridge and would lead us south. The snow was blowing sideways so thick it was like driving through a cloud, but all I had to do was follow our Lakota guide. By the time we got to South Dakota, the snowstorm was behind us.
That night we spent in another native-owned casino in Iowa. There we met a couple of Indians who had just come back from the camp. When we asked how it had been going, instead of a horror story about the snow, they said, “We had fun.” Another lesson…
And so, after another marathon drive, we made it back to Tennessee where it was a balmy 33 degrees. All three of us are still processing what we experienced on the Great Plains. Part of my process is to write this. And to organize meetings where we can share our story of Standing Rock, as we were asked to do by our Lakota friends. We are thinking of returning in the Spring with tools and money and solar panels to help fix up the Bullhead house. If the camps are still there we will be joining the Water Protectors along the banks of the mighty Missouri River.
Stand With Standing Rock
Two Lakota families from the Standing Rock reservation are coming to Tennessee! They want to share with us their stories from the #NoDAPL struggle and to sing and dance and pray with us! Frank and Rochelle Bullhead were in the front lines at Standing Rock many times. Isaacs Weston was Head of Camp at Oceti Sakowin. He is accompanied by his wife Mimi and baby Dawson. They will be at five locations in ten days, including Chattanooga, Sewanee, Franklin, The Farm and Nashville.
Nashville: January 8th, Friends Meeting House, 530 26th Ave. N., 7:15pm.
Suggested donation: $10+
Please join us and help support the ongoing fight to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline and meet these brave and powerful brothers and sisters who are leading the way in saving our planet!
For more information contact: Eric Lewis
Published on Cassandra's Legacy on January 8, 2017
Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner
Why you can't fight climate change with Coke or Pepsi
Some time ago, I found myself trying to explain to a journalist why I opposed CO2 mining in Tuscany. I said something like, "it makes no sense that the regional government spends money to reduce CO2 emissions and, at the same time, allows this company to extract CO2 that, otherwise, would stay underground." "But", the journalist said, "I have interviewed the people of this company and they say that the CO2 they extract is not dispersed into the atmosphere – it is stored." "And where is it stored in?" I said. "They sell it to companies that make carbonated drinks." I tried to explain to him that producing Coca Cola or Pepsi is not the way to fight climate change, but I don't think he really understood.
This is typical of how difficult is to make some messages pass in the public debate. Among the many possible ways of mitigating global warming, carbon capture and sequestration (or storage) – CCS – is the least understood, the most complicated, and the most likely to lead to pseudo-solutions. Not surprising, because it is a complex story that involves chemistry, geology, engineering and economics.
About one month ago, a post by Julian Turner appeared on "Power Technology" with the rather ambitious title of "Carbon Capture Finally Cracked." The post is full of hype about a breakthrough in the process that purifies CO2 at the output or a coal-burning plant – a process called "CO2 scrubbing". The new process, it is said, is better, less expensive, faster, efficient, and "game changer". Mr. Sharma, CEO of the company that developed the process declared:
“TACL will be able to capture CO2 from their boiler emissions and then reuse it,” confirms Sharma. “For the end user the electricity produced by capturing carbon dioxide will be clean electricity and the steam produced will be clean energy. For that reason, we can say that it is ‘emissions-free’.”
I have no doubt that there is something good in the new process. Scrubbing CO2 using solvents is a known technology and it can surely be improved. Technology is good at doing exactly that: improving known processes. The problem is another one: is it a really an "emission-free" process? And the answer is, unfortunately, "not at all", at least in the form the idea is presented.
The problem, here, is that all the hype is about carbon capture, but there is nothing in these claims about carbon sequestration. Indeed, the article discusses "carbon capture and utilization" (CCU) and not "carbon capture and sequestration" (CCS). Now, CCS is supposed to mitigate global warming, but CCU does NOT.
Let's go back to basics: if you want to understand what CCS is about, a good starting point is the 2005 IPCC special report on the matter (a massive 443-page document). More than ten years after its publication, the situation has not changed very much; as confirmed by a more recent report. The basic idea remains the same: to transform CO2 into something that should be stable and non-polluting. And when we say "stable" we mean something that should remain stable for time spans of the order of thousands of years, at the very least. This is what we call "sequestration" or "storage".
A tall order, if there ever was one, but not impossible and, as it is often the case, the problem is not feasibility, but cost. The safest way of storing CO2 for very long times is to imitate the natural process of "silicate weathering" and transform CO2 into stable carbonates, calcium and magnesium, for instance. It is what the ecosystem does in order to regulate the temperature of the planet. But the natural process is extremely slow; we are talking about times of the order of hundreds of thousands of years; not what we need right now. We can, of course, accelerate the weathering process but it takes a lot of energy, mainly to crush and pulverize silicates. A less expensive method is "geological storage", that is pumping CO2 into an underground reservoir. And hope that it will stay there for tens of thousands of years. But it is the main aim of CCS, nowadays.
This said, the way to evaluate the feasibility and the opportunity of the whole concept of CCS is to examine the life cycle of the whole process; see how much energy it requires (its energy return for energy invested, EROEI), and then compare it with the data for alternative processes – for instance investing the same resources into renewable energy rather than in CCS (and renewable energy may be already less expensive than coal produced electricity). But it seems that this comparative analysis has not been done, so far, despite the several cost analysis performed for CCS. One thing that we can infer from the 2005 report (see page 338) is that, even without scrubbing, the energy necessary for the whole process might be not so far away from values that would make it an exercise in digging holes and then filling them up again, as John Maynard Keynes is reported to have proposed. The situation is better if we consider geological storage, but even in this case scrubbing is only a fraction of the total cost.
At this point, you can understand what's wrong in calling the new scrubbing process a "game changer." It is not that. It is a process that improves one of the steps of the chain that leads to carbon storage, but that may have little value for CCS, unless it is evaluated within the whole life cycle of the process.
Then, in the whole article by Turner, there is no mention of CCS/storage. They only speak of carbon capture and utilization (CCU) and they say that the CO2 will be sold to another company that will turn it into soda ash (Na2CO3). This compound could then be used it for glass making, urea making, and similar purposes. But all these processes will bring back the captured CO2 to the atmosphere! No storage, no global warming mitigation – they might as well sell the CO2 to the industry that makes carbonated beverages. This is not the breakthrough we need.
So, what sense does it have to make so much noise about "clean energy," "clean electricity," and "emission-free" energy when the new process aims at nothing of that sort? Not surprising, it is all part of the "fact-free" ongoing debate.
To conclude, let me note that this new scrubbing process might just be one of those ways of "pulling the levers in the wrong direction," according to a definition by Jay Forrester. That is, it may be counter-productive for the exact purposes it had been developed for. The problem is that pure CO2 is an industrial product that has a certain market value, as the people who extract it from underground in Tuscany know very well. So far, the cost of scrubbing has prevented the exhaust of fossil-fueled plants from having a market value, but a new, efficient process could make it feasible to turn it into a saleable product. That would make coal plants more profitable and would encourage people to invest into building more of them, and that would generate no reductions in CO2 emissions! It would be even worse if the coal industry were to sell to governments their scrubbing process in order to escape carbon taxes. So, you see? Once more, the rule of unintended consequences plays out nicely.
Published on Cassandra's Legacy on January 3, 2017
Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner
Do we need mining quotas?
Scarce minerals are running out: mining quotas are needed
Molybdenum is essential for the manufacture of high-grade stainless steels, but at present molybdenum is hardly recycled. Yet unless reuse of molybdenum is dramatically increased, the extractable reserves of molybdenum on Earth will run out in about eighty years from now. The extractable reserves of antimony, a mineral used to make plastics more heat-resistant, will run out within thirty years.
During more than a century the use of mineral resources increased exponentially with an average between 3 and 4% annually. Can this go on, given the limited amounts of mineral resources in the earth’s crust?
Which raw materials or minerals are scarce?
A mineral’s scarcity is expressed as the number of years that its extractable amount in the Earth's crust is sufficient to meet anticipated demand. This exhaustion period is estimated from the annual use of such mineral. I calculated the ratio between the extractable amount and the annual consumption for 65 mineral resources. My calculation is based on what is considered to be maximally extractable from the Earth’s crust. These “Extractable Global Resources” are derived from a study by the International Resource Panel of UNEP (United Nations Environmental Program) in 2011. Regarding the annual use of mineral resources I have supposed an annual growth of 3% until 2050, where after I have supposed that extraction stabilizes. The table below shows the top ten scarcest mineral resources.
TOP TEN SCARCE MINERAL RESOURCES
Exhaustion period (in years) of remaining extractable mineral resources
Pharmaceuticals and cosmetics
What is a sustainable extraction rate?
In my dissertation I have defined a sustainable extraction rate as follows: “The extraction of a mineral resource is sustainable, if a world population of nine billion people can be provided with that mineral resource during a period of thousand years, supposing that the average use per world citizen is equally divided over the countries of the world”. Actually, the concept of sustainability is only applicable to an activity, which can continue forever. Concerning the extraction of mineral resources, I consider a thousand years as a reasonable approach. This is arbitrary of course. But 100 years is too short. In that case we would accept that our grandchildren would be confronted with exhausted mineral resources.
A sensitivity analysis reveals that even if we assume that the extractable reserves in the Earth’s crust are ten times higher than the already optimistic assumption of the UNEP International Resource Panel, then the use of antimony, gold, zinc, molybdenum, and rhenium in industrialized countries would still have to be hugely reduced in order to preserve sufficient of these raw materials for future generations. This is particularly so if we want these resources to be more fairly shared among countries and people than is currently the case. There are also environmental and energy limits to the ever deeper and remoter search for ever lower concentrations of minerals. If we want to stretch out all the exhaustion periods in the table to 1000 years, then it can be calculated that the extraction of antimony should be reduced of 96 %, that of zinc of 82 %, that of molybdenum of 81 %, that of copper of 63 %, that of chromium of 57 % and that of boron of 44 %. This is compared to the extracted quantities in 2010. These reduction percentages are high. The question is whether that is feasible. Moreover, would the price mechanism not lead to a timely and sufficient extraction reduction of scarce mineral resources?
The price mechanism fails
One would suppose that the general price mechanism would work: the price of relatively scarce mineral resource rises quicker than the price of relative abundant mineral resources.
