Published on Peak Surfer on February 19, 2017
Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner
We first latched onto the notion of catastrophic climate change back around 1980 when we were a young attorney taking quixotic cases involving impossible-to-rectify injustices like cancers among atomic veterans, trespass of sacred sites or nuclear waste disposal, and shoving those insults under the noses of attorneys-general, judges and justices to try to get a reaction.
Occasionally we would finesse a surprising win and that helped attract donations to keep the enterprise running and the entertainment value high, attracting more donors, and so it went.
One such case was against the deepwell injection of toxic effluent from the manufacture of pesticides and herbicides by agrochemical companies in Mt. Pleasant, Tennessee. The effluent in question had been extracted from an aquifer and tested by State laboratories where was quickly ranked as the most concentrated poison they had ever pulled from the wild. A single green fluorescent drop killed all the fish in the tank. There were 6 billion gallons injected under Middle Tennessee from 1967 to 1980. It made Love Canal look like the kiddie pool.
As we mustered our arguments to go before state regulators and appellate judges, we were compelled to counter some rather absurd arguments being advanced by the mop-up squads of high-priced attorneys for the companies. They said, “Heckfire, Tennessee has plenty of water,” meaning there was no good reason to protect the nonpotable (mineral-rich) waters of the Knox Aquifer a mile down.
Apart from the fact that the Knox is an artesian source of water for area industries and thereby already protected from “contaminants” whether toxic or not by the federal Safe Drinking Water act, we advanced two principal lines of argument, bringing in expert witnesses and entering scientific studies into the record.
Our first line was population growth. Tennessee was growing and what may seem like a lot of water in 1980 may not be nearly enough in 2080. The second line was climate change.
We argued that global warming was advancing, just as scientists had been consistently predicting for the past hundred or more years, and that it would put pressure on water supplies not just in Tennessee, but across the continent.
At that time science suggested warming in the 20th century of about half a degree Celsius. Those were the good old days. Nonetheless, persuading a country judge that global warming was real and something to be concerned about was no mean feat.
We had to pull out the big guns. We went to our local congressman and got his assistance to troll the federal agencies for useful studies. We holed up in Vanderbilt science library poring over journals and books on climatology. We spoke to some key figures in the field at that time — Stephen Schneider, Susan Solomon, Kerry Emanuel, Edward A. Martell, Mario Molina — and we assembled that advice into legal briefs and memoranda.
The case lingered on for a number of years but by 1985 had been largely resolved by gutsy State regulators, who wrote new rules that essentially prohibited hydrofracking. The companies shut down the injection wells, closed their factories soon after (the phosphate ores that had attracted them in the first place having long since played out and the costs of hauling in by train making the location uneconomical) and moved on. The litigation cost meter ceased running and the death threats stopped. But we were still beset by unshakable malaise.
We had seen the future, and it was different than we had previously imagined. It was not our father’s future.
The materials gathered over the course of ten years were published in our book, Climate in Crisis: The Greenhouse Effect and What We Can Do. The book came out on the heels of two other fine 1989 books that said essentially the same thing: Stephen Schneider’s Global Warming and Bill McKibben’s The End of Nature, all to resounding popular disinterest.
Fast forward a quarter century and we were still very much in a funk about what the future holds. When our granddaughter was born in 2005 we felt very sad for her.
We were still tracking the literature, still going to conferences, still speaking with experts, but until the International Permaculture Conference in Sao Paolo, Brazil in June, 2007 we had not found much to call hope.
It was at the Ecocentro do Cerrado that year that we caught a first fleeting glimpse. Andre Soares and his partners were conducting experiments in recreating terra preta do indio – the Amazonian Dark Earths. They were, not coincidentally, massively sequestering carbon while growing wholesome food.
Just over a year later, in September 2008, the Permaculture International Journal sent us to Newcastle, England to report on "Biochar, Sustainability and Security in a Changing Climate,” the 2d International Conference of the International Biochar Initiative, with over 225 attendees from 31 different countries and over 70 presentations. That, and some intervening trips back to Brazil to visit the archaeological sites near Manaus, provided the source material for our 2010 book, The Biochar Solution: Carbon Farming and Climate Change.
For those readers who might be new to biochar, the Virgin Energy Challenge offers this quick synopsis:
Biochar is a relatively low-tech approach inspired by the terra preta soils found in the Amazon basin. These black, fertile soils were created in pre-Columbian times by indigenous farming cultures. They mixed wood char, crushed bone, and manure into the otherwise relatively infertile Amazonian soil to build crop beds. The wood char, though not a fertilizer per se, served to buffer nutrients from the bone meal and manure. It apparently served as a soil analog of a coral reef. Its porous structure and nutrient buffering surface area created a favorable microenvironment for communities of soil fungi and other organisms that aided soil fertility.
Terra preta soils, once well established, appear to be self-sustaining. So long as crop cover protects them from wind and water erosion, they maintain their high level of soil carbon and productivity long after additions of the materials that built them have stopped. In fact they gradually increase in depth as new material composts. In the Amazon basin, thick terra preta soil beds built as far back as 450 BCE remain productive and highly valued by local farmers to this day.
Terra preta soils were initially thought to be peculiar to the warm, wet environment of the Amazon basin. Research has shown, however, that similar results can be obtained in temperate regions by amending soils with formulations of biochar and other ingredients tailored to local soil and crop conditions. The amount of carbon that can potentially be stored in this manner is huge; the amount currently stored as soil carbon has been estimated as 2,300 GT, nearly three times the 800 GT of carbon now present in the atmosphere. If soil carbon could be increased globally by an average of just 10%, it would sequester enough carbon to return atmospheric CO₂ to pre-industrial levels.
The issue with biochar then is not the amount of carbon it could ultimately sequester in the soil; it’s (surprise!) economics. There’s little doubt that a well designed program of soil building, incorporating use of biochar as an element, would be an effective way to sequester carbon while providing long term economic value to farmers. It would boost crop yields while reducing the amount of fertilizer needed. It would also reduce water runoff and nutrient leaching while improving drought resistance. On the other hand, biochar is costly to produce and distribute in the amounts needed, and it may take decades for the considerable investment in soil quality to pay off financially.
The key to success for biochar will come down to technology for producing it from local resources, and dissemination of knowledge for how to employ in in a broader program of soil building. A sense of the complexities can be found in a document from the International Biochar Initiative: Guidelines on Practical Aspects of Biochar Application to Field Soil in Various Soil Management Systems. The three VEC finalists developing biochar display the diversity of product and business strategies possible for addressing these complexities.
There are a few errors in that account, but they are trifling. Biochar is not a “relatively low-tech” approach, it is about as low-tech as you can get. Some Amazonian deposits, similar to those “as far back as 450 BCE,” are ten times older than that. Most estimates put soil carbon at 2500-2700 PgC, not 2300 PgC. You don’t need to increase carbon content to 10 percent globally, 5 percent would probably do it, but remember: we were at 20-plus % soil carbon before the age of agriculture and most soils are hungry to get that back. Building it back with biochar makes a more permanent repair, not just moving the furniture around, as other Virgin Challenge competitors — BECCS (Biomass Energy Carbon Capture and Storage), direct air capture and holistic grazing — do.
Biochar gave us hope, but it did not, in and of itself, solve the climate crisis. We asked that question at the close of our book — “Can it scale quickly enough?” The answer, from what we have seen at the recent UN climate conferences and the lack of early adoption as the dominant farming paradigm, is — “Probably not.”
The rapid rise of global temperature that began about 1975 continues at a mean rate of about 0.18°C/decade, with the current annual temperature exceeding +1.25°C relative to 1880-1920 and +1.9°C relative to 1780-1880. Dampening effects by the deep oceans and polar ice slow the effects of this change but global temperature has now crossed the mean range of the prior interglacial (Eemian) period, when sea level was several meters above present. The longer temperature remains elevated the more amplifying feedbacks will lead to significantly greater consequences.
While global anthropogenic emissions actually declined in the past decade, there is a lag time for consequences. The rate of climate forcing due to previous human-caused greenhouse gases increased over 20% in the past decade, mainly due to a surge in methane, making it increasingly difficult to achieve targets such as limiting global warming to 1.5°C or reducing atmospheric CO2 below 350 ppm. While a rapid phasedown of fossil fuel emissions must still be accomplished, the Paris Agreement targets now require “negative emissions”, i.e.: extraction of CO2 from the atmosphere.
In a recent Soil Day paper presented to the American Geophysical Society and the Society for Ecological Restoration, Harvard professor Thomas Goreau wrote:
“Already we have overshot the safe level of CO2 for current temperature and sea level by about 40%, and CO2 needs to be reduced rapidly from today’s dangerous levels of 400 parts per million (ppm) to pre-industrial levels of around 260 ppm.”
Goreau, citing the work of John D. Liu and ourselves, provided his prescriptions:
"Current rates of carbon farming at typical current levels would take thousands of years to draw down the dangerous excess CO2, but state of the art methods of soil carbon sequestration could draw it down in as little as decades if the percentage of long lived carbon is raised to as little as about 10%."
Here we note that Dr. Goreau’s arithmetic is much better than the 4 pour 1000 or Holistic Management calculations we criticized last week. Goreau has distinguished labile carbon from “long lived carbon” and not limited land area just to existing farms. He advocates 10 percent rather than 4 tenths of a percent. He continues:
While all soils can, and must, be managed to greatly increase soil carbon there are two critical soil leverage points that will be the most effective to reverse global climate change, namely increasing the two most carbon-rich soils of all, Terra Preta, and wetlands. These are the most effective carbon sinks for very different reasons, Terra Preta because it is 10-50% carbon by weight, composed of biochar, which can last millions of years in the soil. Wetland soils can be up to pure organic matter, because lack of oxygen prevents organic matter decomposition. Wetlands contain half of all soil carbon, and half of that is in marine wetlands, which occupy only about 1% of the Earth’s surface but deposit about half of all the organic matter in the entire ocean. Yet they are often ignored in both terrestrial and marine carbon accounting. Marine wetland soils have more carbon than the atmosphere, but are being rapidly destroyed in the misguided name of “economic development.”
