Environment

The Strafing Run of Mother Nature 3: The Dimming Bulb Aftermath of Irma

 

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Published on The Doomstead Diner September 12, 2017

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http://www.doomsteaddiner.net/blog/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/NEusa_space_night.jpg A while back I wrote a series of articles called "The Dimming Bulb", discussing our decreasing ability to keep electric power moving through the copper wires of our electric grids to the end Konsumer as we slide down the Seneca Cliff on the far side of the Age of Oil.  This aspect of energy decline in availability and affordability is often overlooked in the face of all the problems that come from the transportation industry and lack of fuel for the Carz and Trux.  In fact though, it may well be that lack of ability to keep electricity moving through our metro areas with high populations and a voracious need for this power may be what brings TEOTWAWKI before lack of gas for Happy Motoring does.

Just about everything in our society depends on having electricity on demand.  To begin with, the residential konsumers of the JUICE in Florida are currently watching their freezers defrost and if they are not cooking or drying the meat they have stored, they are going to lose a lot of food to begin with.  All the large municipalities have sewage treatment plants that use gobs of electricity.  How well and how long these can be run on backup generators is an open question.

You definitely CANNOT run all the streetlights of a city like Miami or even fucking Naples on backup generators, so until you have general grid power restored those suckers are LIGHTS OUT.  Would you feel safe walking around the streets of Miami with no streetlights functioning?

A day after the Big Event everyone is breathing a "sigh of relief" here that they "dodged a bullet", but the real problems of recovering from such a broad swath of devastation remain ahead.  It remains an open question exactly how quickly Florida Power & Light can restore the grid statewide, and until they do BAU for people without power just isn't possible.  How many currently have potable water coming out of the taps?  No statistic on that is available AFAIK.  How many have had their carz ruined and can't get to work, if they still have a job to go to?  Somehow I doubt many people will be stopping at Starbucks tomorrow for a Frappucino on the way to work.  How are people who have little to no savings and live paycheck to paycheck going to pay their rent if they lose the next 2 weeks of work?

I woke up just in time this morning to see Irma make landfall in the Florida Keys here in the FSoA.  Not much in the way of Newz or Info coming out of the Keys since then.  I imagine Key West was pretty much flattened St. Maarten's style, although maybe not quite so bad since she hit in Key West at low Cat 4 wind speeds.  She picked up some translational speed from the crawl speed across the north Cuban coastline, scooting up to 14 MPH to make the rest of the trip across the straights to make a second landfall near Naples, FL on the West Coast.

This location for GROUND ZERO disappointed some Doomophiles who were hoping for a full on Eyewall decimation of the skycrapers and hotels in Miami, which did not occur.  The concept that we "dodged a bullet" here or that this event was a "dud" because Miami wasn't completely wiped out is only in the mind of the Kollapsnik who was looking forward to total devastation of that city.

What occurred instead was a much more widespread event, over the whole of the Florida Peninsula.  It could have been much worse of course, either a run up the east or west coast would have kept hurricane strength longer and brought more storm surge in.  Instead, after making landfall in Naples, Irma worked her way into the interior, more or less targeting Orlando and Disney World while the wind speeds dropped to Cat 1 and then to tropical force winds.  As I write this now, she is just south of Orlando, and points north of the former center and eye are still being hit with powerful rain bands, along with possible Tornadoes hitting along that route.

From here, she is scheduled to head north into Georgia still packing Tropical Force winds and a lot of rain is destined to fall around Atlanta with some decent remaining wind behind it, so you are going to get more flash flooding and more downed power lines in that neighborhood as well by the end of the week.  All of which speaks to the INFRASTRUCTURE problem, which is the real problem here, not the wind speeds Irma had on landfall in one particular location.  This is a behemoth which is affecting the entire Florida peninsula and beyond.

http://www.9news.com/img/resize/content.firstcoastnews.com/photo/2017/09/11/FLOutages_330AM_1505116561081_10790693_ver1.0.JPG?preset=534-401 The main issue already obvious tonight is that 7M Florida Power & Light Konsumers of Energy are currently without power.  This exceeds the record previously held by Wilma with about 3.5M customers without the JUICE, and that is a LOT of wire to restring over a very broad area.  Currently, Houston 2 weeks after Harvey STILL has about 200K Energy Konsumers without power, and they didn't lose near so many with Harvey, and distributed over a much smaller area.  Irma has basically taken out the electrical system of the entire state of Florida!

In any number of ways, you can say FL "dodged a bullet" here, in that it could have been much worse if Irma hadn't decided to do a Strafing Run on Cuba before heading for the FSoA.  Heading for the West Side of FL, Miami was spared the worst of a dead on hit from the eye wall, although they still lost 3 cranes, have plenty of flooding and the power is out to most of the county.  The West Coast track turned out less bad than expected also, as the Eye moved inland pretty early so Tampa/St.Pete was spared inundation from storm surge.

Less Bad than Expected was of course much less bad as what occured in St. Martens and Barbuda, and also apparently across the north Cuban coastline inclduing Havana, where stories are still sketchy from at this point but they are apparently still under a lot of water, with many of the new Tourists Hotels in bad shape.  I don't think anyone will be booking vacations in Cuba anytime in the near future.

Far as Florida is concerned, although no single location got the ULTIMATE in destruction (well, except maybe Key West which probably got flattened). 7M 12M customers without electric power is a LOT of wire to re-string!  According to the "authorities", they have 17,000 linemen including an undisclosed number from out of state ready to spring to the job on Monday Morning of getting the JUICE back to their Florida customers, who are currently sweltering in the Florida heat & humidity without HVAC while their Frozen TV Dinners go bad in the Freezer.  Considering after 2 weeks there are STILL around 200K people without power in Houston, one can figure it will take at least a month to get the full grid back online in FL, since the outages are spread over a much wider area.

Waking up Monday morning, we are in the post-coital phase of the intimate contact with Irma, and for the most part the pols are indeed crowing about how we "dodged a bullet".  Miami took some flooding, sure, but they flood all the time these days.  OK, we lost 3 cranes, but we have dozens of them!  OK, the power is still out, but no problem, the crews from Florida Power & Light will have the lights back on in a jiffy!  Back to BAU in Miami in no time! 🙂

The NEW UPDATE though is that it's not 7M without power, now it's up to 12M!  That's basically the whole fucking state of Florida, they only have a total population of 20M!  From WaPo:

That was the grateful mantra on the lips of many on Monday, even as an estimated 12 million Floridians prepared for a dark night without air conditioning in the muggy post-storm swelter. Though there was significant property damage in the Florida Keys and in some parts of southwest Florida, officials said it was remarkable that so far they are investigating just a small number of fatalities that came as the storm made landfall. It was unclear how many were directly related to the storm.

The lack of electricity across most of South Florida was the most pressing and crippling problem. Millions could remain in the dark for days or even weeks as utility companies struggle to navigate impassable roads and floodwaters to slowly restore power.

http://a.abcnews.go.com/images/US/irma-hurricane-damage-naples-florida-drone-ht-jc-170910.gif Things not so good over in Naples though, and even worse down in the Florida Keys, where the "authorities" won't be letting anyone back in until at least Tuesday while they asses the integrity of all the bridges connecting this string of low-lying islands built up as Tourista Resorts over the course of the Age of Oil.  This is the "Margaritaville" neighborhorhood Jimmy Buffet made famous.  When Jimmy first hit it big time as a rock star, the first thing he did was buy himself a yacht and park it in Margaritaville as a getaway if things ever went south for him.  After that he got into planes too.  As has become obvious here, Magaritaville and the Banana Republics may SEEM like bucolic safe havens in the good times, but they have their own set of risks and overall are not sustainable in the least in the way they are currently inhabited.

Doing still WORSE than the Florida Keys are the Tropical Paradises of St. Maartens and Barbuda, which actually did get hit full on by Irma while she was a Cat 5 packing 185 MPH wind speeds.  Both islands basically LEVELLED, and now descending into chaos while their various Colonial Owners the Brits, Frogs and Little Dutch Boys scramble to organize up food aid and police protection from roving gangs of Zombies.  All three countries are sending in additional Police/Military to try and restore "order" on these islands.  Ex-Pats are huddled in their McMansions in fear of the next Home Invasion, although they probably have nothing left to eat either, since anyone stupid enough to be living in a McMansion in one of these places probably did not have a large supply of Preps either.  These are the type of folks who go out the day before a hurricane is due to hit to buy batteries and bottled water.  That is prepping up to them.

Economically, it's hard to see how these islands will ever recover to be the Retirement Paradise they were for apparently about 75,000 Brits, not sure how many Frogs or Dutch Boys.  The cost to restore Barbuda was estimated in one article to be around $100M.  There were something like 1600 people living on Barbuda when Irma came knocking on the door for a short vacation there, so that comes to $62,500 per person, which includes the poor locals who serve as maids and cooks and drivers as well as the retirees who are mostly living on pensions.  You think any of them has $62,500 to pony up here to rebuild the infrastructure?  Hell no, the Brit Goobermint will have to do it, and they can't even maintain the infrastructure on their own island these days.

http://www.cruisemapper.com/images/ships/595-eff4f8c0e5d1.jpg Beyond this, MOST if not all of the Ex-Pats whose Mailbox Money incomes drove the economy will not stay in these places now, they are going to grab the first plane flight or boat ride out of there and never go back.  Carnival Cruise lines is already sending ships for them.  The infrastructure won't be rebuilt for a long time, if ever.  The Brits, Frogs and Dutch are not going to fork over the money necessary to rebuild these places, they are total money losers now and for the forseeable future.  The income generation capability they had as Tourista destinations is gone.  All they will do is try and get the current set of Ex-Pats out of the place and then let the locals Twist in the Wind.  Best they can hope for is that their citizenship as a Homo Sap born in one of these colonies will allow them to move to the Home Country, but they don't have much money to make that trip and probably no relatives or support structure to grab onto once they get there.  They have a bit higher status than the refugees from Syria and Afghanistan, but not much.

There probably will be consolidation of these people on the islands that did not take such a bad hit, which will of course only serve to strain their resources also.  The destitute Newbies will be despised by the locals and a drain on their own limited resources.

Electric power is only part of the problem of course, MOLD & MILDEW are a bigger problem long term.  One has to remember that many of the flooded "buildings" aren't buildings at all, they are trailer homes which if they were flooded, the owner simply waits for the water to recede then puts all his stuff out to dry in the hot Florida SUN.  Except by the time he does this a few days later, the MOLD has already taken hold, and it is almost impossible to get rid of when it does in a trailer.  McHovel owners can strip out drywall and MAYBE eradicate mold, but getting it out of a trailer when it takes a grip is about impossible.  You have to TOTAL it at this point and send it to the Land of Away in some junkyard or landfill, but the people who own them and live in them usually can't afford to replace them.  Add another Human Soul to the list of Homeless People.

https://cbsnews3.cbsistatic.com/hub/i/r/2017/09/02/00644710-b6df-436e-9649-c1c6b6ac883d/thumbnail/1200x630/c78359b109a3e532127aed2188819f7b/cbsn-0901-harveycleanupmrv-1388178-640x360.jpg Because this wasn't the "Ultimate Disaster" it might have been, the MSM will likely quickly forget it as they have already forgotten about Harvey & Houston despite the fact more than 200,000 people remain without power and over 20,000 are still in shelters.  There will be a new and better disaster to focus on in short order.  It will likely take quite some time to get all the electric power restored, if they can even do that before the next one rolls ashore.  Meanwhile, these repair bills don't come free you know, Da Federal Goobermint doesn't just hand out free money to fix up your local grid. The money is loaned to the Municipal Goobermint, which then has to raise taxes in order to pay for this new Bond Issue.  Problem here would be that local Municipal Goobermints in FL (and everywhere else) ALREADY can't collect enough taxes for bills they ALREADY have!  You think cutting a few more Teachers of Sanitation Workers off the payroll will pay to restring all the wire in Florida?  Not too likely.  However, for BAU to continue forward, these loans MUST be issued out, and they will be backed by the Full Faith & Credit of Da Federal Goobermint, which of course itself is ALSO quite bankrupt.

This will keep working until it doesn't.

The Strafing Run of Mother Nature 2 – The Path of Total Destruction

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Published on The Doomstead Diner September 10, 2017

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…or perhaps, the Eve of Destruction

 

https://www.gannett-cdn.com/-mm-/9f2c77c49ee5c8c5597ec74afecf329ec1d3fc20/r=540/https/media.gannett-cdn.com/29906170001/29906170001_5562846439001_5562840325001-vs.jpg As I begin writing this article, it is 3PM Alaska Time on Thursday, September 7, 2017.  Cat 5 Hurricane Irma has already begun her Strafing Run to destroy Industrial Civilization even faster than it can do it by itself.  Irma follows closely on the heels of Harvey, which focused it's attention on the center of the Oil based economy, Houston, Texas and left it in ruins.  In "normal times", Houston and the cleanup would still be the focus of the MSM newz, since most of the area is still a complete disaster scene.  Even FEMA admits it is a cleanup which will take "years".  These are not "normal times" however, they are the "NEW Normal Times".

In the New Normal, there is a new and bigger disaster every week, which is great for a Collapse Observer and Writer, but not so great for the millions of people living in a given disaster zone.  Even while these climate related disasters get ever larger and more frequent though, you have a large cadre of Politicians (mostly Repugnants) who remain deniers of Climate Change or Ocean Heating.  Which is pretty amazing they can get away with since we have direct data from Da Goobermint's own agency of the NOAA that shows unequivocally that the Total Heat Content of the Oceans has risen over an order of magnitude since 1975.

https://c479107.ssl.cf2.rackcdn.com/files/20580/area14mp/gvzj8y37-1361767576.jpg

What happens when you put a pot of water over more heat?  Do you get more steam or less steam?  More, duh.  So in this case, the Ocean is putting more water vapor up into the atmosphere.  The Global Oceans are just a very big pot of water.  More water vapor in the atmosphere means more water available to come down in buckets once the system moves its way over a land mass.  It also means a lot more energy available to the storm, because on falling DOWN, all the energy stored in raising the water UP gets released.  Remember the Law of Conservation of Energy"Energy is neither Created nor Destroyed, only transformed from one form to another".  In this case, the heat energy used to crank the water UP into the atmosphere is mostly transformed on the way DOWN into mechanical energy reflected in the terrific wind speeds we are now getting with these behemoths.

 

Irma made her first landfall in the Antilles and Virgin Islands, to absolutely devastating results on some of the islands, which were basically levelled.  Some of the worst hit were St. Maartens and Barbuda, but few of them got away unscathed.  Death toll numbers coming in from those islands are currently in the low double digits (publicly), but communications have been out there for a couple of days and rescue teams can't make it to many areas on these islands either.  The Death Toll there will undoubtably rise over the coming days/weeks/months ahead, but for now everyone's eyes are turned toward each new destination on the Strafing Run of Irma.

As I pick up on writing this article on Friday, Irma finished her Strafing Run on the Carribean Islands, and made her way to the North Shore of Cuba.  As you can see above, what she left in her wake in the Virgin Islands was a wasteland.  The above satellite photograph is of the island of Barbuda Before & After.  Not only the McHovels of the Locals and the McMansions of the Ex-Pats were flattened, so was all the vegetation as well.  The island was basically stripped of every Palm Tree that grew there over the last 20 years at least.  Maybe they can put in Plastic ones with spring loaded breakaway bases that will lay flat in the next Cat 5, then spring right back up after it is over!  I'm sure the Touristas won't notice the difference!

Little Newz at all coming from Cuba, even though it's a few hours since Irma made First Contact there, but NOAA Sat imagery shows it has been raking the coastline which is scattered with numerous fishing villages all now undoubtable completely flattened.  Hopefully, the Cubans in those locations found some refuge, although given storm surge and the fact these folks do not have a whole lot of transport ability to do a Bugout, it's hard to see where they would shelter or how.  Will we ever get accurate casualty numbers out of Cuba on this?  Unlikely.

Tonight here from my perch in Alaska I just watch the Satellite Imagery from the NOAA website to see when Irma makes her turn Northward to Strafe Florida.  The track has moved progressively westward through the evening as Irma has lingered longer than expected by the computer models devasting the north coast of Cuba.  In the latest RGB image I opened, it looks like the turn may be beginning.  These things come agonizingly slow for the doom watcher.

On the latest & greatest Sat & Track forecasting from NOAA, It looks like First Contact comes from the Western/Gulf side, which might be good because it is slightly less populated than Miami-Dade, but on the other hand bad because it keeps Miami in the NE Quadrant of the Hurricane for the entire time it traverses the Florida Straights, where it is projected to further strengthen.  It's already back to Cat 5 status, and southern Florida is already feeling the effects from the Outer Bands, with 25,000 Energy Konsumers already without power and Irma hasn't even left the north shore of Cuba yet!  She has tracked far enough along that coastline now that Hurricane force winds are battering Havana, given the immense size of the storm.

As I awaken on Saturday morning here in my Perch on the Last Great Frontier, Irma still is pummeling the north coast of Cuba, and my mistake, the archipelago Keys along the north coast are no longer populated by mostly fishing villages.  This area has seen a lot of development since the FSoA and Cuba decided to "normalize" relations, which amounts to allowing Amerikan Touristas being allowed to Vacation in Cuba and Amerikan Banksters to further exploit Cuba.  Which also means those islands on the northern edge of Cuba have seen a lot of resort hotel development over the last couple of years.  They are TOAST.  The Insurance industry will take a nice hit from this Strafing Run also.

cone graphic Irma's jog westward in the forecasts has made some changes to the devastation to come here in the FSoA, depending on how well it holds up.  As of now, it looks like instead of skirting the East Coast of Florida, she will skirt the West Coast.  In both scenarios, the Florida Keys will be decimated.  There are old-timers down there who refuse to leave, they are goners.  But if you are 70 years old and on Social Security living in your Van because there is no affordable housing down there anymore for any but the 1%, WTF else would you go?  And just how far could you GTFO of Dodge at this point?  Maybe you could make it to Jacksonville…maybe depending if you could get gas along the way.  If you didn't make the decision to GTFO of Dodge 2 Days ago, you are SOL now.  You will stay where you lay, and you will either make it through the maelstrom or you won't.

Meanwhile on the Mainland of Florida, they are now in a complete state of PANIC.  The folks who did not get out early are now lined up in Traffic Jams and can't find available gas at the convenience stores to keep moving on their Bugout to the house of some relative in Atlanta.  The folks who could not Bugout at all because they don't have a car are now lined up outside "shelters" to hunker down for the duration of the storm.  These shelters are generally hastily organized from large facilicities with a lot of space available, Talladega Speedway in Alabama for instance is opening up the racetrack for Refugees from Irma, and inside the local Miami area pretty much every school gymnasium is being set up as a shelter, but the reality is there are far too many people living in this zone that you could possibly shelter them all in buildings that are sturdy enough to withstand the winds, and then if you get inundation from Storm Surge you are equally fucked in a concrete building as a stick built one, if the water rises above one story in height you will be flooded.  Beyond that over the course of a day or two is the Potable Water problem and the Sanitation problem in these shelters.  Toilets don't flush once the water rises past ground level.  Further down the line the problem is what do you do with the people living in the shelter after Irma blows through town and they no longer have homes, just piles of flooded rubble?  It's not like they can go back to the McHovel and take up BAU life again just because it stopped raining.

Before we get to the problem of how to get them OUT of the shelters once they are in them is the problem of getting them IN to the shelters before the storm arrives. Finally after days of dawdling on this, Da Goobernator of Florida Rick Scott ordered a "mandatory evacuation" for much of south Florida, although it really isn't mandatory for most people, just they are told nobody will come to rescue them if they get in trouble.  Homeless people though are forced into shelters under a law which says people who pose a danger to themselves can be forcibly removed.

The problem getting the people IN to the shelters is that there are TONS of people now looking for shelter as they read or watch more about the devastation in the Virgin Islands, and there just aren't that many good shelter locations available.  Basically every decent size school built from concrete has been turned into a "shelter" over the last 2 days, but that doesn't mean they have cots or water or food in supply there.  IF you manage to get in, you better have your own air mattress and sleeping bag at the very least, or you will have a real uncomfortable couple of days sleeping on a hard floor in the gym.

https://dsx.weather.com//util/image/v/floodedinside.jpg?v=at&w=485&h=273&api=7db9fe61-7414-47b5-9871-e17d87b8b6a0 There is also no guarantee many of these shelters won't suffer from many of the same problems the stick built McHovels will face as Irma rolls into town.  If the neighborhood is inundated by Storm Surge, school gymnasiums are no more water tight than a McMansion is, and the water will flood the ground floor of the building at least.  If there is a 2nd Story, refugees might move their sleeping bags up there, but most school gyms don't have a 2nd story.  They also don't usually have an emergency generator to keep the lights on either, so if/when they go out, the gym is plunged into darkness, with 1000 strangers surrounding you and a real racket coming from outside that sounds like you are standing behind the jet wash of the engines on a Boeing 747, or if you are right on the Eyewall maybe a Sonic Boom.  If you are not completely terrified by this time, you have more fortitude than me.  I would be shitting myself.

We're moving into the afternoon here, and Irma STILL has not made the right hand turn to Go North to Florida from Cuba.  Cuba has been hammered all day by hurricane force winds all along the north coast, and little in the way of newz has emerged from there to this point.  The Eyewall is close enough to Havana now they must be getting hurricane force winds and on-shore storm surge.  Forward speed of the storm has slowed to the crawl speed of 6 mph, which is making all of this interminably slow for the Collapse Observer, and orders of magnitude worse for anyone who happens to be on the Path of Total Destruction.  I can go faster than that in an electric Cripple Cart at Walmart!  The longer the hurricane force winds hang out in your neighborhood, the worse the destruction.  Hard to say whether suffering 1 hour at Cat 5 is worse than 2 hours at Cat 4.  Both are not good scenarios though.

Jeff Masters at WU and the NOAA all predict that Irma will take the hard right hand turn north to the West Coast of Florida sometime today.  I stay tuned to the NOAA website and their Satellite imagery to watch for this today here from my safe computer workstation on the Last Great Frontier.  I count myself lucky, because at one time I DID live in Melbourne, Florida, for a short year-long gig job coaching gymastics for a couple of women I absolutely despised for the way they ran their program.  But it was money I needed, and it was a job.  So far though, this turn has not occured, and the possibility does exist that Irma may drift into the GoM further, missing the Florida Coastline altogether.  That would spare Florida and a lot of people who did EVAC & BUGOUT will be mighty pissed off, but it wouldn't remove the danger that Irma poses, because once inside the GoM waters and roaming again, she would regather strength and finding a new place to go on a Strafing Run would be chosen by the Finger of God.  Maybe she would set her sights on NOLA, who knows there?

I do have fair confidence though that the NOAA models are correct here only one day out from Lower 48 landfall, and the West Coast of Florida looks highly probable at this point.  Biggest population center likely to take a big hit here would be Tampa, and Tampa Bay is perfectly set up for an enormous Storm Surge, probably close to 20' on the current projected track.

http://media2.kshb.com/photo/2014/11/01/WxCartoon_1414881038455_9409753_ver1.0_640_480.jpg If in fact both the NOAA and Weather Underground get this one WRONG though and Irma moves further West in trajectory and misses the Florida Peninsula entirely, the whole Weather industry of Meteorologists Weathermen will take an ENORMOUS hit it their credibility.  The costs even before the storm hits in terms of the evacuations and the lost bizness and wages to workers are enormous already, and all based on PREDICTIONS the Weathermen are making.  If this turns out to be a DUD for South Florida, first off you will have a lot of Finger Pointing and Blame Game being pitched around. and second it will make people less likely to GTFO of Dodge the next time one of these behemoths is targeting the neighborhood.  Even with the Supercomputers and the great Algos on the job these days, even just one day out, a variation of a couple of degrees in the track makes a big difference as to where the mother fucker will make landfall and when.  Strength at landfall also is a tossup right up until First Contact.  In this case, while also delaying the northward direction change, Irma has also slowed down substantially in translational movement, only plodding along now at 6 mph.  That means she will spend more time over the warm waters of the Florida Straights, which means more time to regain strength after her Strafing Run on Cuba.  She might even make it back up to a Cat 5 during this period, in which case she doesn't have to hit Miami dead on to wreak devastation, the wind field is so large it will cover all of southern Florida, and Miami would be in the worst position in the NE quadrant for that wind field and storm surge.

So even at this fairly late juncture, you can't really say for sure where Irma will hit in the Lower 48, or with how much strength or how much damage will be inflicted on Industrial Civilization in that neighborhood.  It does look likely though that the damage will be severe, even if Miami doesn't take a full on direct hit from the Eyewall.  The bigger picture as we know from both Harvey and Katrina is that in reality, the biggest costs come not from exactly how powerfully a hurricane arives at on the Saffir-Simpson scale, but how much water gets dropped down on a given neighborhood in a given period of time.  Houston suffered its greatest problems not from Wind Speeds, but from inundation of rainwater measured in FEET, not inches.  In this case, the most likely inundation comes from Storm Surge all the way up the West coast of FL if Irma stays offshore.  She will make landfall somewhere though, if not Tampa than maybe north of there towards Tallahassee.  Of course, to have real big media impact the landfall needs to be near a major Big Shity, So that would dampen the psychological impact and the MSM will say "we dodged a bullet".