TRENDS IN THE REAL PRICE OF SCARCE AND NON-SCARCE MINERALS IN THE UNITED STATES 1900-2015*
* The minerals have been classified according to their scarcity. The scarce raw materials in the figure are antimony, zinc, gold, molybdenum and rhenium. The moderately scarce raw materials are tin, chromium, copper, lead, boron, arsenic, iron, nickel, silver, cadmium, tungsten and bismuth. The non-scarce raw minerals are aluminum, magnesium, manganese, cobalt, barium, selenium, beryllium, vanadium, strontium, lithium, gallium, germanium, niobium, the platinum-group metals, tantalum and mercury.
My research makes clear that the price of scarce mineral resources has not risen significantly faster than that of abundant minerals. I demonstrate in my dissertation that, so far, the geological scarcity of minerals has not affected their price trends. The explanation might be that the London Metal Exchange looks ahead for a maximum period of only ten years and that mining companies anticipate for up to thirty years. But we must look much further ahead if we are to preserve scarce resources for future generations.
Eventually, the price of the scarcest minerals will rise, but probably not until their reserves are almost exhausted and little remains for future generations.
Technological opportunities are not being exploited
Are the conclusions I reach over-pessimistic? After all, when the situation becomes dire, we can expect recycling and material efficiency to increase. The recycling of molybdenum can be greatly improved by selectively dismantling appliances, improved sorting of scrap metal and by designing products from which molybdenum can be easier recycled. Alternative materials with the same properties as scarce minerals can be developed. Antimony as a flame retardant can be replaced fairly easily by other flame retardants. Scarcity will drive innovation.
Thirty to fifty percent of zinc is already being recycled from end of life products, but although it is technologically possible to increase this percentage, this is barely happening. Almost no molybdenum is recycled. Recycling is not increasing because the price mechanism is not working for scarce minerals. In the absence of sufficient financial market pressure, how can technological solutions for recycling and substitution be stimulated?
What should happen?
I argue that what is needed is an international agreement: by limiting the extraction of scarce minerals stepwise, scarcity will be artificially increased – in effect, simulating exhaustion and unleashing market forces. This could be done by determining an annual extraction quota, beginning with the scarcest minerals. Such an international mineral resources agreement should secure the sustainable extraction of scarce resources and the legitimate right of future generations to a fair share of these raw materials. This means that agreement should be reached on reducing the extraction of scarce mineral resources, from 96 percent for antimony to 82 percent for zinc and 44 percent for boron, compared to the use of these minerals in 2010. In effect, such an agreement would entail putting into practice the normative principles that were agreed on long ago relating to the sustainable use of non-renewable raw materials, such as the Stockholm Declaration (United Nations, 1972), the World Charter for Nature (UN, 1982), and the Earth Charter (UNESCO, 2000). These sustainability principles were recently reconfirmed in the implementation report of Agenda 21 for Sustainable Development (United Nations, 2016).
Financial compensation for countries with mineral resources
Countries that export the scarce minerals will be reluctant to voluntarily cut back extraction because they would lose revenue. They should therefore receive financial compensation. The compensation scheme should ensure that the income of the resource countries does not suffer. In exchange, user countries will become owners of the raw materials that are not extracted, but remain in the ground. An international supervisory body should be set up for inspection, monitoring, evaluation and research.
Not a utopian idea
In my dissertation, I set out the case for operationalizing the fundamental principles for sustainable extraction of raw materials, which have been agreed in various international conferences and confirmed by successive conferences of the United Nations. The climate agreement, initially thought to be a utopian idea, has become reality, so there is no reason why a mineral resources agreement should not follow.
Published on Peak Surfer on December 18, 2016
Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner
Even here in Xu Ling, where the air is relatively fresh, one needs to shower daily or the scalp itches. Yesterday we were asked in a class making Oregon cob whether you could use bean vines instead of straw. “Yes, but then it would not be Oregon cob. It would be Zhejiang cob,” we replied.
A woman from the Southwestern mountain region tells us she has only rock, not soil. “How do you store carbon in a place like that?” she asks. We ask where her rice comes from. “Far away,” she says. So we tell her that her yard would be a good place to build soil and store carbon. It is not a very satisfactory answer so later we find her and resume the conversation. We ask if her home has wooden doors and window shutters. It does. “That is stored carbon,” we say. We tell her that if she makes biochar and builds garden beds she can grow food almost anywhere and also store carbon. If she has a wood stove to heat her house and modifies it into a wood gasifier, she can be taking carbon out of the atmosphere while making fertilizer all winter. She could even get a little power for her house.
We didn’t bring along the Biolite so we have to settle for showing the Beaner and using the whiteboard to diagram how thermocouples make electricity. We find an old community kitchen wok and make biochar from dried bamboo splits, baking some potatoes while we do. We are informed that the Chinese word for “cool” is “ku.”
It is more than a little odd that some of these crafts have been so recently forgotten. In a recent study of composting practices for the State of Washington Department of Ecology, the authors recall the contributions of USDA scientist Frederick King:
The traditional farming practices of China, Japan and Korea recycled massive amounts of human waste, ash, crop residue and other biomass into agricultural fields. In 1909, the American agriculturalist F. H. King embarked on an eight-month tour of China, Japan and Korea in order to view and document agricultural practices. The resulting book, Farmers of Forty Centuries has become an agricultural classic. Part of King's purpose in the book was to contrast the enduring agriculture of Asia with what he viewed as destructive and wasteful practices then advocated by the US Department of Agriculture (Paull, J. 2011. The making of an agricultural classic: farmers of forty centuries or permanent agriculture in China, Korea and Japan, 1911-2011. Agricultural Sciences, 02(03), 175–180). King declared, "One of the most remarkable agricultural practices adopted by any civilized people is the centuries-long and well-nigh universal conservation and utilization of all human waste in China, Korea and Japan, turning it to marvelous account in the maintenance of soil fertility and in the production of food" (King, F. H. 1911.
Farmers of Forty Centuries. Dover, p. 193). As an indicator of the commercial value of this human waste he found that the city of Shanghai sold concessions to waste haulers, charging one contractor $31,000 in gold for the right to collect 78,000 tons of human waste for sale to farmers outside the city (p. 194). He found compost making to be a high art in Japan where prizes were offered in each county for the best compost. Winners at the county level went on to compete for a prize for best compost in the prefecture (p. 397). Although he did not specifically describe the use of charcoal in these composts, he observed that ash materials were added in large amounts. Moved by the thrift and care for conservation of nutrients that he observed on his travels, King expressed his frustration with the wasteful practices of his own country, "When we reflect upon the depleted fertility of our own older farm lands, comparatively few of which have seen a century's service, and upon the enormous quantity of mineral fertilizers which are being applied annually to them in order to secure paying yields, it becomes evident that the time is here when profound consideration should be given to the practices the Mongolian race has maintained through many centuries" (p. 193). Contrasting these Asian practices with those in America he said, "The rivers of North America are estimated to carry to the sea more than 500 tons of phosphorus with each cubic mile of water. To such loss modern civilization is adding that of hydraulic sewage disposal…" (p. 197).
Makato Ogawa, who studied charcoal traditions in Japan, described how biochar has been in used in Asia since ancient times, and that rice husk charcoal has likely been used since the beginning of rice cultivation. Wood charcoal was not generally used in agriculture as it was too valuable as fuel. (Ogawa, M., and Okimori, Y. 2010. Pioneering works in biochar research, Japan. Australian Journal of Soil Research, 48(7), 489–500.)
Nor was mixing biochar into smelly wastes to remove the smell confined to Asia. "Poudrette" comes from a French term meaning "crumbs" or "powder," the main ingredient, after humanure, being powdered charcoal. As European city sanitary standards gradually improved, the contents of "dry closets" (as opposed to "water closets" that flowed into cesspools and sewers and thence to the river) were emptied and their contents hauled to the outskirts of cities and mixed with ashes, peat, gypsum, clay, lime and more charcoal. It seems likely this was also the origin of the dark earths of the Amazon.
“A dead rat, nicely buried in a cigar box so as to be surrounded at all points by an inch of charcoal powder, decays to bone and fur without manifesting any odor of putrefaction, so that it might stand on a parlor table and not reveal its contents to the most sensitive nostrils” (Unknown Author, The Garden, 1873).
“Charcoal also possesses the property of absorbing and retaining the odoriferous and coloring principles of most organic substances… From this deodorizing property, charcoal is frequently mixed with night soil, and other decaying manures; which it keeps free from smell, and at the same time aids in preserving, by absorbing the gases which would otherwise escape.“ — A Cyclopedia of Agriculture (Morton, 1855)
Here in Xu Ling we are nearing the end of the weeklong ecological module. From the morning check-ins we know that most everyone in the class is starting to really “get” quantum entanglement and the ties between holistic management, the three permaculture directives, and the How Wolves Change Rivers film we showed. What is less clear is how they are going to be able to use this new understanding. The Chinese government is used to taking a long time to decide things and then ordering that they be done immediately, with near absolute powers of enforcement and draconian penalties. When we hear this we think of the IRS.
This exercise of raw power causes all manner of dislocations, as when the time-tested methods of organically farming these terraces for millennia were suddenly reversed by edicts from local authorities, requiring collection and “disposal” of all biowastes. That policy has reduced soil fertility and increased chemical dependencies, as well as burdening the already weak sewage treatment infrastructure.
Another example is when the Xu Ling labor force was suddenly uprooted and sent off to work in Apple and Microsoft gulags in Shenzhen. Now that these earnest young farmers know they must begin to rework the neglected hillsides to manage bamboo and mixed forests in order to restore biodiversity and save the valley’s fragile climate and water, will they be allowed?
We don’t know the answer to that, but we suspect they will. We are told Xi Jinping’s government plans to convert 5 billion square meters of Beijing reinforced concrete real estate into natural buildings. One of the students who has tracked China’s role in the Paris Agreement says that is probably the reason why. Another student has taken a Ianto Evans-style cob course from a US instructor named Leo. Leo apparently was pretty good because the kid knows his stuff. He could teach the builders that will be needed to transform that district in Beijing.
There are more than 40 different kinds of tofu here, but we have to say the real Godsend for us was the kind that is fermented to taste like miso. Chinese are particular about their rice, and since they eat it three times a day we have found it passing strange that while tofu comes in all styles, textures, flavors and colors, rice comes in only two: fluffy and soupy. Never is any salt or other flavoring added. You are supposed to discern the subtle flavors in how rice is bred or grown in much the way a sommelier knows wines.
For us that little red cube was the perfect addition to bland, soupy rice. Our chopstick skills that we thought were pretty good (sushi being a favorite food for us) suddenly seemed pretty lame, as the mute testimony of our shirt-front confirmed. While we were dropping greasy asparagus tips and picking our lima beans from the lotus roots and slimy okra stir fries in our lap, our host Haichao was sipping soup with his chopsticks after the fashion of a kitten lapping milk from a bowl. Personal highpoint: the baked lotus tunas that look like sunchokes except that you are supposed to peel them before eating.