Biochar is what soil scientists call “recalcitrant carbon,” meaning that it does not readily combine with other elements unless high temperature heat or some other catalyst is present. Consequently, as much carbon as can be gleaned from the normal “labile” carbon cycle and turned into recalcitrant carbon can be kept from the atmosphere. We know from the experience of the terra preta soils that it doesn’t just stay out of the atmosphere for a few seasons, it traps carbon in the soils for thousands of years.
Switching to renewable energy will not arrest climate change. None of the schemes that involve planting trees can succeed unless they also include biochar. None of the claims of Allan Savory, Joel Salatin or the Holistic Management movement for mob grazing, or any of the claims related to organic, no-till, animal-drawn carbon farming by Eric Toensmeier, Michael Pollan, Vandana Shiva and others pencil out to reverse climate change unless you include biochar. Even then, the area required for biochar-augmented conversion of land-use, farming and forestry is massive — something like 7-10 Spains per year, and maybe more. Anything less than that and the ship goes down.
When we first grasped this in Brazil in August 2006, it provided our first “ah ha!” moment. But then we concluded it likely can’t scale fast enough, by gradual adoption through word of mouth or a few good books, to prevent Near Term Human Extinction. In October 2007 we called that our "Houston Moment," not in the sense that "Houston we have a problem" but because we were in Houston at an ASPO meeting when it dawned on us — it may already be blown. The death sentence for our species — in the next century if not this one — could have been handed down even before we were born.
The problem is not the science or the efficacy of the solution. The problem is human willingness to change. There also seems to be something called profit that always complicates matters. We will tackle that, and offer some possible ways forward, in our coming posts.
Published on Peak Surfer on December 18, 2016
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Even here in Xu Ling, where the air is relatively fresh, one needs to shower daily or the scalp itches. Yesterday we were asked in a class making Oregon cob whether you could use bean vines instead of straw. “Yes, but then it would not be Oregon cob. It would be Zhejiang cob,” we replied.
A woman from the Southwestern mountain region tells us she has only rock, not soil. “How do you store carbon in a place like that?” she asks. We ask where her rice comes from. “Far away,” she says. So we tell her that her yard would be a good place to build soil and store carbon. It is not a very satisfactory answer so later we find her and resume the conversation. We ask if her home has wooden doors and window shutters. It does. “That is stored carbon,” we say. We tell her that if she makes biochar and builds garden beds she can grow food almost anywhere and also store carbon. If she has a wood stove to heat her house and modifies it into a wood gasifier, she can be taking carbon out of the atmosphere while making fertilizer all winter. She could even get a little power for her house.
We didn’t bring along the Biolite so we have to settle for showing the Beaner and using the whiteboard to diagram how thermocouples make electricity. We find an old community kitchen wok and make biochar from dried bamboo splits, baking some potatoes while we do. We are informed that the Chinese word for “cool” is “ku.”
It is more than a little odd that some of these crafts have been so recently forgotten. In a recent study of composting practices for the State of Washington Department of Ecology, the authors recall the contributions of USDA scientist Frederick King:
The traditional farming practices of China, Japan and Korea recycled massive amounts of human waste, ash, crop residue and other biomass into agricultural fields. In 1909, the American agriculturalist F. H. King embarked on an eight-month tour of China, Japan and Korea in order to view and document agricultural practices. The resulting book, Farmers of Forty Centuries has become an agricultural classic. Part of King's purpose in the book was to contrast the enduring agriculture of Asia with what he viewed as destructive and wasteful practices then advocated by the US Department of Agriculture (Paull, J. 2011. The making of an agricultural classic: farmers of forty centuries or permanent agriculture in China, Korea and Japan, 1911-2011. Agricultural Sciences, 02(03), 175–180). King declared, "One of the most remarkable agricultural practices adopted by any civilized people is the centuries-long and well-nigh universal conservation and utilization of all human waste in China, Korea and Japan, turning it to marvelous account in the maintenance of soil fertility and in the production of food" (King, F. H. 1911.
Farmers of Forty Centuries. Dover, p. 193). As an indicator of the commercial value of this human waste he found that the city of Shanghai sold concessions to waste haulers, charging one contractor $31,000 in gold for the right to collect 78,000 tons of human waste for sale to farmers outside the city (p. 194). He found compost making to be a high art in Japan where prizes were offered in each county for the best compost. Winners at the county level went on to compete for a prize for best compost in the prefecture (p. 397). Although he did not specifically describe the use of charcoal in these composts, he observed that ash materials were added in large amounts. Moved by the thrift and care for conservation of nutrients that he observed on his travels, King expressed his frustration with the wasteful practices of his own country, "When we reflect upon the depleted fertility of our own older farm lands, comparatively few of which have seen a century's service, and upon the enormous quantity of mineral fertilizers which are being applied annually to them in order to secure paying yields, it becomes evident that the time is here when profound consideration should be given to the practices the Mongolian race has maintained through many centuries" (p. 193). Contrasting these Asian practices with those in America he said, "The rivers of North America are estimated to carry to the sea more than 500 tons of phosphorus with each cubic mile of water. To such loss modern civilization is adding that of hydraulic sewage disposal…" (p. 197).
Makato Ogawa, who studied charcoal traditions in Japan, described how biochar has been in used in Asia since ancient times, and that rice husk charcoal has likely been used since the beginning of rice cultivation. Wood charcoal was not generally used in agriculture as it was too valuable as fuel. (Ogawa, M., and Okimori, Y. 2010. Pioneering works in biochar research, Japan. Australian Journal of Soil Research, 48(7), 489–500.)
Nor was mixing biochar into smelly wastes to remove the smell confined to Asia. "Poudrette" comes from a French term meaning "crumbs" or "powder," the main ingredient, after humanure, being powdered charcoal. As European city sanitary standards gradually improved, the contents of "dry closets" (as opposed to "water closets" that flowed into cesspools and sewers and thence to the river) were emptied and their contents hauled to the outskirts of cities and mixed with ashes, peat, gypsum, clay, lime and more charcoal. It seems likely this was also the origin of the dark earths of the Amazon.
“A dead rat, nicely buried in a cigar box so as to be surrounded at all points by an inch of charcoal powder, decays to bone and fur without manifesting any odor of putrefaction, so that it might stand on a parlor table and not reveal its contents to the most sensitive nostrils” (Unknown Author, The Garden, 1873).
“Charcoal also possesses the property of absorbing and retaining the odoriferous and coloring principles of most organic substances… From this deodorizing property, charcoal is frequently mixed with night soil, and other decaying manures; which it keeps free from smell, and at the same time aids in preserving, by absorbing the gases which would otherwise escape.“ — A Cyclopedia of Agriculture (Morton, 1855)
Here in Xu Ling we are nearing the end of the weeklong ecological module. From the morning check-ins we know that most everyone in the class is starting to really “get” quantum entanglement and the ties between holistic management, the three permaculture directives, and the How Wolves Change Rivers film we showed. What is less clear is how they are going to be able to use this new understanding. The Chinese government is used to taking a long time to decide things and then ordering that they be done immediately, with near absolute powers of enforcement and draconian penalties. When we hear this we think of the IRS.
This exercise of raw power causes all manner of dislocations, as when the time-tested methods of organically farming these terraces for millennia were suddenly reversed by edicts from local authorities, requiring collection and “disposal” of all biowastes. That policy has reduced soil fertility and increased chemical dependencies, as well as burdening the already weak sewage treatment infrastructure.
Another example is when the Xu Ling labor force was suddenly uprooted and sent off to work in Apple and Microsoft gulags in Shenzhen. Now that these earnest young farmers know they must begin to rework the neglected hillsides to manage bamboo and mixed forests in order to restore biodiversity and save the valley’s fragile climate and water, will they be allowed?
We don’t know the answer to that, but we suspect they will. We are told Xi Jinping’s government plans to convert 5 billion square meters of Beijing reinforced concrete real estate into natural buildings. One of the students who has tracked China’s role in the Paris Agreement says that is probably the reason why. Another student has taken a Ianto Evans-style cob course from a US instructor named Leo. Leo apparently was pretty good because the kid knows his stuff. He could teach the builders that will be needed to transform that district in Beijing.
There are more than 40 different kinds of tofu here, but we have to say the real Godsend for us was the kind that is fermented to taste like miso. Chinese are particular about their rice, and since they eat it three times a day we have found it passing strange that while tofu comes in all styles, textures, flavors and colors, rice comes in only two: fluffy and soupy. Never is any salt or other flavoring added. You are supposed to discern the subtle flavors in how rice is bred or grown in much the way a sommelier knows wines.
For us that little red cube was the perfect addition to bland, soupy rice. Our chopstick skills that we thought were pretty good (sushi being a favorite food for us) suddenly seemed pretty lame, as the mute testimony of our shirt-front confirmed. While we were dropping greasy asparagus tips and picking our lima beans from the lotus roots and slimy okra stir fries in our lap, our host Haichao was sipping soup with his chopsticks after the fashion of a kitten lapping milk from a bowl. Personal highpoint: the baked lotus tunas that look like sunchokes except that you are supposed to peel them before eating.
