Sunday, February 8, 2009

feeding the beast

Sometimes I feel as if a giant comet is headed right this way. We've been clever enough to build telescopes to see it and mathematically adept enough to know when it will arrive BUT WE CAN'T DO A DAMN THING ABOUT IT. If it isn't war, it's the economy and then there's climate change. A huge bush fire in Australia has killed more than a hundred people and has wiped out whole towns.

Just to see how bad things are I asked Crow to sit in on a meeting with James Lovelock recently and the following is a synopsis of what he heard:

Your work on atmospheric chlorofluorocarbons led eventually to a global CFC ban that saved us from ozone-layer depletion. Do we have time to do a similar thing with carbon emissions to save ourselves from climate change?

"Not a hope in hell. Most of the "green" stuff is verging on a gigantic scam. Carbon trading, with its huge government subsidies, is just what finance and industry wanted. It's not going to do a damn thing about climate change, but it'll make a lot of money for a lot of people and postpone the moment of reckoning."

So are we doomed?

"There is one way we could save ourselves and that is through the massive burial of charcoal. It would mean farmers turning all their agricultural waste - which contains carbon that the plants have spent the summer sequestering - into non-biodegradable charcoal, and burying it in the soil. Then you can start shifting really hefty quantities of carbon out of the system and pull the CO2 down quite fast."

Do you think we will survive?

"I'm an optimistic pessimist. I think it's wrong to assume we'll survive 2 °C of warming: there are already too many people on Earth. At 4 °C we could not survive with even one-tenth of our current population. The reason is we would not find enough food, unless we synthesised it. Because of this, the cull during this century is going to be huge, up to 90 per cent. The number of people remaining at the end of the century will probably be a billion or less. It has happened before: between the ice ages there were bottlenecks when there were only 2000 people left. It's happening again.

I don't think humans react fast enough or are clever enough to handle what's coming up. Kyoto was 11 years ago. Virtually nothing's been done except endless talk and meetings."

It's a depressing outlook.

"Not necessarily. For the first time in its 3.5 billion years of existence, the planet has an intelligent, communicating species that can consider the whole system and even do things about it. They are not yet bright enough, they have still to evolve quite a way, but they could become a very positive contributor to planetary welfare."

He couldn't mean people. He must be talking about Crows.


Lover of Life said...

It really is depressing, isn't it? But starting, one by one, is the only recourse we have. Change yourself, one bad habit at a time, educate your children ... or better yet - get educated by your children. Hold our government responsible when it needs to be held accountable, vote out those in it for special interests, and hope for the best. Not much else we can do. Too bad the last eight years were so wasted.

Suzi Riot said...

Ugh. I can't stop thinking about all of this either. I've never been an optimistic person, but even I have my limits for doom and gloom. And you're so right about just watching it coming towards you while feeling completely powerless to do anything about it. But we're not powerless. We just have to do our best, even if it seems futile.

Utah Savage said...

This is one of the good things about being old. I won't see it happen, unless starvation strikes me down.

Liberality said...

I hate to say this but it's true--these are the reasons I regret having children and now grandchildren. We are going to suffer and I hate that people I care so deeply about will be the ones who suffer. It breaks the heart in mini-pieces with the thinking of it.

Lisa said...

Ugh is right. I just spent two days in meetings with people who think climate change and anything having to do with "green" is just liberal propaganda and a desire to control behavior.

Yeah - they're lumber dealers. The people who sell the products to the contractors who build buildings. They don't even think there is a problem to worry about.

susan said...

lol - Of course, you're right. All we can do is the best we can under our own particular circumstances.

suzi - I asked myself more than once about my motivation for this post but it's something that's been gnawing. There may be nothing we can do to reverse the problem but at the very least we have to acknowledge there is one.

utah - Me too but we're a bit concerned about the neighbors downstairs eating us.. nah, too stringy.

lib - I'm sorry. I have a child too - one who's well grown but, like you and all of us who find ourselves parents, I'd hoped for a brighter future.

lisa - That is the heart of the matter - those who simply refuse to entertain the prospect and the results of selfishness.

linda said...

it's disgusting, the profound unwillingness to take this seriously...and I have grandchildren who will one day inherit the mess we are making of it makes me sick...and sad...

linda said...

you got me so distracted, I forgot to say, another lovely painting! you have an amazing talent, not in distracting me but in painting!!! ;)

susan said...

linda - It's very upsetting, I know. In fact I got so overwhelmed by putting the post together I forgot to mention the painting which is a fairly recent one. I always had a soft spot for chipmunks and you know that Lovelock says we are Gaia's senses.

Anonymous said...

This is pretty scary shit Susan. I hate to think that this is the world being left to our children. On the other hand, we can hope that they're able to clean up the crapheap we've left for them.

Seraphine said...

oh god that scares me.
the next time i burn dinner, i'm burying it in the backyard.

Mary Ellen said...

Great post,susan. I feel the same way sometimes, as if we have no place to turn. One of the biggest problems I see is that our government...or NO governments, for that matter, give a flying leap what the people have to say.

I've mentioned before on my blog that Americans are lazy and gullible. They think that sending off e-mails to their Congressmen will bring forth results. They continue to vote for the same old hacks who have stuck a shiv into them the previous four years or they vote in new hacks who aren't any different from the old ones.

As always, nothing will be done about the destruction of our natural resources until it's too late...just like nothing will be done to fix our economy because they are too lazy to fix it properly the first time and will do a half-assed job which will result in failure. I'm so sick of hearing about how this stimulus bill doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to be voted on quickly.

