carbon sequestration

Cool Livin’, Mon

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Published on Peak Surfer on November 6, 2016


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–> We are selling timeshares to help build residences for our trainees. "

We are on our way across the Atlantic as we post this. It is our third crossing in ten days. When our Bates family ancestors made the passage in 1630 it took nine and a half weeks.
To draw enough carbon from the atmosphere to return us to pre-industrial concentrations on decadal timescales may require foregoing air travel in the not-to-distant future, an era that may arrive fairly soon if jet fuel loses its externalized subsidies in forthcoming UN climate talks.
Emissions cuts will be needed but are not sufficient. We need enough new forest to cover four Spains each year. Moreover, we will need to keep those forests in harvest rotations that optimize soil carbon. We will require 100 million people to perform this new kind of work.  We will need to hold their interest by improving farm profits, food security and living standards. Those things have to be good enough that, when push comes to shove, the farmers don’t just cut their new forest down and burn it.
The good news: we know how to do this. We are doing it. We are already succeeding. We need to ramp it up. If we can train 1000 trainers, and they can each train 1000 trainers, each of whom can advise 100 farms, we can rescue the climate, and quickly. We can get back the Holocene.
But we need more green learning centers to do this sort of training. Our first is in the Dominican Republic, where we are modeling the whole enchilada of climate repair methods within a 30000-hectare valley, with 95% offset for biodiversity and carbon drawdown. Within the 5% developed area, there is a “beyond zero” emissions sink. Even the developed part is drawing down.
This is not the first training center we have built. We have done a few now with the Global Ecovillage Network, in different countries. The prototype, although it benefitted from the experience of trials before it, is our Ecovillage Training Center at The Farm. ETC was designed in the early 90s to meet the needs of what we correctly foresaw as a revolution in how humans inhabit the Earth. ETC was designed to grease the skids.
In 1991 we attended a meeting of interesting people assembled at the country farm of Ross and Hildur Jackson in Denmark. It was one of those kinds of meetings that only run a few days but which produce lifelong friendships — as you meet with kindred spirits whose paths and yours seem to have traipsed many lifetimes.
We came back to Tennessee and started a quarterly newsletter, The Design Exchange, and from that we gradually evolved the notion for a training center. We were exploring a new paradigm in learning — an immersion pedagogy that blended residential courses inside a 25-year-old ecovillage and outreach programs on six continents. Because of our history with Plenty, the Farm’s relief and development charity, our curriculum was strongly influenced by indigenous wisdom. The core of it was learning to get along with nature, and be respectful, instead of trying to bully her all the time.
The new branch on our tree is called El Valle. It takes the ecovillage training concept to where it needs to go for the next half century. It builds on what we have learned over the past decades and anticipates at least some of the changes now coming our way.
The Farm was a good model because it already net sequesters five times its own carbon footprint, accomplishing that trick with a nifty blend of keylined fields, injected brews of microbes and enzymes, biochar from bamboo, living roofs, and mixed-age, mixed species hardwood forest. The last of those is the real workhorse, drawing millions of tons of CO2 from the air and sending the carbon deep underground, or shaping it into standing oaks that will later be converted to various types of long-term storage.
This is a model that needs to scale, but one has to always be cautious when using that word. Not everything gets better by getting bigger. There is a point of diminishing returns in all things, from cabbage patches to governments. One need only point to what is happening in the European Union or the former Soviet Union to drive that home. In the case of ecovillages, what is needed is not ecocities but many more small polities, such as we see with Transition Towns.
The bottleneck in making that transition is not land or money. Climate change is coming at us with such force and fury that assets are being made available, quickly. In China some of the best land in the countryside — abandoned Buddhist monasteries and old emperial palace sites, for instance — are being granted to ecovillagers to get something going. The bottleneck is people. There are not enough people with the right skills to get a modern-day ecovillage up and keep it going. There are plenty of earnest youth and older people with work skills, but few have any sense of how to keyline a hillside, make biochar, brew compost tea, extract leaf proteins, or build a cob and strawbale four-season greenhouse.
Our Tennessee Center can only train so many, assuming they can even run the State Department gauntlet to enter the United States for 2 or 3 months. We need more immersion learning sites all over the globe, beginning in the parts where the interest is strongest and the governments are most supportive.
So it came to be that we have broken ground in the Dominican Republic. The green learning "Terra Lodges" at El Valle will be our platform from which to train trainers. It will be a model for a new generation of similar platforms. For the past two years we have been building the El Valle ecodistrict into a state-of-the-art carbon drawdown technology showcase. Working through a transition pathway with local residents that will improve the quality of their lives on their own terms, we have brought in some of the world’s best master planners and conservation experts. We have designed integrated eco-agroforestry, aquaponics and chinampas, a biorefinery to produce a host of valuable nutriceuticals, foods, feeds and fibers from the pyrolysis of biomass wastes (such as coconut coir) into biochar, and workers cooperatives, all within and about a three-ecovillage ecodistrict.
Most of that is not new. We just put it all together in one place. To get to the next step, we are doing crowdfunding. That’s the part that’s got a new wrinkle.
Would you like to live in such a place, perhaps just part of the year? Maybe where you live now suits you, but there are certain times when it is dark and cold most days, or certain other times when it is swelteringly hot and the days never seem to end. If that’s the case, or you just like a little adventure, El Valle may have something to offer.
We are selling timeshares to help build residences for our trainees.
Our Terra Lodge concept was born out of the need to teach how to profitably cool the climate. Cool living is the solution. We have designed integrated human/natural systems that are antifragile and abundant, where no villager need feel any concern for lack of food, water, or shelter from the storms of our grandchildren.
There are many people who want to do something that benefits the world and generates income. The Terra Lodges and El Valle immersion learning complex will give climate activists new skills with which anyone can create a meaningful life anywhere in the world and become part of the growing “regenerative work” landscape.
How we will build our physical infrastructure is by selling cabins. There is only one level of donation for this campaign: usd$30,000.
There is only one perk: a cabin that you will own outright, subject to the eco-covenants that apply to all residents. Your perk cabin:
<>•<>•<>•<>•<>•<>•<>•<>•<>•You can help us fund this, and if you like, you can join our new ecovillage there and make some really interesting new friends. Or not. Perhaps for you this is just a socially responsible investment. One that invests in your grandchildren’s future.
Our cool "SCOOL' will rent your cabin for 10 months each year. In exchange, you will receive a return on your investment of 8 percent annually. If your cabin’s occupancy is above 60 percent, your return on investment will be doubled. You have the right to use your cabin 2 months per year, with all these needs provided:
  • Local organic food
  • Drinking water
  • Sanitation
  • Energy
  • Waste treatment
  • Internet
  • Weekly cleaning
  • Laundry
  • Trash collection
  • 10yr maintenance and repair
  • Booking, rental & admin.
  • Security
Since 2015, ECO2 COOL DESIGN SAS, a registered company in the Dominican Republic, has been developing an ecovillage masterplan in El Valle. The Terra Lodge cabins are the first step in launching this carbon drawdown project.