OK. PUBLICATION TIME has arrived here on the Diner for the Sunday Brunch article.  As of now, all the Livestream Cameras that AZ (one of the Diners) put up Inside the Diner are now offline with NO SIGNAL.  I'll leave this installment of The Strafing Run of Mother Nature with the latest update of the NOAA Sat Animated GIFS in nice RGB colors.  Still moving at an intemrinably slow 6MPH, now moving NW and likely to make a close hit on Key West as First Contact.  Unless she takes a more NNW track though, she will miss the FL West Coast entirely and collide with the North American continent  somewhere around Pensacola, or even NOLA.  That would be a hoot.

If JM & BH at WU and all the Code Jockeys running the models at the NOAA are right though, tomorrow will see a few million Retired Floridians experiencing FAST COLLAPSE, with virtually the entire state destined to lose electric power.  It will be quite some time if ever if it is all restored.

Coming Soon to a Theater Near You.

I Told You Not to Worry About the Climate

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Published on The Daily Impact  June 20, 2017

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“This is the Captain speaking. First, let me make this absolutely clear: there is no reason to worry.”

On a mid-morning in May, the telephone rang in the modest home of the mayor of Tangier, a village of 470 people on tiny Tangier Island, 12 miles off the coast of Maryland in the Chesapeake Bay. It was the president of the United States calling. If you lived there, you would not know which to think more odd; that the president was calling James “Ooker” Eskridge, or that Ooker was in his house to take the call, on a fair-weather weekday, and not on the water crabbing (he had been warned the call was coming).

If you live anywhere else on the planet Earth, you will be hard put to decide which part of the ensuing conversation was the most strange.

The President had seen something on television, which is what stimulates his cumbersome thought processes. The piece on CNN documented the fact that Tangier Island was slowly but inevitably disappearing as the waters of the Bay responded to global climate change. In the mid-1800s, Tangier Island sprawled over 2,000 acres, and was home to watermelon farmers, dairymen and a variety of entrepreneurs other than watermen. By 1997, only 768 acres of land were left, 83 of them habitable. Today, the island is even smaller.

The island is losing ground because it is

  • sinking, in response to the retreat of the glaciers that until 10,000 years ago or so bore down on the crust of New England and bulged up the crust farther south;
  • being subjected to fiercer and more frequent storms;
  • beings immersed by water that is expanding because it is getting warmer every year, and that is being augments by melting glaciers and ice caps around the world. Geologists calculate that until around 1900, sea levels in the Chesapeake Bay rose at an average of three feet per thousand years, and have risen three feet in the one hundred years since. Tangier is now losing nine acres of land a year to erosion and rising tides.

All but the sinking are directly attributable to climate change, a consequence of human pollution. All of this has been known, confirmed and re-checked for many years now, so it is perhaps not surprising that a President who has not shown himself to be especially up-to-date on the problems of the real world would be moved, on learning of the island’s predicament, to reach out. To say what, one wonders. To offer sympathy? Or support? Federal aid for the inevitable migration of the inhabitants of the island to somewhere else?

None of the above. The president called the mayor to say, and I’m quoting here, “Don’t worry about it.” The island has been there for a long time, the President astutely observed, and he expressed his confidence that the island would still be there a long time from now. The mayor should not worry, but be happy.

So the water’s rising a hundred times faster than in previous millennia — don’t worry about it. So the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates that Tangier Island will be habitable for at most another 50 years, possibly as few as 20. Why would anyone worry?

But what is truly astonishing about this conversation — the part that is breath-stopping, jaw-dropping, vertigo-inducing, stupefying — is not the consummate ignorance of the President, with which we are all now familiar, but of the Mayor, who agrees with Trump that there is nothing to worry about because there is no such thing as climate change, and the consequent rising of the seas. “I’m out there on the water every day,” says Ooker, “and I don’t see it.”

Perhaps he marks the waterline on the outside of his boat every day, and seeing no change from day to day, has concluded that the water cannot be rising.   

By coincidence, in the same week Scientific American published a story about the struggle to save Deal Island, also in the Chesapeake Bay, from an identical onslaught by rising tides, a struggle complicated by the fact that the overwhelming majority of the inhabitants of Deal Island, just like those who live on Tangier Island — don’t believe in climate change.

It’s as if the captain of the Titanic had assembled the passengers, formed them up on the tilting deck, up to their asses in water on the silent, motionless, burbling ship and said, “Don’t you worry about a thing. This ship brought us here all the way from England and there’s no reason to think she won’t take us the rest of the way.”

Depressing enough. But what makes one truly suicidal is the way the passengers are cheering, and agreeing, and saying to each other, “That’s our kind of captain.”

Svalbard Global Seed Vault: Seed Saving-Cum-Taxidermy (part 2/3)

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Published on From Filmers to Farmers on July 26th, 2017

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With a bit of ice on the floor depositers could almost ride the seeds right on in
(photo by Global Crop Diversity Trust)

As odd as it sounds, I can't help but think that it's so ridiculously easy to point fingers at the short-sightedness of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault that not only is it also all-too-easy to label it as the "Vault of Doom", but that this can lead one to miss out on the much more dire issue of what the Vault represents in the present.

If we look at the Vault's layout, it turns out that the access tunnel from its main door was designed and built to slope downwards, a rather questionable idea when you think about the effects that gravity tends to have on permafrost and snow when they get above 0℃. Why in the world was the Svalbard Global Seed Vault designed in such a way? As put by Hege Njaa Aschim of the Norwegian government (owner of the Vault),

The construction was planned like that because it was practical as a way to go inside…

In other words, the vault was designed with depositing seeds in mind, not withdrawing them. I'm venturing into the land of absurdity again, because if you know anything about seed saving then you know that it is in fact extremely beneficial to keep seeds stored in complete darkness, although it's also just as true that black holes can be a tad too dark.

Silliness aside, one of the two primary issues regarding the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is that of in-situ seed saving versus not simply ex-situ seed saving but extreme-sport ex-situ seed saving. In-situ seed saving is the practice of constantly growing seeds out every year or every few years, a practice which regenerates the seeds before they die out.

Ex-situ seed saving on the other hand is the process of storing away seeds for extended periods of time, done so in cold, dark conditions so that the seeds go dormant. This approach (sometimes getting rather hi-tech and more energy-intensive with things like stainless-steel liquid-nitrogen storage vats) enables the life span of the seeds to be theoretically extended to decades, possibly even centuries, which is much longer than the handful of years many seeds generally last for.

That all being so, one big problem with the ex-situ method is that the seeds are not only frozen in space but also frozen in time. Because by having their evolution – their continual adaptation – halted, there's the very real possibility that a packet of seeds brought out of their 100-year or so dormancy will lack the characteristics – the genetic capabilities – to fend off a blight or some other scourge that appeared during their "hibernation". As a result, the seeds could be left with virtually no in-built defence and therefore have virtually zero chance for survival.

Conversely, in-situ seed saving is the embodiment of adaptation to place. Try growing out a bunch of seeds from the same packet but in two different locations – locations which would inherently have varying conditions – and what you'll eventually get is a branching lineage whereby the seeds attain different characteristics. This is due to the unique adaptations that occur thanks to the seeds' opportunity to adapt to their locales, not to mention the characteristics that each generation of seeds get selected for by their stewards.

So while one might say that the seeds saved in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault are not only the epitome of ex-situ seed saving and the non-existence of adaptation (call it Globalized Seed Saving if you will), but one could also say that the Vault itself couldn't be a greater representation of the dismissal of place and adaptation. For as was explained by Arne Kristoffersen, a former Svalbard coal miner, most coal mines in the area weren't built like the Svalbard Global Seed Vault with their entrance tunnels sloping downwards, but with their entrance tunnels sloping upwards:

For me it is obvious to build an entrance tunnel upwards, so the water can run out. I am really surprised they made such a stupid construction.

Perhaps Kristoffersen has a flair for hyperbole to go along with what appears to be consternation for incompetence, for as he also put it,

[A]s it is today, the whole entrance will be filled up with water and this will freeze and it will be blocked after a few years, so it will not be possible to get into the seed vault. There will be a big iceberg in the tunnel.

Hyperbole aside, one might nonetheless think that the hard-earned knowledge and time-worn practices of the locals would have been given prime attention when designing and constructing the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. But don't forget: this is ex-situ seed saving, something in which conditions of the place are specifically dismissed as something that needn't be taken into account. For although Kristoffersen was in fact involved in an initial planning meeting for the vault, he unfortunately wasn't a part of the following development of the plans.

Downwards the tunnel goes!

In effect, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is not only the ex-situ saving of seeds, but the ex-situ saving of seeds in an ex-situ structure. Because while ex-situ seed saving inherently ignores changing conditions of climate and other variables, the designers behind the Svalbard Global Seed Vault are either huge fans of the brilliance of the eminent architect Frank Lloyd Wright, or, and as mentioned in part 1, astoundingly failed to take into consideration – or at least take very seriously – changing conditions due to climate change.

With all these mishaps and dismissals in mind, I think one seriously has to wonder about not only the efficacy of such extreme-sport ex-situ seed saving, but also the motivations behind this globalized approach to the saving of seeds. Because from what I've read there seems to be some rather surreptitious reasoning behind the supposed need for the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in the first place, one example coming from a recent statement made by the lead partnership coordinator for the Global Crop Diversity Trust, Brian Lainoff. In what I can't help but see as, at best, another attempt at damage control, Lainoff recently stated that

Something as mundane as a poorly functioning freezer can ruin an entire collection, and the loss of a crop variety is as irreversible as the extinction of a dinosaur, animal or any form of life.

Let's put aside the fact that it was discovered on December 16th of 2014 that an electrical connection in the Vault's refrigeration unit had rusted away, got covered in chunks of ice, shut down the cooling system, that there was no back-up, that a technician had to fly in from nearly 1,000 km away the next day, that the part needed – sourced from Italy – wouldn't arrive until after Christmas, and that a temporary fix only managed to be put in place by borrowing a part off a freezer from a nearby supermarket.

Because if you didn't notice, it looks to me like there's a bit of sleight-of-hand that Lainoff is attempting to pull off by trying to equate a loss in a genebank to the complete extinction of a crop variety. This is, however, not what inherently happens at all. While genebanks do preserve the genetic material of such things as wild seeds meticulously gathered from the wild, they also serve as a backup for the seeds actively used by farmers and gardeners. That is, genebanks aren't simply "collections" of seeds for geneticists to work with but, like the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, are backups themselves.

But if we take Lainoff at his surreptitious word, what might therefore be inferred is that seeds kept in genebanks are nothing but "collections", "collections" that if lost imply extinction. Moreover, since the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a backup to hundreds of genebanks, this would imply that it is but a "collection" of "collections". Meanwhile, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault's approach to the possible loss of these "collections" (extinction) is not to engender the dispersion of those "collections" amongst actual users of seeds who would provide a decentralized method of preservation, or to even engender a stronger network of backups between genebanks, but to make a centralized "collection" of "collections". Since the ultimate result of "collections" is "ruination" (as can be inferred by Lainoff's fearmongering), one could infer then that the purpose and destiny of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is to become the greatest one-off extinction event of the past 10,000 years. Because are we to believe that of the 1,700+ genebanks out there the only one that can't be decimated is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault? Might it not be even safer to have Elon Musk store a backup to the backup to the backups on Mars?


Can't say Lainoff doesn't have all the talking points down (photo by Global Crop Diversity Trust)

Because yes, disasters of all sorts have decimated, and will continue to decimate, collections of seeds held at genebanks. An earthquake pulverized Nicaragua's national seed bank in 1971, a hurricane flattened Honduras' national seed bank in 1998, a typhoon flooded a Filipino seed bank in 2006, and during the US-led invasion in 2003 it was the looting of Iraq's museums that garnered all the media's attention but the country's national seed bank that got destroyed. However, and using the latter case as an example, the most important seeds had previously been duplicated by Iraqi scientists and were stored away for safekeeping way over in another seed bank in Aleppo, Syria.

This idea then of backing up seeds held in genebanks is by no means a novel idea unique to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Furthermore, to think that the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is safe from refrigeration problems (known to not be true), exempt from the ravages of climate change (also known to not be true), or impervious to the ravages of Miss Murphy (who's your ideal blind date?) is not only foolhardy, but megalomaniacal.

But lo and behold, if like me you thought Lainoff could get rather surreptitious, it appears to me that Fowler himself can get downright slimy. For as he stated himself two years ago,

It is out in the real world – that makes it vulnerable because you have typhoons, hurricanes, natural disasters and pests that come along. If you've got a crop, an heirloom variety, a traditional variety, somewhere in Africa, and you say, that's great, it's going to adapt to climate change – well, maybe not. If it doesn't have the right traits, your farmer is going to starve or go out of business long before that crop will naturally adapt through mutation.

Fowler's got a problem with… "the real world"?

Regardless, natural disasters certainly do happen. Moreover, it is absolutely correct that in-situ seed saving by no means inherently implies the adaptation of seeds to the vagaries of climate change. Nonetheless, how is it that the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is supposed to ameliorate any of this? If seeds out in "the real world" aren't able to "naturally adapt through mutation", then what chance do seeds frozen away in stasis – which have zero opportunity for adaptation of any sort – have in comparison? And even if some seeds did exist in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault that could assist that oh-so-unfortunate starving-and-on-their-way-to-bankruptcy African farmer, and that such seeds could even be identified, and quickly enough, how are said seeds supposed to help said African farmer when seeds in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault are explicitly only allowed to be withdrawn by their depositors (genebanks)? On top of that, there isn't just one starving-and-on-their-way-to-bankruptcy African farmer but dozens, hundreds, thousands of them. Are they all going to get seeds from supplies withdrawn from the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, sourced from a genebank which may very well be on a whole other continent?

In other words, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault provides no benefit or viable alternative to the condemnations that Fowler bestows upon in-situ seed saving, his words being more like framed arguments tossed forth in order to suit a particular point of view.

That being so, if it isn't necessarily seeds themselves and the stomachs that need them the most that Fowler and the Global Crop Diversity Trust are out to protect, then what exactly can the underlying motive of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault be?

We'll get to that in the final part of this series.

Svalbard Global Seed Vault 1

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Published on From Filmers to Farmers on July 21st, 2017

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Not the "Doomsday Seed Vault" But Rather the "Vault of Doom" (part 1/3)

 


Well, at least it was made sure that the Svalbard Global Seed Vault looks real pretty
(photo courtesy of Johann Fromont)

The sheer sensationalism of doom-laden Internet headlines doled out by journalists raised on Hollywood disaster movies (and now clickbait) recently reared their ugly head again, this time in regards to the venerated Svalbard Global Seed Vault. I'm no fan of what some have misleadingly nicknamed the "Doomsday Seed Vault", but with journalists narrowly clamouring on about some recent hiccoughs that the Vault experienced does the greater catastrophe that the Vault represents get obfuscated. Those recent hiccoughs are certainly nothing to scoff at (as I'll explain), but by missing out on the greater implications they imply does the fundamental problems of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault get missed, those being that not only is the Vault not a "Doomsday Seed Vault" but, and as I'll explain in part 2, that it transforms seed saving into something akin to the art of taxidermy.

To backtrack a bit, in 2003 Cary Fowler – scientist, conservationist, biodiversity activist, and co-author with Pat Mooney of the excellent 1990 book Shattering: Food, Politics, and the Loss of Genetic Diversity – had the idea of creating a storage facility that would provide a backup for the seeds currently stored in the world's 1,700 genebanks (and then some). While saving and preserving seeds is currently something that the "average" person tragically generally pays little to no mind to, if there's one thing more crucial and fundamental to our civilization than fossil fuels then that something would be seed saving, a practice which preceded industrial civilization by about 9,800 years or so. That being so, making backups of seeds, and even backups of backups of seeds, might very well be the most wise thing us humans cultivating away on this planet can do.

Unless, that is, one wants to be rather monolithic – perhaps even megalomaniacal – about it all.

While the Vault's construction tab of US$9 million was entirely covered by the Norwegian government (which in turn owns the Svalbard Global Seed Vault), storage of seeds in the vault is entirely free to users thanks to those costs being covered by the Norwegian government as well as an organization called the Global Crop Diversity Trust. The moniker "Doomsday Seed Vault" is an undeserved misnomer though, because as described on the Global Crop Diversity Trust's website, "The purpose of the Vault is to store duplicates (backups) of seed samples from the world’s crop collections". In other words, the purpose of the Vault is emphatically not to be a knight in shining armour that rescues humanity from some Hollywood-esque apocalypse, which in one sense renders the "Doomsday Seed Vault" nickname somewhat verbose.

To facilitate its publicly-stated mission, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is located on the remote Norwegian island of Svalbard, and while the Vault itself is located 130 metres above sea level so as to be out of harm's way if even all of the world's icecaps melted, it's also tunnelled more than 100 metres into the side of a mountain, a mountain far from any active fault lines and whose surrounding permafrost can keep the seeds perpetually chilled. The idea, as put by Åsmund Asdal of the Nordic Genetic Resource Centre, is that "This is supposed to last for eternity".

That is, that's the idea.


So peaceful, so tranquil (photo by Mari Tefre / Svalbard Globale frøhvelv)

Because when what I presume was some of the world's greatest minds got together to see to it that the seeds of some of the world's most important food crops were saved for posterity, the one calamity that the designers apparently failed to take into account is so absurd that I don't think there's even a witty remark witty enough to describe it. So I'll just go ahead and say it: The one calamity that the designers of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault didn't take into account was… climate change?

Really?

From what I can tell I don't think I'm too far off the mark here. Because to backtrack again, here's what recently happened: First of all, and according to NASA and NOAA, the most recent year (in this case 2016) was once again the warmest on record. Secondly, and according to Ketil Isaksen of Norway's Meteorological Institute, "The Arctic and especially Svalbard warms up faster than the rest of the world" (due to what is known as polar amplification). Thirdly, while permafrost of course has an air of permanence to it, it can nonetheless be damaged and made vulnerable when dug into – like when you dig a 100 metre tunnel into it. Combine those three together and what you get is a lot of white stuff melting. To be a bit more specific, and as the New York Times put it just last week,

[W]ater – torrents of it, rush[ed] into the entrance tunnel of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault… [B]ecause the water had short-circuited the electrical system, the electric pumps on site were useless… Local firefighters helped pump out the tunnel until the temperature dropped and the water froze. Townspeople from the village at the mountain's base then brought their own shovels and axes and broke apart the ice sheet by hand.

How is it possible, you might ask, that such an event could happen to the facility meant to "store duplicates (backups) of seed samples from the world’s crop collections"? Well, as stated by Hege Njaa Aschim of the Norwegian government, it turns out that

It was not in our plans to think that the permafrost would not be there and that it would experience extreme weather like that.

Come again? "Extreme weather" – climate change – didn't fit into the "plans" that the Svalbard Global Seed Vault designers and caretakers had in mind for how the permafrost was supposed to behave (as other statements by the Norwegian government have reiterated)?

A lot of water went into the start of the tunnel and then it froze to ice, so it was like a glacier when you went in.

Uhh… seriously?


Hey, where'd all the white stuff go? (photo by Ronald Woan)

So although the ice was subsequently "hacked out", this is only the beginning of the absurdity entailed in this story. Because as Aschim also stated – almost giving one the impression that these seed savers of seed savers are holding out for positions in the Donald Trump administration – "The question is whether this is just happening now, or will it escalate?"

Come again and again? The owners of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault are questioning whether or not climate change is going to "escalate"? For real?

Putting aside this absurdity beyond all absurdities, the fact remains that none of the seeds were actually lost in the "flood", a "flood" that supposedly wasn't really a flood. Because as Fowler put it himself,

Flooding is probably not quite the right word to use in this case. In my experience, there's been water intrusion at the front of the tunnel every single year.

Damage control? You can decide for yourself. Because as Fowler also stated,

The tunnel was never meant to be water tight at the front, because we didn’t think we would need that. What happens is, in the summer the permafrost melts, and some water comes in, and when it comes in, it freezes. It doesn't typically go very far.

So okay. Is that to say the designers of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault didn't actually mind too much water making its way in through the front door and freezing on the inside, or that they – Fowler included – didn't really anticipate that climate change might have an effect on all that cold white stuff surrounding the Vault? Whichever it actually is, US$1.6 million has now been earmarked for investigations on how to improve the access tunnel (I'll get to that in part 2), the conclusions due in early-2018. In the meantime, US$4.4 million is being spent on constructing such things as a waterproof wall and drainage ditches.

Anyhow, Fowler also stated that

If there was a worst case scenario where there was so much water, or the pumping systems failed, that it made its way uphill to the seed vault, then it would encounter minus 18 [degrees celsius] and freeze again. Then there’s another barrier [the ice] for entry into the seed vault.

In other words, Fowler appears to be stating that not only is he the open-minded kind of guy that likes to go on blind dates, but that he likes to be set up with those who have a penchant for S&M and who go by the name of Miss Murphy. There are of course a lot of Miss Murphys out there who are itching to lay down their unique interpretation of the Law, one of those Laws possibly emanating from Greenland via what is known as glacial isostatic adjustment.

Turns out that the sheer weight of all that ice on neighbouring Greenland has pushed its landmass down by what might be a thousand feet or so, and since the land is "bouncing" back up – and at increasing speeds – due to the melting ice, this could result in "reactivate[d] faults, increase[d] seismic activity, and [increased] pressure on magma chambers that feed volcanoes". In fact, "of particular concern is the continental shelf around Greenland, where a massive melting of the ice sheet might trigger earthquakes strong enough to trigger underwater landslides which in turn could generate tsunamis". Just last month a tsunami did in fact strike the coast of Greenland due to what was believed to be a magnitude four earthquake, and as was stated by a Danish news agency, "for such an earthquake to hit Greenland was 'not normal'". And so while none of this is "normal", it also turns out that "The same process is affecting the islands of Iceland and Svalbard, which also have ice caps", and that "crustal uplift in Greenland, Iceland and Svalbard is accelerating".

Might such a climate change-induced glacial isostatic adjustment cum underwater landslide cum tsunami not only emanate from just the right spot off of Greenland's coast but also make its way through the inlet leading to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault? To make a guess, I'd say probably not. Nonetheless, Miss Murphy's chock-full of interesting tricks up her sleeve, and you never know what her wild imagination will come up with as she goes about laying down the Law with what should probably be known as:

The Vault of Doom!


The location of the scene in the upcoming movie where everybody is gathered around the monitor next to the Vault's doors that won't open, their mouths agape as they watch – thanks to the video feed provided by the Destructo-Cam© – all the seeds getting destroyed (photo by Ralph Lee Hopkins)

The Sixth Extinction: A Seneca Cliff in the Making

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Published on Cassandra's Legacy on July 15, 2017

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Image above from the paper by Hull et al. "rarity in mass extinctions and the future of ecosystems" Nature 528, 345–351 (17 December 2015). Notice how the decline in the fossil abundance, takes the shape of a "Seneca Cliff". The article examines the current situation of the Earths's ecosystem and concludes that we are not yet falling down the cliff, but we might be in the future.
 
 
 
 
 
Sometimes, my colleagues make me think of the old joke, "I wouldn't want to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members." That happened to me once more when I read an interview to Smithsonian paleontologist Doug Erwin that was published with the title "We are NOT in the sixth mass extinction", ("The Atlantic," June 13, 2017). Here, Erwin states that the idea that we are in the sixth extinction is just "junk science".
 
If you wanted further proof that scientists are a bunch of unreliable nerds who live in a world of their own, you need to go no further. How can it be that the "sixth extinction" had become accepted science and then, suddenly, another one of those silly scientists comes up and says that it is not true? How can you believe a single word coming from them?
 
So. let's try to understand what this whole story is about. First, where does the idea of the sixth extinction come from? Perhaps it was popularized for the first time in a 2011 paper by Barnosky et al on Nature that dealt mainly with the megafauna extinction during the Holocene. Of course, the idea is older than that. If you look on "Google Scholar," the term "sixth extinction" produces more than 174,000 hits. If this is junk science, surely plenty of scientists seem to like this kind of junk. 
 
 
So, why does Dr. Erwin defines as junk science a subject of study that looks perfectly legitimate and widely explored? The article in "The Atlantic" is just baffling. It starts with an image of the asteroid that's supposed to have killed the dinosaurs; then the title says "we are NOT in a mass extinction," then there follows a long review of all the ongoing extinctions, and then we read that "Erwin says no." 
 