The second week we concluded the first permaculture teacher training workshop in rural Zhejiang and left behind a few dozen certified permaculture teachers. We travelled North to Nanjing to attend a seminar hosted by the International Biochar Initiative and the Asian Biochar Research Center at Nanjing Agricultural University. While living in a rustic mountain village has not been easy, spending time in a busy Chinese city is not something we are looking forward to.
On our final day we decide to visit the grandmother who is the village tofu maker and watch her perform her weekly ritual. She starts very early boiling the beans and skimming off the skins, then grinding the milk and bringing it back to a boil. For a small, frail woman with skin like leather, she refuses to let anyone help her as she moves heavy buckets and stirs her cauldrons. The boiling milk is ladled into a wooden basin and she doses it sparingly with a liquified potassium salt to get it to curdle. It takes several small adjustments of the curding agent before it begins to separate the way she wants, and then she ladles off the curds into her pail — an old 5-gallon metal paint can — and carries the full bucket of hot curd out to an alley, where she sets up the wooden press and lines it with a well-worn cheesecloth. After several more trips, the press is full and she squeezes the cloth and sets a wood lid on the press and a full bucket of whey to weight it down. The tofu will sit this way for perhaps a few hours to form a solid block, which she then comes back to invert onto a tabletop, unveil, and slice into half-kilo bricks. As we wait for the pressing, we look around her shop at the tools, the old Mao posters and calendars, an award of some kind from her younger days, and the barred windows that keep thieves from stealing her soybeans.
— Xu Ling Village, Zhejiang, October 14, 2016
This is third in a continuing series.
Published on The Doomstead Diner on Jan 1, 2016
Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner
I can't tell you how old I was. I could walk and I could talk and I was with my father. I was a boy and I was fascinated by where we were. It was Indian Mounds Park in Saint Paul Minnesota and I had learned that the grassy mounds I was looking at were filled with human bones and that they were hundreds of years old. That is a fascinating thing to a young boy. There was no fence that I remember and nobody was around but my father forbade me from running to the top of the tallest mound like I wanted to do. He said that would not be respecting the dead.
Archeology fascinated me as a boy and I was taught that it was done with great reverence. Now at the other end of life from being a boy I suspect I was not being given the whole story. I was of a generation born after history had been rewritten. Indians were noble the past had been sanitized and American Indians had been integrated into American life. That is the myth I was taught. The thought of a pipeline going through sacred lands was preposterous to me. I was a boy raised in the time of an American Camelot and I was being raised in a big city. I did not realize that the country was also filled by the descendants of Americans who had wiped out our first nations people in cold blooded murder and these these people were proud of their own sanitized family histories. My fathers father had died as a missionary on an Indian Reservation as a minister for his church. I never knew him, he had already passed on by the time I saw the Indian mounds. My sanitized story was different from the decedents of Indian hating white savages but years would go by before I would understand how poorly the first people have been treated in America.
If you start to find out what is going on at Standing Rock you have to find out about the Indians and why they are there trying to protect the waters. From their point of view they are not protesting anything. They are trying to right a wrong and the truth is that is the truth. Indian land was Indian land until white people stole it from them. It started with the Sioux after the Fort Laramie Treaty in 1851 and the fact is that at the time the Sioux had the unfortunate destiny to encounter American westward expansion; First Nation Tribes were no longer considered to be Sovereign and Eastern tribes were being displaced and marched west in an 19th century Bataan Death March. The buffalo were wiped out as a result of deliberate government policy intended to wipe out the Sioux by taking away their food supply.
There was a string of genocidal massacres. One notorious one in which peaceful Indians were extirpated was led by a man named John Chivington.
"An estimated 70–163 peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho – about two-thirds of whom were women, children, and infants – were killed and mutilated by his troops. Chivington and his men took scalps and other body parts as battle trophies, including human fetuses and male and female genitalia."
The truth came out sort of and Silas Soule who disobeyed the order to participate in the massacre testified against Chivington in an investigation. Silas was murdered and Chivington went on to have a town named after him. Chivington CO. Chivington's reputation was tarnished by what he and his men had done at Sand Creek but his life was far from ruined and he never had consequences. Chivington is still there and that seems to be just fine with Colorado.
Evil has followed First Nations relations right to the present day. Leonard Peltier rots in jail forgotten and I doubt Hopey-Change will pardon him before he leaves office. The pipeline itself; I finally get to it; turns out to have been rushed through approvals using Bush Administration special legislation that leave no time for environmental impact statements. The whole project was fast tracked from the beginning and the pipeline was deliberately moved away from Bismark so it would be an Indian and not a white mans problem. It was moved so as not to threaten the Bismark ND water supply. Instead it threatens Sioux waters if it goes forward across the river.
For the moment the pipeline is stopped and now I need to say why because respecting First Nation wishes has little to do with it.
I am going to describe a man I know who has been to Standing Rock and is on his way back to stand with the First Peoples again. He and people like him have stopped, at least for the moment, pipeline progress. He is a veteran and it is not going to look good for the Morton County goon squad to mix it up with a group of white veterans who are willing to stand with the Sioux when water hoses start spraying in subzero weather and take it as far as it goes. That thought has embarrassed the Obama administration which was quite happily ignoring the dogs, pepper spray, rubber bullets and very heavy handed tactics that have been directed at the water protectors for months.
My friend is in this picture next to the man with the Capt. America shield. I understand the shield actually belongs to my friend. This picture has been used in the National Review in an article which totally misrepresents the Standing Rock situation. I am going to call my Friend Jake for the rest of this article. It is not his real name but like I said, he has gone back to Standing Rock. There is no need for me to explain more than that.
Jake was 17 when he joined the army and he went to Iraq in the initial invasion but he was happy to have returned before IUDs changed the Iraq experience into a nightmare. For Jake it was mostly a light show in the distance. His memories of Afghanistan are more troublesome because his unit lost several men in Kandahar province there. His unit had many purple hearts.
Last spring Jake began to follow events at Standing Rock and was appalled at the reports of violence being directed at the water protectors. Jake knows how to deploy violence and how to be effective in doing so. His ideas on violence are well developed and he feels that when it is used it needs to be used responsibly and for good reason. His experience as a vet has refined his beliefs. He told me that when an attack happens you do what you have to do and it is pretty simple. Take care of your buddies and stay alive and do whatever you have to do to survive. That kind of violence does not trouble him. Violence that troubles Jake is the violence of humiliation and power. He did not like the humiliation shown to locals when he was doing the military policing part of his job in Afghanistan and Iraq. He witnessed abuse of authority and it galvanized his beliefs.
Jake's experience in the military made him sensitive to abuse of power and his last straw was finding out about water hoses being sprayed on water protectors in freezing weather at the bridge into the camp. He had just found out that many other fellow veterans were having a similar reaction to his about the violence being directed against the water protectors and that got him on his way to Standing Rock to stand up against the paid for brutality of Morton County with his fellow veterans and the First Nations peoples.
Jake found himself in the middle of an experience when he arrived. A conglomeration of tribes is at Standing Rock and three different native security organizations administer the camp. They don't always get along and Jake watched them argue over trivia while he was trying to help organize a community center. Tribes which have historically been enemies have united at Standing Rock but memories of differences remain. A ceremonial Tee-Pee was erected that has not been erected since the Little Big Horn. It was kept by the tribe all these years. Despite all attempts at destroying it the culture, language, and religion of the Sioux remain. The original reservation has been reduced in size and the Federal Government has tried to pay the Sioux for some of their stolen land. They refuse to cash the check and want their land back. The local and state law enforcement personnel who control and have closed the bridge into the water protector camp are camped on federal land north of the water protector camp across the bridge they have closed which is also on federal land. Apparently they must all be there with Quo-Bama approval.
With the conglomeration of tribes and volunteers other people besides vets with a conscience have come to the camp. One known as Colonel Dave seems to be excessively helpful. Concerned with women safety he tried to start a rumor that their had been 24 rapes in the camp in the previous three weeks and security was doing nothing about it. Concerned that people might not be ready for the elements Dave warned as many as he could the day after pipeline work was ordered stopped that a huge blizzard was on the way and people should get out before it arrived. He convinced a lot of people to leave. Some with suspicions about Dave went through his things when he was away from his bunk. They found unusual radio equipment.
The tribes are teaching everyone who arrives that Standing Rock is a nonviolent action. Guests are there to protect the waters by passive nonviolent means. Law enforcement has been the author of all violence at Standing Rock and that is what attracted the veterans and which will hopefully kill the pipeline project. Sophia Wilansky was standing by herself not really doing anything when the concussion grenade was thrown at her which almost blew her arm off. Even if it does not have to be amputated her arm will never be the same. The injury was severe and the police account of the incident is bogus nonsense.
In the water protector camp people speculate that the pipeline is being built so oil can be exported overseas. I am sure that if the owners of the pipeline get it built and if they can make money shipping oil to China that is exactly what they will do. The pipeline project was not started by men of conscience. It was started by rich men who want to get richer and who really don't give a damn about anything else. These men planned heavy handed tactics to defeat opposition from the very start. Hopefully that will be their undoing.
Published on Peak Surfer on December 11, 2016
Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner
We were expecting 25 students but got 40, and on some days it even goes up to 50. Initially our hosts wanted to have a Permaculture Design Course but after we told them such an undertaking would require 2 weeks, including 72 hours of classroom time, and multiple co-instructors, they asked instead for a week-long introduction to the Ecological Key, part of the Ecovillage Design one-month curriculum offered by the Global Ecovillage Network and Gaia Education Associates. We helped author that module so we agreed, but then they needed to cut it to 6 days to factor in the national independence holiday and also asked if we could do an introduction to natural building as part of the course.
Reluctantly, we agreed, since it was only introductory workshop in any event, but then we had our expensive Japanese finishing trowel confiscated by airline security and lost our shiitake mushroom plug spawn to agricultural inspection in Beijing. Undeterred, we pushed on, arriving a day early to sleep off jet lag and get oriented to the venue.
An able team of young Xu Ling villagers and volunteers rushed about cleaning up an old hall in the center of town, laying in bulk food for the cooks, re-wiring everything and setting up wifi, a PA system with bluetooth microphones, and a big projection screen.