In a few hours we shall be landing in Marrakech. We plan to hawk these timeshares to some of our activist friends during COP-22. Our agenda is drawdown. We are betting that some of those attending will see the value of that too. But just to be sure, before we left home we planted more than enough trees to cancel out the climate costs of all this crazy travel.

Maginot Line: Permaculture Realized, Part III

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Published on Peak Surfer on March 6, 2016


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"There's a problem with all utopian visions which is that sooner or later if you try to put them into practice you run into problems with the real world."


The following transcript, from an interview for Permaculture Realized podcast on February 2, 2016, has been lightly edited for corrections and readability.

Levi Meeuwenberg: How do you foresee some of these new approaches starting to be implemented and then get rolled out in the long term?

Albert Bates: If you're a country and you've just signed the agreement along with 195 other countries, the first thing you did to get to that was to come up with an INDC — which is your pledged national commitment — your contribution to reduce climate change. It was a promise. You had to make a pledge. So all the countries that came to Paris had already put in their INDCs and if you add up all the sum of the INDCs we still get to three degrees by mid-century, five to seven degrees by end of century. The ambition was way too low.

We knew that. But don’t fret — that was the opening bid. if you're in a poker game that was the ante. You had to put in that much to get in the game. Coming out of Paris what they put in was what they called “stocktake.” This is a new word for Webster’s. Stocktake is what's going to happen for various parts at three or five year intervals. There are a lot of attempts by oil-based economies like Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Malaysia, the ones who have coal and stuff, to have the stocktakes taken out but the stocktakes stayed in the treaty so the Paris agreement requires a revision at close intervals now. There is a science stocktake in 2018, and then the next big one for the pledge system is in 2020. The stocktake which will happen in 2018 will look at the 1.5 goal and see what kinds of INDC revisions would be necessary to get and hold global warming to 1.5 degrees C.