So, what are you supposed to understand from all this? Twice we are told that, yes, extinctions are ongoing, and twice that they are not. To add to the confusion, later in the article we are treated with paragraphs such as "“If we’re really in a mass extinction—if we’re in the [End- Permian mass extinction 252 million years ago]—go get a case of scotch,” he said." What in the world do you think could that mean?
 
Oh, boy, that life is complicated. Let's quit the silly article in "The Atlantic" and go see the original article in Nature where Erwin and his coauthors explain what they have in mind. And there, unlike in the Atlantic, we have an understandable text. Here are some excerpts from the article.
 

To date, the majority of extinction studies have been biased towards terrestrial species and charismatic megafauna and we know relatively little about changes in the abundance and ranges of the shelly marine invertebrates that would provide a direct link to mass extinctions in the fossil record.

From custodians of deep time, we need quantitative assessments of the fossil record of the present and future earth in order to accurately size up current biotic changes with the same filter through which we see the past.

 Although extinctions are rare, the ecological ghosts of oceans past already swim in emptied seas.

You see the point? So far, we have focussed on the extinction of "charismatic" species, from the past one of mammoths, giant sloths, and the like to the ongoing ones of Elephants, tigers, cheetahs, and others. However, a true mass extinction sees the disappearance, or at least the the near disappearance of common species such as marine invertebrates. But that doesn't appear to be happening, yet.

There follows that, if someone in a remote future were to examine the fossil record for our times, he/she/it wouldn't see, not yet at least, the same kind of disastrous "Seneca Collapse" of the most common species that we see for the "big five" mass extinctions. Once a true "End-Permian-like" extinction were to start, it would be so rapid and destructive that nobody would be alive, discussing it.

That's it, folks: the title "We are NOT in the sixth mass extinction" simply means "we are not YET in the sixth mass extinction", but there are plenty of ongoing extinctions that prefigurate a true mass extinction ("emptied seas") for a non-remote future. That's because we know that most of the past mass extinctions (and perhaps all of them) were caused by the same phenomenon that's ongoing nowadays: the release of large amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Said in other words, imagine you are falling from the 10th floor. You are not yet splattered on the sidewalk and, if you really want to be precise, you shouldn't say that you are in the same condition of other people who fell from the same window in the past. Who knows? You might fall on something soft, or maybe learn how to fly while en route. Precision is precision, right?

So, the position taken by Dr. Erwin is scientifically correct, although it doesn't change what we know about the ongoing extinctions (and, as a personal opinion, I normally avoid branding the work of my colleagues as "junk science," even though I may not agree with them). We didn't go through a mass extinction, yet, because it is just beginning. The problem is that the meaning of the article in The Atlantic, and in particular its title, will NOT be generally understood. On the contrary, it will give plenty of ammunition to the throngs of those who claim that "CO2 is plant food," "the Earth is getting greener," "global warming is good for people"; and the like. It is already happening. As usual, when scientists say something that some people judge unpalatable, they are cheaters and liars. When a scientist says the opposite, he is suddenly defined as reliable.

I don't think Erwin is to be faulted in particular for this disaster in scientific communication. It happens all the time and especially when you stumble on journalists who tend to sensationalize what you tell them. Unfortunately, as scientists, we haven't yet learned how to communicate science to the public.

 

 

 

 

 

Navigating 21st Century Hopelessness

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Published on The Doomstead Diner July 16, 2017

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Is our techno-industrial way of life fundamentally benevolent?  Is it advisable to continue perpetuating a civilization that is predicated by non-renewable fossil energy sources as well as unsustainable rates of renewable resource extraction?  Our civilization requires an ever growing GDP to be considered healthy.  This is a measure of production in terms of consumption.  Our literal benchmark for the health of our society is based on how much we can consume in a year as a nation.  The reason for this is to create monetary profit for the individuals of this society whom have shares in the corporations controlling this production.  The actual physical wealth of the world is subjugated to the tune of dollars and cents.  To make this pathway possible it requires a proletariat class willing to sell their lives for an hourly rate.  This hourly rate is the lowest possible rate so as to not reduce the profit that’s stolen from the resources of the Earth and the energies of its peoples.  This hourly rate is about making money and not about stewardship of any kind.  It does not have to be like this, but that is a delusory sentiment based on idealism. 

The road to ruin for our species began with agriculture.  Before agriculture emerged there was no need for money, and so it did not exist.  Agriculture allows for civilization which requires money to function.  With the creation of money we stratify into economic classes of people.  Once money is created life becomes about servicing this need for monetary acquisition.  Before money life is about engaging with nature to acquire food, fuel, fiber, medicine and shelter.  In aggregate these actions create a healthy human culture.  Agriculture allows for money and removes the limiting factors for our numbers.  Before agriculture the limiting factor is the amount of food that can be sustainably hunted and gathered.  The hunter/gatherer life is mostly nomadic as we follow the animals and plants through the seasons which define their lifecycles.  Our lives are imbued with rich somatic meaning as we engage with the body of nature.  We are from this Earth, and we inhabit it as a corporeal being made of the elements.  We evolved both physically and spiritually within the framework of our physical Earth.  Our health depends on engaging with nature to create life and its meaning.  The fall from paradise began with domestication which is nothing less than the taming of wild nature.  Domestication is tandem to agriculture and literally creates civilization.  What is being civilized if not the opposite of wild?  The two are anathema to one another. 

Agriculture means that we stop moving around.  It means that we domesticate ourselves as well as the wild beasts of nature.  It sets up the conditions that allows for a great competition between us and nature.  All of a sudden our culture becomes one of domination and control rather than harmony.  Being rooted in one place we begin building monuments to hubris.  We get bored and invent competition.  We stockpile food and create war and plague.  We set up the conditions for disease and famine and warfare (although nomadic people still do occasionally fight with opposing tribes).  We argue and debate and create inequality amongst our people.  Life becomes a struggle to create meaning and avoid boredom.  Eventually, as we move further and further from our natural origin, habitat, and culture the enchantment of being evaporates. We are left with a driving urge to consume to fill this void of meaning that emerges due to our domestication.  Time continues forward and our habits create technologies to service convenience.  We become lazy and our bodies grow fat with our sedentary nature which arises from our domesticated captivity.  No longer do we need our bodies for anything more than acquiring money.  We then want pleasure to fend off boredom and meaninglessness.  Life is no longer about dancing in the wild where we are from and where we return to.  Civilization is nothing more than something to do in the great illusion that we create for ourselves.  This is the way that it is.  The Matrix was born with the first surplus of cereal grain. 

Is there anything that can be done about this?  It seems to me that we are at the end of this failed experiment in hubris.  There is no harmony in domination and control and consumption.  There is only waste, disease, and poison by way of ecocide and genocide.  Our quest for the production of unlimited energy against the gradient of entropy has created cancer.    In the end we cannot dominate nature.  Aside from money the quest for domination  is the great fallacy of civilization.  We cannot think our way out of the limiting factors of ecology.  Our modern techno-industrial civilization will run out of the fossil blood that sustains it.  We will lose the capacity to safely maintain the nuclear power plants that liter the surface of the Earth.  They will spew out DNA damaging clouds of radioactivity as they have already begun doing.  The rain will become poisonous to life.  As we fight to continue this failing technotriumphalism we will continue increasing the CO2 in the atmosphere which will continue heating the human supporting biosphere.  Natural disasters will continue increasing in number and severity.  Our hubris has metastasized into a cancer that will shrink our settlements as the habitable regions atrophy.  Nothing is going to stop this process now.  All that remains is answering the question of what to do about this inevitability.  We have entered into the age of doom. 

There is no escaping this destiny that we have perpetuated.  The most unfortunate aspect about this hopelessness is that man cannot live without hope.  Hope makes life worth living.  Is hope itself a delusion?  What are we to hope for?  The nature of existence is a destiny with death.   The time we have between birth and death needs to be animated by meaning.  Meaning is derived from a harmony with all life.  Our civilization is marked by domination and control.  There is no harmony in control.  The great struggle is finally about the nature of life because life wants to live.  We must maintain ourselves within the boundary of our skin while we are here walking the Earth.  The overwhelming desire is to do this devoid of pain and misery.  The tragedy of man is to think that he can avoid his own nature by the creation of a technological utopia.  Life cannot be about domination and control, but that is what man forces it to be.  We are teetering in a suspended animation just before the moment of expiration.  We are flailing about in denial of this process of resolution.  Maturation as a species must culminate in an acceptance of suffering and death.  We must accept our temporary nature, stop struggling, and lie down in the great current of life.  We swim against this entropic process everyday as we participate in this civilization.  We collectively attempt to keep the center from flying apart under the pressures of our own technologically created centrifuge.  We struggle in vain against the pressures of physical dissolution.  We create illusions to fight against the natural process of becoming to fall apart. 

The first act was rife with physical struggle within the framework of existing in harmony with nature.  Hubris arose and we thought we could become gods using the power of physical manipulation.  We thought we could master the universe with our cleverness.  We are collectively a breaking wave, and nothing will stop the pull of gravity as we are recycled back into the void which we originally manifested from.    Idealism is nothing more than the ravings of a mental lunatic.  Idealism is a delusion that is born from the struggle to acquire more than we need.  Fighting against entropy is finally not worth it.  Yet this fight is what it means to inhabit a physical body. 

In the final analysis life must be about observing beauty.  Without beauty it is not worth living.  We have made a mess of this beautiful blue/green orb that’s floating about the universe.  We have partied our way to desolation.  Yet the Earth keeps spinning around in outer space in its dance with the sun that sustains us.  Every morning the sun reemerges to give us another day of life.  Our great challenge is to honor this life by creating beauty and not it’s opposite.  We have created a lot of ugliness.  Maybe the secret to this 21st century hopelessness is to learn how to make beauty out of malevolence.  Or maybe we should just stop struggling and accept the final act of misery which we have written for ourselves?  Or maybe we can simply embrace our collective ugliness with grace?  Without love and beauty this great struggle that is life is not worth it.  The greatest challenge that we face is learning to love and observe beauty even as love and beauty vanish under the oppression of our own collective delusions. 

The nature of a body is to act.  How are we to act?  We should act to minimize suffering for all sentient beings while honoring our bodily nature.  Every day is a new day to make the right decisions.   Yet every day requires a certain amount of money.  This is why my conclusion is that a lifestyle that requires no money is the only truly benevolent lifestyle.  That lifestyle is a fiction in this world we have created.  This world is quite literally hell on Earth.  Therefore we must learn to love and find whatever beauty we can while in hell.  We must not resist as we realize our ultimate destiny of assimilation with the machine we have created.  I’ve tried finding work arounds to the truth that life is suffering, but the only way to win is to let go, stop resisting, and accept the nature of this great delusion.  Manifestation is transience in action, and our resistance arises within that transience only to dissolve back into the void that is death.  All that is created within that resistance is more suffering.  Yet still we must act in the world, and how should we act when our actions only serve to create more suffering?  The heart of our civilization is the creation of suffering, and to participate only adds to this toll.  Not participating in this civilization can be our only spiritual redemption.  For the life of me, and my children, I cannot figure out how to not participate. 

Biomass is a Common

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Published on FEASTA on July 3, 2017

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by Patrick Noble

The mass of life is composed of countless interconnections. It flows between species and between generations of each species. Nevertheless, all those flows are tributaries to a final optimum Major Sea of Earth’s biomass.

Let’s consider a human community (house- hold/parish/village/town/city/nation state/world) as a communal biomass flowing between generations. Let’s also consider that communal biomass flowing through its living terrain – from species to species – increasing in speed, or diminishing in speed – sometimes sequestered in a dry plain of motionless, lifeless physics – but for our purpose, always ending, in a final, optimum mass – the Minor Sea of those particular community inter-connections.

Here’s a thing, which it may be wise to keep in mind – no one knows what life is.

Here’s another – Once upon a time, there was no life on Earth and it shall be so again.

Here’s yet another for those who falsely equate carbon cycles with life cycles – After all life has gone, carbon, or the energy derived from it, will always remain.

Carbon and life cannot be inter-changed for the purpose of climate (atmospheric carbon dioxide) calculations.

The central consideration for atmospheric carbon dioxide projections is not the mass of carbon. It is the mass of life.

This leads me to some other very simple propositions.

1 – If we bury life in a “carbon sump” or in an “embedded carbon structure” then we have diminished a life cycle. We have not taken carbon from the atmosphere and sequestered it in terrestrial mass. Rather, we have diminished the power of life to regenerate. We have weakened photosynthetic carbon capture and some linear solar energy. In the process, we have increased atmospheric carbon dioxide and diminished the mass of life.

It is plain that if we bury all life, we end all photosynthesis. A carbon sump is one stepping stone (metaphor well chosen) towards the same.

2 – If we burn life, we diminish life (as in a carbon sump) and we also release combustion gas, to the same degree as fossil fuel. It follows that burning biomass has a greater carbon dioxide effect than burning fossil fuels.

3 – Life has expanded to an optimum mass, despite its gradual (occasionally sudden) sequestration in peat bogs, coal gas and oil reserves and other fossil rocks (calcium & so on). Atmospheric carbon dioxide has been more or less Gaia regulated, despite those sequestrations, and despite volcano and forest fire. Nevertheless, points 1 and 2 remain true. It follows that the linear solar contribution gives leeway for both some “embedded structure” and for some biomass burning.

Of course, we need timber for building houses. Sunlight provides leeway for growing timber trees. It also provides a little leeway for some domestic heating.

Only within that leeway can we call properly-managed forestry, “renewable forestry”.
Bear in mind that even within that leeway, our wood chip boilers and woodstoves have slightly greater carbon dioxide effect than fossil fuels. It follows that within that leeway, we’d do better to burn coal, gas and oil, while managing agriculture and forestry for maximum, optimum, photosynthetic biomass.

This writer thinks that the unexpected rapidity of climate change has been caused by the academic consensus that non-land-use-change biomass burning can be entered in carbon budgets as carbon neutral. Had the consensus given the burning of timber and arable crops the same carbon dioxide effect as fossil fuels, then I propose that climate predictions would be far less optimistic than at present.

***

Burning either biomass, or fossil mass within that more or less safe counter-balancing solar leeway presents a social problem. That burning must be at “pre-industrial” levels and I suspect at less than that. UN figures put world population for years 2015 at 7.349 billion, for 1800 at 1 billion and for 1600 at 580 million.

By 1600 in the UK, forest cover had been stripped to far less than today because of a rapacious demand for house and ship timbers and for domestic fuel. By 1680 coal had prevented economic collapse.

Today, we can hope that electricity will arrive to prevent current economic collapse. Most accept the folly of burning fossil fuels to produce that electricity. Plainly, burning biomass to that end, must be the pinnacle of folly.

But also, consider this – my benign Ash-scented woodstove – with timber from “sustainable” local woods, or hedge-rows, makes my house-hold one of privilege. If I claim the privilege, then I remove that privilege from others. If I claim to live within the solar leeway, then I have enclosed a common by my right to deny that solar leeway to others. Imagining that the world population in 1600 was largely “pre-industrial”, I tentatively project that only 1 in 3 house-holds in the world can be permitted a domestic coal, or wood stove today. (imagining a house-hold of 4)

That figure of 1 in 3 families holds only if we burn nothing at all for both transport and electricity generation. In any case, there is wildly insufficient acreage in the UK to grow biomass for the current population’s domestic heating. 1 in 3 for the world, may prove closer to 1 in 30 households for the population density of the UK. Our problem is not burning fossil fuels, but burning any kind of fuel. Our problem is burning.

We have wind, water, solar and (if we think we can trust an amoral monopoly supply) nuclear sources for electricity generation. Then, as we’ve explored in previous articles, direct traction from wind and water for factories and work-shops. We can remove energy demands of transport by removing the need for transport – that is by living as we’ve always lived until very recent history – with both work and pleasure but a step, or cycle ride from our doors – and then we can have a vibrant international and far more egalitarian trade by sail power.

There is hope. Living within our ecological means returns economic choices to the ingenuity and dexterity of citizenship – technologies and tools may be devised less behind intellectual property walls and more in quiet garden sheds, fields and work-shops. Attempts to green current ways of life (supplied by irresponsive, irresponsible monopolies) are roads to climate chaos and despair.

***

Plainly, biomass is a common. It is the primary common. Moreover, the greatest mass of bio lies in that thin layer of top soil on which all economies depend and which some, including this writer, have enclosed as their own and called fenced property.

Plainly, since the greatest city is only ever an emergent property of the efficiencies of fields, if we can grow enough food, then all the rest can follow. Economic biomass, including mass of humanity, food, and materials (timber, paper, fabrics and so on) flows back and forth, between species and between the generations of species we call an ecology.
Let’s consider some fields.

Regulating the speed of life is the whole art of husbandry. It is also the whole art of durable settlements. Crops flow into a biomass of people and must flow out again to the fields which produced those crops. Shorter & smaller cycles flow through gardens and allotments.

The whole agricultural metabolism of towns, fields, gardens and the cultural techniques to connect them is complex, evolved and evolving. The trial and error of husbandry, cuisine, transport and emerging trades are what we call an agriculture.

Gazing across a patchwork of fields, I can see that speed presented in the deepening or paling green of rotations. The colours reveal the velocity of life as it travels between species – the deeper the green, the faster the flow and so the increase of biomass.

Lazily copied from A Midsummer Night’s Dream 2014.

Consider two fields which have been provided with an optimum allotment of wastes to maintain their fertility. If I return a larger share to field one, I’ll receive a high crop yield, but some of that waste will be mineralised by soil fauna and not taken up by the crop. Nutrients will be lost as gas to the air and as minerals to water courses.

Field two will receive a less than optimum biomass and the crop yield will fall
.
Optimum crop yield for both fields – field one, plus field two will be lower than the total yield had wastes been divided equally.

We can see that story of two fields replicated across farms, parishes, regions and nation states. Human nature being what it is, some will appropriate more wastes than others – increasing their farm yield (& bank balance) but reducing the optimum yield (& bank balance) of the community as a whole.

That is a classic tale of the tragedy of the enclosures.

As uncertain weather patterns likely with climate change increase, so communities will become more anxious to achieve maximum, optimum food supply. To achieve that, wastes (sewage, green waste, food waste, processing bi-products and so on) must be divided strategically. They could be administered rather like water rights in Mediterranean communities, or the rotation of medieval strip fields.

The following is also copied from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Some commons to be restored into the fabric of my midsummer night’s dream– roads, market squares, harbours, soils, water, biomass….

But all other commons are as nothing compared to commons of biomass. Just as towns, roads and trades are emergent properties of agriculture, so agriculture emerges from the flows of biomass between species to and from human cultures.

Biomass cycles from field to city and back again. That flow is obviously a common and a common good if managed by good common law.

The cabbage I sell in the market place has common biomass, but also the value of being a cabbage.

So, I ask for a cabbage price to pay for the labour of producing it. To value a common is to enclose it. My valued cabbage is an enclosure valued at my labour value.

But the sewage and waste leaf produced from the cabbage must return to the common flow of biomass. Unless a biomass equivalent is returned to my field, I cannot grow as many cabbages in the future, because the fertility of my soil has been diminished by one cabbage.

So, the common produces value (enclosed common), but common law asks for that value to be returned, so that the common can keep producing value and so that succeeding generations can continue to provide themselves with cabbages.

In effect, I can as good as “own” a field without owning its soil, biomass, or water. These are commons to be protected.

It is accepted that commoners own the means to the responsibilities of the common.

***
This brings me to a current and highly unpleasant (dis- convivial) fashion amongst those who happen to have land property. It is the claim of carbon sequestration as virtue. Those who don’t own land property can claim no such virtue. This fashion is taken to extremes by those who are fortunate to control a grass paddock or two. They need do nothing in particular – just walk the boundaries and claim carbon dispensation – perhaps to set against, let’s say a holiday flight… Meanwhile, much of UK’s large grass acreage would provide better economic, ecologic and photosynthetic contributions in its natural state – that is as woodland.

Carbon property is as destructive as land enclosure – both command rent (or dispensation) without social return.

(I don’t like the term sequestration for soil fauna, whose biomass flows variably between plants and animals and back. It is appropriate for the stillness of fossil strata, peat bogs and embedded structures)

A few years ago, a grower claimed that his large inputs of compost removed enough atmospheric carbon dioxide to justify bi-annual holiday flights. He based a lecture tour on this assertion. He provided a composting site for local green waste and I’m sure, made very good compost and distributed much of it not for himself, but others. Nevertheless, in any enduring culture, that green waste should have been returned to a great many more fields and farms. The sequestration/holiday flight balance is nonsense.

I mention the above, because those sequestration claims have not been challenged. The suicidal claim by IPCC and the Paris Accord that burning arable and forest biomass can be accounted carbon neutral, remains similarly unchallenged.

These are no small errors. The correction is central to the maintenance of human cultures.

(September 2016)

Featured image: wood fire. Author: Iuriatan Felipe Muniz. Source: http://www.freeimages.com/photo/wood-fire-1192159

 

 

 

 

From the Ground Up to Concrete Solutions

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Published on Peak Surfer on June18 & 25, 2017

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Ground Up

 
" This is where biochar is today in agriculture. Its a better mousetrap in the midst of a huge rodent epidemic and still, most people can’t even buy any. "

 

Ever since William Woods, Wim Soembroek, Bruno Glazer and other dirt dorks started revealing the miraculous capacities of terra preta do indios, the dark earths of the Amazon, the story of climate change and our species impending extinction became all about agriculture. By the time Johannes Lehmann and Stephen Joseph published Biochar for Environmental Management, it was clear (and validated by excellent science) that reinvigorating agriculture with ancient practices involving biochar, taken to scale, could restore Earth’s atmosphere to pre-industrial health.
 
Native stewardship of the Americas was all but invisible to the sensibilities of European conquerors. Worse, 500 years of unremitting ethnic cleansing destroyed unknowable riches of ecological knowledge, along with much of the rich, deep philosophy of how humans can inhabit Earth as citizens, not pirating rapists.
 
We confess we were among those who took the pilgrimage to Brazil, returned baptized in the soil, and predicted that billions of hectares would soon be biochared, drawing gigatons of carbon into eternal sequestration.
 
So what happened?
 
Decades on, you still can’t buy biochar fertilizers in most garden stores. The entrepreneurial landscape is littered with the corpses of companies that ramped up biochar production, or packaged microbial mixes, and then couldn’t find enough buyers to pay the office rent, never mind their payroll.
 
In the animal probiotic supplement area, federal laws were passed banning biochar.
 
A few gardeners and farmers made their own, tried it out and were sold. They evangelized their neighbors. But the vast majority were skeptics or took clueless Master Gardener courses and took no notice. While those with relatively good soils, typical of the temperate zones, saw 40 percent productivity gains, those in the tropics and other areas of poor soils, saw gains of 400 percent and more. And yet, the nascent industry continued to tank.
 
This past week we have been hosting a workshop at The Farm Ecovillage Training Center called Biochar from the Ground Up. We are taking biochar up from the ground and putting it to other uses that might have better business potential.
 

Over and over again during the workshop we heard that “farmers are conservative,” “nobody is going to pay for something that takes years to show its worth,” and “unless you spend the time to make it, you won’t even be able to get any.” This is where biochar is today in agriculture. Its a better mousetrap in the midst of a huge rodent epidemic and still, most people can’t even buy any.   

Because we are busy with the workshop we can’t easy cut out the time to pen a blog, so we taped (feebly, using a collection of devices such as phones and voice recorders) a segment of one talk we gave during the week.  Enjoy.  

—————————

Concrete Solutions

 

 

"We want to take the atmosphere back to its pre-industrial chemistry as quickly as possible. For that, we have biocomposites."
 

We screen grabbed these images off earth.nullschool.net when we were looking at Tropical Storm Cindy on June 19. The top image shows Earth’s oceans. Red is hotter than normal. Blue is colder than normal. The Polar seas are colder than usual because of all the fresh ice water from melting glaciers and ice shelves.
 
The lower image is the same moment, looking at the land masses too. There are simultaneous heat waves in North America, S. Europe, Africa, the Middle East, India and parts of China, setting temperature records for the date, all the way around
 
Kathleen Draper is US Director at Ithaka Institute for Carbon Intelligence. In addition to editing The Biochar Journal, the leading on-line biochar magazine, Draper researches carbon intelligent cities; climate farming: nutrient recycling and GHG reduction in livestock farming; biochar characterization and optimal usage recommendations; closed loop biochar production and use modeling; ecosystem remediation; land management and landscape design. She has worked with Cornell University to model the Triple Bottom Line impact of Combined Heat & Biochar unit at the urban aquaponics greenhouse in Central New York.
 
Working with the Rochester Institute of Technology, she developed the Filtration to Fertilizer strategy using biochar first to harvest nutrients in effluents from food and beverage industries — including rentals to tofu shops — and then sales of nutrient-saturated char as a soil amendment/fertilizer for greenhouse crops. She is also working with RIT on the use of biochar in sustainable building materials, packaging materials, filtration media for the food industry and heat recovery options for the Kon-Tiki kiln technology.
 