The second week we concluded the first permaculture teacher training workshop in rural Zhejiang and left behind a few dozen certified permaculture teachers. We travelled North to Nanjing to attend a seminar hosted by the International Biochar Initiative and the Asian Biochar Research Center at Nanjing Agricultural University. While living in a rustic mountain village has not been easy, spending time in a busy Chinese city is not something we are looking forward to.
On our final day we decide to visit the grandmother who is the village tofu maker and watch her perform her weekly ritual. She starts very early boiling the beans and skimming off the skins, then grinding the milk and bringing it back to a boil. For a small, frail woman with skin like leather, she refuses to let anyone help her as she moves heavy buckets and stirs her cauldrons. The boiling milk is ladled into a wooden basin and she doses it sparingly with a liquified potassium salt to get it to curdle. It takes several small adjustments of the curding agent before it begins to separate the way she wants, and then she ladles off the curds into her pail — an old 5-gallon metal paint can — and carries the full bucket of hot curd out to an alley, where she sets up the wooden press and lines it with a well-worn cheesecloth. After several more trips, the press is full and she squeezes the cloth and sets a wood lid on the press and a full bucket of whey to weight it down. The tofu will sit this way for perhaps a few hours to form a solid block, which she then comes back to invert onto a tabletop, unveil, and slice into half-kilo bricks. As we wait for the pressing, we look around her shop at the tools, the old Mao posters and calendars, an award of some kind from her younger days, and the barred windows that keep thieves from stealing her soybeans.
— Xu Ling Village, Zhejiang, October 14, 2016
This is third in a continuing series.
Published on Peak Surfer on May 15, 2016
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The adoption of The Paris Agreement by 195 countries on December 12, 2015 marks the end of the era of fossil fuels. There is no way to meet the targets laid out in this agreement without keeping 90 percent or more of remaining coal, oil and gas in the ground. The final text still has some serious gaps, and the timetable will have to speed up, but the treaty draws a red line on atmospheric CO2 we cannot cross. As science, economics and law come into alignment, a solar-powered economy is barrelling at us with unstoppable force.
Nafeez Ahmed, a former Guardian writer who now blogs the System Shift column for VICE’s Motherboard recently pondered the Energy Returned on Energy Invested (EROEI) problem with renewables and came up with something that might form the basis for smoothing the transition.
First, you have to get a sense of the scale of the driving force behind this change. Ahmed observed that since the crash in oil prices (underlying causes here) and the Paris Agreement, more than 65% of the world’s oil companies have declared bankruptcy. The Economist puts the default at $2.5 trillion. The real number is probably much higher. Following Paris, Goldman Sachs surveyed over $1 trillion in stranded assets out in the fracking fields that will never be booked. Carbon Tracker puts the likely cash that will be thrown down bad wells by the still standing 35% of fossil industry dinosaurs — and never-to-be recouped — at $2.2 trillion.
In our book, The Paris Agreement, we described why the fossil shakeout is likely to liberate huge cashflows into renewable energy, but with one giant caveat. There is significantly lower net energy (EROEI) in renewables than the fossils provided in their heyday. That augurs economic contraction no matter how you slice it.
Degrowth is already happening. Carbon Tracker identified Peabody Coal as one of those energy giants unable to pass a 2C stress test. Peabody scoffed. Six months later, Peabody went bankrupt. There are now more solar installers than coal miners in the US and the gap widens each month.
Mark Harrington, an oil industry consultant, tells his clients now the cascading debt defaults will shake the global economy by late 2016 or early 2017 and could make the 2007-8 financial crash look like a cakewalk. Utilities are the new housing bubble.
The EROEI on Texas Spindletops was 100 to 1. The net energy produced from Canadian tar sands or Bakkan shale is less than you can get from green firewood, maybe 3 to 1. Oil rig count in the Bakkan as of this morning: zero. Lost investment exploring and drilling there? billions.
Nafeez Ahmed says:
The imperative to transition away from fossil fuels is, therefore, both geophysical and environmental. On the one hand, by mid-century, fossil fuels and nuclear power will become obsolete as a viable source of energy due to their increasingly high costs and low quality. On the other, even before then, to maintain what scientists describe as a ‘safe operating space’ for human survival, we cannot permit the planet to warm a further 2C without risking disastrous climate impacts.
Staying below 2C, the study finds, will require renewable energy to supply more than 50 percent of total global energy by 2028, “a 37-fold increase in the annual rate of supplying renewable energy in only 13 years.”
Let us leave aside the 2C discussion for now. Two degrees is in the bank and 5 degrees is what we have a slim chance of averting, assuming we can muster the collective will to plant enough trees, make soil, and stop dumping carbon into the atmosphere. Whether 4 degrees, which is likely to be reached by about mid-century, give or take 10 years, is survivable by mammals such as ourselves remains an open question. The odds do not favor our collectively recognizing the risk in time, all of us must acknowledge.
Those odds get even longer once President Trump, taking advice from the Koch brothers, Dick Cheney and Mitch "Black Lungs Matter" McConnell, appoints an Energy Task Force sometime in the first hundred days. Within a few months, Congress will attempt to bend energy economics around their political gravity well. They will superincentivize coal, nuclear and fracked gas and raise even more impossible hurdles for solar power, responsible biomass waste conversion and energy efficiency. Chances then of humans surviving another century: nil.
Trump's tweet has now been retweeted 27,761 times.
Last year the G7 set the goal of decarbonization by end of century, which, like Trump, is a formula for Near Term Human Extinction. At the Paris gathering 195 countries agreed to bounce the date to 2050, with a proviso that it could even accelerate more if needed. More will be needed.
The Bright Shining Hope
Analysts like Stanford’s Tony Seba say that solar power has doubled every year for the last 20 years and costs of photovoltaic power have dropped 22% with each doubling. If you believe these numbers, eight more doublings — by 2030 — and solar power will provide 100% of the world’s electricity at a fraction of today’s prices with significant reductions of carbon emissions. But there is a hitch.
The EROEI of solar power is not improving as quickly as the price. Energy efficiency, especially the embodied energy of components like turbine towers and rooftop arrays and the mined minerals for crystal manufacture, is substantially less than the concentrated caloric punch of oil and coal. Fossil sunlight is to sunlight as crack cocaine is to coca leaves.
That is not to say a civil society living on sunlight can’t still be very nice, and nicer, in fact, than the dirtier industrial civilization, especially if you only have a generation or two left before you go extinct to enjoy it.
All of this revolution could be accomplished, and paid for, simply by a small epigenetic hack in the DNA of central banks. They need to express the gene that prints money. As Ellen Brown explains:
"The combination of fiat money and Globalization creates a unique moment in history where the governments of the developed economies can print money on an aggressive scale without causing inflation. They should take advantage of this once-in-history opportunity . . . ."
Don't panic, and it might be a good idea to follow Ford Prefect's example of carrying a towel, in the unlikely event that the planet is suddenly demolished by a Vogon constructor fleet to make way for a hyperspace bypass.
Despite the paucity of intelligence in the throne room of the Empire, there is, however, a faint glimmer of light coming from a corner of the dungeon, should we peer farther. Ahmed latches on to Eric Toensmeier’s new book, The Carbon Farming Solution, that quotes a Rodale Institute study:
Simply put, recent data from farming systems and pasture trials around the globe show that we could sequester more than 100 percent of current annual CO2 emissions with a switch to widely available and inexpensive organic management practices, which we term ‘regenerative organic agriculture’… These practices work to maximize carbon fixation while minimizing the loss of that carbon once returned to the soil, reversing the greenhouse effect.
As we described in our books, The Biochar Solution and The Paris Agreement, it is possible to unleash the healing powers of the natural world — not by tampering further but by discerning and moving with its flows the way indigenious peoples did for eons — that doesn't just halt climate change but restores it to the pre-industrial. By using a permaculture cascade — regenerative cropping to food, feed and fiber; to protein and probiotic extracts (from waste byproducts); to biofuels (from waste byproducts); to biochar and biofertilizers (from waste byproducts); to probiotic animal supplements and industrial applications like fuel cells (from biochar) — bioeconomics can transform a dying planet into a garden world. But, again, there is a hitch.
According to a 2011 report by the National Academy of Sciences, the scientific consensus shows conservatively that for every degree of warming, we will see the following impacts: 5-15 percent reductions in crop yields; 3-10 percent increases in rainfall in some regions contributing to flooding; 5-10 percent decreases in stream-flow in some river basins, including the Arkansas and the Rio Grande, contributing to scarcity of potable water; 200-400 percent increases in the area burned by wildfire in the US; 15 percent decreases in annual average Arctic sea ice, with 25 percent decreases in the yearly minimum extent in September.
The challenge climate change poses to bioeconomics is where epigenetic agents come in. There is a permaculture army waiting in the wings. We have been training and drilling for 30 years. Cue marching entrance, stage left, with George M. Cohan’s arrangement of Yankee Doodle Dandy.
This will require more than Busby Berkeley. First, as we described here last week, we will need a change of the command switches that express civilization’s genes. This is unlikely to come from Hillary Clinton, central banks, the G7 or the International Monetary Fund — just witness the debacle at Doha in April. It will more likely arise spontaneously from the grass roots, led by regenerative farmers, treehuggers and degrarians, but funded — massively — by institutional investors in search of safe havens from petrocollapse and failing confidence in a stale, counterproductive paradigm.
It is green capitalism, we admit, but the gene expression for capitalism must and will change.
"If you think about it, economic growth could happen through dematerialization," says Jack Buffington, a researcher at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm and author of Progress, Technology and Seven Billion People: A Solution to Save Capitalism and The Recycling Myth: Disruptive Innovation to Improve the Environment.