Dare I say? We probably already know the answer. If you know anything about climate science you know that 1.5 is already baked in the cake. There's no way that we're not going to go sailing right through a 1.5 degrees celsius increase in global temperature of the planet. We're on that trajectory and there are so many feedback mechanisms, so many positive forcings which are already in play that 1.5 is a done deal. To try to set such an ambitious goal is ignoring the science to begin with, but I'm fine with high ambition so, sure, set that goal. It's kind of like building the Maginot line. If you're familiar with the history of Europe after WWI the French, who had fought all that trench warfare with the Germans which was really nasty, said we're going to pre-build a defensive line of bunkers – cement, barbed wire, trenches and all that – and massive earthworks all around our border so that we can never have this trench warfare slaughter again. We're going to build this giant wall – kind of like Trump's wall with Mexico – around France.

What happened in the Blitz? Germany just flew right over and dropped paratroopers on the other side. The French Minister of War, André Maginot, was fighting the last war. The Wehrmacht had a responsive strategic design process. They laughed all the way to Paris.

What they're doing now is building a Maginot line on the climate and saying that they're going to hold the line at 1.5. Well, I've got news for you, we're already past 1.5. But that's o.k. because what they're doing in that process is education, an interactive education process. We understand that when we're talking about governments and making them change, they change all the time. There are elections and changes in government and you get crazies in and you get different kinds of things happening, two steps back and one step forward. That's just normal in government. Just look at the difference in Obama in the first term and Obama in the second term in terms of climate change. I think partly that's laid at the feet of John Holdren who's the White House Science Adviser who got to meet with Obama on a regular basis and educate him.

I think that in the future we're going to have the same problem of educating governments over and over again. The weather is doing a lot of that for us so we don't really have to worry that much. The underground cities they built on the Maginot Line might even be good examples for urban design in coming decades, as long as they are not on coasts. But the idea of changing the way we farm is going to have to involve a major shift away from Cargill, Monsanto, and the agro industry and the way things are done now.

How do you make a shift like that? Frankly, I see it through tools like permaculture, home gardens, victory gardens, urban gardens. People looking for food security in these turbulent times when the economy is doing really badly and there issues with energy and the absence of energy after the crash of the fracking industry. So we're going to find ourselves where everybody is going to want food security and to do that they're going to have to learn how and to do it in a way that sequesters carbon. If we can produce electricity using clever stoves and things which sequester carbon as well as boost nutrient density that way — that’s the revolution. That can happen worldwide and the seed for that revolution, the starter in the yogurt, is all these little permaculturists running around like a yogurt starter culture.

A lot of different strategies are around to try to deal with climate and I don't begrudge their particular strategy. I think all of them are needed and I think that one of the things that we are going to see in the future is the idea that Bill McKibben launched in Paris and afterward and we’ll see it coming from him, Naomi Klein, Greenpeace, and others, which is that the new standard is 1.5 degrees by mid-century.

So essentially, the international agreement is to go carbon negative in the second half of the 21st century, which is in the actual language of the treaty – which requires 196 countries to eliminate fossil fuels by around mid-century, maybe a little bit after. I think that the ratcheting process may speed it up because the more we learn about the science and the more weather events happen, the more incentive there will be to ratchet up.

But the slogan that Bill McKibben coined was 'every pipeline, every mine — you said 1.5' and I can hear that chant in the back of my head as companies try to send railcar loads of shale oil through cities or carve new strip mines in the mountains or open new fracked gas wells which have already been leased but have not been drilled: “Stop! Every pipeline, every mine, you said 1.5!”

From a science standpoint it's absolutely impossible to hold to the Paris limits if you open up new fossil fuel mines and pipelines. You cannot have any new ones. You cannot have any more. You should be starting to shut down the ones we have. That's the only way to get there. We saw a lot of Fortune 500 companies signing on to this whole notion of going carbon negative or at least carbon neutral. There were one hundred and fourteen companies that signed the science-based initiative of going completely neutral and several of them have already achieved that. That's actually a coalition between environmentalists and business that's happening so now it's up to the environmentalists to hold the feet of these people to the fire, including the governments. So the protests are completely justified.

I had trouble with a lot of protests earlier because I'm a student of Mahatma Gandhi. I read Mahatma Gandhi when I was a high school student. I read pretty much all of his writings when he was a newsletter editor and his various collected writings so I understood the principles of Satyagraha which is seeking truth through peaceful means. One of those principles is to give your opponent every possible opportunity to correct their actions peacefully before you do anything to obstruct them or otherwise cause them harm – economic harm, I'm not talking about physical harm. When Gandhi would plan a march he would notify the authorities – “here's where we're going to be, come and arrest us if you want” – and when he goes into court (and remember he began as a lawyer in South Africa) he asks the judge to give him the maximum possible sentence. “Let's just go ahead and dispense with the trial, I'm guilty, put me in jail for as long as you want.” That's Satyagraha.