A few days ago Kathleen Draper penned to her blog:

Last week I visited a small slice of heaven; The Farm in Summertown, TN. The Farm is [one of] the oldest intentional communit[ies] in the country and has been home to Albert Bates, author of The Biochar Solution amongst other books, for decades.

Biochar experimentation at The Farm spans the gamut from soil amendment to building material to humanure additive which then moves over to worm bins for some final processing. Just walking around the various natural buildings and permaculture filled ambiance was enough to inspire, but actually getting my hands dirty making biochar plasters, cement mixes, bricks, filtration devices with other like-minded folks was soul boosting.

We visited a nearby farmer that feeds his livestock (pigs, goats, poultry) an earthy blend of biochar mixed with lightly fermented whey and grains which they gobbled up greedily. We used rather grand outhouses that mitigated odors and reduced nutrient leaching with a blend of biochar and sawdust. And we shared stories of our mutual journeys, lessons learned and best practices along the biochar continuum.

What I really enjoyed about this experience, especially compared to attending biochar and other related conferences which tend to pack an enormous amount of information into back-to-back 15–20 minute sessions all day long for 3 days, was the more relaxed pace, the ability to get to know everyone there and hear about their own particular biochar experiences. The other fun part was leveraging everyone’s tools and backgrounds to take certain ideas further — such as the chardboard paper which I wrote about nearly 3 years ago. Albert had a contraption that was able to measure the electromagnetic shielding of the chardboard which was pretty substantial, roughly 90% reduction!

For those of you that have the time and desire to experience truly sustainable living, I highly recommend a visit to The Farm. Staying in the Fairy House, a cozy earthbag building with a living roof provides the quietest sleep you could ever dream of….

We liked having Draper here for the workshop but can’t let her escape with just this short report to the public domain. She and Dr. Hans-Peter Schmidt at the Ithaka Institute in Switzerland brought to our course a wealth of information on the practical applications for biochar when removed from the agricultural sphere. They are co-authors, with Ute Scheub and Hailko Pieplow, of Terra Preta: How the World’s Most Fertile Soil Can Help Reverse Climate Change and Reduce World Hunger. 
Hans-Peter beamed into the workshop via Skype and together with Kathleen provided a picture of a new realm of biochar that we had been nearly unaware of — as biochar concrete, or “char-crete”
 

Cementing History

Pantheon Oculus, Rome (126 CE)
Firstly, there is a global problem with concrete and it is getting bigger. The most important part of concrete is Portland cement, the binding agent made from pulverized limestone (calcium oxide) and clay (silicon oxide), heated together at high temperature (2700F).
 
The discovery and refinement of Portland is a cautionary modern tale of the intersection of materials and manufacturing at the dawn of the fossil fuel era. The Romans and Chinese had millennia ago discovered that gypsum and lime could be mixed with pieces of rock, sand, ceramics or rubble to form a hard material that would hold up to weather, or even set up underwater for dams and bridgework. Roman concrete, developed from 150 BCE, is durable due to its incorporation of volcanic ash and cinders (pozzolana), which prevents cracks from spreading. After the famous fire of 64AD, Nero rebuilt much of Rome with brick-faced concrete. The Pantheon in Rome, with its 142-foot coffered dome and oculus, is an example of Roman concrete construction still standing after 2000 years.
 
Lime is a powder that wants to be a rock. It has a million-year memory. Formed as the aggregated dust of seashells on an ancient sea-bed, limestone (CaCO3) gets unpacked from its bed in some quarry, hauled by truck to a kiln, and baked at >1500°F. The burn drives off CO2 and leaves behind a powder (CaO), called burnt lime or quicklime.
 
Quicklime (calcium oxide) is a white, caustic, alkaline, crystalline solid at room temperature, but feeling an urge to go back to rock, it will draw CO2 from the air unless slaked with water. Slaked lime is what the Romans and Chinese used for mortars and plasters. It is what Michelangelo in 1511 spread across the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and painted the image of God into. In the 1820s scientists learned that when heated to >4,000°F (2,200°C) it emits an intense glow. That feature was used broadly in theater productions before electric lighting — limelight.
 
As it slakes, quicklime releases heat by the following equation:
 
CaO (s) + H2O (l) ⇌ Ca(OH)2 (aq) (ΔHr = −63.7 kJ/mol of CaO)
 
When limestone is kilned to make lime for mortar or cement 1.8 tons produces 1 ton of CaO. The missing 0.8 goes to the atmosphere as CO2 and a few trace impurities. China is by far the world’s largest producer, burning enough rock to produce around 170 million tons per year. The United States is the next largest, with around 20 million. Worldwide, lime kilns send about 225 million ton of CO2 to the atmosphere. File that number a way for a moment.
 
If you add an atom of carbon to quicklime in the presence of oxygen, you get limestone and water.
 
Ca(OH)2 + C + O2 = CaCO3 + H2O
 
That limestone molecule can take a much-deserved rest. It has now completed a full revolution on the wheel of life and rebirth.
 
Suppose that, instead of leaving it to chance, we supply lime with carbon? One easy way to do that would be to mix biochar with cement and let it harden in the open air. You could replace sand in concrete or mortar. This is convenient because construction-grade sand is getting harder to come by and is experiencing rising demand (and price).
 
But here is the kicker. The resulting concretes or mortars have improved:
 
• Weight (biochar is significantly lighter than sand)
• Compression strength
• Flexural strength (MOR)
• Curing (soaking the carbon into the lime)
• Capacity to absorb CO2/NOX
• Electromagnetic shielding
• Fire resistance
• Insulation
• Humidity control
• Indoor pollutant control (dust, pollen, chemicals).
 

Run the Research

What does the research say? Choi et al (Mechanical Properties of Mortar Containing Bio-Char From Pyrolysis, 2012) tested char-cretes at 5%, 10%, 15%, 20% biochar and found:

• All biochar admixtures had less weight loss due to moisture evaporation. Mortar mixes with char have better water retention. This may lead to improved strength. “In this way, biochar seems to play a role as a self-curing agent.”

• The workability of mortar decreases as the percentage of biochar increases.

• 5–10% biochar replacement is similar to 20% replacement with fly ash (the toxic residue of cement making and other industries).

• Up to 5% biochar shows an increase in compression strength.

A study by Restuccia et al, Promising low cost carbon based materials to improve strength & toughness in cement composites (2016) tested the mechanical properties of cement using biochar made from coffee powder (unroasted discards) and hazelnut shells.

• All char additives outperformed control bending strength, compression & fracture energy.

• Coffee powder did better on compression tests.

• Hazelnut shells did better on flexural (MOR) and fracture energy tests.

• Hazelnut shells’ irregular morphology creates “perfect bond with surrounding matrix.”

• Coffee powder has higher silicates which could work as an accelerator helping to speed up the hydration process. It stabilized at 7 days.

 

A study by Khushnood et al, Carbonized nano/microparticles for enhanced mechanical properties & electromagnetic interference shielding of cementitious materials (2016) tested mechanical & shielding properties of cement using peanut shells and hazelnut shells at 6 different concentrations.

• All char additives outperformed flexural strength of control (2.96 MOR).

• Hazelnut shells optimized at .25% (5.44 MOR).

• Peanut shells optimized at .25% (5.43 MOR).

• Fine aggregates increased fracture toughness.

 

Does char-crete remove CO2 from the atmosphere? Not directly, although using sources like peanut shells and coffeebean discards that would otherwise go back to the atmosphere as CO2 or CH4 interrupts these (natural) emissions and entombs them for a very long time. However, char-crete does remove other greenhouse gases directly.

 

A study by Tommaso et al, NOx Adsorption, Fire Resistance and CO2Sequestration of High Performance, High Durability Concrete Containing Activated Carbon (2016) found dramatically decreased levels of NOx (-66%) in addition to fire resistance.
 
Hans-Peter Schmidt points to concrete fire resistance as more important than most people realize. In the 1999 tragedy on the autobahn through Mont Blanc, 39 people died when a Belgian transport truck carrying flour and margarine caught fire in the tunnel. The fire burned for 53 hours and reached temperatures of 1,000 °C (1,830 °F), mainly because of the margarine. While it is unlikely biochar in tunnel cements or plasters could have filtered air quickly enough to save the lives of those who suffocated from the toxic smoke, we can at least say that the repairs to the tunnel afterwards would have been easier had fire not damaged the concrete of the tunnel.
 
If just one percent of the sand going into the 25 billion tons of new concrete each year were replaced with biochar, 250 million tons of biochar would be sequestered. With a carbon content of 82–98 percent, that biochar is the CO2 equivalent of 738- 882 million tons per year (205–245 MtC). At present rates of emissions, we’d need to sequester 5.6 billion tons of carbon (GtC) per year just to get to carbon neutrality, 25 times more than this example. Alternatively, the biochar industry could raise its ambition and replace 25 percent of construction sand worldwide with char-crete.
 
Sources of unregulated waste biomass now in the process of becoming greenhouse gases on their own are literally as vast as the sands of the Ganges. In many places, they will pay you to take them.
Of course, our goal with biochar is not neutrality but drawdown. We want to take the atmosphere back to its pre-industrial state as quickly as possible. For that, we have biocomposites.
 

Biocomposites

A “composite” is when two or more different materials are combined together to create a superior and unique material. The prefix, “bio,” means that the composite takes natural fibers including wood or non-wood (e.g. leaves and grasses) and blends them with a matrix (binder) made from either renewable or non-renewable sources (lime, clay, plastics, old tires).
 
Zhao et al evaluated biochar’s impact on hot-mix asphalt when compared to carbon black and carbon fiber (Lab Investigation of Biochar-modified Asphalt Mixture, 2014). Switchgrass biochar was blended at 10% by weight of the asphalt. The study found that bending strength in asphalt normally decreases in temps ranging from 300C — 500C, then increases above 500C, but biochar reduces that temperature susceptibility in asphalt binders. Biochar also showed the highest rutting resistance, meaning it was less often to need replacement because of damage.
 
1.6 billion tons of asphalt is poured every year. At 10 percent biochar, that industry would use 160 million tons, or 89 MtC. It is still a long way from the 5.6 GtC we need for net neutrality, never mind legacy greenhouse gas drawdown.

 

 

 

 

 
But wait, there’s more.
 
In 2016 DeVallance et al investigated hardwood biochar as a replacement for wood flour in wood-polypropylene composites. Wood-polypropylene composites are used in building construction, automotive and consumer products. The study combined biochar at rates of 5%, 15%, 25%, and 40% by weight with wood and plastic to make alternative composites to traditional wood-plastic composites. The findings:

• All biochar rates increased flexural strength by 20% or more

• Tensile strength was highest with 5% biochar

• Tensile elasticity was highest with 25% and 40% biochar

• Water absorption and swell decreased

• Biochar additions showed improved thermal properties.

All this academic research is good, but it hardly matters until it gets out of the classroom and laboratory. This is why Schmidt was in Nepal making kilns and showing biochars properties to the homeless after the earthquake in April, 2015, and why Draper is working with engineering students from RIT to design biochar concrete roof tiles in Nicaragua
 
Their goal in Nicaragua: replace the current metal roofing with something that could be manufactured locally, at low cost, hold up in heavy sunlight, keep out the torrential rains and deter animal intruders. The group made a lightweight aggregate of biochar.
 
Their method: mix all dry ingredients, add water, blend thoroughly, pour into flat tile mold, vibrate to remove air bubbles (an electric sander works well), transfer flat tile to curved tile mold (using a plastic sheet), allow 2 weeks to cure.
 
• Each tile weighs around 14 to 16 lbs
• The tiles withheld a 210 lb person standing on them
• With two workers, it will take 5 days to make the 224 tiles for one home
• Estimated CO2 saved per roof is ~400 lbs
 
During our workshop here at The Farm last week we made char-crete with various biochar concentrations. We made composites by melting styrofoam and soy-foam packing peanuts and the kinds of clamshell containers they use for take-out in restaurants (and typically wind up in rivers or the ocean). We made chardobe brick and compressed CINVA ram brick. We made grout for a tile bench. These exercises were a tiny drop in the ocean of what is required to remove carbon from the atmosphere, but they showed the potential.
 
By melting extruded polystyrene foam packing peanuts and clamshell containers — (C8H8)n — in an acetone bath — (CH3)2CO — and adding biochar until it stiffened, we made a char-tile that is light, structural, fracture-resistant, and can be molded to any shape. It could be kitchen tiles, surfboards, iphones, boats or biodomes.
 
Biocomposite “ore” from recycled polystyrene
Reversing climate change may not be as difficult or dangerous as many imagine. The only hitch in this scenario is that paved roads and monumental (concrete and steel) architecture are manifestations of peaking civilizations — arriving with times of high Energy Return on Investment (EROI), typically in double digits for firewood, slaves or whales, and triple in the case of light sweet crude. Pyramids and paved roads do not get built in the trough that follows civilizational overshoot and collapse (forest destruction, slave revolt, whale extinction and fracking).
 
As we return to the circular economy that pre-existed the Ponzi, we may discover in wastes — think of the oceans of discarded plastics — a new source of wealth, and building materials, we can barely imagine.
 
Polystyrene waste at a Japanese fish market, by beth

 

 

 

 

 

Water Commons Thinkery Report

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Published on FEASTA on June 27, 2017

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A Thinkery on Water Commons was held in UCC on Friday, June 23rd. This event was jointly organised by Feasta’s Water Commons group and Orla O’Donovan from UCC, Patrick Bresnihan from TCD, and Kevin Flanagan. There were a total of sixty participants. The event was over-subscribed with quite a number of people therefore unable to attend. The Thinkery was however recorded for video and this should be available in a month or two.

The following is a very brief Report on the event. There were five parts to the Thinkery, each of which lasted an hour.

The first part was facilitated by Roisin O’Gorman from the Theatre Department of UCC. She guided participants in a bodily exercise designed to enable us connect with the water within us. We are after all composed of at least 50% water. This was a very calming exercise which also involved challenging our dominant metaphors of field and space in favour of water metaphors such as flow, pool, lapping and so on.

Next, Patrick Bresnihan led a dialogue with Miriam Planas who is a leading figure in the Barcelona movement Aigua es Vida and is a member of the European Water Movement. Her contribution explored the campaign in Barcelona to reclaim popular control of the local water supply from private, corporate interests. A central concept in this is the principle of ‘Re-Municipalisation’ which has become a very important political principle in many parts of Europe. The idea is to get municipal authorities, which are subject to democratic authority, to re-take ownership of the water supply and distribution. A significant spur to this has been the very high number of people whose water supply has been cut-off by the private corporate providers due to non-payment of fees. In this sense, re-municipalisation offers one model for commoning water.

Orla O’Donovan then facilitated a dialogue with Marco Iob from the Italian Forum of Water Movements and the European Water Movement. He reported on the highly significant popular political campaign in Italy to ensure public ownership of the water supply. This centred on the principal of water as a public good and not as a commodity to be bought and sold in market conditions. This campaign culminated in a popular consultative referendum in which more than 50% of the Italian electorate voted in favour of the public control of water. This democratic mandate has however been so far ignored by the Italian government and mainstream political parties.

From left to right: Roisin O'Gorman, Patrick Bresnihan, Mark Garavan, Marco Iob, Orla O'Donovan, Myriam Planas, and Chas Jewett

 

 

 

 

From left to right: Roisin O’Gorman, Patrick Bresnihan, Mark Garavan, Marco Iob, Orla O’Donovan, Myriam Planas, and Chas Jewett

 

 

 

 

Mark Garavan next dialogued with Chas Jewett who is a Lakota-Dakota indigenous American from South Dakota. Chas placed her nation’s concept of water within the wider narrative of deep oppression and genocide of the indigenous peoples of the American continent since the European Conquest 500 years ago. She gave searing personal testimony of systemic abuse and violations of native people. Chas was a leading organiser of the recent Dakota Pipeline protests. These protests have mobilised native resistance and brought many native young people to political engagement. In this way, she ended on the hopeful note that indigenous perspectives offer a crucial cultural resource for how we might connect with the natural world and its multiple elements and energies.

Some of the participants and presenters at the Thinkery

Finally, a highly engaged discussion took place among the participants. It is impossible for me to do justice to this. Key themes however were:

¬ Our collective responsibility to protect our water and planet
¬ How commoning water offers the optimum mode to achieve this as neither corporate nor State interests can be fully trusted to act in support of the people’s interests
¬ How it is important that we move beyond a management-oriented and ‘othering’ attitude towards water and ask questions such as how do we relate to water and accommodate ourselves to what water itself wants to do
¬ How we must recognise that water is not just ‘without’ but also ‘within’ – the water within us connects us to the water without and everything flows together

The event was a genuinely inspiring and hopeful experience. Johannes Euler from the Feasta Water Commons group travelled over from Germany to participate. We hope to build on this event with further gatherings and proposals in the near future.

Mark Garavan, Co-ordinator Water Commons Group

 

 

 

 

 

Paleofuturism

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Published on Peak Surfer on June11, 2017

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"We haven’t hit the temperature levels we can expect from current CO2 levels, and by the time we do, CO2 levels will be even higher."

 


According to Danish politician Karl Kristian Steincke, “It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.” Steincke was cataloging a comment made in the 1937–38 session of the Danish Parliament (without translation: “Det er vanskeligt at spaa, især naar det gælder Fremtiden”), which if you consider what befell Denmark shortly thereafter, was prescient.

 

 
It was too good a line to attribute to Danish politicians, so it fell to less rigorous quotists to ascribe it to Yogi Berra, Mark Twain or Sam Goldwin.
 
 
It seems especially apt when we read predictions of what the world will be like at mid-century or later. Truth is, nobody can know — and less now than before. This is not your parents’ future any more.
 
At the risk of serving our readers more dollups of doomer porn — after only just telling ourselves to stop doing that because it frightens people — we have been reminded of the Michael Mann hockey stick chart published more than a quarter century ago, recently updated and retweeted by climate scientist Joe Romm
 

Romm says that historically,

[R]ecord CO2 levels are accompanied by record temperatures and record sea level rise. We haven’t hit the temperature levels we can expect from current CO2 levels, and by the time we do, CO2 levels will be even higher. Sea level rise can take even longer to catch up but the latest science says we are headed towards worst-case scenario levels, 3 to 6 feet (or more), by century’s end.But now CO2 levels have surpassed those seen not just during modern civilization, but during all of human evolution. Indeed, current levels haven’t been seen for many millions of years.

 

 

 

While man-made emissions may have peaked in 2014 and, following the wave of national pledges of the Paris Agreement (and a deepening global recession), are starting to slightly decline now, CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere continue to rise.

 

 

 

Monthly levels of heat-trapping CO2 hit nearly 410 parts per million (ppm) in May. How do we explain that? Only one way. What were once natural sinks have become sources, as CO2 reservoirs trapped in permafrost, ocean clathrates, forests and soils heat up and start to release their stores.
 

While man-made carbon additions actually declined slightly in 2015–2016 according to official data (admittedly an inexact accounting because fracking sources are still undertabulated and military departments keep theirs secret), Keeling’s Mauna Loa data for

2015 and 2016 showed the two biggest annual jumps in actual atmospheric CO2 levels.
 

Has the clathrate gun fired? Its too soon to say. 
 
Weeds alert! We are about to follow a rabbit trail into the briar patch of recent reports.
Methane hydrate is likely undergoing dissociation now on global upper continental slopes and on continental shelves that ring the Arctic Ocean.
 
Rachael James and 12 co-authors, writing for the J. of Limnology and Oceanography in Nov 2016, Effects of climate change on methane emissions from seafloor sediments in the Arctic Ocean: A review (Volume 61, Issue S1, Pages S283–S299), concluded that the present scientific consensus converges on pegging methane stored in gas hydrates at a few hundred gigatons. This is high by US Geological Survey standards, but an order of magnitude below pegs by Arctic Methane Emergency Group and Professor Guy McPherson.
 
If the consensus view of total reserve is a few hundred Gt spread over billions of hectares of cold regions and yet Near-Term-Human-Extinction proponents keep repeating the possibility for a 50 Gt burp, bringing death to our species within this decade, they are really stretching the truth. Its a vivid yarn not backed by evidence. 
 
From May 3 to May 11, 2017, the R/V Hugh R. Sharp manned by British Geological Survey with support from the USGS and NOAA went on expedition to explore seafloor methane seeps on the northern U.S. Atlantic margin. Their data is not in yet, but very soon we shall get to hear what they say.
 
Ruppel and Kessler, writing for Reviews of Geophysics, Volume 55, Issue 1 Pages 126–168, March 2017 write:

Many factors — the depth of the gas hydrates in sediments, strong sediment and water column sinks, and the inability of bubbles emitted at the seafloor to deliver methane to the sea-air interface in most cases — mitigate the impact of gas hydrate dissociation on atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations though. There is no conclusive proof that hydrate-derived methane is reaching the atmosphere now….

We are less sanguine about that statement also. Hydrate-derived methane is reaching the atmosphere now. There are YouTube videos of it being ignited out of holes in frozen lakes. In some places are brewing morning coffee that way. It is a question of volume, and whether there is enough to explain the gap between our current emissions slowdown and the Scripps readings of 410 ppm.

The most revealing of Romm’s charts was, for us, this one from Yale360, to which we have added a few labels for clarity:

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

 


 

 

 

This chart dovetails very neatly with news accounts of a discovery of fossil skulls in Morocco, pushing back the date of homo sapiens’ appearance in Africa to 300,000 years B.P.

 

The people of Jebel Irhoud were certainly sophisticated. They could make fires and craft complex weapons, such as wooden handled spears, needed to kill gazelle and other animals that grazed the savanna that covered the Sahara 300,000 years ago.

Newsweek reported: 

“We used to think that there was a cradle of mankind 200,000 years ago in East Africa, but our new data reveal that Homo sapiens spread across the entire African continent around 300,000 years ago. Long before the out-of-Africa dispersal of Homo sapiens, there was dispersal within Africa,” study author Jean-Jacques Hublin said in a statement.

 

“CO2 levels have surpassed those seen not just during modern civilization, but during all of human evolution. Indeed, current levels haven’t been seen for many millions of years.”

By adding more labels to the Yale360 chart, we can date the appearance of our bipedal, hominid-like ancestors to a recent point along the timeline when climate — and particularly the weather in Northern African savannahs — went from considerably warmer and wetter to highly variable but within a hospitable range (180–280 ppm CO2 and plus or minus 2 degrees C). That describes the period 250,000 to 300,000 years ago. Then, suddenly in geological terms, 11,700 years ago the last glacial maximum passed and in rushed the extremely comfortable and stable Holocene, that flat blue line across the chart. For as long as we have had stomachs and skeletons, we have never existed outside a 180-280 ppm world.
 
Humans looking much the same as today’s took up residence in every corner of the world. In what is to biological evolution the blink of an eye, they built great cities, sailed across vast oceans, forged steel, split the atom, sequenced their own genome, and landed travelers on the Moon and returned them safely back to Earth. It took some two billion years to create thousands of minerals during the Great Oxidation Event, but we humans added hundreds of thousands in just the short time since the industrial revolution.

Even if sea levels rise 300 feet and cover coastal cities, those minerals will still be visible in the sedimentary record. That’s because landmarks like the Washington Monument and the Smithsonian will collapse into piles of rubble — signatures that are later preserved as highly unusual lens-shaped pockets underground, distinct from their surroundings in both shape and minerals. The Washington Monument, for example, will eventually be a lens-shaped pocket composed of limestone where no other limestone is found. And the pocket that was once the Smithsonian will contain so many rare minerals that they could not possibly have formed so close together in nature. To boot, they will be surrounded by the vast array of the man-made minerals we use every day.

 
And there, at a glance, is the problem confronting futurists. Most assume that even if the worst happens and seas rise 300 feet or nuclear bombs descend from the heavens, humans will persist as they always have and civilization will recover, in the fullness of time. We wonder.
 
In that same article from Scientific American, Jan Zalasiewicz, a geologist at the University of Leicester and chair of the Anthropocene Working Group, says of the mineral divergence, “One of the most distinctive vertical lines on the graph is the growth of mineral species… It’s one of the most striking changes.”
 
His choice of words is insightful:

There is nothing at all like this in the geology of the past 4.5 billion years on Earth,” Zalasiewicz says. “It is tragically different.”

There is a change unfolding, and the way it is headed now is profoundly tragic. While it is not too late to reverse climate change, the momentum already gathered suggests that recovery will be a slow process even if we could apply the full potential for human social organization to the task — and we are, by no means, doing that now.
 
We enjoy romps through science fiction, even fantastical retrofutures like John Michael Greer’s steampunk Retrotopia or James Howard Kunstler’s nostalgic World Made By Hand series, but realistically, when we step out to inhale the brilliant clean air on a beautiful new day, we do so with a sense of foreboding that will not be shaken off so easily.
 