As we walked the steep stone steps of the village we saw essentially a ghost town. Eighty large family houses stood empty, abandoned to the elements. Skinny dogs picked through the central garbage bins, scattering plastics and bits of foil into the bubbling mountain brooks that wove through and under the ancient stone stairways. Chickens and ducks, apparently the only domestic animals raised for food here, wandered the streets and picked through scraps the dogs missed, or raided the kernels of corn laid out on cement terraces to dry.
The old townspeople looked favorably towards the arrival of young ecovillagers but knew all too well that they were gardening greenhorns, unused to the seasonal ebbs and flows, city kids with city addictions, so they tried not to get too involved with them, not expecting they would last long. How many winter mass starvations had they witnessed in their long and difficult lives?
The students begin to arrive, coming in from all four corners of the Middle Kingdom. We have a Mongolian student who shaves his head and wears the traditional topknot. We have several from the mountainous Southwest, along the Tibetan plateau, and some from North of Beijing where there are ecovillages being born on splendid and historic royal estates and former monastery grounds. The government is committed to assuring their success by giving them some of the best land in that part of China. Among the students are architects, ecovillage designers, professors, gardeners, post-grad ag students, city recycling activists and engineers. They come because either they support this back-to-the-land movement or they are getting serious about joining it.
Here in Xu Ling the land is not bad, just in need of TLC. The elderly farmers descend to their terraces every day and work them over with hoes and sickles. They bare the ground, again and again, a practice that destroys whatever microbiome is close to the surface and that somehow survived the heavy use of artificial fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, federally subsidized and liberally applied. The health clinic, still bearing slogans from the Cultural Revolution, is shuttered and padlocked and people go to distant hospitals to die so it would be difficult to look at the chemical fallout of this style of agriculture in an epidemiological way.
After a day of introductions and a village tour, we tackle the harder subjects. We don’t have a subtitled version of the late Albert Bartlett’s famous lecture, so we recapitulate with the assist of our able translators. We put up the equations for doubling times on the board and tell the story of the mathematician who introduced the game of chess to the emperor. This tale resonates well with the daytime TV soaps in most parts of China — a mix of KungFu and Mandarin intrigue. The emperor was very pleased with the mathematician and asked what he would like in reward. “Oh nothing much, sire, only a few grains of rice will do. Just place one on the first square of the board, and then two on the next, four on the next, and so on, until you have covered the board.” The emperor thought him a very foolish man, thinking he had been prepared to offer great treasures but instead the man wanted only a few grains of rice.
“Well, just how much rice is that?” Bartlett had asked his college mathematics class. The answer was, once you got to the 64th square, it was more than 400 times the global rice harvest this year, and perhaps more rice than had ever been grown in all of human history.
Our Chinese students ponder this, as we begin to describe the exponential function in terms of various percent growth rates and doubling times. We point to a few commonly understood rates like coal mining or fish catch. Then we introduce the bacteria-in-a-bottle analogy and the point is hammered home. If you have a bacterium in a bottle and it doubles every minute and at the stroke of midnight the bottle is full, then at what point is the bottle half full? Answer: one-minute to midnight. And we ask, as did Bartlett, when the bottle was 7/8 blue sky, “just yearning for development,” how much time was left? Answer: 3 minutes. Did the bacteria realize they had a problem? Probably not. But suppose by the time the bottle was 1/4 full (2 minutes to midnight) they did, and sent out astronauts in search of more bottles, and were extraordinarily lucky and in the final minute those bacteria astronauts came back with three new bottles. How much time would they have now? Answer: 2 minutes. To go another minute they would need 4 more bottles, and so on.
One hardly needs to hammer home this analogy with the pollution problems being experienced throughout China, or the global Ponzinomic pyramid of financial debt from deadbeat creditors that is knocking at their door.
China property prices rose at the fastest pace on record in September, fueling fears of a market bubble in the world’s second-largest economy. Property prices climbed 11.2% on-year in September in 70 major cities while prices were up 2.1% from August, according to Reuters calculations using data from the National Bureau of Statistics. In August, prices rose 9.2% from a year ago. Home prices in the second-tier city of Hefei recorded the largest on-year gain at 46.8%, compared with on-year gains of 40.3% in August. Top August performer Xiamen posted an on-year rise of 46.5% against an increase of 43.8% in August. Prices in Shenzhen, Shanghai and Beijing rose 34.1%, 32.7% and 27.8% on an annual basis respectively, according to Reuters.
We discuss with the class the concept of anti-fragility, as opposed to robust or resilient investments. Anti-fragile investments do well when things go south. Ecovillages are a good example. If you lose your net worth, you still have food security. If you produce a surplus in hard times, the world is your oyster. That leads to a discussion of organic gardening and soils.
After lunch we construct a compost pile near the kitchen. Our host community had been mixing organic wastes with the plastics and other non-renewables and just trucking it all down the mountain to the city landfill. We give our usual talk on epigenetic coevolution and quantum entanglement — we are our microbial selves — much to the consternation of a whole team of translators trying to keep up. We talk about the spiderwebs of biomes, fermentation, sick buildings, and end the day screening a subtitled version of The Man Who Planted Trees.
When we think of the stereotypes of Red China that pass for most USAnians as good reasons to vote Republican, we had best remember that this giant over there is largely our doing now. They are starting to wish they had not been lured into where they find themselves. It is best for all our sakes to encourage that.
The fourth day began with a mixed blessing. Walking back uphill from breakfast — indistinguishable, really, from the other two meals of the day — and pining for a Starbucks double espresso, we heard the shouts of a farmer down in the terraces below. He was pointing up to the village, shouting, and running. We watched in amazement as this man in at least his sixties sprinted up the steep stone steps, his conical bamboo hat bobbing behind his head as he shouted and pointed. Turning our gaze to where he was pointing, we saw the column of black smoke rising from the center of the village while around us other elderly villagers were rushing uphill, some passing by us at a dead run up the steps, carrying empty pails and plastic dish basins.
When we reached the fire, huffing and puffing and feeling pain in our knees, the students were already there, organizing themselves into a long chain to pass buckets from one of the many streams or taps to positions surrounding the building. It was clear that the first building, which had been storing winter firewood, was a lost proposition, as flames extending up through the roof now reached twice the height of the building. The attention of our makeshift fire brigade, led by our young cadre of engineers and architects, shifted focus to the adjacent home, and started dousing the outer walls and roof of that with all the water that could be brought to bear. When the Hangzhou fire department arrived, after about 45 minutes, the students and villagers already had it under control.
This was a blessing in unexpected ways, because it allowed the old resident villagers to feel the strength of our youthful ecovillage spirit. Where they had been running in ones and twos back and forth to the spring, we had set up a bucket brigade and delivered a lot of water where it was needed in a hurry. We responded rapidly and self-organized efficiently. It also let us feel our strength as a group in a pretty profound way, even though most had only met three days earlier. Lastly, it gave a good reality check to city kids accustomed to having things like fire departments they could speed dial on their smart phones.
Rather than jump back into the planned lesson, we chose to take an hour or two and let the adrenaline subside. We went around the circle and let everyone release what they wanted to say. It was a good chance to talk about planning for catastrophe, a standard element in any permaculture curriculum. We looked at how we had responded, what could have been better, and what was missing in the village’s own response.
Normally, when we do this virtually anywhere else in the world, the greatest concern is always climate change. Not one of the fourteen or more groups even mentioned that.
We had our work cut out.
Ripe persimmons and chestnuts
leaves starting to fall
summer heat lingers too long
— Xu Ling Village, Zhejiang, October 2, 2016
Published on Cassandra's Legacy on December 10, 2016
Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner
Google Trends shows a remarkable spike in the interest for the coupled terms "climate" and "hoax". Does that mean that people are becoming more skeptical about climate science? Or simply more interested in the subject? On this point, Google Trends tells us that there has been no special change in the level of interest in the general subjects of climate change and global warming. The interest is specific in the coupling of "climate" and "hoax." And, if we couple the terms "climate", "hoax" and "Trump" we see that there is a clear correlation.
So, it seems clear that the rise of Donald Trump has emboldened science deniers, who are more active than before. Qualitatively, it is a trend noted also by "DeSmog" and others. That doesn't necessarily mean a change in the distribution of the opinions on the danger of climate change, still deadlocked in what I termed "trench warfare in the climate wars". Instead, The election of Donald Trump may lead to an even sharper polarization of the US public opinion on climate. Most likely, the virtual trench warfare will continue for quite a while, and we can only hope that it won't become real warfare.
Published on Peak Surfer on December 4, 2016
Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner
It is Wednesday September 28 and we are sitting on the plane in Nashville waiting to take off for Hangzhou via Detroit and Beijing. This China trip is merely a warm-up for our Fall itinerary that has us traversing four continents in four weeks, including six ocean crossings. It is almost like a presidential campaign whistlestop tour, except they never utter a word about the thermometer in the room and everywhere we land we are making our pitch for reversing climate change by the redesign of the built environment. It is understandable that politicians won’t touch this subject. We are shredding the mystique of the land use patterns, collectively called civilization, that have served humans so poorly for the past eight millennia.
We spent August in Tennessee developing the lesson plans for the introductory workshops that will train a couple dozen soil activists in the People’s Republic and we are feeling pretty good about this stage of the trip now.
Then, in the run-up to blast off, we were tagged teamed by John Dennis Liu and Daniel Wahl, who wrangled us into cancelling scheduled events for late October and going straight from China to London for a meeting to assist British Commonwealth countries to prepare a new plan for COP-22 in Marrakech, one that will raise international ambition and stake out “plausibly impossible” but attainable goals to push the envelope of the Paris Agreement and the UN multilateral process. On October 28-29, a design charette, dubbed Regenerative Development to Reverse Climate Change, will give us the opportunity to make our elevator pitch to a very receptive audience of big wigs.
Now it is September 29 and we have left Hangzhou airport and driven 3 hours up winding roads into the mountains at night, eventually arriving at the Xu Ling village where our workshops will be held. Quail are singing to each other in the terraces, frogs croak from the creeks, and from the forested mountains there is the sound of a distant owl. Three hundred years before Lao Tsu, this small village was home to a sage named Wu Xixu, later to become the first Premier of the country. The mountain pass above the village is a relatively low one, so for thousands of years the main stone road between Shanghai on the coast and inland Nanjing, capital city for many empires, ran through here. When the pass was blocked in winter, porters would use a cave passage that crossed from Zhejiang to the adjacent province under the mountains.