Here we have every pipeline, every mine and the moral justification is now there. Everyone's on notice. Everyone has been notified. There is no excuse now. Everybody has already agreed in principle that this must be done – no new pipelines, no new mines. So I think it's completely within everyone's privilege and in fact their duty to oppose anything new in the way of getting fossil fuels out of the ground.

Levi: What are some of the most effective ways? Let's say that we know that there are existing frack wells nearby, which is the case, should we approach the company, should we approach the government, should we go through legal means, or should we just occupy the space? What approach would you say would be best for getting that message out?

AB: I'm not going to dictate local initiatives. I think that this should come from the locality and everybody can best judge in their own location what is the best strategy. I think it's a little more problematic when you're talking about existing structures because those have to be withdrawn in a gradual way so there's a certain amount of latitude that must be there. I understand that. On the other hand if there's a new one then I think that it's perfectly justified to block the well-drilling rigs. It's perfectly justified to oppose them at every stage. For instance, they have to get state permits in every state to go in and drill. They have to get state permits to use the roadways. They have to have NPDES permits which are pollution discharge permits. All of those are places of entry where citizens and groups can go and make statements at those meetings and even protest those meetings if the state decides to ignore the legal requirement. They're outlaws if they ignore the legal requirement.
What needs to happen is the elevation of general public awareness about what the law now says. We're talking about international law which is the supreme law of the land under the U.S. constitution.

Levi: I hear a lot of talk about renewable energy, solar and all that – maybe too much. People who don't have an understanding of permaculture solutions or more holistic solutions or soil solutions see renewable energy as solving everything in some way. How do you see that being part of the picture?

AB: I spent a lot of my book, The Paris Agreement, on this. I blogged for a year leading up to Paris and took all those blogs and wrote an introduction and did a daily blog while I was in Paris. Then I spent a week or two afterward summarizing, synthesizing, and putting it all together to make the book. I put the book out on December 19th which was seven days after the Paris Climate Conference ended. It included the entire text of the treaty along with the year-long analysis that led up to it and I think the point of the book and what I spent a long time talking about was renewable energy and the myth surrounding renewable energy which I saw a lot of in Paris.

It's kind of this idea, this notion to just take out the dirty, greasy, black gooey stuff, the dirty smelly stuff, and the dirty powdery coal and all that which makes our hands black. We'll get rid of all that dirty stuff and we'll put in this shiny polished stainless steel, poly-composite graphite windmills and solar arrays and thermal mirrors and all these fancy new devices, this whole new tech industry which will suddenly transform the world and employ our entire population and give us clean energy, green growth jobs and so forth.

That's the utopian vision and there's a problem with all utopian visions which is that sooner or later if you try to put them into practice you run into problems with the real world. In the real world there are natural laws and one of those is energy return on energy invested. So we have to look at what is the actual cost in the life cycle of a solar cell or the life cycle of a windmill and how much energy is required to make a windmill? Are there steel components? How was that steel made? Was it made with sunlight? I don't think so. What about aluminum? What about some other fancy composites? What about the silicon wafers in the solar cells? Where did they come from and how were they made? What kinds of facilities do that?

Actually, I have to take an aside here and say that some years back, probably 20 years ago now, Solarex, a big solar company, built the first solar breeder which was a factory in Hyattsville, MD which was solar powered and which made solar cells so that's actually something which can be done. But if you look on the energy return on investment and the life cycle and so forth what you suddenly discover is we have been running on high-entropy, high-return, energy density. For instance, oil and coal and these other dense forms of stored solar energy pack a lot of calories per unit of weight or volume, but took 500 million years of sunlight to make. They're concentrated sunlight which has been stored in the earth.

That was our savings account which we went through in about 200 years. We're now switching over to a checking account, based on daily income – how much sun falls on the planet? Most of that's on the ocean. How much of that can be transformed into useful energy, how much can make liquid fuels? What we find is caloric return per unit weight or volume is much lower, an order of magnitude or more lower than what we were getting from fossil. So it's the first time in history that we're going from a denser form of energy to a less dense form. Every other time we've moved from whale oil to shale oil, from wind from canvas to wind from hydraulics and electromagnets and now we're going back the other way.

There's enormous power stored in ocean waves and tides and things like that. We can and will tap all those things to our benefit but compared to fossil fuels they're going to be a step back. We're actually going to have to contract. The economy is going to have to contract. It already is. What we're seeing now with the broader global economy is a major contraction that's already under way. It's what James Kunstler calls the long emergency. It's going to last a long time and it's going to be in stair steps. It's not going to come all at once.

But if we think that somehow solar power is going to change that trajectory, it's not. We're still going to have to step down. There's a lot of ground to be gained from increased efficiency and from employing low tech solutions and so on. Lifestyle is going to have to shift to reflect that change too. Most people don't understand that.