"Think about all the different things your smart phone can do that 20 years ago you had a computer, you had a telephone. you had an alarm clock…. So, I think there is a way to transform things through the use of materials to dematerialize while at the same time leading to economic growth. Even if you tried to stop innovation you won't. What we have to push for is a model that between the environment and the economy is complementary, so we achieve goals of improving people's lives at the same time as improving the environment."
A bioeconomy is coming. Fast. There are demonstrations of it, large and small, popping up all over the world. The DNA for the global financial marketplace — our social customs for nations, currency systems and trade — has not changed. What is being transformed is the histone that occupies the space between the helices and flips the switches to turn expressions on and off. Who are the radical free agent proteins that are moving in to transform the histone?
Published on Peak Surfer on April 10, 2016
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We are midway through #REX3 — a 10-day advanced permaculture design workshop with our friends Darren Doherty and Cliff Davis here in Southern Tennessee. The site this year is the newly acquired farm of an emigrant family in the rolling hills of Maury County, just about 20 miles from The Farm community.
For those not familiar with the changes going on in the southern regions of Africa, a bit of history might be helpful. The British took control of the Cape of Good Hope in 1806 in order to prevent it from being occupied by the French during the Napoleonic Wars. Dutch-speaking Afrikaners who had been there more than a century chaffed under British authority and didn’t like being forced to speak English, so they migrated inland and although the British recognized the independence of the South African Republic in 1852 and the Orange Free State in 1854, after gold was discovered the Empire returned and reclaimed those regions in the Boer Wars. A visitor from New Zealand described the typical Afrikaner Kraal of that era:
The Boer republics were sparsely populated and most farming communities lived in isolation, linked to each other by crude wagon trails. Following the custom of their forefathers, the Boers believed a farm should be at least 2400 hectares. Boer farms, even those tending livestock, often had no enclosures; the farmhouse would simply be surrounded by open pasture, a few fields of crops and maybe an orchard. The house itself would often be built from clay and usually consisted of two rooms with a thatched roof. The decorations within were modest and the clay floors were routinely smeared with a mixture of cow dung and water to reduce dust.
Of course, the large farms of the Afrikaners did not remain poor. Thanks to slave labor, many generations of farm toil, and the commerce of the British Empire, they grew to be some of the wealthiest and most productive in the world.
Afrikaner history, although now a distant past, was a thorn in the side of the later African anti-apartheid drives of the last century and animosities linger. For a very long time a small white minority had ruled cruelly, and now, finally, majority rule returned. What happened in nearby Zimbabwe is illustrative of what that can mean for the whites.
Like Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress in South Africa, in the white-ruled state of Rhodesia the opposition party ZANU was banned and its leader Robert Mugabe was imprisoned in 1964. In prison Mugabe taught English to his fellow prisoners and earned multiple graduate degrees by correspondence from the University of London. Freed in 1974, he went into exile in Zambia and Mozambique where he built the resistance movement. Later, with support of British negotiators, the new state of Zimbabwe was given majority rule and in 1980 it elected Mugabe, who has been president ever since and has no intended successors.
Mugabe worked to convince his country’s 200,000 whites, including 4,500 commercial farmers, to stay. Then, in 1982, Mugabe sent his North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade to smash dissent. Over five years, an estimated 20,000 civilians were killed and many whites were dispossessed of their farms with no advance notice. In 2000 Mugabe rewrote the Zimbabwean constitution to expand the powers of the presidency and legitimize seizures of white-owned land. The country’s commercial farming collapsed, triggering years of hyperinflation and food shortages in a nation of impoverished billionaires.
In recent years the horrors inflicted by Mugabe have been so sadistic that we are left wondering whether he is demented by syphillis. And yet, through all of this, he enjoyed the support of the ANC in South Africa and has widespread approval in the continent. With the death of Mandela, South Africa has begun moving away from the policies of equanimity between races and it has become increasingly difficult for whites to attend universities and obtain professional employment. Which brings us to Tennessee.
The farm where our students are congregating this morning is a lifeboat for this old family of Dutch ancestry. They have given up their banana and avocado farm in Africa and hope to make a go of it in a land where they do not recognize the trees and have a bit of trouble understanding the local dialect. Back in South Africa are a number of relatives who look towards this young couple and their Tennessee farm as Noah’s Ark in event of a hard rain coming.
The REX advanced course “cuts to the chase” with farm design to assay what the needs are and what strategies will get this ark on a prosperous footing most rapidly. As the Regrarians website describes it:
In the world of workshops & courses there is nothing quite like the #Regrarians 10 day Integrated Farm Planning course or #REX. A carefully crafted distillation of the world’s greatest and most effective methodologies, the #REX is designed for nothing less than effective outcomes. People are participants, not ‘attendees’ or ‘students’ at a #REX, such is the integrity of the course model for its inclusive approach. Following the Regrarians already renowned & highly respected #RegrariansPlatform, the #REX follows a subject a day, building layer by practical layer for the real client and real enterprise that is the basis for this unique 10 day experience.
DAY 1 – Climate (90 minute sessions)
A – Client ‘Climate’ Briefing, Develop Holistic Goal/Concept, Terms of Reference
B – Atmospheric Climate retrieval & analysis, macro & micro climate factors
C – Legal ‘Climate’ retrieval & analysis, Municipal & State planning, other regulations
D – Climate Layer Exercise – Over 60 mins in small work-teams frame responses to the above and report to course findings in 10 mins each group (includes feedback)
E – Thermophyllic Composting Demonstration (scalable)
DAY 2 – Geography
A – Revision; Sandpit: Keyline Geography, Geometry & Applications
B – Assemble & Study Cadastral, Geology, Soil, Topographic, Planning & Mining Maps
C – GIS/GPS/Survey Applications & Technologies, Online GIS resources, Developing Effective Plans
D – Farm Walk ‘n’ Talk, Landscape Reading & Analysis, ‘Farmscape’ Analysis, Define Primary Land Unit & Land Component Boundaries, ‘Bullseye’ Demonstration
DAY 3 – Water
A – Revision; Examine & Overview of Existing Farm Water Systems, Farm Catchment
B – Earth Dam Construction & Water Harvesting Infrastructure – Design, Processes & Applications
C – Farm Irrigation Systems – Design, Applications & Installation
D – Water Layer – Over 90 mins (plus break time) develop farm water storage, harvesting
E – Water Layer Presentation & Feedback session + 10 mins each group for presentation & feedback
DAY 4 – Access
A – Revision; Examine & Overview of Existing Internal & External Farm Access
B – Access Earthworks Design, Engineering, Construction & Applications
C – Dam, Water Harvesting & Access Set Out Practicum: using Surveyor & DIY Instruments (RTK-GPS, Total Station, Transit & Laser Levels)
D – Access Layer – Over 60 mins develop farm access concept plan + 10 mins per group for presentation & feedback
DAY 5 – Forestry
A – Revision; Forestry Systems Applications: Shelterbelts, Alleys, Orchards, Avenues, Woodlands, Blocks, Riparian
B – Forestry Systems Design & Establishment Strategies
C – Forestry Systems Management & Utilisation
D – Forestry Layer – Over 60 mins develop farm forestry concept plan + 10 mins per group for presentation & feedback
DAY 6 – Buildings
A – Revision; Building Types & Technologies: Dwellings, Sheds, Yards & Portable Livestock
B – Building placement strategies, Existing Building Analysis & Retrofitting Options
C – Lucas Portable Sawmill Practicum + Broiler Shelter Construction
D – Building Layer – Over 60 mins develop farm building concept plan + 10 mins per group for presentation & feedback
DAY 7 – Fencing
A – Revision; Fencing Technologies, Applications & Costings
B – Fencing Placement – Land Components/Structures/Livestock systems
C – Fencing Installation Practicum – with local ‘Pro’ Fencer: Build end assemblies, ‘wires & pliers’, electric net fencing, tumblewheel
D – Fencing Layer – Over 60 mins develop farm fencing concept plan + 10 mins per group for presentation & feedback
DAY 8 – Soils
A – Revision, ‘5 Ingredients for Soil Formation’ – House Envelope & SilvoPastoral Applications
B – Farm Soil Classifications & Sample Analysis: Earth Building, Earthworks & Agricultural
C – Yeomans Keyline Plow ‘Pattern Cultivation’, Survey & Set Out
D – ‘Time Poor’ Farm Garden Practicum: No Dig/Wicking Beds; Keyline Plow Forestry &
Orchard Ground Preparation
E – Holistic Management Planned Grazing – Grazing Plan Practicum
DAY 9 – Economy
A – Revision; Farm Enterprise Planning: Comparing Enterprises, Market & Resource Analysis, Complementary Enterprise Options & Liaisons, Managing & Limits to Growth & Expectations
B – Farm Enterprise Management: ‘The Team’, Interns/WWOOFERS, Apprentices, Employees/SubContractors, Terms of Reference, Job Descriptions & Contracts
C – Economy Layer – Over 90 mins prepare a Farm Enterprise & Marketing Concept Plan
D – Economy Layer – Continued from Session C – 60 mins of Farm Enterprise & Marketing Concept Plan preparation then 10 mins per group presentation & feedback
DAY 10 – Energy
A – Revision; Farm Energy Conversion & Storage Systems: Solar PV, Solar Thermal, Biomass, BioDigestor, Wind, Hydro; Analysis of suitability & applications
B – Energy Layer – Over 60 minutes prepare an Farm Energy Concept Plan + 10 mins per group presentation & feedback
C – Farm Enterprise Development & Reporting; Client & Contractor Liaisons; Prioritising Works
D – Completed REX ‘Regrarians Platform’ Concept Plan Layer Analysis & Review – Client & Participant Feedback; ‘What’s Next?’; Presentations
Today we are on Day 7 – Fencing. Tomorrow we get to speak about biochar and carbon farming and are looking forward to that part.