There is a ray of hope coming from another chart. This one is a chart of opinion in the United States about who thinks imposing more regulation on coal burning would be a good idea. The darker counties are for more regulation, the lighter counties for less. As expected, many of the old coal towns are centers of light. The surprise is where dark pockets are found in new and unexpected corners of the map.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

We expect to find intelligent responses to climate change in the over-educated northeast, or liberal pockets around Austin, Albuquerque, Boulder or the Left Coast. We don’t usually expect it in South Wisconsin, West Central Mississippi, Alabama and Southeast South Carolina, the border towns of the Southwest, Las Vegas and Miami-Dade. So what is that about?

 

 
We would guess it might have to do with the weather. If that is so, there is plenty more weather just ahead.
 
 Come gather ‘round people
 Wherever you roam
 And admit that the waters
 Around you have grown
 And accept it that soon
 You’ll be drenched to the bone
 If your time to you
 Is worth savin’
 Then you better start swimmin’
 Or you’ll sink like a stone
 For the times they are a-changin’.
 
— Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A-Changin

The Way

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Published on Peak Surfer on June 4, 2017

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"Patterns of regenerative thinking augur regenerative patterns of living and the reverse is also true."

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

  Ten years ago, Brian Eno suggested a word to convey the extreme creativity that groups, places or “scenes” can occasionally generate. The word he came up with is “scenius.” Scenius is like genius, only embedded in a scene rather than in genes.

 

 

In a Wired interview  in 2011, Kevin Kelly described the idea this way:

Really, we should think of ideas as connections,in our brains and among people. Ideas aren’t self-contained things; they’re more like ecologies and networks. They travel in clusters.

Historical examples are the Yosemite rock climbers Camp 4 in the 1930s, Building 20 at MIT, the Algonquin Round Table, Silicon Valley, Soho, Burning Man, the North Beach of the Big Island in the 1950s, Greenwich Village, the Panhandle flats in the Haight in the 1960s, Glastonbury, Akwesasne, the affinity groups at Seabrook, the bioregional congresses, the World Social Fora, the UN climate summits, and the Amazonian Shamanism conferences.

We have been lucky to stumble into a number of those scenes; so many we sometimes wonder if we are Forrest Gump.

Lucky stars have led us to be present at the birth of the Noho loft art and music scene, Vietnam Veterans Against the War and the Winter Soldier hearings, a blithering Nixon at sunrise on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the first Earth Day in Central Park, the Longest Walk, the conspiratorial Leningrad public baths on Saturday nights, the bioregional Consejos de Visiones at Meztitla and Condor, sundry Earth Summits, the ecovillager gatherings at Findhorn in 1995 and Istanbul in 1996, Viridian design, the post-millennium peak oil conferences, and the Kinsale College birthing of Transition.

The scenius we are most familiar with, although it encompasses and interpenetrates many of these others, is of course The Farm. As one of the longest floating crap games of the past century, it remains a dynamically evolving scene: a creative hub for the world midwives’ conspiracy, the cabal of alternative education advocacy, an incubator for progenitors of cool tech, and lately, a climate-reversal counterdevelopment seeding group, including, but not limited to, we ecovillage, regrarian, permaculture and alt.fuels evangelists.

The geography of scenius is nurtured by several factors that Kelly described:
 

  • Mutual appreciation — risky moves are applauded by the group, subtlety is appreciated, and friendly competition goads the shy. Scenius can be thought of as the best of peer pressure.
  • Rapid exchange of tools and techniques — as soon as something is invented, it is flaunted and then shared. Ideas flow quickly because they are flowing inside a common language and sensibility.
  • Network effects of success — when a record is broken, a hit happens, or breakthrough erupts, the success is claimed by the entire scene. This empowers the scene to further success.
  • Local tolerance for the novelties — the local “outside” does not push back too hard against the transgressions of the scene. The renegades and mavericks are protected by this buffer zone.

Scenius can erupt almost anywhere, and at different scales: in a corner of a company, in a neighborhood, or in an entire region.

What Brian Eno called scenius, Stephen Gaskin used to call “the juice.” In a paper we delivered to a history conference in Illinois in 1987, we attempted to describe a series of intellectual and technological steps that guided the first 16 years of The Farm, but cautioned that we could not try to fathom how it came into being. “How juice moves from place to place and time to time would be an interesting exploration,” we said.

Lao Tsu (literally the “Old Boy” because he was born with a small white beard), put these ideas into poetry. We think it silly when we have to take off shoes and give up our toothpaste at the airport, but when Lao Tsu tried to leave China they told him he couldn’t leave until he had written down all he knew. In the Tao Te Ching, the 72 gems of wisdom left with a border guard, Lao Tsu summarized his findings in order that he be allowed to leave.

The first verse is the Old Boy’s disclaimer: “The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.”
Alan Watts observed that this famous opening line also showed Lao Tsu to be a punster, but you have to understand a bit of Chinese to get it.

“Tao” means the way, or course, of nature, but it also means to speak. So in Chinese, the first character is this:
 

The first character is “the way.” The next is “can” or “can be.”

The third is again “the way,” but it could also be “spoken”
 

What Lao Tsu says in one entendre is that he can’t really describe the way, because it is ineffable; if he could describe it then it would not be true. The way that can be spoken is not the way.
In the other entendre Lao Tsu says it cannot be taken as a way. The way that can be “way-ed,” or traveled, is not the way.

Do you think you can make the world a better place? I do not think you can. It is already perfect.

— Lao Tsu

This is also the point Kelly labored to underscore, which is that scenes, and hence scenius, cannot be created. The best we can hope for is to recognize them when, for whatever extraordinary confluence of good fortune, they seem to arise. And when that happens, the best we can do is to not step on them.

That may be so, but maybe not. Scenius with the grand historicity of a Yosemite Camp 4 cannot be stamped into existence. But the conditions to potentialize scenius can be laid by design. Daniel Wahl, in Designing Regenerative Cultures, provides these basic ingredients:

  • Transformative Innovation
  • Biologically Inspired
  • Living Systems Thinking
  • Health and Resilience

In his forward to Wahl’s book, David Orr offers a nuanced challenge. It is Patricia Scotland’s “And, so?” question.  We have developed an ecosystem of solutions. How do you get this to scale? Holistic design is akin to the core nature of religion, Orr says, “a discipline binding us all together in our stewardship of the Earth as a shared habitat and the underlying assumption to be shared is that we are more worthy together than apart.”

Orr then takes it a step farther. He says the five billion poor, soon to be 7 or 9 billion, must be empowered with free energy, free clean water, free pressed-brick shelters, and free Internet access. In return they will innovate and create infinite wealth with a regenerative aspect. We hear this, and we shudder a bit.

This is also what Buck Fuller used to say, and many others before and after him. It’s become kind of holy grail   in Silicon Valley or at Burning Man — liberating ideas will liberate masses. It philosophically underpins the UN Sustainable Development Goals — the essence of neoliberalism. But….

If I am worthy then show me the way.

First, the whole modern amusement park ride is scaffolded on cheap, available, abundant energy, soon to be a bygone. Sooner than you imagine, those Microsoft server farms that are allowing you to read this will brown out, flicker, and die. Kevin Kelly again:

A web page relies on perhaps a hundred thousand other inventions, all needed for its birth and continued existence. There is no web page anywhere without the inventions of HTML code, without computer programming, without LEDs or cathode ray tubes, without solid state computer chips, without telephone lines, without long-distance signal repeaters, without electrical generators, without high-speed turbines, without stainless steel, iron smelters, and control of fire. None of these concrete inventions would exist without the elemental inventions of writing, of an alphabet, of hypertext links, of indexes, catalogs, archives, libraries and the scientific method itself. To recapitulate a web page you have to recreate all these other functions. You might as well remake modern society.

Second, imagining 7 billion hominids empowered with free everything opens the gates of Hell unless they are restrained from reliving the patterns of their collective past, only worse. Historically, when provided abundant food and energy the hairless two-leggeds have been as locusts. Without some countervailing ethic of restraint, should Orr’s wish comes true, this fragile blue orb becomes Easter Island.

Wahl says that which must change is more mental than physical, and in this we are agreed. Lately with the climate march for science, Paul Hawken’s Drawdown tour, and the debate over fake news and science suppression we have been hearing, over and over, people we respect make pledges of allegiance to the gods of science as if they were saying a rosary. But we know that scientists — and even more-so academics —  are inherently conservative defenders of the rote and two or more steps behind the vanguard. Who are the vanguard? Artists like Brian Eno, or the cabal that gathers in a scenius to thrash out the hard truth. Moreover, they then endeavor to actually make the change they've lived go viral.

Patterns of regenerative thinking augur regenerative patterns of living and the reverse is also true: living together or coming together can change your mind or open new frontiers. We have witnessed this phenomenon in ecovillage communities all over the world. Designing the future — any future beyond mid-century  — requires redesigning a collective consciousness, our psychodemographic. We are already doing this with the hardware gateways to cyberamphibian transits, and with permaculture, ecosystem restoration camps and ecovillages in the non-virtual world.

Ecovillages do it with eco-covenants; social contracts that build all eight forms of capital,  externalizing nothing.

Our travels to Marrakech and Zhejiang last year made clear to us that the role of ecovillages is key. They are a viral carrier — patient zero. Don’t be put off by the hippy or elitist veneers of many of the prototypes; those were leading edge experiments by the fringe-dwelling creatives.  Any change for humanity arrives only after extreme vetting. At that point they become nearly inevitable.

To quote Wahl,

“Sustainability is not a fixed state to reach and then maintain, it is a community-based learning process aimed at increasing the health and resilience of our communities, our bioregional economies, ecosystems, and of the planetary life-support system as a whole.”

We say “nearly inevitable” because there are still countercurrents and eddies that can drown us. There are no guarantees. The odds against success are high.

Feeling the wind at our back, we edge the kite closer to the power zone.

If you want to be reborn, let yourself die. If you want to be given everything, give everything up.

— Lao Tsu
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Echoes in Eternity

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Published on Cassandra's Legacy on June 7, 2017

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"What we do in life echoes in eternity" is a line from "Gladiator"  (actually from Marcus Aurelius). What our politicians are doing now, and will be doing in the near future, for the climate will echo for a long time in the future of our planet. 

President Trump's decision to exit the Paris agreement has been correctly vilified almost everywhere outside the US, but some commentators noted that Trump may have done the right thing, even though for the wrong reasons. It seems that for many politicians and industrialists, the Paris treaty was seen as the perfect tool to appear to be doing something while at the same time doing nothing. Personally, I tend to agree with this interpretation, especially from what I know about Italian politicians.

So, here is a link to a text where Trump's decision is discussed in these terms. I am impressed by Graham Readfearn's statement that the Paris treaty was seen by the coal industry as a way to get financed for "clean coal" and other useless technologies. Again, knowing the people involved in this kind of tricks, it doesn't surprise me at all.

In the end, Trump's attempt to revitalize dying industries, such as coal, are bound to fail and this may give a bad reputation to some bad ideas that really deserve that. And that may create a momentum for doing the right things as argued, for instance, by Jean-Marc Jancovici.

What we do now will echo on the future of our planet and for a long time to come.

Here is an excerpt from Graham Readfearn

"At least two coal companies, Peabody Energy and Cloud Peak, had tried to convince Trump to remain in the Paris deal. Oil and gas giants Exxon and Conoco also voiced support for the Paris deal.

This internal fight represented two different approaches from a fossil fuel industry trying to sustain itself. One approach is to bulldoze and cherry-pick your way through the science of climate change and attack the UN process — all to undermine your opponents’ core arguments.

Another approach is to accept the science but work the system to convince governments that “clean coal” and efficiency gains are the way forward.

The latter was exactly the rationale reportedly deployed by coal firms like Peabody Energy and Cloud Peak.

According to White House officials quoted by Reuters, these firms wanted Trump to stay in the Paris deal because this gave them a better chance of getting support for “low-emission” coal plants. They might also get some financial help to support the development of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology."

Rollerblading the Halls of Power

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Published on Peak Surfer on May 28, 2017

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"This is what solutions look like. Some are very large. Some are very small. They are all important."

 

 

 

“It is important to understand that humans have never lived here on Earth at above 300 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere.” On May 18 this is how Paul Hawken began his talk at Marlborough House.
 
 
On one side of the 12–meter cherry mahogany bubinga table sat the Secretary General, Her Excellency The Right Honourable The Baroness Patricia Scotland of Asthal, QC PC, the 6th Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations. To her left were Mary Robinson, the seventh, and first female, President of Ireland (1990-97) and the former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997- 2002); Anote Tong, President of Kiribati, a country of some hundred thousand citizens, which is disappearing under the sea; His Excellency High Commissioner Jitoko Tikolevu of Fiji, 2017 next chair of the UNFCCC Conference of Parties (COP-23); Johns Kharika of UNCDD, and their Excellencies, the representatives of the 52 member nations of the Commonwealth.
 
 
To her right sat our team of advisors from Cloudburst Foundation, Drawdown Project, Regenesis, eCO2, Buckminster Fuller Institute, Project NOAH, and Global Ecovillage Network, along with invited guests Marcello Palazzi of B Corp, Permaculture Magazine editor Maddy Harland, coral reef scientist Tom Goreau, Gregory Stone of Conservation International, scientists from Greenwich and Southhampton universities, and actor Colin Salmon, among others.
 
 
Between the departure of Mary Robinson and the arrival of HRH the Prince of Wales, the Baroness asked us to take the chair to her left, giving us a strange feeling, not unlike being asked to sit between Kirk and Sulu on the Command Deck of USS Enterprise as a Romulan Warbird uncloaks on the viewer.
 
 
Hawken methodically wove his spell. He showed an IPCC chart of atmospheric carbon going back 400,000 years and the associated warming and cooling. “It is important to understand that humans have never lived here on Earth at above 300 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere,” he urged.
His voice is soft and high pitched, but he speaks from experience, and he reaches his audience at a deeper level than words express.
 
 
He runs through an introduction to his research team and the scope of their work over the past few years. The task of Project Drawdown was not to create new data but to look at the hundred most promising solutions to climate change and rank them, based on cost, readiness, impact and scalability. The results were just published April 18 by Penguin as Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming. It is already the number one bestseller and at this writing is sold out on Amazon.
 
 
He explains that there was no “one size fits all” solution. Small island states would have different needs and opportunities than large countries like Australia, India and Canada. The ability to reforest, grow marine kelp farms, or to produce rice and other crops more ecologically would be different from place to place.
 
 
One problem is how the subject has been framed, he says. We speak of this as a gargantuan challenge, an existential threat, something that must be combatted as an unprecedented evil. It may be all those things, but looking at it that way evokes a response that may not be what is needed. People hide.
 
 
“Instead, let us think of this as an opportunity.” He went into what has been called “marine permaculture,” the seeding of kelp forests.  “We are talking about trophic cascades, with phytoplanckton, zooplankton, algae, kelp products, up into the higher orders of fish that regenerate in weeks to months, providing protein, reversing eutrophication. The oceans are a tremendous source of regeneration.”
 
 
He moves along to slides of renewable energy, building materials and cattle management practices that cut methane. “This is what solutions look like. Some are very large. Some are very small. They are all important.”
 
 
“Some things surprised us,” he said. Food waste has a tremendous impact. The food sector, from how it is produced to how it is consumed matters more than energy, or buildings, or any other sector. He describes how he, as a much younger man, spent time in a Japanese Buddhist monastery. He was given one small bowl of rice per day. He soon learned to not waste a single grain.
 
 
Most, if not all, of global warming can be traced directly to family planning. "When a girl is allowed to become a woman on her terms she has an average of 2 children, which is very different than what has been happening. Educating girls, combined with family planning, may be the number one solution to global warming.”
 
 
“I don’t know about you, but all I hear is solar this, solar that and literally, no one had done the math.”
 
 
Is it possible to reverse global warming? Yes. Hawken continued, “The returns from the solutions are far greater than the costs of the problems. Our focus on the problem has not allowed us to see this. People have focused on the problem, and the solutions seem to make no economic sense when you monetize them, they only add to the problem. When we look at the data, the opposite is true. The net savings from the solutions are in the trillions. There is money to be made there.”
 
 
Dawn Danby and David McConville
“What are the costs? We are seeing social unrest, we are seeing poverty, income inequality and the effect that has on social cohesion.”
 
 
What changes do these proposed solutions bring? “Increasing food supply, increasing knowledge, increasing education, increasing equality, increasing health outcomes, increasing productivity.”
 
“The goal is very doable. But I want to emphasize that the Commonwealth has a key role. The UN is very limited in what it can do because of how it is structured.”
 
 
The Commonwealth’s 2012 charter was the model for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. “Right down to the choice of colours,” the Secretary General reminds us. Before that the UN had a lame set of Millennium Goals based upon a premise of endless, unsustainable growth on a finite world. Not much different than Donald Trump’s budget numbers. The pivot the Commonwealth will be bringing to COP-23 in November is Regenerative Design. That is why the right side of the room is seated here.
 
 
John Elkington, Paul Polman, Ben Haggard
In David McConville’s presentation is an exponential curve. Call it what you will — human population; greenhouse gases; ocean plastic; wealth inequality. It is unsustainable. Then he shows the reverse — a logarithmic curve. The Fibonacci sequence  — a snail shell, a nautilus, seeds in a sunflower, fruitlets of a pineapple, flowering of artichoke, an uncurling fern, a pine cone, and the family tree of honeybees. It is recursive, fractal, the K-sere stage in ecosystems.
 
 
After short presentations from Anote Tong, Jitoko Tikolevu, Mary Robinson, Mohamed Amersi, Janine Benyus, Ben Haggard, John Elkington and Paul Polman (CEO of Unilever) and a brief intervention from the Prince of Wales, there is time to go around the table. It is clear that many of those whose jobs involve attending official functions and trolling for development grants and who have little interest in, or even cynicism towards, climate change are deeply moved. His Excellency the High Commissioner from Tonga, Sione Sonanta Tupou, provides such an example. The Secretary General later confided that in all his years at this table Mr. Tupou had never spoken. Today he rose to say these words, with tears in his eyes: “I came here with an empty cup. I leave with it overflowing.”
 
Clockwise from L: Paul Hawken, Rola Khoury, David McConville, Janine Benyus, Dawn Danby, Santiago Obarrio,          Ben Haggard, Harsen Nyambe, Mauro Paolini
 
Others came up to the Secretary General. The small island nations were always skeptical because they felt betrayed by the UN process. Now they felt hope. One of the High Commissioners told her, “Forgive me for being such an idiot. We are behind you 100 percent.” She said many present had experienced a “Road to Damascus” moment.
 
 
Tom Goreau, Sybilla, Bernd Neugebauer
Behind us, across St. James Park, the closest building at our back is 10 Downing Street. We can hear the clip clop of the Royal Horse Guards and the whistle as they wheel into their stables. This room is part of the town house constructed by Sarah Churchill, first Duchess of Marlborough in 1711. The architect was Sir Christopher Wren.
 
 
Descendants of the Marlboroughs occupied the house until 1817 when it returned to the Crown, where has been the London residence of five Dukes and Duchesses, three dowager Queens, three Princes of Wales, the future Kings Edward VII, George V, and Edward VIII, and Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, who was crowned King of the Belgians in the adjoining foyer in 1831. The same foyer, the Blenheim Saloon, served the wedding banquet for the marriage of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria.
 
 
All of this means very little if the Atlantic reclaims London or Earth’s atmosphere becomes unbreathable. The guardians of the old order seem to have gotten that. If knowledge is power, then the reverse is also true. Those at the center of concentrated power are cursed with knowledge they would rather not have.
 
 
In 1959 Queen Elizabeth placed Marlborough House at the disposal of the Commonwealth. With the advent of Brexit and Trump, its strategic importance has emerged. Today’s Commonwealth is a third of the world’s population, 20 percent of Earth’s landmass, 40 percent of its forests and 17 percent of global purchasing power parity, about $10 trillion. These nations share a common language, similar legal and administrative structures (including somewhat astonishing and far-reaching improvements to the civil and criminal codes crafted by the Secretary General that are still below the radar), and fundamental values such as commitment to democracy and good governance, respect for human rights and the rule of law, equal rights, and faith in economic and social development.
 
 
Given this background, one has to ask, in what way, exactly, is the Commonwealth any better positioned than the UN to do something about climate change?
 
 
Staring around at the trappings of empire — Louis Laguerre’s murals of the Battle of Blenheim (1704), Queen-Empress Alexandra’s gilded oak overmantles, the plaster busts of George V and Queen Mary, the tables that served Edward’s Derby Day dinners for members of the Jockey Club — the incongruity overwhelms our senses. And yet, there she is, at our right elbow, the dark-skinned 12th child of a Dominican mother and Antiguan father, the indefatigable Patricia Scotland, rollerblading through the halls of power.
 
 
We can do this, she says. We must. Over a late supper in the basement of a restaurant past closing hours she says, “My mum told me every person is given a gift from God. Each gift is different. You need to find it and hone it and that is how you will have a good life.”
 
If the climate crisis can be seen as a gift from God, maybe there is something, and some people now, that we can start to work with, to tease out the best thing to do for this fragile, rapidly changing world.

Climate: Limits and Opportunities for the New Economies

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Published on Cassandra's Legacy on June 2, 2017

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A post by Ilaria Perissi, from her blog "Systems". Ilaria is a researcher at the University of Florence, Italy, currently working at the EU "MEDEAS" project aimed at modeling material fluxes of the EU economy. 

by Ilaria Perissi

In a previous post titled Information, Energy and Human development, I concluded saying that we don’t know what will happen to our society if the planet will be overheated. I don’t have the answer, and maybe I will never have it, but I have surely been gaining new insights on what has been the influence of the climate on the history of civilisation, and what could be its role, if there is any, into a more equitable future and a sustainable society.

I start exactly from this last point: how are we now imagining a future civilisation?

We need a new source of energy that should be renewable (in the way we do not risk total depletion of it, at least till the sun will shine), also thinking about a new economy not based on an intensive exploitation of fossil fuels. That would represent a powerful tool to make a step forward to a better future. But, recently, interesting currents of thought are emerging in the economic scenario promoting alternatives to the incessant growth that already in the 70's revealed, thanks to the study of ‘Limits to Growth’, the weakness of continuing this economic vision on a planet with a limited carrying capacity.

One of these currents is the ‘Circular Economy’ (CE) that proposes a greater resource productivity aiming to reduce waste and avoid pollution, including the shift from fossil fuels to the use of renewable energies, promoting the role of diversity as a characteristic of resilient and productive systems, so that it represents an interesting way out from the limits of the present ‘Linear Economy’.

Another idea is the ‘Degrowth Economy’ (DE) that not only is based on the previous pillars of the CE, but it is also a new philosophy of lifestyle. The DE affirms that prosperity can be of better quality and more equitable for all the humankind even with fewer materials things, abandoning the frenetic rhythms of today's life and harmonising the economy production according to the natural cycles (and I completely agree).

We can grasp from the previous description why this current is called 'Degrowth': it simply pushes in the opposite direction of the widespread concept of 'Growth' economy, whose prosperity is based on the increasing demand of always new goods and services.

To be more precise, 'Degrowth' refers to the lowering of the indicator called Gross Domestic Product (or GDP), that measures the economic performance of a system according to, in simplified terms, the number of goods and services it can provide. Therefore, the DE assesses that more valuable prosperity is possible if we consistently lower the value of this indicator, in particular in those countries we call ‘Developed Countries’, that stand out for their very high level of GDP in comparison to the world average. DE underlines also that this difference in GDP exists because there is a huge gap, both in economic and development terms, between the North and the South of the planet. The predominance of the North holds hostage the South's socio-economic system, slowing down also its potential alternative trajectories toward a better life.

Look at this paragraph, extracted from the very interesting book 'Degrowth: Vocabulary for a new era':

The message is clear and the reality too: the condition of the South of the Planet is very different from that of the North of the Planet. The DE aims at re-equilibrating this difference, conquering a new welfare for all the humans based on more equity and environmental justice. Mumble ..how to do it?

 

 

Usually, when we want to change something in any situation, it is a good idea to check some facts in the past, probably the reasons of the existence of certain things in the present have their roots in history.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thus, when, in the past this predominance of the North economy started, was it due to random factors or are there any facts/evidence in the history of civilisation that advantaged the North in comparison to the South?

Take a look at the following picture:

Figure 1. Chronology of the most important ancient civilizations.

All the most ancient cultures were born in the North hemisphere.

I started to think this fact can not be ‘only’ a coincidence. Why civilization and the economy historically have progressed more in the North than in the South? Could this mainly due to a ‘physically different ‘ space instead of a ‘conceptual different space'?

I think so…The economy is made by humans exchanges, interactions, cooperation: all these conditions in which humans live and lived in the past determine the economy and the characteristics of their civilization (Here, I refer to 'civilization' as the attitude of humankind to dominate the environment according to the fundamentals of rationalism). In particular, the capacity to produce (manufacturing) and the capacity to distribute (transport) are the foundations of any world economic system.