Personally, I think that megacities are doomed, especially coastal ones. Megacities are based on the import of resources from the periphery to the center. That's going to become much harder when transportation fuels are at much more of a premium. I think that the bioeconomy is the future. We're going to learn to cascade our crops to be able to get ecosystem services from the way in which they are designed and then some food and maybe some fuel and energy from that. Then biochar and carbon, which we're going to put back in the soil, is going to make a reversal in the climate trend and that cycle – actually already – of using bioenergy is seven times more cost-effective from an energy production standpoint than photovoltaics.

If you're going to install photovoltaics in a remote location on a village scale you'll find you'll have seven times more bang for the buck if you go with a biomass kiln and a local crop of food which produces a waste stream for that kiln and the kiln is pyrolytic, it's gasified and so it makes biochar and is therefore a whole business for you. It gives you pharmaceuticals, animal feed and other kinds of things which are of benefit to you. I think that's the future. The problem is that it's a much different future than most people envision and is certainly different than governments coming out of Paris thought was going to happen.

Levi: I would go as far as to say many people can't imagine or have lost this ability to imagine a world that is so vastly different from what it is now. Especially kids nowadays who have access to TV shows and the internet so they don't have to use their imagination as much so I think it withers a bit.

AB: Let me jump in and say something about that. I think that some of the things that people do with permaculture design courses and with introductions to permaculture, and through lectures to the public and so forth, those kinds of entries into what we do in that world are ways of re-educating the population not just to the crisis that we face but also to the things that you can do to make your life better even while the world is undergoing this monumental shift.

I've been teaching this course in Belize for many years. It's the eleventh time we've taught this course at this one farm, an experimental research station in Belize. It is the 50th permaculture design course that I've taught. The thing that I'm getting out of that is that we bring people from North America and Europe into this setting which is a very rural, rustic place. It's the Mayan world. If you go deeply enough into the Yucatan peninsula you find the Mayan world which hasn't changed a lot since Columbus. It's been globalized to a large extent. People wear the same clothes as people in the outside world and they have bicycles and drive cars so the outer things have changed. But the first language is still Mayan. It's still an indigenous population which has indigenous ways. I just attended a funeral ceremony here where I am in the Yucatan right now and it's as much Mayan as it is Catholic.

In the Mayan mountains where we go to the course we're really putting people into a time portal. It's like an adventure where you get to go to a different planet because we're tucked into the foothills of the Mayan mountains two miles up-river from the village of San Pedro, Columbia in southern Belize. You have to get there by an hour in a dugout canoe being poled up river. That's the only way to get there. There's a trail but you probably wouldn't want to try that with a pack, and you still have to ford the river. When you get there, suddenly there's this beautiful sight that's all renewable energy. The food for the course comes from the land every day. For twenty years they've been doing integrated agro-forestry, what the UN calls eco-agriculture, and applied biodiversity. For a quarter of a century really, twenty-six years, they've been there growing organic food and converting citrus and cattle farming to a biologically diverse polyculture. So when you make this trip, when you go through this time portal, you're transported back to a society which existed a thousand years ago and was in complete harmony with the seasons, kept its population within the limits of production of the local watersheds, and had an elegant, simple, wonderfully fruitful life and a community society. You stumble over stones which are parts of old pyramids. This is a long lost city complex of the Maya and was there at its peak a thousand years ago. This is actually the best way to live the future, to see steady-state economies of the past which had it figured out and which actually can change the climate back to the holocene from the anthropocene, given the tools. So I recommend not just our course in Belize which anyone can attend but also other courses in similar settings where there are still indigenous cultures, for a wonderful experience in seeing what the future holds.

Levi: I really appreciate you coming on here and sharing all your great messages, all this information, and spreading it and all that you're doing.

AB: Thanks. It's been great talking to you. 


















Runaway Geotherapy

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Published on Peak Surfer on February 28, 2016


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Permaculture Realized, Part II




"Putting biology first means challenging big agriculture at the global industrial level."



The following transcript, from an interview for Permaculture Realized podcast on February 2, 2016, has been lightly edited for corrections and readability.

Levi Meeuwenberg: Since the Paris agreement just took place and I think that a lot of people are curious about that, and hopeful, can you tell us what you witnessed there? What happened?

Albert Bates: People tend to lump Paris into either a good or bad category depending on their viewpoint and I'm ambivalent. I'm kind of in both camps, one foot in each camp, because I've been going to these for a number of years going back to the Rio Convention which started the United Nations Convention on Climate Change and then the Rio+10 and Rio+20 Earth Summits, as well as many of the COPs and PrepComs. I was at the COP in Copenhagen for the entire time and blogging it daily and watched in frustration as the whole thing dissolved.