As we walked the high ridges of this farm we happened upon an old cemetery, overgrown with vines, its raised crypts caving in, its carvings fading. We posted a photo of one stone on Instagram and someone was kind enough to provide the reference to the verse, which is by poet Felicia Dorothea Hemans (1793-1835). It is called The Hour of Death.
Leaves have their time to fall
And flowers to wither at the north wind’s breath
And stars to set, but all
Thou hast all seasons for thine own, o Death
In many ways this family is lucky. They sensed the north wind’s breath and got out before the knock on the door in the night. They cashed in and took the value of their previous farm with them. All across Europe and the Middle East, changing climate and conflicts over dwindling resources — effects of the population bomb long ago forecast — are sending waves of penniless and desperate refugees fleeing with nothing at all, just the clothes on their backs.
With the increase of global climate weirding we sometimes get the sense that we may be entering a time without reliable seasonality. There is only one name for that. Death.
In the end, there is no refuge. There is just this one blue marble in space. Either we begin to steward the land the way this workshop of Darren’s teaches, or it will heat up, dry out and support no one.
Alternatively, we can school ourselves with methodologies such as these and live on a garden planet once more, keeping our numbers and demands in harmony with her natural abundance.
Is it even a serious choice?
Publishes on the Peak Surfer on November 29, 2015
Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner
"The ‘guard rail’ concept, which implies a warming limit that guarantees full protection from dangerous anthropogenic interference, no longer works. What is called for is a consideration of societally acceptable risk."
Today we are in Paris, site of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 21st Conference of Parties (COP21). We have been reporting from these conferences for this blog since early 2008, with the run-up to COP19 in Copenhagen. Each time there has been much ado about the potential for transformative action and each time, by the end of the two weeks, it turns into just adieu and see you next year.
The past three conferences in particular (Doha 2012, Warsaw 2013, Lima 2014) were really just treading water, trying to iron out differences enough to proceed to a formal, legally binding document to be adopted here in Paris this year, in 14 days time.
In 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit, the UN member countries negotiated an international treaty to cooperatively consider what they could do to limit average global temperature increases and to cope with whatever other impacts of reckless fossil fuel use were, by then, inevitable. These annual conferences at the beginning of every December were intended to reach those decisions.
It took only three years for the COPs to recognize that the minor emission reductions they had imagined at first glance in the giddy Summit at Rio would be totally inadequate. So, they launched negotiations to strengthen the international response and, two years later, in 1997, adopted the Kyoto Protocol. The Protocol legally bound overdeveloped countries to emission reduction targets while giving the underdeveloping countries a pass. This eventually caused a lot of friction, because many of the countries who got passes, China and India for instance, took that opportunity to build hundreds of coal-fired power plants and become the world's leading greenhouse gas polluters.
The US Head Negotiator, Todd Stern, told the Guardian:
“We have a situation where 60-65% of emissions come from developing countries. That’s a good thing. It means that developing countries are developing. But you cannot solve climate change on the back of the 35%.
A watershed moment for the negotiating process occurred in Copenhagen when the world was on the verge of enacting a binding treaty to replace Kyoto, with everyone included and sanctions for scoff-laws. At the last moment Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama swooped in and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, substituting a voluntary pledge system (Independent Nationally Determined Contributions, all non-binding) that only 5 countries were willing to sign, but it was enough to torpedo the treaty. In a recent Presidential campaign debate Ms. Clinton called it one of her great moments of leadership on the climate issue, which rescued the Copenhagen talks.
It is true there were differences of opinion about how close Copenhagen was to actually sealing the deal. “By the time [Obama arrived in Copenhagen] things had already unravelled and then had to be put back together,” according to Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications at the White House. Rhodes said that in Paris Obama's tactics would be different. “The goal here is to give a push with heads of state at the beginning of the process and then allow [Secretary of State John] Kerry and others to finalize the details.”
The old protocol’s first commitment period started in 2008 and ended in 2012. Despite the debacle in Copenhagen, most of the European countries hit their targets. Total emissions for all other overdeveloped countries rose by about 10 percent. China's rose about 10 percent per year and it is now the world's largest emitter. Canada was committed to cutting its greenhouse emissions to 6% below 1990 levels by 2012, but in 2009 emissions were 17% higher than in 1990 and the Harper government prioritized tar sand development in Alberta. Canada's emissions are now up 34% from baseline and Australia is in similar territory. In Doha at COP18, 36 UN member states agreed to extend Kyoto for another round, beginning in 2013 and running to 2020 but without the major polluters on board it is a feeble effort.
Kyoto is generally viewed as a limited success. Among the overdeveloped, France, the UK and Germany achieved reductions of 7, 15 and 19 percent. In any event, these reductions pale when compared to the impact of peat fires in Indonesia, deforestation in Brazil or methane releases in Siberia.
At COP16 in 2010, the rest of the world, recognizing that the United States had been allowed to hijack the Copenhagen meeting, put the UN multiparty process back on track with the Cancun Agreements. Fast start finance (a.k.a. dollar diplomacy) brought pledges from the US and Europe to mobilize through international institutions, approaching 30 billion dollars for the period 2010-2012. Funding for adaptation was allocated to the most vulnerable underdeveloping countries, such as small island States and equatorial Africa, but nobody really knows whether or when that money will show up.
At Paris the various governments are “invited” to provide information on their efforts to reduce emissions (calculated, for the underdeveloping, as reductions on theoretical maximum development burn – Business As Usual, or “BAU” – to more modest, “responsible,” but nonetheless increased burns) and to please let everyone know how soon and by what means the promised great wealth transfer will take place.
Nonetheless, by slow increments, the noose is gradually tightening around the neck of fossil fuel companies and their government backers. All governments re-committed in Durban to a comprehensive plan that would come closer over time to delivering the ultimate objective of the Convention: to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would “prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system” and at the same time preserve the rights of the 5 billion world poor to “sustainable development.” Let us set aside for a moment the incompatibility of those two goals as their terms are presently defined.
Durban made two very important adjustments to the Cancun Agreements. First, that COP said that science will trump politics and that if it should be proven, for instance, that 2 degrees is not a sufficient guard rail to prevent human civilization from veering over the cliff into dangerous climate change, the goal can adjusted. A scientific review process was established to monitor the goal and “to ensure that collective action is adequate to prevent the average global temperature rising beyond the agreed limit.”
Secondly, the Durban COP said very firmly that the 2015 COP in Paris would deliver “a new and universal greenhouse gas reduction protocol, legal instrument or other outcome with legal force that would set requirements for the period beyond 2020.” This specification of a “legal instrument” or “legal force” was agreed to by the United States, China and the other key players right there in Durban with the whole world watching.
The likelihood Paris will produce a binding treaty was cast into doubt when the Financial Times interviewed US Secretary of State John Kerry a few weeks ago. Kerry told FT there were "not going to be legally binding reduction targets like Kyoto.”
French President Hollande immediately replied in the press that "if the agreement is not legally binding, there will be no agreement. We must give the Paris agreement, if there is one, a binding character in the sense that the commitments that are made must be kept and respected."
“This is not hot air. This is a real agreement, with real terms,” said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.
Backpeddling under fire, a spokesperson for the US state department told The New York Times that while the FT article "may have been read to suggest that the US supports a completely nonbinding approach … that is not the case, and is not Secretary Kerry's position".
|Holocene (blue) – Anthroocene (red)|
COP18 in Doha was, as we said, the start of the Paris prelude. One significant bump was release of The World Bank's "Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must Be Avoided", showing that the world is on track towards a 4 degrees Celsius temperature rise, should the currently inadequate level of ambition remain. Doha responded to that challenge by triggering the Durban process to review the long-term temperature goal. They set up a Structured Expert Dialog – 70 wise men – that was to start in 2013 and conclude by 2015.
COP19 in Warsaw moved us a little closer. The rulebook for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) was agreed, together with measures to bolster forest preservation and a results-based payment system to promote forest protection. Overdeveloped countries met the target capitalization of $100 million for the Adaptation Fund, which can now fund priority projects. Governments established the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage to address losses and damages associated with long-term climate change impacts in countries that are especially vulnerable to such impacts.
COP20 in Lima was more of the same, more agenda-setting for the run-up to Paris and the signing of a formal treaty. It came close to faltering over the issue of “common but differentiated responsibilities,” (the distinction between the expected pledges from overdeveloped and underdeveloping Parties). At COP 17 in Durban in 2011, countries agreed that the post-2020 actions to be negotiated in Paris would be “applicable to all.” Alton Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists observed:
The differentiation issue nearly blocked the final decision in Lima, where the stakes were actually quite small. In Paris next year, the stakes will be quite high: nothing less than the shape of the climate regime for the next several decades. It will not be possible to paper over sharp differences on this issue with artful language that different groupings can interpret in a way favorable to their position, as happened in the last hours of Lima.
The anticipated report of the meeting of the 70 wise men, the Structured Expert Dialog or “SED,” was issued in February 2015 and reviewed by government delegates at the pre-COP meeting in Bonn in June. This is a very important 180-page document and bears spending some time to read.
The document divides the dialog into three parts: Theme 1 – the adequacy of the long-term global goal in the light of the ultimate objective; Theme 2 – overall progress made towards achieving the long-term global goal; Theme 3 — consideration of strengthening the long-term global goal.