Let’s start to examine which could be the macroscopic differences, in terms of the capacity of transportation and productivity, between North and South of the Earth.

First, we are terrestrial creatures, we move more easily by land than by sea. Also many domesticated animals that have been crucial for transportation, hunting, agriculture and so on, are terrestrials too. Take a look at the following picture:

Figure 2. The surface extension of emerged lands.

As we can see in figure 2, between the parallels – 60°S and + 60° N, i.e. in a climate that is not polar, the available land is much larger in the North than in the South.

Thus, an important macroscopic physical difference between North and South of the planet is the extension of emerged lands in temperate zones.

Moreover, the South portion of emerged lands is fragmented in 3 continents: South America, Africa and Oceania: if we move in the direction West- East (W-E, or vice-versa) we note that these three portions of land are at a distance of several hundreds of kilometers of water. Thus, any civilization born in the South would expand preferentially along the N-S direction.

Quite different is the availability of movement W-E in the North hemisphere. Here, Asia and Europe cover the largest portion of Northern emerged land. It was in these two continents that the most ancient civilizations in the history of humankind were born: China, Egypt, Greek, Romans and others, as already shown in figure 1. Probably, the presence of the Mediterranean sea, that is an almost ‘close’ sea in a temperate zone, permitted the development of navigation techniques and the development of commercial trade routes in more safe and protected areas.

We can summarize saying that the larger the available surface of emerged lands, the more there are possibilities of creating a network of connections and more are it possible to develop cities and manufacturing centers.

So, you will say that today the problem of the trade connections have been overcome by technology, so let’s say that the oceans or the extension of emerged lands don't represent any more serious obstacles in exchanging goods or information also in the South hemisphere.

But there is another problem, if you note, that still remains: along the N-S pathways (meridians), in any point of the globe, we had/have to face with a change in the climate conditions (figure 3).

Figure 3. The figure shows a rough, but significant split, of the three climate zones of the planet: polar, temperate and tropical zones.

Thus, I go back to the opening question of the post: did the climate have any impact on civilization? And could it be related to the productivity of the human beings?

There is an interesting book, ‘Civilization and Climate’ by E. Huntington, that for the first time examined this issue at the beginning of the 1900s.

Huntington, as himself reports, had the mission to investigate: “step by step, the process by which geologic structure, topographic form, and the present and past nature of the climate have shaped man's progress, moulded his history; and thus played an incalculable part in the development of a system of thought which could scarcely have arisen under any other physical circumstances."

I admit I haven’t yet read the entire book but if you search accurately in this treatise you can find that the author clearly reports that the temperate climate is the best environment for the development of civilization, under several points of view. And figure 3 shows that the portion of temperate climate zone in the North of the globe is decisively larger than in the South one.

Here, as one of the examples that reinforce the thesis of the author, I just report the following graphs, from his book:
 

This figure reports the main temperature in which a man, employed in a factory job, is able to reach his best performance in terms of productivity, intended as the best combination of mental and body energies. This temperature it is around 50 °F or 10 °C.

More recent studies assess that, in an office, the ideal temperature for mental activities is around 20-22 °C, and it makes sense: we probably need a warmer environment to reach the optimal mental-body energy combination to work in an office in which we stay sitting almost all the time. And we are sure enough that these average values of temperature are typical of the temperate climate zones.

The book from Huntington offers several more interesting examples, worth thinking about. It simply reveals that the human activities, and even the moral issues, still depend upon Nature. And this is a positive aspect, the author says, because it gives us the opportunity to correct our behaviour, knowing that there are climate physical conditions to take into account, even in planning a new economy.

Especially in a Degrowth Economy, the relationship between our body energy and the climate is, probably, the most important to keep in mind if we want to achieve more equity in the opportunity of future sustainable development for all the cultures, independently of the latitudes they are.

 

What I would like to point out with these ideas, is that the productivity of humans, on which civilization and economy both rely, have been and still remains highly conditioned by climate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The North and the South of the planet are different environments, have different availability of space and climate, i.e. a mainly physical differences, that, reasonably, have affected the history of the world economies with an active role in originating the inequalities we are observing now.

Changing our economy implies to face these climate diversities, maybe now more than in the past, to image a future more equitable civilization as it is described in the vision of a Degrowth Economy, or another new desirable more equitable Economy, that I think, we need so much precisely ‘now’.

The message of Huntington is full of hope, he concludes his treaty saying: ‘If we are able to conquer the climate, the whole world will become stronger and nobler”.

But something is telling me…that we are going exactly in the opposite direction. The domain on climate risks to go out of our hand, and for this reason, the climate issue remains, in my opinion, the most urgent problem to face to leave a dignified human legacy to the future generations.

Places to B when Scool is IN

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Published on Peak Surfer on May 7 & May 14, 2017

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Places to B

 

 

 

 

 

"Landing men on the moon once seemed impossible, too. We did it with the help of computers less intelligent than the Calculator App in your smart phone."
 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

In our story thus far we find our little party of bipedal vertebrates adrift on a planet whose climate is experiencing hyperthermia — quickly approaching heat stroke. This world is already running on the inner edge of the zone for habitability as it orbits its nearby star. An orbital shift just slightly closer to Venus or sightly farther from Mars would render it as inhospitable to life as either of those two neighbor worlds.
 
That unfortunate ending could also be achieved by a subtle shift of its atmospheric chemistry — a mere one tenth of one percent change in a single component (carbon dioxide, for instance) could be enough to irreversibly doom all higher life forms, beginning with high-maintenance mammals such as our little party. A comparable shift in the opposite direction would return the comfortable conditions of the late Holocene in which we evolved.
 
There are no lifeboats, and no nearby world to colonize. We have to either repair the thermostat on this vessel or perish.
 
 

 

 

 

 

If we listen to the best minds among us, we know that it is no longer adequate to curtail air pollution, even if we ended fossil fuels by 2020. We have to net sequester carbon from the atmosphere, and draw out at least a third of what is already up there — the legacy emissions of our predecessors. We need to do it fast — within decades. Given the tipping points already crossed, we may need to take down even more, even faster. We’ll find that out soon enough. The important thing is to just get started.
 
Dr. Glen Peters, Senior researcher, CICERO:
 

 

 

 

 

We often point to the faster-than-expected deployment of renewables, but rarely point to the slower-than-expected deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS). CCS is a key technology in scenarios, both with bioenergy and fossil fuels. CCS is a tougher nut to crack than thought due to technical, political and social constraints. According to most emission scenarios, if we don’t have large-scale CCS, then we can’t keep below 1.5/2C.

 

 
Hannah Mowat, forests and climate campaigner for Fern:
 
 
The level of ambition shown by countries in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) puts us on a pathway upwards of 3.6C. So, at the moment, much greater levels of ambition are needed from countries to put us on a path of emissions reductions that are steep enough to minimize any reliance on negative emissions (possibly to zero for 2C), to give us the greatest possible chance of staying below the 2 and 1.5C limits. Nothing should distract us from the need to shift to a fossil free world in the next decades.
 
 
Of the drawdown options, some work better than others. Some are easier to scale, some more difficult, or expensive. Some are downright dangerous. Some are snake oil. In the snake oil category is the current darling of technocornucopians: BECCS — Biomass Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage. In little more than a decade, BECCS had gone from being a highly theoretical, money-changers’ proposal for Sweden’s paper mills to earn double carbon credits to becoming a “key negative emissions technology” promoted by the IPCC to avoid dangerous climate change.
 
 
Dr Joeri Rogelj, Energy research scholar, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis:

 

Any technology deployed at large scale comes with pros and cons, and negative emissions technologies are no exception. Currently, no negative emissions technology [NET] entirely avoids potential detrimental societal side effects in a worst case scenario, but neither is there a single (low-carbon) energy technology that exclusively provides benefits. Nevertheless, our society will continue to produce energy in the future, and emissions have to be reduced to meet the Paris Agreement’s objectives. Technology preferences, thus, have to be considered against this backdrop: policies ensuring that detrimental side effects are limited are essential.

 

Considering these limitations, the most promising negative emissions technology appears to be the combination of centralized bioenergy power plants with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). In contrast to other negative emissions technologies, this technology provides the additional benefit of producing energy instead of merely consuming it. There surely are issues for its up-scaling. In general, negative emissions technologies’ only benefit is the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere. Without CO2 emissions being penalized or strongly discouraged in some way, a large-scale deployment does never seem realistic. Then, there are further issues related to land and water competition for biomass production – this is a more general problem, not just for negative emissions – and related to safe ways to transport and store CO2. There is no silver bullet solution to climate change mitigation.

 

At first blush this sounds realistic. We can deal with  criticism that “in general, negative emissions technologies’ only benefit is the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere” by adding other benefits. In fact we could add enough benefits that NET pays for itself and even increases wealth, growing all 8 forms of capital in the process. We could make terra preta soils this way — making electricity from biomass crops or ag wastes, making biochar in the process and converting that to biofertilizer and probiotic feeds.

 

Sadly, that is not what the BECCS people have in mind. They are more into “sky mining;”  replacing fossil coal with plantation monocropped charcoal briquettes, shipped on railcars and burned in gigawatt steam plants to keep the lights on in distant skyscrapers and running subterranean, 135-mph Tesla autobahns, perhaps in the process sending a portion of the flue gas from the briquette burn down a pipe to the bottom of the ocean. That last stage would come at many times greater cost than the entirety of the other parts of the process, including the Tesla autobahns.

 

BECCS was studied last month by CarbonBrief. It appeared at first, in the early 2000s, as a backstop technology in case we got bad news from the climate system. Today it has become the savior-in-chief for technological civilization.

 

The acronym BECCS first appeared in 2001 in a paper in Science that suggested that switching from fossil to biomass energy and then storing the carbon emissions underground could sequester 500 gigatons of carbon over the course of the 21st century, which represents some 35% of projected emissions. The paper’s authors said:
 
 
“The long-run potential of such a permanent sink technology is large enough to neutralize historical fossil fuel emissions and satisfy a significant part of global energy and raw material demand.”
 
 
This is a big claim. It begs scrutiny. As CarbonBrief discovered, BECCS fails on several grounds. 

 

Rob Bailey, Director of energy, environment and resources, Chatham House:
 
 
Before 2050, speculative technologies such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), direct air capture and ocean geoengineering offer little promise, due to a variety of economic and technological hurdles. For now, less exotic land-use practices, such as soil carbon management, biochar, forestation and wetlands restoration, offer more promise. These are proven, and negative emissions can be achieved with immediate effect.
***
Speculative negative emissions technologies may be worse than chimeras if they result in the false comfort that continued fossil fuel emissions can simply be offset, thereby diverting financial and policy resources from conventional mitigation. This would be reckless. It is clearly less risky not to emit a ton of CO2 in the first place, than to emit one in expectation of being able to sequester it for an unknown period of time, at unknown cost, with unknown consequences, at an unknown date and place in the future.
 
 
Prof Ottmar Edenhofer, Co-chair of AR5 Working Group III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; Chief economist, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research:
 
 
It is clear that the infrastructure needed for BECCS, in particular, is massive in many of the current low-stabilization pathways and that we are late in ramping this up. On average, these pathways require investments into BECCS of $138bn and $123bn per year for electricity and biofuel respectively in 2050.
 
 
The industry is not without its cheerleaders, however. Prof David Keith, Gordon McKay professor of applied physics at Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; and professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School; Executive chairman of Carbon Engineering:
 
 
All else equal, a ton of carbon removed by injecting it into a deep geological reservoir, or by adding alkalinity to the ocean, buys us more environmental protection than a ton of carbon captured in a forest or in biochar mixed into soils. Both both deserve more attention and research, but it’s dumb policy to treat them equally.

 

John Lanchbery, Head of climate change policy, RSPB:

 

We have reservations about the practical feasibility and costs of deploying NETs [Negative Emissions Technologies] on a large scale and, so far, none have been. As the IPCC AR5 points out for BECCS: “The potential, costs and risks of BECCS are subject to considerable scientific uncertainty.”  Even large scale monoculture plantations (afforestation), which are probably the most practical NET, would require vast amounts of water, hundreds of cubic kilometres per year, and would undermine efforts to increase food security, alleviate poverty and conserve biodiversity.

 

Yet reaching 1.5C will undoubtedly limit climatic impacts on biodiversity and food security, but will probably require negative emissions in the range of 450-1000 GtCO2 until 2100, even with aggressive emission reductions.  A large proportion, if not all of this, could probably be achieved by the conservation and enhancement of natural forests, peatlands and other natural sinks and reservoirs – without recourse to NETs.
 
 
Prof Pete Smith, Professor of soils and global change, University of Aberdeen:
 
 
One advantage of BECCS relative to other NETs is that it produces rather than requires energy. Similar land and water constraints face afforestation/reforestation. For enhanced weathering of rocks that naturally absorb CO2, whilst the land areas required are vast, crushed rock could be spread on land without changing the land use, perhaps also providing benefits in terms of soil fertility (by raising the pH of acidic soils). The process is, however, currently costly and the mining and grinding of the rock is energy intensive. Direct air capture using chemicals is currently extremely costly and requires extremely high energy inputs, but it has a low land and water footprint.

 

Soil carbon sequestration can be applied on land without changing land use, and provides a range of co-benefits. It is inexpensive, but the sinks created are finite in duration and reversible. Biochar can produce some energy, but the more biochar that is produced, the less energy is generated. The land and water footprint for spreading biochar are negligible, but the land and water footprint of the biomass used as a feedstock for biochar can be large, as for BECCS.
 
 
Implications of transporting feedstocks for BECCS or biochar over large distances also need to be better understood. For any technology involving CCS, more large-scale demonstration projects are required to demonstrate efficacy of carbon storage and to learn by doing – to allow costs to be reduced and efficiencies improved ahead of larger scale roll-out.
 
 
Is BECCS even possible? Many have their doubts. Prof Sir David MacKay, Former chief scientific advisor, Department of Energy and Climate Change:
 
 
A concern about the IPCC-WG3 modelling of BECCS, incidentally, is that I expect it assumes perfectly rational and well-informed behavior. So, in the model, no-one would deforest an area to make a quick buck, because they would be aware of the loss of carbon stocks. Whereas, in reality, it is very difficult to measure carbon stocks in the landscape and, if there are subsidies for biomass without correct carbon stock measurement, it is quite possible that the subsidies would lead to biomass activities that have bad carbon effects in the landscape.

 

Well, I would say that [the scale of negative emissions technologies to meet the aims of the Paris Agreement] is technically deliverable, just about, but the way I always put it is this… The required scale of burial of CO2 by 2100 (measured as a mass buried per year) is, according to both back-of-envelope calculations and the IPCC WG3, about five times as great as today’s oil industry (measured in the same units as a mass extracted per year).

 

Is this technically deliverable? Yes, in principle, but only if many governments make clear that this is their intention, and agree a mechanism, for example, an agreement on a global carbon price, to get it delivered. Do I think it is a realistic view of what the world will do? No, not at the moment, because I think the Paris discussions completely ducked this issue, which is one of the most important issues out there.
 
 
Dr Oliver Geden, Head of EU division, German Institute for International and Security Affairs:

 

When accounting for all dimensions of feasibility, including social and political, it’s hard to imagine that carbon removal on the order of 600-800 GtCO2 – equaling 15-20 years of current annual emissions – can be realized during the 21st century. Based on terrestrial CDR only (like in today’s integrated assessment models) one would need approximately 500+ million hectares of additional land, that’s 1.5 times the size of India. That’s obviously a political no-go, and the main reason why negative emissions haven’t been part of high-level climate negotiations so far, despite the fact that carbon removal has been seriously discussed in the IPCC since 2007 and is an integral part of RCP2.6, the IPCC scenario consistent with 2C. Until now, the introduction of CDR has mainly had the effect of covering political inaction. A strategic debate about how to use CDR within a broader portfolio of climate policy measures is clearly lacking. Most policymakers don’t even know the difference between net and gross negative emissions. For 2C, the world should cross the line into net zero around 2070, but the phase-in of carbon removal technologies will have to happen way before 2050.
 
 
Glen Peters adds:

 

Most carbon dioxide removal technologies require land. Reduced deforestation and increased afforestation will reduce the available land. Without rapid, perhaps infeasible, yield improvements, food production may take more land.

 

But Peters is missing an important point. He is thinking that any NET scenario requires land that will come out of the reforestation or food requirements, when in fact it gives land to those. When the agroforestry potential is considered, and the concept of carbon cascades introduced — forest then food then energy then biochar then more forest — these elements do not exist in opposition to one another. They are a team. Putting rotational food forests on an area 1.5 times the size of India is not a loss, it’s a gain.

 

Hannah Mowat sums it up:

 

The only promising approach to achieving negative emissions is the restoration of terrestrial ecosystems, including accelerating the recovery of degraded forests. Such restoration has the potential to achieve a maximum estimated amount of 330 GtCO2 of removals by the end of the century.

 

Restoration of degraded natural ecosystems is not only possible today, but is an urgent intervention to meet multiple other environmental objectives, such as maintaining and enhancing biodiversity and halting desertification. These actions are also likely to be socially acceptable and effective if done with full consent and by rural communities and forest peoples. Evidence suggests that local people are the best guardians of forests and other ecosystems.

 

There are currently no technologies to remove CO2 from the atmosphere that can be employed at scale. It is very doubtful any will be available at scale within the timescale required. Furthermore, many of the proposed technologies are likely to have a dire social and environmental impact on food security, community land rights and biodiversity.
 
 
Dr. Stephan Singer, Director of global energy policy, WWF International:

 

This is not economical in the “classical” sense and truly inconvenient for some incumbents, but beneficial for the planet as a whole. Socially, developmentally and environmentally, this is superior for the billions of the poor and fragile ecosystems rather than relying on large scale BECCS, for instance, with unknown effects on food security. An effective phasing out of fossil fuels, besides other benefits, would also avoid the premature death of four million people annually from air pollution.

 

Yet, a certain part of negative emissions plays a key role now. Fostering natural carbon sinks in forests, grasslands and soils, if done properly, contribute tremendously to sustainable agriculture and forestry, as well as enhanced biodiversity.

 

Once this is all done, we might not need any of the other contentious technologies of negative emissions, such as BECCS and relying on unproven and leaky geological layers for CO2 storage for thousands of years. But actions have to be taken now!
 
 
The reality is that staying under the 1.5C threshold is now nigh-on impossible. Dr. Andrew King, a researcher in climate extremes at the University of Melbourne concedes that meeting the 1.5C target now means overshooting and coming back down. He told CarbonBrief, “This isn’t possible with current technologies.”

 

The thing is, we are going about this all wrong. The way forward is not trying to sustain the unsustainable — growing bigger megacities powered by gigawatt power monsters and hyperlooping them together while we send Space X missions to Mars to pave the way for waves of Virgin Galaxy tourists.

 

We need to face the facts. If we suddenly came up with a low cost fusion reactor that runs on seawater it would only hasten our demise.

 

The only way for our small party to survive is to step away from the captain’s chair and let Mother Nature retake the helm of this little blue spaceship in this great big galaxy. We can help, but we need to follow her orders.
 
 
In its new study of all available options, Paul Hawken’s Project Drawdown mixes emission reducing technologies and methodologies with actual drawdown counterparts. Eliminating all Project Drawdown’s portfolio of renewable energy and conservation options, less than a quarter of the chosen 100 strategies selected for comparison can actually remove and sequester atmospheric carbon year-on-year:
 
 
  • Afforestation
  • Alternative cement
  • Bamboo
  • Biochar
  • Biomass (if holistically managed to optimize drawdown)
  • Bioplastic
  • Coastal wetlands
  • Farmland restoration
  • Green roofs
  • Managed grazing
  • Multistrata agroforestry
  • Nutrient Management
  • Peatlands (expanding)
  • Perennial Biomass
  • Regen Ag
  • Silvopasture
  • Temperate Forests
  • Tree intercropping
  • Tropical Forests
  • Tropical staple trees
  • Waste-to-energy (with CCS)
     
 
Both Project Drawdown and the BECCS crowd have one thing right. The problem is not technological. We know how to do this, even if is almost impossible. Landing men on the moon once seemed impossible, too. We did it with the help of computers less intelligent than your phone.

 

The problem is entirely one of social consensus. Right now we are in discord because those with the most to lose have muddied the waters to obscure their obscene profits from the destruction of Earth. The way forward is not to jail them (although it’s not a bad idea). The way forward through these recurrent economic obstacles is by bending the profit motive the way an aikido master receives an onrushing opponent. We need to bend the adversary’s momentum to switch the advantage. We need to tame capitalism from unconscionable excess to noble purpose. It is the only way to power our transition to warp speed..

 

Human ingenuity is already bending the curve with Mondragon-style cooperatives, Smart Money investment klatches, and Public Benefit (“B”) corporations or limited liability companies. Profit is not synonymous with greed. Any plant or animal that produces excess seed in order to assure a surplus to “lend” to start the next generation is engaged in capitalism.
 
 
A new class of Cool Bonds and these other strategies provide the seeds of a viral wave to carry the shift from annihilation highway to garden planet. While governments waffle and bicker, the alternative money people are who will step in to invest in afforestation, cool labs, bamboo, and biochar. They will do it at the trillion-dollar level, with or without Deutchebank, Goldman Sachs or a government dole.

 

As we write this it may seem as if the tide is drawing out, but what comes next will hit the business world like a tsunami. That tide will sweep along the politicians with it.
 
 

If you have money to invest, this is where you should invest it: carbon cascades; Cool Lab biorefineries;  fishermens’ cooperatives; girls’ education; permaculture for hedge fund managers, not necessarily in that order. Find places to B. Not places to BECCS.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scool is In

 

 

 

 

 

"Youth, with unpruned neurotransmitters performing at lightning speeds, overcome obstacles and learn faster than adults. "
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Human minds, like no other earthen species we know, move backwards and forwards in time.
 
 
That may be too bold a statement. We have to admit we do not really know how other species think, and a little humility is probably in order. There may be lifeforms we share this planet with that are, by human standards, clairvoyant. Our world is a quantum entanglement of life that constantly co-evolves its relationships with companion lifeforms on an otherwise lifeless rock hurling through cold space.
 
 
Our companions sometimes interact in ways we might call telepathic or teleportating for lack of other words to explain mysterious — nigh impossible — communications of information or materials.
 
 
As we try to imagine how we can possibly scale climate-reversing, ecoforestry-based economic paradigm shifts quickly enough to matter, we return to our oft-repeated premise: the problem is more social than technological.
 
 
We don’t need to discover anything to do this. We know how to do integrated agroforestry that more than pays for the effort after re-establishment; indeed, it provides hefty return ratios of food, fiber, water and social resilience in volatile times. This is a ten-thousand year-old technology. Despite unprecedented climate, energy, political and financial shocks, we know how to draw carbon down from the greenhouse blanket. We know how to make cool labs that offer myriad rewarding microenterprise opportunities from cascades of beneficial products and services that, when all is done, leave beneficial biochar deposits in soils for millennia. 
 
We know how to cascade ecovillage designs into eco-districts, eco-regions, and eco-nations — all sequestering more carbon than they emit and transforming human civilization from a destructive, consumerist, extractive meme to probiotic, symbiotic, circular human ecosystem that heals the damage we have caused since first disturbing the earth with fire, irrigation and the plow — guns, germs and steel.
 
 
What we lack are the experienced guides to show us the way. Many of those we could have had fell as victims to genocide centuries ago.
 
 
When we were at the International Permaculture Conference in London in 2015, we urged those we met to raise a Permaculture Army. We were not in jest.
 
 

In 2015, we met with the multigenerational peoples of a remote valley in the Dominican Republic that, with the entrance of a new road and a bridge across a seasonally impassable river, had been slated for unrestrained tourism sprawl. We took the time to listen to their dreams.
 

 
Because of quick action by a far-sighted alternative development partnership to coalesce government and landowners and thwart the cultural invasion (at least for the moment), that valley has been rescued from the fate of so many scenic places overrun by hotels, resorts, restaurants and spas in search of the quick buck.
 
 
So, what do those people dream? Given the choice between the tourist trade and their heirloom paradise that traces their own and the plants’ and animals’ genetic lines back to the time before Columbus, they naturally chose… neither.
 
 
In formal design charrettes and informal gatherings, they made it clear they had no wish to perpetuate their current situation. They lacked basic health care. The ocean fish stocks they depended upon to feed and provide for their families were disappearing. No-one wanted to buy their coconuts. Their children left for school in distant cities, lost their valley ways and as soon as they were old enough, moved away to find low paying jobs in order to acquire motorbikes and iPhones. What the elders asked for were local health clinics, local markets for coconut and fish, and a school that would teach skills most useful to improve their lives, like regenerative agriculture and sustainable fishing.
 