I attended the COPs after that in Cancún and other places so coming into this one I didn't have a lot of expectation because I knew the process and it was moving in very small increments toward something which is really just a band-aid on a much bigger wound. So I didn't expect much more than a band-aid. For a number of years myself and others — people in the organic foods industry, people who are protecting forests, people who are urging agro-forestry, alternate energy, renewables people, and others who are involved — we are called “observers” in UN parlance but who actually have consultative status and can actually input changes to language and treaties and so forth — we in that “civil society” or “multi-stakeholder” side of the UN have been pushing this agenda of carbon sinks — that there's actually, literally, more ground to be gained by looking at forests and soil than there is by emissions reductions.

We do need to do emissions reductions. In fact we should go to zero as quickly as possible. But then we need to go beyond zero and this is the point that we've been raising for a number of years. You can set a target of two degrees or 1.5 degrees above the industrial era and it's great that you have that, but until you actually do the math and figure it out, you don't really have much hope of achieving that, even by reducing emissions, at this point, because you are already on the roller coaster. We've gone over the top of the incline and are on the ride now, for better or worse, and the tipping points which have already been crossed – the release of methane hydrates from the arctic, the melting of Greenland and the Antarctic ice sheets, the changes in the equatorial regions, the deserts, the desertification of Brazil and Indonesia, the peat fires – all of those kinds of things, all those tipping points which have already been crossed, are now going to be keeping us busy just keeping up with those, right? Never mind emissions.

For every one degree that we increase the temperature of the planet the amount of methane being released from melting permafrost is equal to 1.5 times our current (2015) emissions. 

Let me say that again. Fifty percent more than the equivalent of all anthropogenic emissions are released from permafrost for every degree that the planet warms. We're already up one degree now so these ‘natural’ sources have already been increased, which leads us to say that for a two degree change we'll get an annual triple dose of present human emissions.

We can't do anything about that by stopping emissions. We can and we should stop emissions and that's what most of the conversation is about at the UN. It's about who is willing to tighten their belt. It's the carrot and stick approach. How can we get people to tighten their belts? Can we tax them? Can we pay them? Can we change the rules on fossil fuels at the source? Can we put fees on mining? Things like that.

The whole Bill McKibben/ approach tends to be in that direction. Naomi Klein says let's blockade. Let's protest. Let's stop emissions. Let's stop new pipelines. I'm all in favor of all of that except it's not going to stop the three times anthropogenic emissions coming from an already heating planet. It's not going to stop that. The only thing we can do about that is to look at the things that soil scientists and farmers look at.

Look at how carbon can be taken out of the atmosphere — the answer to that is photosynthesis. It's very simple, photosynthesis. What's the greatest photosynthesizer? – a forest. Everybody who's taken a permaculture course knows how many hectares there are in a single tree of leaf surface that's photosynthesizing all the time. What's that doing? It's taking the carbon from the CO2 that's in the atmosphere and converting it into a form of labile biocarbon which travels through the phloem of the tree down into the roots and is deposited at the root zones so even if you cut the tree down and burn it, you've still left a lot of carbon in the soil. I'm not urging anybody to cut down trees and burn them, but a tree is an atmospheric scrub brush so we need lots more of them. Can we get our food that way? Can we get our food through forests? Yes, we can. In fact we can get more and better food through forests. Can we get soil sequestered through grasslands? Yes, through holistic management practices of mob grazing and rotational pastures and things like that. Yes, we can absolutely do that. It's been shown. We can demonstrate sequestration from grasslands. Can we re-green the deserts? We absolutely can. We know how to do this. It's not a secret. There are a variety of different methods and it is being done in small scale.

So the soil is our biggest hope and when I went to Paris I carried with me the declaration which had been drafted at the International Permaculture Convergence in London which essentially outlines what permaculture brings to the subject of climate change and it has all of the tools that the world needs, available right now in practice. It just needs the scale. The real victory at COP21, I think, was the recognition that we had this previously hidden weapon to fight climate change – the role that soils can play in reversing global warming.

Managing carbon content in soils is really the best way to take control of the carbon cycle. Not only can soils be a sink but most soils need carbon in order to regain vitality worldwide. Fifty to seventy percent of the carbon in soils has been lost. That's a lot of what's up in the atmosphere. The culprits were irrigation and the plow and those go back ten thousand years. If we can increase photosynthesis with trees and plants and we can get our food that way, then carbon farming is a win-win solution because it's building carbon in the soil.