As we rose the morning of October 1st we jotted a quick Suessian limerick:
There was a young man named Wu
Who came from the village of Xu
They thought him so fair
They made him Premier
This fellow they called Wu from Xu
XuLing village is at 29 North so having 29C days in October is not unusual, kind of like Mississippi or Alabama. They get snow in winter but they also have thatch palm and heliconia trees. The valley is a South-facing parabolic with mountains backing it to the North. The upper slopes of the valley are very steep but varied with different woods and bamboos. There is plenty of water; it flows through stone channels everywhere. Some of the trees we see are more than 1000 years old.
The stonework is of varying age; the oldest being most mostly massive freestack and then smaller, cut freestack, then fine mortared walls, then mud brick and cinderblock. Mud brick is illegal now — an overworked resource that has left ugly scars in many places. Cement brick and block is mandatory. Not even fired brick is permitted unless it is imported.
As we meet some of the villagers and students who have arrived for our workshops we observe that Chinese clothing is very westernized. Shoes are almost always state-of-the-art Nikes, Converses, Adidas and T-shirt slogans are usually in English even if the wearer doesn’t speak a word and may have no idea what it means. But surprisingly, many have done at least a year at a US university. Sometimes the ensemble of hair, glasses, clothes and iPhone 7 is so western you think the kid is USAnian except that when you ask them something they can’t comprehend a word. In contrast, there are kids who’ve learned almost perfect English just by watching internet movies and TV and prefer to affect old-style Chinese dress and hair styles, even the round glasses from a century earlier.
This contrast between the old and the new will be a recurrent theme of our month here. While many Chinese youth are enamored of consumer culture and willing to make great sacrifices to attain it, the Chinese ecovillage movement is mostly retrofuturist, showing deference, if not nostalgia, for lost culture. They seek as much a return to villageness as a breath of cleaner air and sip of cleaner water.
They are bucking a big trend, but lately they have been finding support in unusual quarters. Eleven years ago, the current President of China, then Governor and Party Committee Secretary of Zhejiang, went on a State visit to the rural villages to assess the needs of the people. What he discovered was a brewing catastrophe.
Globalization has been drawing people from the country to the cities for many decades, and until recently government policies encouraged it in order to fill the need for a gargantuan factory labor force. It recognized that this policy meant sacrificing agricultural capacity, but like most developing countries, was willing to make that trade-off because it figured that it could import food with its newly favorable trade balance, and a whole lot more.
What Xi Jinping saw nearly broke his heart. Long a champion of “Chinese values” and the “Chinese Dream,” Xi had hoped to revive Taoist practices of harmony in culture and nature. "He who rules by virtue is like the North Star," he said at a meeting of officials last year, quoting Confucius. "It maintains its place, and the multitude of stars pay homage.”
What he saw in the rural countryside was that all the teenagers, young people and middle-aged had left. There were only the very elderly — the grandparents — and the very young — the grandchildren — being supported by a combination of welfare services and remittances from distant families working in the cities. The terraces, on land too steep to use machinery, were in disrepair, overgrown with weeds and emergent forest. Buildings were crumbling and stray dogs roamed the streets. Food production had plummeted. The old hand tools were rusted and broken. The forests on the hillsides had been raided by timber companies and now mudslides wrecked the streams and threatened the villages.
Back in Shanghai, Xi gave a speech calling for two mountains. The first was development, including basic services to make peoples’ lives better. The second he called his “mountain of gold” — return of nature. Pure forests and pure water was what he called the real gold of China.
This was 11 years ago. In 2013 he became General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, President of the People's Republic of China, and the Chairman of the Central Military Commission, the most powerful consolidation of power since before the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.
We are told that one reason the Sunshine Ecovillage Network has been successful in winning official support for its plan for rural revitalization in China, with a goal of 100 ecovillages by 2021, is that it chose to launch here in Zhejiang province, where the two mountains were first revealed to Xi Jinping.
This is first in a continuing series.
Published on Peak Surfer on November 27, 2016
Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner
"We think there’s an outside chance that humans may possess the collective will and presence of mind to do what must be done, and to do it quickly, even if it means radically altering, even abolishing, industrial civilization."
Two years have passed since we produced a video mashup for a winter Indiegogo campaign, our last big crowdfunding effort. It was a trifle dour, we admit, but as the Earth tilts its Northern Hemisphere away from the sun and daylight gets scarcer, the plant-world moves underground, and we bundle from the cold, it is easy to fall into thoughts of contraction and decline.
The 4 per 1000 initiative (the French government’s campaign — 4 grams increase of soil carbon per year in every kilogram of farmed earth) remains the best game in town, whether your town is Paris, Marrakech, or in 2017, Bonn. It would, in the French government's theory (supported by IPCC's notion of a "carbon budget" but called into question by the latest report cards from the Tyndall Centre and others) be enough to hold climate change at 1.5 degrees, if universally adopted.
That 2014 COP-20 proposal, “Soil for food security and climate” became part of the “Lima-Paris Action Agenda” and then, two weeks ago at COP-22, the “Global Climate Action Agenda,” but the word 'soil' only made it once into the Marrakech Action Proclamation at the end of COP-22, and that was in reference to the venue being "on African soil." The word 'agriculture' was completely absent.
However, if you read the outcome document liberally to assume the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), or the UN's pledge system, constitutes the action agenda at present, then there may still be some hope.
While the 4 per 1000 initiative gained no new additions to the 37 nations who endorsed in Paris, many NDPs are starting to reflect the realization that putting carbon back in the ground might be a cheap way to meet their goals. This includes the United States, which last May issued a “Climate Smart” agriculture and forestry plan. The word 'biochar' does not appear in that 60-page plan. Pyrolysis is only mentioned in the context of a way to reduce methane from concentrated animal farming wastes. This is the US-DUH, remember?
The influence of heroic biochar researcher Hans Peter Schmidt was evident at the margins of the event, where Swiss biotech company Zaluvida Corporate AG pitched for venture capital from business leaders to support its natural solution to reduce methane emissions in cows, Mootral(TM). Mootral is a feed supplement made from biochar infused with garlic and citric extract. Just 10 grams a day reduces bovine flatulence 30 percent while increasing weight gain and lactose production. According to the literature handed out by Zaluvida, feeding every cow a daily dose of Mootral would be the same as taking 200 million cars off the road. An antibiotic version is scheduled for release next year after it receives patent approval.
Published on Epiphany Now on December 5, 2016
Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner
Published on The Doomstead Diner on December 3, 2016
Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner
Peter D. Ward is a paleontologist who has authored a number of books for the general reader, often on the subject of mass extinction. His most successful book was Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe (with Donald Brownlee, 2001). His latest is, A New History of Life: The Radical New Discoveries about the Origins and Evolution of Life on Earth (2016). For this book, Ward’s co-author is Joe Kirschvink, a prominent geobiologist. Through three hundred and fifty-six pages, they survey the three and a half billion years of Evolution, drawing largely from recent scientific papers. Rare Earth and A New History of Life serve as bookends to a very pessimistic conclusion: Fermi’s Question (aka his Paradox) is not paradoxical at all. That our species even exists is the non-supernatural definition of a miracle.
The ‘radical thesis’ of A New History of Life consists of three interconnected themes:
-Planetary catastrophe has been the principal driver of Evolution.
-Radical changes in the concentrations of three simple gases, oxygen, carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide in the atmosphere or the oceans, dictate the fate of Life.
-Ecosystems perish and novel ones emerge because of these events.
Now to our story, thus far:
4.567 billion years ago (now that is a neat mnemonic!), two rocky planets in nascent orbits around our Sun crossed paths into collision. Their dense cores of iron and nickel melded together within what became our Earth, while a halo of vaporized rock condensed into our companion Moon. Rare Earth contains a list of vital consequences that result from this single astronomical accident. Some that I recall from it:
-The Earth received a disproportionately large metallic core, one that provides a very strong magnetic field that shields us from cosmic radiation and breaks the solar wind.
-With that core the Earth acquired an extra dose of uranium and thorium, and the internal heat from that boosted radioactivity has intensified and prolonged its geological transformations. In contrast, the Moon received very little of this fissionable material and has long been geologically dead. Moreover, the mass of the Moon formed largely from ejected silicate rock, and the loss of this lighter material from Earth has made its crust relatively thin, which permits plate tectonics and continuous volcanic emissions.
-The collision knocked Earth onto a tilted axis, which creates the seasons of each year and influences longer cycles of climate.
-Planets can wobble, and the relative large size of the Moon stabilizes Earth’s orbital axis.
-The Moon has progressively slowed Earth’s rotation to lengthen its day. It stirs the ocean’s tides, and gives illumination to the night.
In the absence of these phenomena, Life on Earth would be very different.
A recent paper offers another significant hypothesis
Earth's carbon points to planetary smashup
"Research by Rice University Earth scientists suggests that virtually all of Earth's life-giving carbon could have come from a collision about 4.4 billion years ago between Earth and an embryonic planet similar to Mercury."
"… a new answer to a long-debated geological question: How did carbon-based life develop on Earth, given that most of the planet's carbon should have either boiled away in the planet's earliest days or become locked in Earth's core?"
In the beginning, The Big Bang created the Heavens. Eight billion or so years later, a colossal accident created the Earth, and it was good. Catastrophe appears to be the Mother of Us All.
From astro- and geophysics, we move to biophysics, and the actual Creation of Life. This pathway of biochemical synthesis may always remain unresolved, but in A New History of Life Ward and Kirschvink find favor with Life’s possible origin on the planet Mars. In this scenario, ancient Mars provided the right environmental conditions to jumpstart primitive cells, which then traveled to sister Earth as ejecta from asteroid collisions. If true, this would be another addition to the Rare Earth hypothesis – the fortuitous proximity of a seedbed planet.
Whatever Life’s origins, it found an Earth little like ours. The most critical difference was the atmosphere. Currently, it is primarily nitrogen and oxygen, with ‘trace amounts’ of water vapor, carbon dioxide and argon. The primordial atmosphere was nitrogen, methane, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and water vapor, with near total absence of oxygen. It is important to note that the intense greenhouse effect of this ancient atmosphere existed with a much fainter solar output. As the Sun ages, its output of energy grows, and will eventually boil Life on Earth away.
In the absence of free, molecular oxygen, the metabolism of the original life forms used sulfur. There is speculation that the first microbes were chemoautotrophs that consumed the hydrogen sulfide and carbon monoxide that spewed from thermal vents in the ocean floor, with the clear irony being that those gases are extremely toxic for much of present Life. Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) is a gas released by volcanic activity, and the original photosynthetic pathway used it instead of water (H2O) as the requisite donor of electrons. Photosynthetic sulfur bacteria still exist and they remain very consequential.