 
John and Cynthia Hardy
Providing the health clinic is not difficult. We quickly found local markets for coconut and fish. Examples of schools that meet the specifications of the village are also not hard to find. One of the best is John and Cynthia Hardy’s Green School, opened in September 2008 with 90 students and a tailor-made campus that emerged from the jungle and rice fields of Bali. It has since grown to approximately 400 students. 
 
 
The Bali campus is designed around the principles of an organic permaculture system, and the students cultivate an organic garden as part of their learning activities.

 

Buildings are constructed primarily from renewable resources including bamboo, local grass and traditional mud walls. The campus has been reported as an example of the large-scale building potential of bamboo architecture, especially “The Heart of the School” — a 60-meter long, stilt-structure constructed with 2500 bamboo poles.
 
 
In January 2015, the Green School high school students launched the Bio Bus, a student-led social enterprise to provide sustainable transport services to Green School students, teachers and community. This initiative looked at solving the transportation system to the rural setting of Green School, which mainly consisted of private cars, carpooling and motorbikes. The Bio Bus now has three 18-seater buses that run purely on biodiesel (B100) made from used cooking oil.
 
***
 
The school consists of four learning neighborhoods – Early Years, Primary School, Middle School & High School. Special programs include Green Studies, environmental science, entrepreneurial learning, and the creative arts. The structure is the Three Frame Day which includes the Integral Frame, the Instructional Frame, and the Experiential Frame.
 
 
The school "prepares students to be stewards of the environment, teaching them to be critical and creative thinkers, who champion the sustainability of the world and the environment."
 
 
Now imagine a Green School like that going into that valley in the Dominican Republic. One can be in every ecovillage. They, or something very similar, already operate in many of them. We have such a school at The Farm.
 

 

 

 

 

If solutions to climate change are to be found, they will come from those with the most to lose.

 
Prof. Guy McPherson, by way of explaining why he left the conventional state-run university where he was a tenured professor, said recently:
 
 
I was using classroom anarchism as my approach. Anarchism means taking responsibility for yourself, and for your neighbors; learning from each other. In my classrooms I would just show up with a list of questions and then, Socrates like, I would just throw questions at them.
 
 
I gave them all the notes I would be using to teach on the first day of class. So they had everything I had. They could just read ahead 20 minutes before the class started and they knew everything I knew, except what I had in my head. So we just had a conversation.
 
 
I was pointing out that there is another way to live. There is another way to learn. There is another way to teach, beyond what almost everybody is exposed to.
 
 
This is how we will train our change agents. We will build ecodistricts like in the Dominican Republic and we put Green Schools there. They needn’t be just the Green School for children. They can offer vocational retraining and enrichment courses for adults. In these places we can also build Cool Labs, as microenterprise incubators, and as part of the lifelong learning immersion pedagogy. The labs can also offer business opportunities for graduates.
 
 
Last year while we were at the COP22 Climate Summit in Marrakech we had the opportunity to travel 15 miles out of town to the edge of the Agafay Desert with ecosystem regeneration visionary and filmmaker John D. Liu. There we visited the glampsite of Terre des Etoiles and worked alongside Hopi Rainkeepers building stone check dams in desert wadis. Behind the check dams, where the Hopi knew the soil would accrete when it rained, we planted tree saplings that Terre des Etoiles founders knew from their studies would withstand the harsh conditions and eventually reestablish a Mediterranean forest, holding carbon and pushing back the desert.
 
Styled like a Bedouin oasis, Terre des Etoiles offers adventure visitors a night in the desert. It has a kitchen garden and organic farm with horses, camels, goats, rabbits and hens, Berber-rugged bivouac of ten tents, with showers done in traditional Moroccan tadelakt (lime plaster), traditional food and a scenic bar with local beers, honey wine and shisha pipes. After dark a jaw-dropping expanse of stars fades in over the snow capped peaks of the Atlas mountains. 
 
 
John Liu was there because, like ourselves, he was interested in how humans can learn to live on this world without destroying it. After documenting China’s progress of restoring the native ecology of the Loess Plateau, he came to the conclusion that ecosystem regeneration is our only possible future. Solving the climate dilemma is not about flying halfway around the world to attend a conference, listening to presentations, drawing up mind maps on a white board, photographing that and writing a report. It is about growing biomass, building soil, and restoring healthy, healing ecosystems.
 
 
More importantly, Liu grasped the potential of youth as the principal agents of the great change that has to happen. After all, those born before 1980 lucked out. They’ll be dead of natural causes, if nothing else, before the real climate catastrophe takes hold (if we are lucky). Anyone younger than that is going to get a stern taste of the Anthropocene to come. And those kids are already starting to realize they have the most to lose.
 
 
Once they fully appreciate the direction we’re headed, why would someone who will most likely live long enough to suffer the second half of the 21st Century not be motivated to change their future?
 
 
Research into the teenage brain has exponentially exploded over the past decade, from 2,734 citations in 2003 to 5,885 citations in 2013 to a cumulative 118,909 citations in print as of last week.
 
We now know that overall brain size plateaus around age five, followed by significant and rapid reorganization beginning around age eight and lasting into the early twenties. If bigger brains were smarter brains, then African elephants and some whales would be 50 to 75 percent smarter than humans. Smart comes not with size, but with separating wheat from chaff. Our brains are still organizing that part and we age into our 20’s.
 
 
The most notable rewiring during teen years occurs in the frontal lobe, which is responsible for organization, planning, decision-making, working memory, and impulse control, among other executive functions. Teens and 20’ers are risk takers, which is why since the dawn of history they have been thrown into uniform, given a weapon, and sent into combat. Youth, with unpruned neurotransmitters performing at lightning speeds, overcome obstacles and learn faster than adults.
 
Liu has devised a new means to harness the energy of youth to transform their future, and just maybe save their lives. With support from Regeneration International, the Permaculture Research Institute, the World Permaculture Association, Global Ecovillage Network, the Club of Rome and the Commonland Foundation, he has selected severely degraded locations to set up Ecosystem Restoration Camps. A grassroots movement to back his ideas has been growing since July 2016. The first camp is on the ground now in the Altaplano region of Spain. 
 
 
With over a 1000 pledged members coming together, in 2017 Liu’s objective is to finance and manage the first Ecosystem Restoration Camp and from there to help set up more camps worldwide. Already a broad community of researchers, landscape designers, farmers, gardeners, engineers and many other professionals are converging on Spain.
 
 
Re-enfranchised youth from over 75 countries are working shoulder to shoulder, just like our small group that left the COP22 conference and went to join the Hopi Rainkeepers last year, moving rocks and planting trees. This first camp, and the camps that will follow, will restore the surrounding landscape and restore ecosystem functions. They will cascade environmental, social and economic value.
 
These are the Cool Schools of the future, or SCOOLs. There are opportunities for everyone to help but it is mainly the youth of the world who will make this happen. And at night, around the campfire, they will sing, dance, and look up at the stars and say, “this is what it is to be human.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cool Lab

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Published on Peak Surfer on April 2, 2017

PeakSurfer

Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner

"Is it possible that technology no more complicated than an Easy Bake Oven — one that pays for itself — can reverse climate change?"

 

 

Permaculturally, the first stage of any design is protracted observation. What does a biological system have in over-abundance? What is scarce? How will it restore balance? What are the obstacles?

Let us say that an impoverished village in Haiti risks being carried away by mudslides that follow brush fires where the forest has been cut down to supply wood for shelter and cooking. What things are scarce? In no particular order:

 

 

food
water
cooking fuel
secure shelter
energy
productive employment
biodiversity
soil
birth control
health care

What things are over-abundant?

 

mud
deforestation
rain
hurricanes
earthquakes
unemployed people
superstition
resentment
mosquitoes
climate change

Lets see which of these things we can match up and cancel out. What we are about to describe is a carbon cascade.

The hillside needs to be planted with vegetation. It is especially important that the hilltops be forested. A keyline analysis will show us where water wants to go when it rains, and how best it can be held high in the landscape and directed both to subsurface flows and to dam storage for uses in the dry season. Alley cropping along the contours follows hand-cut swales (or machine cut where financial capital  substitutes for social capital).

The berms are planted with successional understory (in this tropical example, pineapple, cassava, ginger, allspice, coffee and medicinal herbs), mid-level canopy (banana, papaya, moringa, cacao, mulberry, tree legumes of mimosa, cassia, and pea subfamilies, chaya, climbing vines such as vanilla, dioscorea, cucumber, chocho and pasaflora, and eventual overstory (coconut, jackfruit, breadfruit, breadnut, ramon, samwood, mahogany, cedar, bamboo, peach palm, etc). Between the alleys are seeded perennials such as callalu, okra, sorghum, and supergrasses like kernza (Thinopyrum intermedium), sunn hemp (Crotalaria juncea), pennisitum and pearl millet hybrids (Tembo), brassica napus, amaranth, etc., as well as familiar food crops such as maize, rice, yam and beans, where soils and water supply are well suited.

As much as possible, the planting process can be accompanied by biofertilizers having a high percentage of finely pulverized biochar, activated indigenous microorganisms, some immediate food for those microbes (such as composted food wastes and manures), and minerals keyed to redress local soil deficiencies. If these biofertilizers are not immediately available for the first plantings, they can always be added later, as a byproduct of the early harvests.

Water in storage on the hillsides is edge-planted with Acoris, a plant that inoculates the water with a mosquito-larvae destroying resin. As the Acoris matures, pools and dams progress from being mosquito generating to mosquito decimating.

In the lowlands, water that overflows from catchments above is directed into chinampas, constructed wetlands composed of alternating islands and channels and rotating between aerobic (horizontal and vertical flow reedbeds) and anaerobic (settling lagoons) seeded with aquatic and semi-aquatic plants (taro, Chinese water spinach, lotus, azola, wild rice) and freshwater fish (aquaculture). Acoris for mosquito control can also be planted here, but the fish do most of that work already, so the plant is only needed in mudflats and places fish cannot go. The appearance of this microbiome also augurs the reappearance of frogs, peepers, lizards, dragonflies, water birds, bats, turtles, and forest mammals who venture to the water's edge to drink.

Within the first season, the hillside mud problem is erased, deforestation is reversed, and food scarcity begins to be alleviated from the fast-yielding varieties of annuals, perennials and fish. Productive employment can expand this system as much as available land permits, even on relatively steep hillsides. Resentment diminishes, and with it, superstition.

Within the village a regenerative, biological energy system arrives to replace the fossil fuel (diesel electric) grid-based source that previously had supplied electricity only intermittently, occasionally dimming lights and frying phone chargers and boom boxes.

This system consists of a biomass furnace, running on the woody wastes from coppice (the moringa, jackfruit and cassava plantation), coconut, rice or other shell crops, pelletized supergrasses and other biomass after food harvest or extraction of leaf protein, vitamins and useful fiber.

The loading dock at the biorefinery receives raw materials second-harvested from the farms. Leaves of tropical legumes (Leucaena Zeucocephala, Vigna unguiculata, Clitoria ternatea, Desmodium distortum, Psophocarpus tetragonolobus, Macroptilium lathyroides, Phaseolus calcaratus, Brassica napus, and Manihot esculenta, for instance) are taken by conveyor and chopped into 2-cm pieces, soaked in 2-percent sodium metabisulfite, disintegrated in a hammer mill and pressed in a single-screw press. The expressed juice is heated with steam (produced by the furnace) and protein coagulum collected, centrifuged, and pressed, then spread in a thin layer on glass plates and dried in an air-filtered, dehumidified room. It is then collected as a powder and containerized to be used or sold as a feed supplement.

At its most basic level, high-protein, high-quality leaf protein fractionation is simple. Production is geared to consumption by farm animals to remove some of the food safety, preservation and storage concerns. Later improvements can produce dried leaf extracts for human consumption but higher capital costs are incurred and clean-room protocols by workers become essential.

Following leaf-protein extraction, the dried mash from the press is used as a feedstock for the furnace, where it joins other dried agricultural wastes: coppice wood, prunings, bamboo thinnings, pallets, cardboard boxes, coconut coir, nut and rice husks, etc. All of this is pyrolyzed, the heat captured to run both the leaf protein process and produce electricity, and co-products (fractionated volatile gases, wood vinegar) drawn off before the final product — high quality biochar — remains.

The biochar is quenched (preferably with urine because that adds a 30% fertility gain), pulverized, and charged (blended with microbe-rich aerobic compost) to make a potent “cool” biofertilizer. Alternatively, it is kept at food-grade and sold as a dry product for use as a food supplement, animal feed probiotic, water filtration medium or deodorizer. At less-than-food-grade it can be used as a litter amendment to reduce smells in animal enclosures, improve the fermentation of silage, or go into a variety of natural building materials — paints, dyes, plasters, wallboard and bricks. And it can always become biofertilizer, even after undergoing one or more of these other uses.

Styrofoam “clamshell” food containers, which are ubiquitous from take-out restaurants and shops in the cities and often wind up just floating away on ocean currents, never to be destroyed, are collected and brought to the biorefinery. There they go into an acetone bath and the dissolved liquid blended with low-grade biochar and poured into molds to dry. The resulting hard resin is mold-proof, waterproof, non-degradable, lightweight and durable. Depending on the dies and molds, it can become a whole range of products — roofing tile, caulk, surfboards, fishing boats, life-vests, doors, bicycles, and ice chests.

 

 

If there is a surge in demand for a particular product — refrigerator deodorizers or animal feed supplements, for instance — or there is a surplus of some particular feedstock — bamboo knocked down by a storm — the biorefinery can shift its production pattern to take advantage immediately.

This  system sequesters more carbon than it emits, so we call it “cool.” By adding biochar, mineral rich compost, and microorganisms to the poor soils, we can jump-start soil productivity and boost farm productivity. The gains in those alley-cropped contours will be anywhere from 40-percent to 400-percent vegetative growth, depending on the type of plants and the quality of the soils (poor soils will produce higher performance gains than good soils). The same can be said for fish and livestock fed the leaf-protein and biochar nutriceuticals.
Let us pause here just a moment. Step back and take a look at the big picture. What is really being increased here is not so much village-scale well-being as photosynthesis. How are the greenhouse gases that are causing climate catastrophe — principally CO2, CH4 and N2O — to be removed from the atmosphere? Mainly, although not exclusively, they will be removed by photosynthesis. The more of Earth's surface that can be brought to bear on that task, the sooner the vital balance that harbors life on this tiny blue rock in space can be restored and the crisis ended.

Poultry can free-range the alleys to benefit of both plants and animals. Grazers can be moved through rotational cells that take advantage of water impoundments and high quality supergrasses. Fed nutrient-dense supplements with biochar, fish, poultry and grazing animals all grow faster and healthier without antibiotics or hormones, and deposit long-lived biochar back into the earth for long term carbon storage and soil fertility.

Growing nutrient-dense, no-till, organic food and perennial fibers on these marginal lands, using bioenergy and biofertilizers, creates a new, circular bioeconomy.  There is no such thing as waste. Nothing need leave the system, but what does is not raw material or pollution — representing the depleting wealth of the land — but high value byproducts — providing return on social capital invested. Waste becomes an orphaned verb.

Transportation presents an energetic challenge in the post-petroleum world. Nearly all modern forms of transportation evolved in an era of cheap net energy and diminish in economic viability when costed on renewable sources and life cycles.

Gone will be diesel-powered semi-tractor-trailers and locomotives. There could be new generations of electrified tow-paths for barges and gondolas, mag-lev rail and other innovations, but these costly innovations will be fragile in an era marked by overpopulation, resource constraints, climate chaos and economic contraction and likely will not provide a stable foundation for commerce in most places. Returning will be sail and animal powered transport.

If taken to maximum scale (rotationally planting an area the size of India each year and installing Cool Labs in every village), at a capital cost of $10000 to $15000 per hectare, the price would tally up to approximately 2% of the price of the fairy dust BECCS (Biomass Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage) conversion favored by geoengineers stuck in the fossil industrial paradigm.

 

 

 

Moreover, while BECCS represents continuing cost and is fraught with risk from plantation biomass crops — possibly genetically engineered and carrying along the can of worms that opens up — hazardously supplanting forested, multi-diverse, self-regenerating ecosystems. The Cool Lab alternative represents antifragile synergies of local conservation communities, continuous and adaptive profits, and continuous gains in ecological health, stability and wealth.

Can the conversion be done in time? In contrast to the 45-year gradual expansion of soybean cropping from the early 1960s to reach 200 Mha today, this system offers 5 times the protein per area farmed while providing a far greater, and more immediate, returns on investment. When one considers the rapid growth of renewable energy in the past decade, consider this: an energy producing Cool Lab costs one-seventh the capital as hydro, wind or solar and runs entirely on "wastes" that would otherwise be destined to add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere but are now intercepted and neutralized.

Cool Labs use the existing financial and technological landscape of the world today and simply change the way products are produced in order to heal the earth, balance carbon, and make more real wealth for more people more quickly. Does this hold a hazard in the form of perpetuating wealth inequality, militarism and hegemony by the "taker" class? Yes it does. However, in the post-petroleum era, relocalization of economies is inevitable, and with relocalization comes local control over shared destinies. Cool Labs represent circular economies that are inherently leveling.

Each lab adapts to needs and available resources and can flex to provide more or less of a particular kind of benefit and tailor fuels to available feedstocks and labor options. The number of cascades possible is limited only by the imagination and each year we conceive of more. We are at the dawn of a new kind of lean, clean, nature-centered economy.

This system can turn almost any human settlement into an ecovillage, although the criteria for what defines ecovillage must necessary include a few more elements than merely having a Cool Lab or permacultural support systems.

Ecovillages are based on a cohesive worldview, an abiding respect for the ecological integrity of your home biome, a circular local economy and a culture of peace and mutual respect. Depending on your starting point for each of these elements, bringing all of them into harmony can take time and effort.

The energy and food production system using mixed-aged, mixed-species forest, wetland and marine ecosystems we’ve outlined, taken to scale on the world's available marginal land (not productive farmland or developed areas) could restore the fertility of those soils and waters while sequestering carbon from the atmosphere at the average rate of 17 PgC/yr after getting established. To get back to the Holocene we need to return atmospheric carbon to pre-industrial range, around 260 ppm. The system just described, at full scale, could do that within about 50 years, taking into account the oceans' CO2 outgassing feedback.

Village scale Cool Labs could achieve the cumulative storage of 667 gigatons of legacy carbon required to bring atmospheric carbon back to pre-industrial levels in the lifetimes of the majority of people now living. Were nations to collectively phase out fossil fuels as quickly as called for in the Paris Agreement, restabilization of the climate would be achieved sooner.

Recovering one percentage point of soil organic matter means that around 27 long tons of organic matter per hectare would enter the soil and remain there. Because around two thirds of organic matter added to agricultural soils will be decomposed by soil organisms and plants and given back to the atmosphere, in order to add permanently 27 tons, a total of 81 tons of organic matter per hectare would be needed. This cannot be done quickly or it just washes or evaporates away. A slow process is required.

 

 

 

 

 

An example of how this could play out in Haiti or anywhere else can be seen in the Loess Plateau of Northern China where fertile soils were overworked until they had to be abandoned. At the time of abandonment organic carbon concentrations had dropped to under 3 percent. Thirty years later Loess soils had regained concentrations of 6 percent by natural processes. If natural restoration were accelerated by amending soil carbon in both metabolizable forms (such as crop litter and manures) and recalcitrant forms (such as biochar), the potential to increase soil carbon in a few decades could be raised to 10 percent or greater. This could happen virtually anywhere.

A farm that switches to organic, animal powered no-tillage methods can sequester 1 to 4 tons of organic matter per acre per year. By employing perennial polycultures, rotated pastures of grazing animals, trees and wild plant strips, that amount can be doubled or tripled.

Harvard professor Thomas Goreau writes:

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%.


If the recuperation of soil carbon became a central goal of agricultural policies worldwide, it would be possible and reasonable to set as an initial goal the sequestration of one half ton per acre-year (1.5 t/ha-y or 500 grams per m2/y), comparable to the 4 pour 1000 program (4 grams per kg of soil) proposed by the French delegation at COP-21.

Carbon stored in the world's soils and living biomass provides additional benefits beyond sequestration. As soil conditions improve, erosion and pests decline and the land comes back into balance. Farming this way globally could sequester about 8 percent of the current total annual human-made emissions of 10 petagrams of carbon (PgC). However, the fertility gains (equivalent to more than all of current global fertilizer production) would mean that chemical fertilizers could be (and should be) eliminated where carbon farming is practiced. By reducing emissions of nitrous oxide from fertilizer (equivalent to approximately 8 percent annual human-made greenhouse gases) and the transportation and energy impacts of fertilizer production, we shave another 1 percent off global emissions.

But let's keep going. If organic waste is returned to agricultural soils in the form of compost, then methane and CO2 emissions from its current destinations to landfills and wastewater (equivalent to 3.6 percent of man-made emissions) could be significantly reduced. Even a modest start, such as by elevating the soil carbon content of existing farmed soils by 0.4 percent, would have the potential to offset global greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 20 percent per year.

If biochar is added to the compost, we can quickly get to 100 percent, and then 120 percent. That is when it starts to matter.

After 10 years, we can increase progressively the reincorporation of organic matter into soils. By mid-21st century, we could increase the total world reservoir of carbon in the soil by two percentage points, and possibly more. In this way it is conceivable to restore our soil carbon reservoir to 10 percent, as Goreau argues. Because the system works best in poor soils, and because it eventually creates its own hydrological cycles, it can even re-green and reforest sandy deserts.

Are we doomed to Near Term Human Extinction?

Not yet. While there are still wild cards waiting to be played, what we have outlined shows a complete escape from our present trajectory. Is it possible that technology no more complicated than an Easy Bake Oven — and that pays for itself — can reverse climate change?

The rotary oven pictured at the top of this essay gasifies waste rice husks at the rate of 2.5 tons per hour. Thirty-five percent of that weight is transformed into biochar. Half of the rest, as pyrogas, is extracted for useful synthetic compounds that replace petrochemicals. The other half of that gas is used to co-generate 1.6 megawatts of electricity from this half-million-dollar biorefinery. It could also be refined into a liquid substitute for gasoline.

The Chinese government has invested heavily to develop this technology, and the wares they are producing are now the most efficient and lowest cost in the world. They will pour another $40 million into advanced biochar research this year.

Chinese Cool Lab reactors have been sold to 20 countries, including Haiti. In Senegal there is a prototype that has been continuously operating for 8 years. In Egypt, the biochar made by their Chinese reactor is producing organic cabbages from the sandy shore of the Suez Canal. We witnessed a similar effect in the infertile clay soil beside the Asian Biochar Centre in Nanjing.

This we know: we can achieve faster and more well-rounded human development within the carrying capacity of the Earth. Will we? Who decides?

This post is part of an ongoing series we're calling The Power Zone Manifesto. We post to The Great Change on Sunday mornings and 24 to 48 hours earlier for the benefit of donors to our Patreon page. Albert Bates is offering ecovillage apprenticeships in 2017 at The Farm from now until July, including instruction on biochar and cool labs.

Wetiko & Rescuing Los Angeles

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Published on Peak Surfer on March 19 & 26, 2017

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Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner

Wetiko

 

  Coming to Los Angeles we had the sensation of slipping into a cultural fogbank. We could not say whether we were actually being bombarded by messages from microwave ovens or watched by cameras concealed in television screens, but the sense was that we had departed from reality.

Frankly we consider ourselves a citizen of the world and find it discomforting to experience provincialism whether upon re-entry to the United States or having conversations in some distant back country hostel. We are not speaking of localization or bioregionalism — all well and good. Rather, what we encountered in Los Angeles was the absence of a fact-grounded worldview across a broad spectrum of the population. Had we been gone that long?

 


The media has cannibalized the minds of millions — drawing their mental attention toward the issues that are bounced around in these information echo chambers and syphoning it away from the deep, systemic threats humanity is now confronted with. The Algonquin Tribe of North America has a name for this phenomenon; they call it Wetiko. It is a mind virus that endlessly consumes the life energies of people (in this case, the emotional energy given to feed this media monster) while neglecting the life-supports that would heal and protect the living things of this world.


We are blessed to be able to be with a diverse cross-section of people who truly get the big picture, to and to have exchanges and strategy sessions in beautiful centers like London, Paris, Marrakech and Tulum. We offset that travel and our other activity with our personal forest, bamboo groves, and keylined biochar tea applications.  We recognize not everyone can have that luxury so we enter into these conversations with humility, gratitude and purpose. Whatever we take away we apply immediately, directly and with good effect.

 

 

Fog moves in over the Pacific, Malibu, March 2017

In Los Angeles we experienced that many people are uninformed about climate change, the Deep State, or even elemental biophysical economics. Moreover, most people we encountered did not want to know. This is not something that more education, a trending app or a blockbuster film will fix. Even if they were engaged in admirable pursuits like provisioning food kitchens in the massive and growing tent cities of the homeless, or seeding green rooftops, verges and balconies that might contribute some of that much-needed food, they were, in other profound ways, making the more overarching problems far worse in ways they were blissfully ignorant of. Here we use ignorant at its root — willfully ignoring. The wetiko mind virus had infected them.