This is not new. I think my friend Thomas Goreau, who was also in Paris, wrote an article in Nature back in 1987 that said that the way to escape the greenhouse problem was by renewable resource-based land management and it's the cheapest option in the long run. It has lots of advantages in addition like water sequestration, preventing floods, mitigating droughts, controlling polluting inorganic fertilizers, stopping erosion, and so on. All these things come with that approach. Then in 2015 Tom co-authored and edited Geotherapy which is an absolutely fantastic book. It's a free download. Its innovative methods of soil fertility restoration, carbon sequestration, and reversing carbon dioxide increase through soil.

The idea here is to control the carbon cycle with soil and we were like voices in the wilderness at many of these COPs. We said this in Lima, in Warsaw, in Cancun and yet we weren't being heard particularly. But suddenly in Paris this whole idea got traction. I think that one of the major catalysts was the people in the French government in particular who created a program which was launched in Paris on the first of December but which had really been created at the COP in Lima a year earlier called 4 Per 1000 Initiative. You can look this up at Four grams per one thousand grams of carbon in the soil is the idea behind 4p1000. I think that this is the new 350.

You can talk about 1.5 degrees, you can talk about 2 degrees, but the only thing you can really talk about which really makes sense to me is 4 per 1000. You can gain four tenths of one percent carbon content for your soils every year. Everyone can. So, if you are keylining a field, planting trees, or changing your method of mulching to where you're getting an addition of four tenths of a percent of carbon to your humus annually your top soil is building. That's not a difficult lift. Most farmers understand that. Although, I have to say, if you go to an ag course like a master gardener course or something in the conventional agriculture schools, they consider a loss of four percent a year to be tolerable and only losing four tenths of a percent as wonderful. That's best practice, to them.
We're not talking about loss. We're talking about gain, about gaining four tenths of a percent and maybe even gaining four percent. You could build a meter of top soil in ten years if you try.

That was signed in Paris by twenty-five countries and fifty civil society organizations in a big rollout. I think that there are probably more countries that have signed on since. France's minister of agriculture was definitely one of the leaders that put that in place. I applaud that because it brought soil to the front of the discussion and it actually means that we can have massive reduction of emissions from energy as we go into biomass energy systems which are stacking functions and cascading from energy into food, carbon soil building, transportation, industries, and broad scale ecological restoration.

All of these are ways out of runaway climate change. We can actually go beyond zero. We can put net carbon into the ground every year. That means that we're creating an atmosphere which has less greenhouse imbalance year after year. Despite the increase of methane and all these other tipping points, we can still get to net zero. We can get to beyond net zero and into net sequestration. That's a game changer and the biggest thing coming out of Paris – that recognition and the number of countries and organizations that bought into that.

 It was not reported outside the blogosphere. USA Today doesn't get it. The New York Times doesn't get it. None of these people understands any of that. They look at the politics – will the Senate ratify this and so on. That's all a big side show which is what the press does. But if you go and see what actually came out of Paris, there's a paradigm shift. It's giving rise to a geotherapy which puts biology first. It's challenging big agriculture at the global industrial level. It places the soil-food-life web near the center of discussions in every COP to come. We are now entering a new age of soil and food. Non-profit organizations like Carbon Underground, Regeneration International, Regrarians and so on are all at the forefront. They're going to find themselves swamped with requests for information and projects to do.

Levi: That is so good to hear. That is so reassuring. Smells like hope. Thank you. That's awesome. How do you foresee some of these new approaches starting to be implemented and then get rolled out in the long term?

Continued next week.












Cool Buildings

surfer-girl-1gc2reddit-logoOff the keyboard of Albert Bates

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Publishes on the Peak Surfer on November 22, 2015


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"Never live with a TV, never have keys or locks, never have debt, never own anything costing more than $1000.– Ianto Evans"


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:

“Above all, less.” — Ianto Evans

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.”

“Wind swirls, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes — the last buildings standing are the round ones. Every time you build with parallel lines you are just setting up dominoes.” – SunRay Kelley

“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.

Labile 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),

Recalcitrant carbon

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.

In a recent post to our Facebook page, Michael Tobis commented:

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!


Collapse Cafe 8/23/2015: TSHTF Part 1 Energy

Discuss this Vidcast at the Diner TV Lounge inside the Diner

Audio Only Podcast:

gc2Well, we certainly timed this Vidcast well! 🙂

It's a marathon between the 3 parts we got recorded, we skipped over Part 3 to record at a later date on Climate & Geopolitics.  Part 1 here focuses on Energy, Part 2 on Economics and Part 4 is Futurology, doing the Cassandra and Nostradamus thing.

I will Feature Part 2 on Thursday and Part 3 next Sunday, however all 3 parts are currently up on the Collapse Cafe You Tube Channel.