A billion years might have elapsed before an alternative a photosynthetic pathway evolved, one that substituted water for hydrogen sulfide. These emergent cyanobacteria then had a twin advantage for evolutionary success. First, while hydrogen sulfide is relatively scarce, there were vast oceans of water, the feedstock of their oxygen-based metabolism. Second, the free oxygen that their new model of photosynthesis produced as its by-product would directly kill their sulfur-using, anaerobic competition. That free oxygen is highly toxic to hydrogen sulfide using organisms, and vice versa, is a key part of the second major theme of Ward and Kirschvink.
With the appearance of oxygenated photosynthesis came the first, and perhaps greatest, of Earth’s Mass Extinction Events — the Great Oxygen Event, or Catastrophe. Not only did the oxygen makers drive the original, sulfur-using microbial ecosystem to near extinction, their exuberant growth drew down (in as little as a million years) the high carbon dioxide content of the Earth’s atmosphere, converting it to a layer of organic detritus on the ocean floor. The free oxygen also reacted with methane, scrubbing this more potent greenhouse gas from the atmosphere as well. In those times of a cooler Sun, the greatly diminished greenhouse effect allowed the oceans to freeze, almost completely solid. Co-author Kirschvink was the first to formulate and name this second phase of mass extinction. He called it Snowball Earth.
There followed a pulse of such Cryogenic Extinctions. Each time the planet froze up, so did the cyanobacteria, which permitted the carbon dioxide from volcanoes to accumulate and increase the greenhouse effect. But with each thaw, the cyanobacteria bloomed again, plunging the planet back to Snowball. The authors think it took 200 million years to establish a more stable carbon cycle, where microbial scavengers metabolized the dead material from the ocean bottoms and respired it as carbon dioxide to sustain a warmer planet.
However, in that shallow, warming ocean, the usurped sulfur-based organisms then resurged and retook Earth from their oxygenated rivals, by turning the oceans and atmosphere toxic with rising concentrations of hydrogen sulfide [search Canfield Oceans]. For a period stretching from two to one billion years ago, oxygenated life remained suppressed. Green and purple sulfur bacteria dominated the warm oceans; their hydrogen sulfide wafted high into the atmosphere and reacted with the ozone layer; high levels of ultraviolet radiation beamed through and sterilized the Earth’s surface. Throughout this time, the level of atmospheric oxygen was below ten percent, a threshold necessary for animal life. After searching its strata in vain for complex life, paleontologists dubbed this period as ‘The Boring Billion’. More pointedly, Ward and Kirschvink describe this long reign of the sulfur bacteria as the ‘Evil Empire’.
What brought the ended the Boring Billion? Perhaps it was the rise of the continents. Iron eroding from them and reacting with H2S in the oceans, precipitated out the sulfur as iron pyrite. Starved of their feedstock, the sulfur bacteria declined and the oxygen-lovers bloomed again. Two more Snowball episodes followed, but as a more stable carbon cycle became established, the level of atmospheric oxygen continued to rise, and the sulfur bacteria retreated into marginal niches, such as the bottom of the current Black Sea, where they remain today.
However, fabled Planet Gaia still failed to emerge.
The evolution of Life on Earth would continue from careen from one Mass Extinction Event to another. 635 billion years ago, the oxygen level rose high enough for multicellular animals to make their belated appearance. And it appears that these motile and hungry organisms caused the late Vendian-Endiacaran Extinction, by grazing away the former placid ecosystem.
New fossil evidence supports theory that first mass extinction engineered by early animals
The late Cambrian Extinction followed next, where most species of trilobites and many unique animal body plans were lost forever. An anomalous shifting of the Earth’s crust and mantle around its core and spin axis may have brought about this one, a theory called True Polar Wander.
Planet Earth may have 'tilted' to keep its balance, say scientists
Next came the Ordovician Mass Extinction, the first of the so-called ‘Big Five’ events. Mainly, this wiped out tropical species, by a combination of planetary cooling and great changes of sea level. The cause might have again been geological, another episode of True Polar Wander, but recently has come an alternative explanation: Complex plants were moving onto dry land.
Weathering of rocks by mosses may explain climate effects during the Late Ordovician
"During the Ordovician period, the concentration of CO2 in the earth's atmosphere was about eight times higher than today. It has been hard to explain why the climate cooled and why the Ordovician glaciations took place. A new study, published in Nature Communications, shows that the weathering of rock caused by early non-vascular plants had the potential to cause such a global cooling effect.
"Although they do not have real roots, they affect the surfaces on which they grow: the release of various organic acids dissolves underlying rock minerals. This process of dissolution and chemical transformation of rock minerals is called chemical weathering. Non-vascular plants and lichens may considerably increase weathering rates of the rock surfaces on which they grow. This has important implications for the climate system, since chemical weathering of silicate rocks such as granite results in a drawdown of atmospheric CO2 and may therefore lead to global cooling."
According to Ward and Kirschvink, a more general mechanism for mass extinction now emerges.
"They [green and purple sulfur bacteria] can be thought of as the evil empire. And in the Devonian, Permian, Triassic, Jurassic and Middle Cretaceous, this empire stuck back…"
The Devonian Mass Extinction took three quarters of Earth’s species, in particular the marine animals. The authors speculate this is the first of what Ward has termed Greenhouse Mass Extinctions. The killing mechanism: increased volcanic activity strengthens the greenhouse effect, bringing planetary warming. As the difference in temperature between the poles and tropics diminishes, the prevailing winds and ocean currents stall. Unstirred, the oceans stratify, and at their bottoms, oxygen declines. There, the absence of free oxygen permits the sulfur bacteria to bloom, and the Evil Empire makes its toxic return.
The Permian Mass Extinction shows clear evidence of this scenario. This is the worst of the extinction events, with maybe 96% of species perishing – paleontologists refer to it as ‘the Great Dying’. Beneath a greenhouse atmosphere, ocean temperatures spiked to 40C (104F) and on land, reached 60C (140F). As the oceans turned purple with sulfur bacteria, the hydrogen sulfide erased the ozone layer and tinted the sky to a toxic shade of green. In both air and water, the hydrogen sulfide reached levels that were lethal to most animal life. In addition, oxygen levels plummeted to between ten and fifteen percent and stayed there for five million years. At sea level, that oxygen content was the equivalent to what we find on high mountain peaks, so that most land elevations above a thousand meters would not support complex organisms at all. The ‘Great Dying’ might have occurred over a mere fifty thousand years but it took ten to twenty million years for biodiversity to recover.
The next Greenhouse Mass Extinction was protracted, with two or three phases of killing spread over millions of years. This one ended the Triassic and extended into the Jurassic. The authors propose (as does a stubborn clique of paleontologists) that the dinosaurs were already dying out from this Greenhouse mechanism, when the Chicxulub asteroid struck its coup de grace and ended the Cretaceous.
In all, Ward and Kirschvink offer a list of Ten Major Extinction Events. We currently experiencing Number Ten, titled as the Late Pleistocene-Holocene Mass Extinction. They cite its duration and cause:
"From 2.5 million years ago to today – climate change and human activities."
Ten major extinctions and the inadvertent, destructive properties of Life itself appear as the principal cause of seven or eight of them. To James Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis of a self-regulating Biosphere that maintains an Earth fit for life, Ward counters with his ‘Medea Hypothesis’:
"…multicellular life, understood as a superorganism, is suicidal; in this view, microbial-triggered mass extinctions are attempts to return the Earth to the microbial-dominated state it has been for most of its history. It is named after the mythological Medea, who killed her own children."
To characterize Life on Earth as a ‘super-organism’ with intentions is a stretch, but what is evident is that the Earth System is chaotic over long periods and its Biosphere frequently crashes, via the Greenhouse mechanism, to a more microbial ground state. In the fossil record, Ward and Kirschvink find evidence for more than ten such extinction events, of varying intensity. The last one came with the Paleo-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) of 50 to 55 million years ago. They surmise the causative mechanism was a ‘new assassin’—the catastrophic release of methane clathrates – which accumulate from the activity of methanogenic bacteria. Their colleague Francesca McInerney helped them to provide a description:
"…this event is highly relevant to us humans, as the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere, about 12,000 to 15,000 gigatons, is roughly equivalent to what we humans are releasing over time by our industries and energy use. The temperature change caused [by] elevated greenhouse during the PETM made the world 5 to 9 centigrade warmer than it is now. The actual event lasted on order of 10,000 years. The plants that were present in her field area [now western North America]… were mainly plants that until the PETM lived in lower latitudes and thus at higher temperatures. After the event the old plants came back, as did the insects that were present prior to 10,000 years of literal hell on Earth. But not so the mammals. This event caused a wholesale change in the North American mammalian fauna."
If our Civilization proceeds on its current path, then several millennia in Hell may be the minimum we can expect. By the way, I myself am a North American mammal, as are most of the beings that I most cherish.
As much as the first animals, we know not what we do with our newfound powers:
"Although Darroch is studying events that took place 540 million years ago, he believes there is a message relevant for today. "There is a powerful analogy between the Earth's first mass extinction and what is happening today," he said. "The end-Ediacaran extinction shows that the evolution of new behaviors can fundamentally change the entire planet, and today we humans are the most powerful 'ecosystems engineers' ever known." [From ‘First Mass Extinction Engineered by Animals”]
That brings us to the third theme of A New History of Life: Ecosystems perish wholesale and different ones arise in their place. The mammal-like reptiles predominated before the Permian Mass Extinction Event. Afterward, Dinosaurs ruled the Earth, and the book details how they were better adapted than mammals to that hot world with lower levels of oxygen. In very ancient times, species of clams were the builders of the great marine reefs; long after these mollusks went extinct in hot, toxic seas, corals filled their empty niche. What is to build the next Great Barrier Reef? What is to replace us? The final chapter, under the sub-heading ‘The End of History’ contains a hint:
"A final prediction of Ward’s Medea hypothesis is that it should pertain to every planet with life, and that there is only one way out of this suicidal box that life creates simply through existing: intelligence. The intelligence to see the future. One such future is that our species expands its habitat first to Mars, then to the asteroid belts, and finally to other stars. Another future is that the carbon dioxide we are pumping into the atmosphere causes all the ice on Earth to melt, raising sea levels, slowing the thermohaline circulation patterns, bringing stagnation followed by anoxia to the ocean bottoms, and then into ever-shallower waters, at the same time liberating toxic levels of hydrogen sulfide to percolate out of every single ocean. In that future, only animals with very good gas masks will survive.
"History is an early warning system."