And for us, this perception cut to the quick of who we are and what we do. Do we really want to spend our life saving places like Los Angeles? It isn’t merely that they may be undeserving of salvation, although they may. It is that most of their inhabitants, even the well-intentioned, are actively pursuing an agenda that is antithetical to survival. They are the drowning swimmer who tries to drown the rescuing lifeguard.

 

 

 

The severance of a society from reality, as ours has been severed from collective recognition of the severity of climate change and the fatal consequences of empire and deindustrialization, leaves it without the intellectual and institutional mechanisms to confront its impending mortality. It exists in a state of self-induced hypnosis and self-delusion. It seeks momentary euphoria and meaning in tawdry entertainment and acts of violence and destruction, including against people who are demonized and blamed for society’s demise. It hastens its self-immolation while holding up the supposed inevitability of a glorious national resurgence. Idiots and charlatans, the handmaidens of death, lure us into the abyss.

 

— Chris Hedges, The Dance of Death

 

Low Income Housing, Los Angeles

When we began this series we posted a chapter called “Three Pillars” that used some new terms coined by Naffiz Ahmed to describe civilization’s plight. In his lecture at the Global Sustainability Institute of Anglia Ruskin University that subsequently became a full throated exposé of the Deep State, published on February 10, 2017, Ahmed made the salient point that what is playing out in the Trump presidency is a battle of world views, with no possible winner.

 

Neither side truly understands that they both remain locked into the old, dying industrial neoliberal paradigm. That both the conventional Republican and Democrat strategies have failed. And that if they continue to ignore and overlook the reality of the global systemic crisis and its escalating symptoms, they will both become increasingly disrupted and irrelevant to large sectors of the American population.

In that scenario, politics will become increasingly polarized, not less so. Republicans will seek to shore up their white nationalist support base while Democrats will continue to lose credibility as a genuine critical voice due to their establishment myopia.

Ahmed says that ultimately this will lead to even more violence:

 

 

Both pro- and anti-Trump factions of the Deep State are in denial of the fact that this escalating crisis is due, fundamentally, to the global net energy decline of the world’s fossil fuel resource base.

 

In a time of fundamental systemic crisis, the existing bedrock of norms and values a group normally holds onto maybe shaken to the core. This can lead a group to attempt to reconstruct a new set of norms and values — but if the group doesn’t understand the systemic crisis, the new construct, if it diagnoses the crisis incorrectly, can end up blaming the wrong issues, leading to Otherization.

***

For every degree to which Trump upscales aggression, America’s real national security will be downgraded. And like any good despot, Trump’s failures will become food for his own propaganda, to be conveniently blamed on the myriad of Others who, in the small minds of the Trump faction, are preventing America from becoming ‘great again.’

Erebus Wong, Lau Kin Chi, Sit Tsui and Wen Tiejun, writing for the independent socialist Monthly Review,  observe that China’s industrial strength comes not from the sprinkling of some magic fairy dust or the discovery of oil superfields but from the inherent power of rural farmers grounded in nature. The Chinese countryside, they note, “has become the source of a vast ‘labor reserve,’ allowing the state to rely on sannong—the so-called ‘three rurals’ of peasants, villages, and agriculture — as the foundation of China’s turbulent but continuous modernization over the last sixty years.”
 

Brickwork on million-dollar Malibu home

Chinese rural society has been able to absorb the risks of this modernization because of the strength of its relation to nature, an advantage that has never been adequately acknowledged. Chinese agricultural society has been formed on the basis of common needs, such as irrigation and disaster prevention. This interdependence creates a collective rationality, with community, rather than the individual peasant or family, as the basic unit in the distribution and sharing of social resources. This focus on collective needs runs directly counter to the Western emphasis on individual interests. Over thousands of years, Chinese agricultural society has become organically integrated with the diversity of nature, giving rise to an endogenous religion of polytheism. As it plans and promotes its vision of sustainable development and peaceful trade, China should look inward, to these age-old social structures, as a guide to the future.


What the authors describe as “collective rationality” is actually a description of the rationality of natural systems. Rural peoples live within, and allied with, those rational patterns. When we visited Los Angeles, what we were seeing was not so much a collective neurosis as a collective separation from underlying rationality.

Sure, there are elements of earth-restoration, ecocity design and city repair within Los Angeles, but even those seemed to us largely divorced from the realization that the city’s food comes from fossil energy, not deepening soil, the city’s water comes from disappearing aquifers and vanishing snow melt, and that the fracked gas that heats their buildings and lights their streets is upsetting the balance of nature upon which those other things depend.

Rescuing Angelinos, or any megalopolis inhabitants (the Chinese included) from their almost certain fate will be a serious challenge, and one we will explore in our continuing installments in this series.

 

Rescuing Los Angeles

 
"How can we use our hard wiring to communicate to the herd that it is time to veer off from a race towards the cliff’s edge which most don’t yet see?"

 

 

 

 

  In the concrete desert that is downtown Los Angeles we were blessed to find a green oasis at the corner of Vermont and 1st Avenues known as Los Angeles Eco-Village.

LAEV has taken a two-block area of random residents and small storefront businesses, alleys and churches and transformed it into a traffic-calmed and car-restricted promenade with fruit trees, mosaic tables and cob benches built around larger canopy trees, verge gardens, interior courtyards and attractive outdoor classrooms. It has created attractive residences affordable to lower income people, stores and kiosks selling products and services made or provided by neighbors. It has converted large apartment complexes to low income, ethnically diverse cooperative housing, and is transforming four-plex garages to 3 or 4 story mixed use development with retail, offices, and super affordable “tiny” housing, with small ecological footprint and no parking. It created California's first bicycle kitchen (starting literally from the kitchen in an apartment house) — a way of cooperatively building, sharing and maintaining bicycles and the skill-set that goes with that.

A recent purchase of an abandoned building and vacant lot on the corner of Vermont Avenue will allow them to create People Street Plaza with two parklets and an enclosed bike corral, a solar arbor for small electric neighborhood plug-in vehicles and pedal hybrids, plus metered parking and expanded city repair functions at two intersections.

Next year the ecovillage plans to eliminate sidewalks and parking lanes on north side of White House Place and install an urban organic working farm/food forest.  In the future they would like to acquire 5 four-plexed apartment houses on White House Place to ensure permanent affordability for 80 to 120% of poverty-level income if existing/future qualifying residents will commit to going car-free within a specified time, and providing convenient car share options.  They would power these new homes by installing neighborhood solar PV over the school parking lot. Beyond 2030, when the parking lot is no longer needed, they would create an urban farm.

More ambitious, and requiring more city approvals, are plans to acquire and retire the auto repair shops, raze them and reopen the concreted-over hot springs, Bimini Baths, that were overtaken by sprawl and pavement almost a century earlier. They'd like to open a center for therapeutic and recreation and to offer affordable housing for healers (so they can charge lower rates for lower income residents). They'd like to bring back the trolley service to the tracks that used to carry bath patrons to and from other parts of the city. For the immediate future, a vegan café and outdoor garden is planned to replace the auto repair shops. 

Much of this will be accomplished by local residents, using a Cooperative Resources & Services Project (CRSP) Ecological Revolving Loan Fund (ELF) which has the potential to generate about $2.5 million every three to six month period.
 

Imagine, for a moment, all cities transformed from the bottom up in this fashion. LAEV does not plan to produce all its own food, water, power and other needs from within its two-block area, but it could. Instead, it encourages doing some of that while also participating in cooperatives that join together the products and services of other parts of the city. Once upon a time the founder of permaculture, Bill Mollison, was asked how cities could become sustainable. He responded that it was only by providing for all their needs within their boundaries. Los Angeles, even now, at 5000 persons per square mile, could do this. But then, like LAEV, it would need to take another step and begin the process of producing food, fiber and energy while progressively withdrawing carbon from the atmosphere.

Ecovillages similar to LAEV — The Farm, Earthaven, Findhorn, ZEGG and Seiben Linden — have already demonstrated their ability to net sequester more than their own carbon in order to reverse climate change, even while implementing the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, using a combination of for-profit and non-profit social enterprises and a holistic, deliberative approach. Over the past few years they have risen still another step and are embarked, with Global Ecovillage Network, Gaia University and Gaia Education, upon a process of building curricula and the cadre of trained instructors that will carry the work to a global scale. This core idea, brought by ecovillages at the cutting edge of an historic shift, is part of the British Commonwealth's new Regenerative Development to Reverse Climate Change strategy announced at COP-22. It is also allied with the Chinese Two Mountain policy we described here in December.

Ecovillages are like a shadow world government. They are not top-down electoral, C3I or Deep State puppeteers; they are grass roots, spontaneous, semi-autonomous networked infiltrators. Their weapons are not Death Stars or enslaving financial schemes but viral memes spread by new media, art and gardening. They run on the energy and creativity of youth. They are a bullet train on a return track back out of the Anthropocene.

What is needed now, today, is exactly that sort of low cost, rapidly deployed, hugely scalable approach to reversing human misery, ecological destruction and climate change that will find apolitical social acceptance, quickly, without the requirement of carbon taxes or offset markets that only serve to line the pockets of the obscenely obtuse. Indeed, to scale quickly, it should use tested, off-the-shelf technology, be antifragile, employ lots of young entrepreneurs, and provide a sensible return benefit for those in the older generations who hazard their limited time and resources to assist.

The adoption process for carbon-sequestering economies could benefit from the ideas Malcolm Gladwell expressed in The Tipping Point: How Small Things Make a Difference (2000). Gladwell argued that the ability of viruses (whether diseases or ideas) to spread quickly, and universally, depends on their ability to be attractive and sympathetic. They need to be able to cross cultures, genders, age groups, and races.

Gladwell pointed to three elements that cause epidemics to spread, and said these same elements are fundamental to any large-scale social change. They are:

  1. The Law of the Few — some people spread disease (and ideas) better than others.
  2. The Stickiness Factor — the potency of viruses (or ideas and actions) to become universal. Ideas and actions to reverse climate change need to continue evolving and draw in people from around the world. The greater context of our climate dilemma suggests that if a favorable human tipping point is to occur, it needs to be able to cross cultures and to be sticky across all those differences.
  3. The Power of Context — the conditions under which the change is considered tend to either reinforce the change or thwart its spread. Commitment is not enough. The committed have to act, and share their commitment with others.

If a cultural tipping point is required, the tools most associated with cultural evolution should be employed. These include artistic movements (visual arts, performance, music, etc.), fashion (attraction to styles), and celebrity endorsements, among others. Humans evolved as herd animals and we constantly signal to each other our affiliations, tastes and choices. Tapping into this natural process allows memes to propagate when stickiness and context cohere.

This leads us to an examination of the concept of style. What is it in the human genome that makes us such dedicated followers of fashion? Likely it is hard wired by an evolutionary choice our species made several million years back. We hairless apes are more like army ants, gray wolves, dolphins, lions, mongooses and spotted hyenas than jaguars, frogs and horse flies. We are pack hunters.

Herd behavior has a defensive purpose, too. Witness zebras crossing a river full of crocodiles or a young buffalo calf being stalked by wolves. Some will be picked off, but most will survive.

We continuously signal to others in our herd that we are with them. We are part. We are in this tribe. We seek tribe approval, acceptance, respect. We may do this the way birds do, with colorful plumage, or the way horses do, with speed and agility. A necktie or a pants suit are forms of that signaling. A sports car is another.

How can we use our hard wiring to communicate to the herd that it is time to veer off from a race towards the cliff’s edge that most of our group most don’t yet see?

We need to make the change in direction fashionable.

For many if not most, the need to survive is ever present. To Westerners captured by the meme of money, their fragility can be measured by the number of digits left of the decimal point in their bank accounts, real estate valuations or securities portfolios, or by the (thin) thread of an enduring job with health benefits. Standing at the edge of the Seneca Cliff, all of those indica are profoundly perilous routes forward.

Is it possible to break the fantasy of citizens of industrialized countries — that our jobs can continue to provide a magic elixir to meet our needs and debts? Difficult. Not impossible, just difficult.

Greed and familiarity cushion against sensibility. In other cultures, survival is bound by the timing and amount of rains needed for good crops, or the attractiveness of a female to acquire a supportive mate, or the fighting skills and tools for a warrior to dominate. But these also have a dark side.

Given how essential to survival rain, a mate, or fighting skills may be, they are also powerful drivers of aberrant behavior, like the magical belief that if we dance and pray that rain will come, or that anyone who can act the part of ruthless, selfish seducer can attract wealth, power or handsome mates.

That is all going to change, and quickly. Either that or we will all be extinct, and soon. If you want to get in on the change sooner, and avoid the hardship of late adoption, look into joining an ecovillage.

There is one trend afoot that few have seemed to notice. In the two-thirds world trade and commerce have always been dominated by nimble opportunists who see niches, swoop in and exploit them, and move on when the niche is no longer productive. This independent spirit runs against the grain of wage slavery and so harsh sanctions like the withholding of health care and the destruction of public education have been used like cudgels to beat “employees” back into their roles as cogs in the machine. So it was that Columbus destroyed the unsuited-as-slaves Taino and Arawak, or Francisco de Toledo instituted the mita system to compel Quechua and Yanacona encomienda to work the silver mines of Potosí.

Today, the tuned-in, spirited youth force of the world has undergone an evolutionary shift from encomiendista to free-agent. They want to be social impact entrepreneurs, not cubicle rats — blackmail-style benefits be damned. That instinctual shift provides the fuel to ignite the ecovillage revolution.

Earth Day 2017


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Photoillustration by Surly1

“The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot forever fence it out.”   -J.R.R. Tolkien


Saturday marked Earth Day 2017. Across the country, tens of thousands of people took proud part in hundreds of "March for Science" events.  Out in force to protest the anti-science rhetoric and assertively ignorant actions wafting from thankfully-incompetent-but-still-malign trump Administration, a rat's nest full of climate change and science denier billionaires, they sent an unmistakable message of resistance.

In southeastern Virginia, there were four separate events. All well attended.

The President took time out of his busy Saturday grabbing photo-ops wherever he could (such as the one in which he "congratulated" an Army Sergeant who received a Purple Heart for wounds resulting in amputation). Such gaffes used to be politically disfiguring, but in an age without shame or accountability, our reality-show POTUS gallantly soldiered on with his propaganda show designed to change the subject to anything-but-Russia.

Neither shame nor evidence could staunch the borborygmus emerging from trump, as he issued a typically flatulent statement marking the occasion:

"Rigorous science is critical to my administration's efforts to achieve the twin goals of economic growth and environmental protection.

"My administration is committed to advancing scientific research that leads to a better understanding of our environment and of environmental risks. As we do so, we should remember that rigorous science depends not on ideology, but on a spirit of honest inquiry and robust debate.

This April 22nd, as we observe Earth Day, I hope that our nation can come together to give thanks for the land we all love and call home,"

Cue the laugh track. Trump made this statement as thousands of marchers filled the streets of DC and elsewhere directly in response to Trump's threats of budget cuts to agencies funding scientific research. 

Protesters cared little and paid attention less to the movements of 45. They found themselves on the streets marching, here in the 21st century, in support of science, reason, evidence, the scientific method.  Along with passion marchers brought incisive and wittily designed signs.  Here's a non-scientifically selected sample from demonstrations across the country and from the march Contrary and I attended.

Science Day Marches Outdraw trump’s Inauguration.

   

        

   

   

   

   

The turnout at this event numbered at least five hundred, and long lines of peaceful marchers were provided with a police escort as they marched the length of Norfolk's Granby St. My wife Contrary could not resist having her picture made with some of Norfolk's finest. The reception from the authorities was markedly different from that which greeted Occupy in November of 2011. In September of that year, Occupy Wall Street sprouted up and gave birth to dozens of like-minded Occupy groups across the country, including Norfolk. In November of that year, the Bush administration's Dept. of Homeland Security coordinated a city-by-city crackdown and evacuation on Occupy encampments.

She noted the fine turnout with a certain amount of wistfulness, recalling the days when we might get 40 people for general assembly and far fewer for a direct action. I replied that Occupy was the tip of the spear, a catalyst that made a change in the political vocabulary of this country, and one that lit a fire of resistance that has spread to thousands of others. It was deeply gratifying to know that the resulting blaze was afire in dozens of cities around the country and the world.


banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, screeds and spittle-flecked invective here and elsewhere, and once quit barking and got off the porch long enough to be active in the Occupy movement. Where he met the woman who now shares his old Virginia home and who, like he, is grateful that he is not yet taking a dirt nap, and like he, will be disappointed to not be prominently featured on an enemies list compiled by the current administration.

The Sheer Wall

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Published on Peak Surfer on March 12, 2017

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Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner

"A system that places monetary value on products and services but places little value on their source is not sustainable."
  Although the practical tools to reverse climate change are already available, to date the scale to which they have been implemented is not even remotely close to what needs to be accomplished within a very short time. Two vital elements are still missing: shared vision and concerted collaborative action.

How do we get areas the size of India planted in mixed-aged, mixed-species, soil-regenerative, storm- and drought resilient agroforest, grassland and wetland with well-trained and motivated, self-financed productive cooperative management? And do it all again next year? And the year after, and the year after that for the next half century?

The Secretary General of the British Commonwealth looked at this question and, with the help of a few of her friends, proposed a portfolio of answers.

In October, 2016, Patricia Scotland convened the Commonwealth’s Workshop on Regenerative Development to Reverse Climate Change. Over the course of the workshop, particular emphasis was placed on the issue 
of language and terminology.

 

 

To date, the discourse surrounding responses to climate change has been largely negative. Focusing primarily on the scale of the problem and the severity of its consequences, the language employed in the debate has often been alienating, effectively producing a general sense of apathy and disempowerment. In a reversal of this trend, the workshop emphasized a reframing of the debate from problems to potential, and the solutions that flow from potential. In doing so, the aim was to inspire a real call to action.

Of course, changing outlook from pessimistic to optimistic does not make it so. As we have said here before, we humans are nasty pieces of work. Why are there no more mastodons, Atlantic gray whales or Great Auks? How is it that although there were many hominid species roving Earth at one time, ours became the only one, and by what means? What are we doing to the whole of our co-evolved biodiversity as you read these words? What part of that sorry picture is genetically hard-wired, and what part is merely cultural?

The Commonwealth’s report observes:

 

 

 

The primary result of the workshop was the consensus that there are proven techniques readily available to effectively address climate change and regenerate the capacity and capabilities of communities and ecosystems. Drawing on substantial bodies of evidence, recalling numerous success stories and outlining countless potential interventions, the participants agreed that the means to effect real change through regenerative development already exist. The real challenge of the workshop, therefore, was to identify ways to put these means into practice and mobilize action.

The meeting recognized that a statement of the problem and a list of potential solutions is not enough. There has to be the means and the desire to get solutions underway.

The group decided that from a social perspective, it is necessary to develop capabilities to use effective frameworks and processes to align desire 
and action. As practical matter that meant that the world economic paradigm has to shift from resource extraction and exploitation to exhaustion (both material and human) to increasing biological capacity as the driver for economic and social satisfaction of needs.

Only increased photosynthesis is going to rebalance the carbon cycle at this point. But it can’t be a cookie-cutter approach. As the report put it, “Techniques that work well in one context may not be immediately transferable to another; Island nations, for example, have different regenerative needs and potential to landlocked nations.”

 

 

 

Commonwealth Workshop, London, Oct 29-30, 2016

A key finding from the workshop was that a shift in the definitions of wealth and capital is necessary to reverse climate change. That is quite a pill to swallow. But the truth is inescapable:

 

 

 

As things stand, behaviors that increase energy consumption, extraction, production, consumption, pollution, and degradation are generally rewarded. Such activities are promoted as the basis of wealth creation, yet this is demonstrably false. Earth’s natural resources and processes are the source from which all financial capital is derived. It’s impossible for derivatives to be more valuable than their source. A system that places monetary value on products and services but places little value on their source is not sustainable, and it is necessary for humanity to redefine its relationship with the natural world accordingly. Education, information dissemination, and appropriate policy and economic incentive structures are critical in shifting individual behaviors and social ideals, to properly value natural wealth. 

The workshop caught on to a key principle that we have been hammering away at here: this does not have to be financially painful. It can even be reasonably profitable.

 

 

 

Attracting finance means developing approaches that are not only effective at reducing atmospheric carbon, but also generate a realistic return on investment measured by the full range of current Capitals (natural, human, manufactured, social, and/or financial.)
 

***

The Paris Agreement adopted at COP21 has been described as an historic turning point. Now that we have agreed to turn, however, we must start going in a new direction. Regenerative development is this new direction. This involves not only limiting carbon emissions at their source but also sequestering them into standing forests, regenerated grasslands, improved soil and innovative production processes that lock carbon into materials. Through the adoption of regenerative approaches, climate change can be reversed through the recovery and regeneration of the biosphere. Redesigning humanity’s presence on Earth to shift from extractive to regenerative is essential for realizing our species’ potential for shared health and prosperity.

What the workshop participants recommended were some very concrete, easy-to-implement approaches that are unlikely to draw fire from entrenched positions. Community-led initiatives — ecovillages, transition towns, civic drives — are key. They will build local capacity 
for people to work together to help themselves and to realize the unseen regenerative potential within the unique conditions of their local cultures and ecosystems.

 

 

 

But communities do not exist outside of their national context. In this the Secretariat was very helpful. Overseeing 52 countries of common language and culture and almost a third of the world’s population (over 60% of which are under 30 years old), the Commonwealth is ready and willing to lead the way by offering to assist the transitional policies of member governments. 
The way forward that it envisions is by exponentially growing a network of trainers, or “knowledge multipliers,” that can train other trainers around the world but more importantly, inspire.

Finally, the realpolitik of Brexit, Trump and the crash of Ponzinomic petrodollars means that financing has to be more creative than merely looking to government grants, which ultimately rely on tax revenues. Again echoing what we have said here, the workshop concluded:

 

 

 

From the project side, all initiatives must be designed to attract investment and achieve productive returns. At the same time, funding mechanisms and a clear case for investment need to be developed to enable investors to direct their funds to this necessary work.

 

Singer cartoon in Beijing magazine

By analyzing the role of the different forms of capital (material, human, social, manufactured and financial), it is easy see how a capitalist system would develop an unsustainable bias towards placing manufactured capital on a pedestal. By conceptualizing manufactured goods as an endpoint, solely from a consumerist perspective, the creation of “wealth” can be simplistically reduced to profit from efficient exploitation without regard to externalities, such as planetary or social health. This has the undesirable effect of limiting the regenerative potential of human activity. By reconceptualizing to circular economics and biomimetic thinking, manufactured capital comes to depend on regenerative practices.

Social and ecological capital are captured by linking financial gain to the Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs). Only by striving to meet the 17 development goals can a regional development agenda, or a national economy, be considered to be balanced in all forms of capital appreciation.

At the close of the workshop plans were sketched for the establishment of a “Commonwealth Online Incubator for Regeneration & Restoration.”

 

 

This online platform would focus on the practical and immediate implementation of regenerative projects, while simultaneously acting as an awareness-raising medium and repository of information. The incubator will invite applications for projects, selecting and supporting the most promising on a yearly basis. Each year, new projects will be brought to fruition while the previous are monitored and evaluated, creating a continuous cycle of action and learning. Furnished with relevant information, the platform will map and detail the results of incubated projects, disseminating demonstrably effective approaches among communities and decision-makers.

In January, 2017, the Commonwealth drafted a Regenerative Development to Reverse Climate Change Collaborative Manifesto. Among the things it called for were
 “ecosystems of solutions:”

 

 

 

Our people-centred approach aims to help local communities across the Commonwealth to help themselves, enabling them to create elegant ecosystems of solutions carefully adapted to the bio-cultural uniqueness of place. In doing so, we will:
 

  • reverse climate change 

  • increase biomass and bio-productivity 

  • increase and protect bio-cultural diversity 

  • accumulate organic matter as a real store of wealth and health 

  • increase community resilience 

  • build food, energy, and water sovereignty at the community level 

  • leverage the power of collaborative abundance 

  • and address environmental degradation and the causes for hunger, 
poverty, ill health, migration, and war. 


Our hope is to become a welcome species, functionally indistinguishable from the organisms and ecosystems we admire. We look forward to fitting in, at last and for good, on this home that is ours, but not ours alone. 


How do we ecoforest areas the size of India or Australia, year in – year out?

The Commonwealth’s 52 nations include ecosystems that speak for the diversity of all the planet’s climates, covering 40 percent of the world’s land mass, over 20 percent of her forests, and the largest area of coastlines, fronting all the world’s oceans. It also includes 31 of the 39 most vulnerable nations to climate change. Is that big enough?

 

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