It starts off addressing whether temperature is an adequate warning gauge for climate change:
Message 1: A long term global goal defined by a temperature limit serves its purpose well… Adding other limits to the long-term global goal, such as sea level rise or ocean acidification, only reinforces the basic finding emerging from the analysis of the temperature limit, namely that we need to take urgent and strong action to reduce GHG emissions.
That is followed by this rather disturbing chart:
On the Y axis or axis of ordinates is temperature change in degrees C. To the left of the vertical axis line is a set of brightly colored bar graphs representing corresponding risks of each degree of warming.
Things to note:
- Two degrees is far from safe. It represents “dangerous interference with climate systems” to quote the Framework Convention.
- At 1.5 degrees there is a high degree of likelihood we will lose unique and threatened systems and experience extreme weather events. (Note, the risk of extreme weather at today's 1-degree elevation is considered moderate). At 2 degrees these move into the deep red and the distribution of impacts becomes high, meaning almost no-one escapes.
On the X axis or axis of abscissas, are the cumulative total emissions of CO2 since 1870. Right now we have taken about 2500 GtCO2 out of the ground, resulting in a net atmospheric concentration of 400 ppm. The chart reports that we could probably go to 4000 GtCO2 and 580 ppm before we exceed the 2 degree limit. This is dangerous nonsense and one is left scratching one's head at how this could have been decided. It guarantees resumption of that food fight between India, Indonesia, South Africa, Brazil and others about how many “parking spaces” in that big parking lot in the sky remain for “sustainable development” (read: still to be constructed coal plants).
Here is a short run-down of the other messages of the Structured Expert Dialog:
On Theme One:
- Limiting global warming to below 2 °C necessitates a radical transition (deep decarbonization now and going forward), not merely a fine tuning of current trends.
- Risks will be increasingly unevenly distributed; responses need to be made by each location.
- The ‘guard rail’ concept, which implies a warming limit that guarantees full protection from dangerous anthropogenic interference, no longer works. What is called for is a consideration of societally acceptable risk.
- At 4 degrees effects are non-linear; more than double 2 degrees. The catch potential of fisheries would be greatly reduced and crop production would be beyond adaptation in many areas. Sea level rise would far exceed 1 m.
On Theme Two:
- We know how to measure progress on mitigation but not on adaptation.
- The world is not on track to achieve the long-term global goal, but successful mitigation policies are known and must be scaled up urgently.
- Under present economic regimes, spending on ‘brown’ technologies will continue to grow faster than spending on green technologies.
- Scaling up means putting a price on carbon and promoting low-carbon technologies, so that their share becomes dominant.
On Theme Three:
- The ‘guard rail’ concept, in which up to 2 °C of warming is considered safe, is inadequate and would therefore be better seen as an upper limit, a defense line that needs to be stringently defended, while less warming would be preferable.
- Limiting global warming to below 2 °C is still feasible and will bring about many co-benefits, but poses substantial technological, economic and institutional challenges.
- Parties may wish to take a precautionary route by aiming for limiting global warming as far below 2 °C as possible, discarding the notion of a guardrail but thinking more of a defense line or even a buffer zone.
We shall return to these themes in our next post. Tomorrow is the Summit's opening day. Those interested can follow us in real time on Twitter: @peaksurfer.
Publishes on the Peak Surfer on November 22, 2015
Discuss this article at the Geopolitics Table inside the Diner
Twenty years ago many of the North American pioneers of strawbale, cob, timber frame, round pole and other forms of “natural building” came together up a remote mountain canyon in New Mexico at a lovely old log mansion called Black Range Lodge. The Lodge and the small hamlet of Kingston, populated with many lovely homes of strawbale and cob, are nestled in the foothills of the 3 million acre Gila Wilderness, a taste of the Old West halfway between Truth or Consequences and Silver City. The hostess was Catherine Wanek, author of The New Strawbale Home and several other great books, whose family owned the Lodge, and who with her partner, Pete Fust, the king of "tractor cob," tried to build interest in these new versions of ancient practices.
We first met Catherine when she came to videotape our strawbale construction course at The Farm in 1996, with Jon and Mitzi Ruiz who had been sent to help us by Matts Myhrmann and Judy Knox at Out-On-Bale in Tucson. At that Black Range meeting the year before, Catherine had coined the term “natural building” to distinguish these emerging styles and philosophy from “green buildings,” “smart buildings” or other styles just coming into popular use.
Natural buildings don't require gadgets or energy systems. They can be built with tools your grandparents would have recognized, or sometimes with no tools at all. They can be built without a mortgage. They can endure long past the lifetime of many building products and styles today, and when they are no longer safe or useful to live in, they compost back into the ground leaving no toxic residues.
What are Natural Buildings?
Marcos Grossman, who sponsors the private Facebook group, Natural Builders (with 16,845 members), defines them this way:
"A natural building involves a range of building systems and materials that place major emphasis on sustainability. Ways of achieving sustainability through natural building focus on durability and the use of minimally processed, plentiful or renewable resources, as well as those that, while recycled or salvaged, produce healthy living environments and maintain indoor air quality. Natural building tends to rely on human labor, more than technology. As Michael G. Smith observes, it depends on 'local ecology, geology and climate; on the character of the particular building site, and on the needs and personalities of the builders and users.'
“The basis of natural building is the need to lessen the environmental impact of buildings and other supporting systems, without sacrificing comfort or health. To be more sustainable, natural building uses primarily abundantly available, renewable, reused or recycled materials. The use of rapidly renewable materials is increasingly a focus. In addition to relying on natural building materials, the emphasis on the architectural design is heightened. The orientation of a building, the utilization of local climate and site conditions, the emphasis on natural ventilation through design, fundamentally lessen operational costs and positively impact the environmental. Building compactly and minimizing the ecological footprint is common, as are on-site handling of energy acquisition, on-site water capture, alternate sewage treatment and water reuse."
California bambusero Kevin Rowell says,
“Natural Builders collaborate with artists, building professionals, and individuals in a range of fields, from the creation of ecological spaces, to the development of new materials, to the understanding and improvement of vernacular building techniques.”
Last month some of the world's most accomplished natural builders returned to Black Range Lodge for a 20th anniversary celebration and colloquium. Their names are too many to recite here, but many are pictured or mentioned in posts by Ziggy Liloia and Eva Edelson. There are photos of ourselves and Ziggy on Eva's site, making corn tortillas on the Rocket-Fired Griddle Oven designed and built by Flemming Abrahamson of Fornyet Energi and Max Edleson of Firespeaking.
The breadth of creative building styles was amazing. Hands-on workshops, powerpoint presentations, films and discussion groups showed us the latest in strawbale, cob, adobe, earthbag, cordwood, timber frame, greywater systems, rainwater harvesting, pallet truss and wallboard construction, papercrete moldings, treehouses, bendy-board, round pole, stone, bamboo, ovens, tamped earthen floors, mixed and troweled earth and lime plasters, tadalac waterproof finish coats, painted aliz, Japanese, Nepalese, Ecuadoran, Taiwanese techniques, old English tudor restorations, living roofs and integrated food systems. Even many of the songs sung around the campfire were informative as well as hilarious.
A sampling of our notes:
Ianto's rules about houses: Never live with a TV, never have keys or locks, never have debt, never own anything costing more than $1000.
“The finer the edge, the clearer the transmission of your body and your craft.” — Robert LaPorte on sharpening tools.
Before applying clay to waddle, cob or plaster, Japanese master craftsmen ferment the clay with chopped straw for one month to one year. It makes for better drying without cracking, good adhesion, and ability to absorb shock.
Lime is active when it is wet. Keep everything dry and tools clean and you won't get hurt. Someone just coming to a site to volunteer should start by going around and cleaning everything they can find. Keep the site and the tools clean at each stage of the process.
SunRay Kelley on his famous Yoga Studio door: “I don't think there is any door in the world that compares to it. It is the door we all come into the world through.”
“Proprietary Refractory Mix” — How Keiko Denzer describes cob on construction permit applications.
Our small contribution to the colloquium consisted of a couple of “soapbox” sessions on using biochar in natural buildings to sequester carbon, clean indoor air, and provide other useful functions. Part of our process is helping others to understand the key difference between labile and recalcitrant carbon.
Soil organic matter is made up of different pools which vary in their turnover time or rate of decomposition. The labile pool, which turns over relatively rapidly (< 5 years), results from the cycling of fresh residues such as plant material (leaf litter, dead roots and branches) and living organisms (earthworms, beetles, animal scat, bacteria and fungi). This is normal organic decomposition. The byproducts are gases such as carbon dioxide and methane – which waft up into the atmosphere adding to the greenhouse effect for a few years before raining back down on land and sea – and organic soil carbon, which cycles to feed microbiota, plants and animals such as ourselves.
More resistant labile residues are physically or chemically protected and are slower to turn over (5-40 years). Protected humus, peat, and decay-resistant woody biomass falls into this category. Much of this labile carbon pool is necessary to provide free carbon for the formation of new growth. So, for instance, if the stalks of corn are consistently removed or burned in the field after harvesting the grain, after some time the soil in the field will be too low in carbon to produce tall corn, even with chemical fertilizer. The traditional method would be to graze cattle, who are woody-biomass ruminants by nature (not grain or grass feeders) on the corn stover, and the manures they deposit would contain all of that carbon, processed into a form that will be most easily used by the soil microbes and available to next season's plants.
The labile carbon pool has been to shown to be influenced by the retention of stubble residues, with a decline in nitrogen supply of up to 4 kg/ha/day on removal of these residues. Green manure crops and phase pastures are an ideal way of providing soil with a ‘pulse’ of labile carbon that can have benefits over several years, but in most Australian farming systems crop roots, stubble and animal by-products are the usual carbon sources. In tropical soils, increasing amounts of labile carbon have been associated with higher grain yields.