It is my opinion that humans are much too fragile, dull-witted and uncooperative to ever journey to other stars or even to settle Mars. I suppose the only intelligence that can replace us will be that of our machines – aluminum and titanium resist hydrogen sulfide better than flesh, electric motors run without oxygen, and silicon bonds are stable at much higher temperatures than those of carbon. Deus ex Machina, indeed.
To all of which, you may retort to me, as have others, “So what? That’s life. The dinosaurs were not missed, and neither will we be.”
The difference is that no other being has entered extinction fully aware of that finality; nor did it suffer the guilt of being complacent and complicit in the tragedy, no, in the crime and the sin of it all. So fuck all of you ‘minimizers’ and your shallow nihilism. Kurt Vonnegut Jr. once gave such an attitude to one of his most cynical characters:
"I realized," said Trout, "that God wasn't any conservationist, so for anybody else to be one was sacrilegious and a waste of time. You ever see one of His volcanoes or tornadoes or tidal waves? Anybody ever tell you about the lce Ages he arranges for every half-million years? How about Dutch Elm disease? There's a nice conservation measure for you. That's God, not man. Just about the time we got our rivers cleaned up, he'd probably have the whole galaxy go up like a celluloid collar. That's what the Star of Bethlehem was, you know.”
"What was the Star of Bethlehem?" said the driver.
"A whole galaxy going up like a celluloid collar," said Trout.
Breakfast of Champions, pg73
This essay began with the proposition that our existence is so improbable as to meet the definition of a miracle. Humans have fought and continue to fight bloody crusades over worthless holy places. What are we willing to do to preserve this Rare Earth and the miracle of our existence? If you think it is already too late, I must confess that you may be right. My hopes now depend on whether this Civilization, this Evil Empire, will quickly meet with Collapse and that will open a narrow space, a pathway to survival. The theme of A New History of Life, taken up by this pretentious essay, is that we are the very children of Catastrophe. So here is my prayer:
O Mother Catastrophe, please hear us now, and grant your children a merciful intervention.
Published on The Doomstead Diner on November 30, 2016
Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner
In less than a week from now as I begin writing this article, the Army Corps of Bozos threatens to dismantle the encampment of mainly First Nations people which has grown nearby the Standing Rock Reservation of the Lakota, the small neighborhood these folks have left as they were rounded up while Europeans marched across the continent and stole everything from these people. They stole the land, they stole their culture and they stole the lives of millions, bringing disease incubated in the agricultural system they developed to them as well. Diseases like the Smallpox were intentionally inflicted on these people to clear them from the land, passing out the Smallpox infected blankets. They had no immunity to this disease, since they were not running farming for the most part and did not live in close proximity to many other mammals that could spread such a disease. The population was decimated, more than 90% of the aboriginal population disappeared within a century. It was the greatest exercise in Genocide ever performed on this planet, far surpassing the genocide of the Jews during the Holocaust in the WWII era. It was entirely purposeful, and every "law" the Europeans had on their own books was violated along the way. Every treaty was broken, there was no justice ever in all of it. It was pure and simple theft and murder all along the way.
Disease was not the only vector for Death though, the Indian Wars were non-stop through the 1800s as the Manifest Destiny of Europeans to conquer the continent was undertaken. They came to a close more or less with the Massacre at Wounded Knee, which occured on Dec 29, 1890. It occured at the Lakota Reservation at Pine Ridge in South Dakota.
The previous day, a detachment of the U.S. 7th Cavalry Regiment commanded by Major Samuel M. Whitside intercepted Spotted Elk's band of Miniconjou Lakota and 38 Hunkpapa Lakota near Porcupine Butte and escorted them 5 miles (8.0 km) westward to Wounded Knee Creek, where they made camp. The remainder of the 7th Cavalry Regiment, led by Colonel James W. Forsyth, arrived and surrounded the encampment. The regiment was supported by a battery of four Hotchkiss mountain guns.
On the morning of December 29, the troops went into the camp to disarm the Lakota. One version of events claims that during the process of disarming the Lakota, a deaf tribesman named Black Coyote was reluctant to give up his rifle, claiming he had paid a lot for it. A scuffle over the rifle ensued and by the time it was over, more than 150 men, women, and children of the Lakota had been killed and 51 were wounded (4 men and 47 women and children, some of whom died later); some estimates placed the number of dead at 300. Twenty-five soldiers also died, and 39 were wounded (6 of the wounded later died). At least twenty soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor. In 2001, the National Congress of American Indians passed two resolutions condemning the awards and called on the U.S. government to rescind them. The site of the battlefield has been designated a National Historic Landmark. In 1990, both houses of the U.S. Congress passed a resolution formally expressing "deep regret" for the massacre.
Nearly a century later, there was yet another Standoff at Wounded Knee which began on February 27, 1973, as Russell Means and Dennis Banks led a standoff between the FBI and AIM, the American Indian Movement of the 1970s on the Pine Ridge reservation. Dennis Banks eventually got jail time, Russell Means became a famous Movie Star portraying such characters as Chingachcook in "Last of the Mohicans"
The Wounded Knee incident began on February 27, 1973, when approximately 200 Oglala Lakota and followers of the American Indian Movement (AIM) seized and occupied the town of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The protest followed the failure of an effort of the Oglala Sioux Civil Rights Organization (OSCRO) to impeach tribal president Richard Wilson, whom they accused of corruption and abuse of opponents. Additionally, protesters criticized the United States government's failure to fulfill treaties with Native American people and demanded the reopening of treaty negotiations.
Oglala and AIM activists controlled the town for 71 days while the United States Marshals Service, FBI agents, and other law enforcement agencies cordoned off the area. The activists chose the site of the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre for its symbolic value. Both sides were armed, and shooting was frequent. A U.S. marshal was shot and paralyzed in March. A Cherokee and an Oglala Lakota were killed by shootings in April 1973. Ray Robinson, a civil rights activist who joined the protesters, disappeared during the events and is believed to have been murdered. Due to damage to the houses, the small community was not reoccupied until the 1990s.
The occupation attracted wide media coverage, especially after the press accompanied the two U.S. senators from South Dakota to Wounded Knee. The events electrified American Indians, who were inspired by the sight of their people standing in defiance of the government which had so often failed them. Many American Indian supporters traveled to Wounded Knee to join the protest. At the time there was widespread public sympathy for the goals of the occupation, as Americans were becoming more aware of longstanding issues of injustice related to American Indians. Afterward AIM leaders Dennis Banks and Russell Means were indicted on charges related to the events, but their 1974 case was dismissed by the federal court for prosecutorial misconduct, a decision upheld on appeal.
Wilson stayed in office and in 1974 was re-elected amid charges of intimidation, voter fraud, and other abuses. The rate of violence climbed on the reservation as conflict opened between political factions in the following three years; residents accused Wilson's private militia, Guardians of the Oglala Nation (GOONs), of much of it. More than 60 opponents of the tribal government died violently during those years, including Pedro Bissonette, director of the Oglala Sioux Civil Rights Organization (OSCRO).
So now here we are once again, and this time it looks like the LAST STAND for the Lakota. Thousands of "Water Protectors" have gathered at the site of the Dakota Access Pipeline. According to press releases over the last week, the Army Corps of Bozos expects these folks to leave the encampment on December 5th and go…somewhere else. To an officially sanctioned Protest Spot where in theory they won't hinder the continuing construction of the pipeline…
Now, let me ask you, how effective could a protest be if it is not actually at the site of where the problem is? It would be like Occupiers occupying some park in New Jersey while protesting against shenanigans going on on Wall Street, rather than Zucchini Park in the Belly of the Beast. If a State is Sanctioning a "protest", then HTF is it a protest? If you only have Free Speech when and where the state says you have Free Speech, HTF is that Free Speech? Not to mention of course, if you're not causing SOME kind of ruckus, nobody in the media will cover it! That includes the alt-media as well as the MSM. The Dakota Access protest has been ongoing and building for a solid 7 months, but even here on the Diner I only got wind of it back in August, and made my first post on this movement back then. It had been going on since at least April before that physically, and in meetings and legal actions before that. But nobody knew about this, including yours truly.
So, to get this particular exercise in protest going, the Water Protectors had to get publicity, which at first came just through the Social Media, but expanded to YouTube with the publication of Amy Goodman's video documentary for Democracy Now! That REALLY revved it up for the Water Protectors, as the DAPL Security Gestapo sicked Attack Dogs on the Water Protectors. That was such bad publicity it got Obama-sama to ask the Army Corps of Bozos to do a review of their permits, and there was a brief period of VICTORY celebration for the Water Protectors. Destined not to last of course, and construction on the pipeline quickly resumed after this brief commercial interruption.
So now here we are this week, with the Gauntlet supposedly thrown down by the Army Corps of Bozos for these folks to get off the "Federal Property" they are currently occupying and move to a Free Speech Zone. Ostensible reason for this is that winter is hitting any they're not "safe" where they currently are. How stupid is that? It's not going to be any warmer a few miles away in the FSZ. Plus they already have their current encampment winterized.
Now, one question posed inside the Diner was, "So how come the tribal leaders didn't show up at the hearings when the original permits were granted?".
The answer to that should be obvious. Nobody in the First Nations believes that any treaty will be upheld or they can get any real justice in the White Man's Court. You can hardly blame them after 250 years of having one treaty after another broken and watching their lands taken from them and being forced down to ever smaller reservations on the worst land. They have the highest rates of incarceration of any group and the highest rates of poverty. If they're not on the reservation, they're in prison.
So, particularly when facing down Big Oil and the Big Banks salivating over the big commissions they would get to seal this deal, they simply stood no chance at a hearing, and going to Washington would have been a waste of time and money.
What changed the equation in April was that a Movement began after one of the locals put up a video on Facepalm and asked people to come join her and make a stand. Come they did, slowly at first just a few dozen, but then the word got out and it snowballed. They came by the thousands, currently there are estimated to be 5000 Water Protectors on site. A group of Veterans, the "Oath Keepers" are set to bring in another 2500 or so to stand with the First Nations people, along with many white folks from the Environmental movement. Between when I am writing this now and when I publish, there is time for a lot more people to show up there as well. So you are probably looking at at least 10,000 people there on D-Day for the Water Protectors, possibly more.
From Da Goobermint side, how many Gestapo can they field or will they field to try and clear this camp? Da Goobernator of North Dakota, Dailpimple has already spent over $10M to send in militarized police to try and intimidate the Water Protectors, and for this shindig has thrown the ball back at Da Feds saying it's THEIR job to clear the encampment. That would mean Obama-sama has to call in the National Guard, and lots of them. Now, how does that one look for the legacy of an outgoing POTUS who supposedly was a champion of the underclass?