Thanks to all the participants, Nicole Foss, Gail Tverberg, Steve Ludlum, Tom Lewis, Norman Pagett, Ugo Bardi & my co-host Monsta.


Engineers Offer to Save World from Engineers

From the keyboard of Thomas Lewis
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Thank God, it’s an engineer, here to save us from the fire by pouring gasoline on us. (Photo by Sergei Nivens/Shutterstock)

Thank God, it’s an engineer, here to save us from the fire by pouring gasoline on us. (Photo by Sergei Nivens/Shutterstock)

First published at The Daily Impact  February 16, 2015

The closer a person or  a society comes to the end of its life, the more attractive magical thinking becomes. Clearly this is not going well, the thought process goes, but I can avoid the inevitable outcome if I 1) pray real hard, or 2) pay enough money to the shaman/priest/doctor, or 3) take lots and lots of Vitamin X while bathed in a strong electromagnetic field, or 4) sacrifice plenty of virgins to a volcano. The more hopeless the situation becomes, the more attractive becomes the idea of a magical, easy solution, and the lust to find one often intensifies until death intervenes. Thus now, in the dotage of our society, we are hearing a rising, insistent chant from the shamans of technology, a promise of an easy fix for the climate that is turning against us: “geoengineer it, geoengineer it.”

Geoengineering is an offer — from the industrial wizards who have virtually destroyed the ability of the planet to support human life — to complete the job. Spewing billions of tons of carbon dioxide (from burning fossil fuels) into the atmosphere has worked really well if you disregard the fact that it is slowly bringing the world to a boil. To counter that downside, the supergeeks are now — I am not making this up —proposing to spew millions of tons of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere to create aerosols that would reflect sunlight and presumably turn the burner down. And then what will happen to the toxic, rotten-egg gas and precursor to sulfuric acid? We’ll figure that out when we get there.

Another brilliant idea from a self-styled geoengineer named David Keith is to substitute 200 million tons of aluminum particles for the rotten-egg gas, thus avoiding the smell and the acidity, but unfortunately coating the world in toxic aluminum when the particles, as they eventually must, fall back to earth.

No one in their right mind would actually support doing such things, which is why they are gathering increasing support around the world. The din has prompted the National Academy of Sciences to weigh in, just last week, with an authoritative opinion that said, after due consideration, the proposals have been found to be dangerous to the point of utter madness and we ought to continue to consider them, at government expense.

Another category of geoengineering, which the NAS studied separately, is less dangerous and could work if done on a large enough scale. It’s called carbon sequestration, which involves preventing the carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere in the first place. Although it would work, is extremely expensive, and you have to pay the costs up front in order to get the benefits later. The other schemes probably wouldn’t work, and probably have hideous downstream expenses, but it doesn’t cost very much up front.  So we like it better.

(What about the Third Way, did I hear someone ask? What about simply refusing to emit any more pollution? Or at least drastically reducing emissions? Would that not solve the problem? Well, sure, but it’s a non-starter.)

The NAS panel’s disdain for the whole subject of geoengineering is palpable, and begins with its refusal to call it “engineering” at all, substituting the world “intervention.”  A spokesperson explained, “we felt ‘engineering’ implied a level of control that is illusory. The word ‘intervention’ makes it clearer that the precise outcome could not be known in advance.” Whoa. You’re tinkering with the whole planet, and the precise outcome is unknown.

So why then, given its unconcealed contempt for the whole idea, did the NAS study recommend more research into atmospheric reflection projects? Well, there will be a lot of grant money for a lot of scientists willing to shake the medicine rattle and chant “geoengineer it.”

Having stated that we would be nuts to pursue “albedo management,” then saying that we should, just for the sake of knowledge, the NAS study says emphatically and in conclusion: “There is no substitute for dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate the negative consequences of climate change.”

Whoops, sorry, that wasn’t actually the conclusion. They also felt they had to say:  geoengineering “could contribute to a broader portfolio of climate change responses with further research and development.”

Looks like we had better start recruiting virgins.




Thomas Lewis is a nationally recognized and reviewed author of six books, a broadcaster, public speaker and advocate of sustainable living. He also is Editor of The Daily Impact website, and former artist-in-residence at Frostburg State University. He has written several books about collapse issues, including Brace for Impact and Tribulation. Learn more about them here.


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Globally, subtropical circulation in the lower troposphere is characterized by anticyclones over the [...]

Numerical models are being used for the simulation of recent climate conditions as well as future pr [...]

This study aims to provide improved knowledge and evidence on current (1986–2015) climate vari [...]

In many countries, urban heat island (UHI) effects come along with urbanization in metropolitan area [...]