– Fran Hoyle (Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia), Daniel Murphy (The University of Western Australia) and Jessica Sheppard (Avon Catchment Council), soilquality.org.au
There is a form of carbon that makes up the stable soil organic matter pool which can take hundreds to millions of years to turn over. Recalcitrant carbon in the form of man-made biochar can be found dating back 8000 years in the Central Amazon and was a key component of the Terra Preta soils that enabled the rise of great civilizations in the Americas before European contact. The oldest known forms of recalcitrant carbon trace back long before the ascent of man, to the earliest forests on Earth, 500 million years ago. For a form of carbon to remain that long undigested by microbes, it must really be recalcitrant!
Infilling straw foundation with pumice
– could as easily be biochar
This form of carbon is key to understanding the importance of biochar and its potential to reverse catastrophic climate change and get us back within a safe operating boundary on the carbon cycle. We can transform a fraction of the labile carbon, made available to us in abundance by photosynthesis, into recalcitrant carbon. We can even do that while co-generating electricity, cooking, or otherwise tapping the heat of the pyrolytic process. Using these permaculture techniques, we can intercept the flow of carbon from earth to sky (and thence, in part, to ocean as rain) and instead hold that carbon in the topsoil for thousands of years, where it works to help plants grow by storing water, nutrients and beneficial biological allies, rather than as building blocks for cellular development of the plants.
To change the direction we are headed, we need to take concentrations of carbon in the atmosphere (and other trace gases that also trap heat) back to pre-industrial levels. We are now one degree warmer and the atmosphere contains 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide. Paleoclimatology tells us that 440 parts per million should translate to 7 to 10 degrees of warming, so we know that is baked into the cake at this point, we just haven't allowed time for equilibrium to be achieved. We'll speak more to this in forthcoming posts from the Paris climate talks. How do we get from 400 or 440 ppm back to 350 or 260 ppm? Recalcitrant carbon.
Changing agriculture may or may not be enough to reverse climate change. That is a big claim, and while we respect many of those who make it, we question whether labile carbon sequestration is enough to do the trick. We think recalcitrant carbon is more than enough, but why limit our pallet to agricultural operations? Biochar applied to living roofs makes them more drought and flood resistant; applied to plasters allows them to absorb pollen and pollutants while moderating humidity of indoor spaces; applied to stains provides color while preserving woods and reducing mold and mildew in closets; and applied anywhere locks up carbon for the life of the building and then beyond, for thousands of years.
I haven't hear the words "labile" and "recalcitrant" in this context before, but that seems about right. Restoring preindustrial soil works out to be woefully inadequate to getting CO2 back under control. If we could contrive to have ten or twenty times the natural soil that would be another matter. I would love to have an idea whether this is possible. But I am finding it hard to engage soil experts in the question of whether and how that would be possible. …
A lot of people think agriculture is the key carbon problem. It all comes down to food in the end of course, but as someone who is now happily meat and dairy free except on rare occasions, I am not worried about the food supply as such. People are starving due to concentration of wealth, which leads to excess production of luxury goods at the expense of basic foods for all. It is not due to a physical incapacity to produce enough food. But the carbon problem is about new (OK, well, ancient but long-buried) fossil carbon suddenly injected into the biosphere. If there's a solution to rolling the problem back (rather than just slowing the ratcheting up) it has two parts 1) pulling the extra carbon out of the air (or ocean) and 2) putting it somewhere. No matter how good we get at part 1, it's no help without part 2.
We agree with what was said by Michael, and we would add this: human civilization is already in massive “overshoot” of CO2 emissions to the tune of some 1380 GtCO2 added to the atmosphere after we passed the critical point at around 330 ppm where we guaranteed eventual warming of 2 degrees. This carbon debt is currently increasing at a rate of about 40 GtCO2 per year pushing us further into climate debt and higher up the thermometer. The UN targets for Paris propose an emissions allowance of a further 950 GtCO2 by the end of the century (about 1 trillion tons), which could push temperatures to 5 degrees by then, and much higher later when equilibrium is reached. It would be game over for mammals such as ourselves on this planet.
We need to reduce concentrations, not merely slow emissions. We have to go to zero and then beyond. By 2050 at the earliest and 2070 at the latest, concentrations need to have come back to 330 parts per million. We have only a few decades to get that much into the ground.
The suite of carbon farming tools can, taken to scale, account for 50 GtC/yr removal annually. Biochar (which could be coming from ethically managed biomass energy systems) is 10 to 20 percent of that and it is recalcitrant; integrated grasslands, agroforestry and land management practices make up the rest, and although made of labile, they are capable of pushing the cycle longer than 5 years — out to several decades, which is what we need right now. A universal overnight change of agriculture and energy systems alone could remove 1400 GtC from the atmosphere in 28 years, although it will not scale that quickly, but 50 years is certainly within the realm of possibility. One way to make it go faster, and last longer, is to find more applications for biochar.
Biochar is the latest tool in the natural builders' toolbox. Returning after a week at the Colloquium, we got this message from someone who had also attended:
Tonight I snuggled with my boys and said prayers as usual. Tonight my 4th grader Alex said, "If I was running for President I would make sure that everybody supported the biochar solution. And that everybody also supported natural building solutions." Yeah! Maybe you should focus on speaking to the younger generations! Their time is NOW!
Published on Peak Surfer on October 18, 2015
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"To address the risk of catastrophic wildfire and improve air quality, the District has teamed with other public and private stakeholders to … sequester carbon from biomass waste in a highly stable biochar, and produce renewable energy from the energy-rich byproduct syngas. "
This December in Paris world leaders will meet for the 21st time in 22 years in an ongoing attempt to form a bucket brigade and put out the fire. Each time the fire is larger and less easy to control, and each time they end up going home without throwing a single drop of water. Among the issues are where the buckets are, who will be at the front of the line and who at the back, whether those less responsible for starting the fire can opt out of the work, or even rekindle the fire if it starts to lag, and whether, on a cost-risk-benefit analysis, it might be better to let it burn for a few more years before taking time away from profitable economic activities.
At the outskirts of this debate will be those of us in the UN Observer community who are yelling at the muddled delegates standing around watching the fire to please, will you, just do something! Of course, among the screaming rabble will be those who are quite certain there is no problem and doing nothing is the right course, and those who have placed their fate and the world’s in the hands of an all-knowing bearded Superman who can be relied on to save His chosen, even if everything else goes up in smoke. Their voices will blend with ours to make the cacophony even harder to parse.
We go to these crazy confabs because we have a simple solution to offer, a suite of tools that will counter the carbon menace and send it to ground, buying the human race time to deal with other game-enders — like the overfecundity of our species, Atoms for Peace, and Peak Everything, for instance.
|Starhawk addresses the IPCUK Plenary|
As the International Permaculture Convergence in England was drawing to a close last month we were in the big tent listening to Starhawk read from the climate change working group's statement, a document intended to be taken to Paris to give voice to permaculture designers. There came an objection from a gentleman who clearly had not taken the time to educate himself on the subject of biochar and thus was of the opinion it was a Ponzi scheme or Snake Oil and wanted mention of it deleted. We held our tongue.
Well you need not feel so all alone
Everybody must get stoned
— Dylan, Rainy Day Woman
Having given extensive biochar talks at Permaculture Convergences in Jordan and Cuba, and more in England, including a controlled burn facilitated by Dale Hendricks two days earlier, we thought we had already answered our skeptics in the permie crowd and won them over. This fellow was apparently a late arrival.
|Dale Hendricks explains the cone kiln method at IPCUK|
Starhawk had made biochar with us in Belize the previous February, and we had gone over the ethical principles with her in Cuba and Jordan, so we knew she was no stranger to the questions. She deftly handled the heckler by making a small adjustment to the text, placing the words "sustainably produced" in front of the word "biochar" to acknowledge his point about the potential for misuse.
Having had a hand in the drafting of the document, we let it pass that this was the only use of the word "sustainable," a word we abhor, that crept in.
Still, the document is a good one, and we reproduce it in its entirety below.
|Can an all-knowing bearded Superman save us from Fire Earth?|
We encountered critics of biochar even before we penned The Biochar Solution. The loudest of them is Biofuelswatch, an organization we previously respected but no longer do because they are tone deaf to serious science. Because they are close with many social justice, ecology and indigenous rights organizations, their completely irrational arguments against biochar have been picked up by many in the environmental community and repeated as if they had not already been shown to be completely without merit, and ridiculous. In our book we discussed the critics' few arguments that we thought had some merit – such as the temptation for large landowners to monocrop genetically modified plantations of fast-growing trees to make biochar for carbon credits and what could be done to require biochar to be produced more responsibly. Indeed, the word "biochar" should itself connote ecologically responsible sourcing and production, in much the same way that "biodynamic" cannot be used by food growers who don't follow the rules for that technique.
Nonetheless, it is hard to get very excited by toothless critics when there are so many positive developments. Faced by wildfire and severe drought as the Sonoran desert migrates north to claim California, local government entities in the Golden State are responding with a strategy long overdue but never too late: ecological restoration.
We quote at length from the Placer County Biomass Energy Initiatives, just released.
Placer County includes over 550,000 acres of heavily forested landscapes in the central Sierra Nevada foothills and mountains. This area stretches from Auburn to Lake Tahoe, and includes portions of three national forests, numerous state parks, and 60% of Lake Tahoe's west shore. The forested land is at significant risk for catastrophic wildfire due to the buildup of unnaturally dense vegetation following decades of successful fire suppression and exclusion. The County has experienced six major wildfires since 2001 burning more than 100,000 acres, including critically important upland watersheds and wildlife habitat.