These folks are not going to leave that spot unless they are forcibly removed, a request from His Highness Obama-sama is not going to do the trick. To do that will take a LOT of boots on the ground, along with stuff like LRAD, Water Cannon and Tear Gas. That may get the people off the spot for now, but it will produce a lot of ugly publicity, through the Social Media at least if not on the MSM where it is sure to be whitewashed and the blame placed on the Water Protectors for not obeying the command of the state.
What seems more likely is that this will get stretched out until Trumpty-Dumpty is installed as POTUS, and he will certainly be happy to send in the Goon Squad to prove how tough he is. Besides, he owns stock in DAPL.
Another question raised is if these folks are so concerned about their water supply, how come they aren't out protesting the millions of gallons of toxic sludge pumped into rivers every day all over the country? Well, the thing is that is precisely what they are protesting, this particular pipeline is a symbol for that. People have been protesting these pipelines for more than a decade now, but they virtually always get beaten down by the Energy industry and Da Goobermint which backs it up and takes it's orders from Big Money, not the will of the people.
There have been ongoing protests against Environmental Destruction going back at least as far as Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, with the heyday of the movement in the 1970s with the first "Earth Day". Environmentalists won a few battles, but mostly only because factories and mining were being shipped offshore to other countries with cheaper labor. With respect to the Energy Industry though, they have mostly lost all the battles, with all the "accidents" like the Exxon Valdez and the Deepwater Horizon, and the many pipeline leaks and oil train derailments and leaking ash ponds that occur all the time but generally don't get much new attention.
According to the DAPL press department releases, the pipeline is "safe", and they also are building a new water intake pipeline to serve the reservation, some 70 miles away from the current location. This is a contradiction right off, because if the oil pipeline is truly safe, then why would you need to build a new water intake? It's also ridiculous because in the event of pipeline failure, you have millions of other people living downstream of it, and you can't build new water intakes for all of them. Even if you could, the water source would still be polluted.
It's also ridiculous to claim such a pipeline is "safe", when everybody knows that ALL infrastructure wears out and breaks eventually. How long does a typical car last? Usually 5-10 years MOST before all the piping and systems are breaking down. These companies can always get the upfront money to build them, but they never have enough money to keep them maintained and replace them. So all over the country you have aging pipelines that are starting to crack and leak. There were two in the southeast when I took my trip to the Carolinas for the SUN☼Project. This brand spanking new pipeline might have a low probability of leaking now, but in a few years it would be in the same sad shape as all the rest of our infrastructure, which includes not only the pipelines but the electrical grid and the roads and bridges too.
As we spin down here in the final days of the Age of Oil, people are sick and tired of being steamrolled over, particularly the underclass which never really saw many of the benefits of the industrial economy. Many of them are so impoverished even inside the FSoA they can't even afford a Used Car and the gas it takes to run it, so they don't get that benny. Most of them probably don't grasp that the end of this also means the end of electricity on demand and that food will become a lot more scarce here as the system breaks down. However, the current system is not working for them and never has, and they would like to see it ended.
Although protests like the DAPL may be an increasing feature of life as we move forward in collapse, in the end this is not what will kill the "Black Snake" that is supposed to bring oil from the Dakotas to Illinois, then further on down to refineries in Lousiana and Texas to be turned into gasoline and diesel to keep the Happy Motoring lifestyle going. What will kill it in the end is the economics of it. Industrial society depends on CHEAP oil, and the Oil they can drag out of Bakken Shale deposits does not come cheap. An increasingly impoverished population is not going to be able to afford the Oil fracked up there and ejaculated at the other end to make refined products from it. Besides that, fracked wells deplete rapidly, so there are only at best a few years to get more product up, and that's not enough time to pay off the debt issued out to build the pipeline in the first place, much less to enable continuing maintenance on it. One can only hope the oil stops flowing through it before it starts pouring into the Missouri River.
What we are witnessing here is the Death Throes of a Civilization based on the thermodynamic energy of fossil fuels. Through the 250 years or so since it began in Jolly Old England with the invention of the Steam Engine, the promise of a Better Tomorrow for everyone on the planet has been used to keep this system going, making a few people rich beyound measure and a relatively small group of nations in the First World living in comfort. Third World people saw the images from Hollywood and they all aspired to the same thing. Overall though, most of the world never got the bennies provided by industrialization, what they got were jobs at slave wages and their own subsistence farming cultures destroyed by the cheap food coming from industrial farming. Now this is all going away, and all that is left is a disgusting sewer of pollution, which is probably worst in places like India and China, but not all that great in the FSoA either.
The realization is penetrating the minds of all now, and so you begin to see these sort of resistance movements cropping up. The standard political dialogue is breaking down and new war theaters pop up each day, creating still more refugees streaming toward places that are already overcrowded themselves. Goobermints try to maintain control through the use of the force of the Police State, and what is occuring in North Dakota is a prime example of that. While they may succeed with this one, the writing is on the wall and the same type of civil wars you have seen over the last decade in MENA will come to the First World also. Probably Europe before the FSoA, but it will make it here too. There is no Exceptionalism in a Civilization Collapse.
If in this battle the Water Protectors lose and the Energy Profiteers win and they are forced off the land and the pipeline is completed, I believe it will only spawn a larger movement to follow. I also highly doubt that this movement will remain non-violent if the non-violence isn't working to rectify the issues they are protesting.
Dec 5th, 2016 will not be the end of the battle against the Black Snake. It is not even the Beginning of the End. It does mark however, the End of the Beginning.
Published on Peak Surfer on November 6, 2016
Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner
–> We are selling timeshares to help build residences for our trainees. "
- Local organic food
- Drinking water
- Waste treatment
- Weekly cleaning
- Trash collection
- 10yr maintenance and repair
- Booking, rental & admin.
In a few hours we shall be landing in Marrakech. We plan to hawk these timeshares to some of our activist friends during COP-22. Our agenda is drawdown. We are betting that some of those attending will see the value of that too. But just to be sure, before we left home we planted more than enough trees to cancel out the climate costs of all this crazy travel.
Published on Cassandra's Legacy on November 18, 2016
Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner
Jay Wright Forrester (1918-2016) may have been the source of inspiration for Hari Seldon, a fictional character in Isaac Asimov's Foundation series. In Asimov's novels, Seldon develops "pyschohistoric equations" that allow him to predict the impending collapse of the Galactic Empire. In the real world, Forrester developed "system dynamics equations" that allowed him to predict the impending collapse of the modern human civilization. The predictions were ignored by the Imperial powers of both the fictional and the real universe.
Jay Forrester, one of the great minds of the 20th century, died at 98, a few days ago. His career was long and fruitful, and we can say that his work changed the intellectual story of humankind in various ways, in particular for the role he had in the birth of the Club of Rome's report "The Limits to Growth"
In 1969, Forrester was a faculty member of the MIT when he met Aurelio Peccei in Italy. At that time, Peccei had already founded the Club of Rome, whose members were worried about the limits to the natural resources that the Earth could provide. They were trying to understand what the consequences would have been for humankind. From what Peccei wrote, it seems clear that he was seeing the situation mostly in Malthusian terms; thinking that the human population would have been growing until reaching the resource limits, and then stay there, kept in check by famines and epidemics. The main concern of Peccei and of the Club of Rome was to avoid human suffering by ensuring a fair distribution of what was available.
The encounter with Forrester changed this vision in ways that, perhaps, neither Peccei nor any of the Club members would have imagined. In the 1960s, Forrester's models were already well advanced. Based on a completely new method of calculation that Forrester had dubbed "system dynamics," the models were able to take into account how the many variables of a complex system interacted with each other and changed in time.
The result was the study that the Club of Rome commissioned to Forrester and to his research group: simulate the future of humankind over a time range of more than a century, all the way to 2100. Forrester himself prepared a complete study with the title "World Dynamics" that was published in 1971. A group of Forrester's students and coworkers prepared a more extensive study titled "The Limits to Growth" that became a true intellectual revolution in 1972.
Forrester's system dynamics provided results that proved that Malthus had been an optimist. Far from reaching the limits to growth and staying there, as Malthus had imagined, the human civilization was to overshoot the limits and keep growing, only to crash down, badly, afterward. The problem was not just that of a fair distribution of the available resources, but to avoid the collapse of the whole human civilization. The calculations showed that it was possible, but that it required stopping economic growth. That was something that nobody, then as now, couldn't even imagine to do.
You know how things went: I told the story in my book "The Limits to Growth Revisited". Forrester's work was mostly ignored, but the better known "The Limits to Growth" study was not only rejected; it was actively demonized. The legend of the "wrong predictions" of the study was created and it spread so much that it is still widely believed. Yet, the intellectual revolution that was the creation of System Dynamics never died out completely and, today, world modeling is returning. We need to study the future in these times of great uncertainty. It is difficult, unrewarding, and often leading us astray. But we must keep trying.
Perhaps of Forrester's unknown achievement was of having inspired Isaac Asimov for the character of "Hari Seldon" in the famous "Foundation" series that Asimov wrote starting in the 1950s. We have no proof that Asimov ever met Forrester or knew his work, but they both lived in Boston at the same time, so it is at least possible. Then, Hari Seldon and Jay Forrester share similar traits: both are scientists who develop powerful methods for prediction the future. Seldon develops a field known as "Psychohistory" while Forrester developed "System Dynamics." In both cases, the equations predict that civilization will undergo a collapse. In both cases, the scientists are not believed by the Imperial authorities of their times, fictional or real.
In Asimov's story, Seldon goes on to create "Foundation" a planet where the achievements of civilization are kept alive and will be used to rebuild a new civilization after that the collapse of the old one. The plan succeeds in Asimov's fictional universe. In our case, the real Earth of the 21st century, nobody seems to have been able to create a safe haven for the achievements of civilization that we can use after the collapse. Seeing how things stand, maybe it is the only hope left?
But, maybe, Asimov wasn't directly inspired by Forrester for his Hari Seldon. Maybe he was just inspired by the archetype of the wise man that, in human history, has been played by people such as Merlin, Laozi, Kong Fuzi, Prince Gautama, Socrates, and many others. Perhaps Jay Forrester deserves to be listed among these wise men of old. Perhaps, the wisdom that Forrester brought to us will come handy in the difficult future that awaits us.
Forrester's achievements are many besides those of World Modeling. He developed a completely new magnetic computer memory that became the world standard, he developed a complete programming language (called "dynamo"), he is the originator of several fundamental ideas in system management: the "bullwhip effect," the concept of "Urban Dynamics"; of "Industrial Dynamics" of the "leverage points" in complex systems, and much more. A true genius of our times.