To address the risk of catastrophic wildfire and improve air quality, the District has teamed with other public and private stakeholders to implement environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable forest management activities to restore these forested landscapes to a fire-resilient condition. The District's program activities, which you can learn more about in a presentation, brochure, and video (you may need to install an application called "Mediasite" to view this video).***
The District has sponsored the development of a biochar GHG offset accounting protocol with the support of Prasino Group, International Biochar Initiative, and The Climate Trust. The protocol was formally adopted into the CAPCOA GHG Rx on September 28, 2015. The final protocol here provides a detailed accounting procedure for quantifying the GHG benefits of biochar. Biochar projects sequester carbon from biomass waste in a highly stable biochar, and produce renewable energy from the energy-rich byproduct syngas. The protocol uses the biochar’s hydrogen to organic carbon content ratio as an indicator of its long term stability, in conjunction with its applied use as a legitimate soil amendment to agricultural field or road crop operations.
The protocol development process involved a webinar presentation conducted on September 9, 2014, which can be viewed here (Youtube). A copy of the presentation is here (.pdf). The draft protocol is here. The CAPCOA Protocol Primer on the protocol requirements and review process is available here.
We hope to quantify in the future additional GHG benefits that are associated with biochar including fossil fuel based fertilizer displacement, water production and transport, and enhanced plant growth.
Forest Hazardous Fuels Reduction Treatments
Fuels treatments involve the selective thinning and removal of trees and brush to return forest ecosystems to more natural fuel stocking levels resulting in more fire-resilient and healthy forests. Fuels treatments reduce air pollution by mitigating wildfire behavior, size and intensity, stimulating forest growth and vigor, and reducing tree mortality. Forest thinning also produces wood products that continue the sequestration of carbon. When fuels treatment projects include removal of excess biomass in the forms of limbs, tops, smaller trees and brush, the resulting biomass can be utilized for energy production and thus reduce the need for fossil fuels.
Distributed Biomass Energy Production
The District is supporting the assessment of the air pollutant emissions benefits and economics of energy conversion technology suitable for small-scale distributed systems in Placer County, utilizing woody biomass wastes from forest fuel thinning treatments, timber harvest residues, and defensible space clearings. We are also an advocate for a regulatory structure that recognizes the full environmental benefits of the use of forest biomass wastes for energy:
- Participated in the creation of the new Feed in Tariff program at the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).
- Assisted with the development of California Senate Bill 1122 which requires the CPUC to direct the three large Investor Owned Utilities in California to purchase a total of 50 MW of distributed forest biomass generation from facilities that produce less than 3 MW at strategic locations near forested areas at risk for catastrophic wildfire. We are assisting the CPUC by participating in the SB 1122 process:
- Developing a fair power purchase agreement template
- Making sure that the Investor Owned Utilities implement fair and equitable interconnection requirements.
- Defining the term “strategic location” in content of communities at risk to catastrophic wildfire.
Permaculture Climate Change Statement
International Permaculture Convergence, Gilwell Park, England, September 2015
Permaculture is a system of ecological design as well as a global movement of practitioners, educators, researchers and organizers, bound by three core ethics: care for the earth, care for the people and care for the future. Permaculture integrates knowledge and practices that draw from many disciplines and links them into solutions to meet human needs while ensuring a resilient future. With little funding or institutional support, this movement has spread over the past forty years and now represents projects on every inhabited continent.
The permaculture movement offers vital perspectives and tools to address catastrophic climate change.
International Permaculture Climate Change Committee
Human-caused climate change is a crisis of systems—ecosystems and social system–and must be addressed systemically. No single new technology or blanket solution will solve the problem. Permaculture employs systems thinking, looking at patterns, relationships and flows, linking solutions together into synergistic strategies that work with nature and fit local conditions, terrain, and cultures.
Efforts to address the climate crisis must be rooted in social, economic, and ecological justice. The barriers to solutions are political and social, not technical, and the impacts of climate change fall most heavily on frontline communities, who have done the least to cause it. Indigenous communities hold worldviews and perspectives that are vitally needed to help us come back into balance with the natural world. We must build and repair relationships across cultures and communities on a basis of respect, and the voices, leadership and needs of frontline and indigenous communities must be given prominence in all efforts to address the problem.
Permaculture ethics direct us to create abundance, share it fairly, and limit overconsumption in order to benefit the whole. Healthy, just, truly democratic communities are a potent antidote to climate change.
Both the use of fossil fuels and the mismanagement of land and resources are driving the climate crisis. We must shift from fire to flow: from burning oil, gas, coal and uranium to capturing flows of energy from sun, wind, and water in safe and renewable ways.
Soil is the key to sequestering excess carbon. By restoring the world’s degraded soils, we can store carbon as soil fertility, heal degraded land, improve water cycles and quality, and produce healthy food and true abundance. Protection, restoration and regeneration of ecosystems and communities are the keys to both mitigation and adaptation.
Permaculture integrates knowledge, experience, research and practices from many disciplines to restore landscapes and communities on a large scale. These strategies include:
- A spectrum of safe, renewable energy technologies.
- Scientific research and exchange of knowledge, information and innovations.
- Water harvesting, retention and restoration of functional water systems.
- Forest conservation, reforestation and sustainable forestry.
- Regenerative agricultural practices—organic, no-till and low-till, polycultures, small-scale intensive systems and agroecology.
- Planned rotational grazing, grasslands restoration, and silvopasture systems.
- Agroforestry, food forests and perennial systems.
- Bioremediation and mycoremediation.
- Increasing soil organic carbon using biological methods: compost, compost teas, mulch, fungi, worms and beneficial micro-organisms.
- Sustainably produced biochar for carbon capture and soil-building.
- Protection and restoration of oceanic ecosystems.
- Community-based economic models, incorporating strategies such as co-operatives, local currencies, gift economies, and horizontal economic networks.
- Relocalization of food systems and economic enterprises to serve communities.
- Conservation, energy efficiency, re-use, recycling and full cost accounting.
- A shift to healthier, climate-friendly diets.
- Demonstration sites, model systems, ecovillages and intentional communities.
- Conflict transformation, trauma counseling and personal and spiritual healing.
- Transition Towns and other local movements to create community resilience.
- And many more!
None of these tools function alone. Each unique place on earth will require its own mosaic of techniques and practices to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
To deepen our knowledge of these approaches and refine our ability to apply and combine them, we need to fund and support unbiased, independent scientific research.
Each one of us has a unique and vital role to play in meeting this greatest of global challenges. The crisis is grave, but if together we meet it with hope and action, we have the tools we need to create a world that is healthy, balanced, vibrant, just, abundant and beautiful.
Off the keyboard of Albert Bates
Published on Peak Surfer on June 21, 2015
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We were biking on a backcountry lane this week when we surprised a squirrel about to cross the highway.
Observing the interaction between squirrel and machine, we noted that the maladaptive squirrel did not take a straight line to escape the sudden appearance of the bicycle, a perceived predator, because to do so would conflict with its genetically hard-wired fight-or-flight survival response.
Countless generations of dead squirrels had, by process of elimination, coded a certain wisdom into our squirrel's sudden reaction, which was to zig away from the bike, then zag back into the path of peril, then zig away again.
For millennia this randomized algorithm of zigs and zags thwarted the astute calculus of hawks, owls, eagles, foxes, cougars, coyotes and other cagey hunters of squirrel who put themselves on a perfect intercept trajectory, only to find the quarry gone when they arrived. Who can parse a random algorithm? It defeats both speed and angle of attack, putting the contest into one of nimbleness, stamina and availability of cover.
Against automobiles and other fast-moving machines, the program is utterly maladaptive. Having escaped the danger zone, the squirrel rushes back into the path of oncoming death. In a significant percentage of encounters they find themselves occupying the same position in time and space as the rotating tire of a car. Remnants of squirrel smeared on pavement, a boon to turkey buzzards and other scavengers, attest to a failed algorithm that should have been retired half a century ago. Similarly maladaptive to the automobile age are the defense strategies of opossums and armadillos.
But on the other hand, a mere half-century of paving progress is just a bat of evolutionary time's eyelash for a squirrel. The 100-year auto age may be a passing fad, and in not so many years (already Peak Oil+10 at this writing) the fox and hawk may assert prior rights to the average country squirrel.
We have been speaking recently of the energy calculus of renewables and whether they can be brought on line fast enough to avert catastrophic climate change and save our civilization. We hold the humble opinion that while renewables must indeed replace our self-destructive addiction to oil, gas and coal, there is no possible way that such a switch could save our profligate and bloated civilization. Just do the math.
Nonetheless, switching back to sunlight is our only option, climate change or no, and assigning reality-based costs to fossil fuels, or merely removing their obscene trillion-dollar subsidies, should be done immediately.
But we need to realize that while we can move some sectors of the energy economy to renewables, not all of them will follow, and not most of the really big ones that a globally industrialized economy requires. We can easily electrify cars but not steel mills, cement factories, container ships or airplanes. We can replace agrochemical farming with bioenergy-to-carbon-storage (BECS), but we cannot as easily dry the grains, transport, process and package them unless we are prepared to relocalize farming to a scale last seen before World War II, when the world's population was about 12% of present.
Our maladaptive civilization model is not in the position of the bicycle or the automobile here, it is the squirrel. We race to and fro in a desperate attempt to escape our fate, but odds are roughly even in any given encounter that our fragile economy will wind up under the tire, and splayed across the pavement. The tire missed it in 2008. That may or may not happen again next time, and dumb luck will have a hand in the outcome.
We are happy to report that in our case, we did not waiver in our bicycle's trajectory. The squirrel escaped unharmed.