And anyone who hears from the Democratic clowns who are pushing this bill that even with this stimulus bill our country will be in the same place it is now, in two years...well,they deserve what they get for supporting it to begin with. What they are saying is that unemployment will still be running rampant, people will still be losing their homes, and on top of that, they will now have the pleasure of paying off a trillion dollar debt...which,btw, doesn't include the debt that will incur from the war in Iraq or the increase in troops in Afghanistan.

If anyone wants to save us from ourselves...I suggest marching in mass in front of the White House and making it clear that they are not happy with Congress or our President. Believe me...our Congressmen/Senators/President could care less about those e-mails or letters, they are totally ignored.

Some may have to swallow a little crow (sorry for that pun) but no one ever said that it would be easy. Isn't the future of our world and our country worth it?

La Belette Rouge said...

This is my favorite painting. I absolutely love it. I cannot even feel depressed reading about the depressing outlook and I am a weasel prone to depression. Must run, I want to go back and look at that painting again.

susan said...

spartacus - Most of us are parents and those who aren't still have children they're close to. It's nasty stuff to contemplate but at least with knowledge we have some hope.

sera - I might burn dinner just so I can bury it.

nunley - The march on the White House might just happen. On the weekend I read this Frank Rich article in the NY Times indicates ordinary Americans are getting very fed up with the status quo. He's not strongly critical of Obama himself but does seem to be pointing a finger toward the possibility that things could explode if marked changes don't happen. Another article of interest on Common Dreams was this one about what's been occurring in Iceland since their economy tanked. It's worth scanning if you have a little time.

belette - I should have posted it as something special in and of itself since it is the first time it's been up and I like it too. I think I'm over my tantrum now.

Randal Graves said...

Well hell, I better get cracking on that book so the 38 people that are left will have something to read besides People.

Murkans won't march unless the entire economy blows up and there's 50% unemployment and there's a waiting list to sign up to work at McDonald's.

Anonymous said...

Biochar Soil Technology.....Husbandry of whole new orders of life

Biotic Carbon, the carbon transformed by life, should never be combusted, oxidized and destroyed. It deserves more respect, reverence even, and understanding to use it back to the soil where 2/3 of excess atmospheric carbon originally came from.

We all know we are carbon-centered life, we seldom think about the complex web of recycled bio-carbon which is the true center of life. A cradle to cradle, mutually co-evolved biosphere reaching into every crack and crevice on Earth.

It's hard for most to revere microbes and fungus, but from our toes to our gums (onward), their balanced ecology is our health. The greater earth and soils are just as dependent, at much longer time scales. Our farming for over 10,000 years has been responsible for 2/3rds of our excess greenhouse gases. This soil carbon, converted to carbon dioxide, Methane & Nitrous oxide began a slow stable warming that now accelerates with burning of fossil fuel.

Wise Land management; Organic farming and afforestation can build back our soil carbon,

Biochar allows the soil food web to build much more recalcitrant organic carbon, ( living biomass & Glomalins) in addition to the carbon in the biochar.

Biochar, the modern version of an ancient Amazonian agricultural practice called Terra Preta (black earth, TP), is gaining widespread credibility as a way to address world hunger, climate change, rural poverty, deforestation, and energy shortages… SIMULTANEOUSLY!
Modern Pyrolysis of biomass is a process for Carbon Negative Bio fuels, massive Carbon sequestration,10X Lower Methane & N2O soil emissions, and 3X Fertility Too.
Every 1 ton of Biomass yields 1/3 ton Charcoal for soil Sequestration, Bio-Gas & Bio-oil fuels, so is a totally virtuous, carbon negative energy cycle.

Biochar viewed as soil Infrastructure; The old saw, "Feed the Soil Not the Plants" becomes "Feed, Cloth and House the Soil, utilities included !". Free Carbon Condominiums, build it and they will come.
As one microbologist said on the TP list; "Microbes like to sit down when they eat". By setting this table we expand husbandry to whole new orders of life.

Senator / Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar has done the most to nurse this biofuels system in his Biochar provisions in the 07 & 08 farm bill,

Charles Mann ("1491") in the Sept. National Geographic has a wonderful soils article which places Terra Preta / Biochar soils center stage.

Biochar data base;

NASA's Dr. James Hansen Global warming solutions paper and letter to the G-8 conference, placing Biochar / Land management the central technology for carbon negative energy systems.

The many new university programs & field studies, in temperate soils; Cornell, ISU, U of H, U of GA, Virginia Tech, JMU, New Zealand and Australia.

Glomalin's role in soil tilth, fertility & basis for the soil food web in Terra Preta soils.
POZNAN, Poland, December 10, 2008 - The International Biochar Initiative (IBI) announces that the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has submitted a proposal to include biochar as a mitigation and adaptation technology to be considered in the post-2012-Copenhagen agenda of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). A copy of the proposal is posted on the IBI website at
The International Biochar Initiative (IBI).

Given the current "Crisis" atmosphere concerning energy, soil sustainability, food vs. Biofuels, and Climate Change what other subject addresses them all?

This is a Nano technology for the soil that represents the most comprehensive, low cost, and productive approach to long term stewardship and sustainability.

A Black Revolution in Shenandoah Valley Agriculture & Energy

Several Biochar programs are now happening at Virginia Tech & JMU.
This week VA Tech demonstrated the first ever mobile pyrolysis unit at the Heatwole farm in Dayton VA, converting a ton chicken litter into 1/3 ton Biochar fertilizer the rest Bio-oil and Syn-gas.biofuels.

Dr. Mark Alley at VT has been successfull in his wok getting carbon credits for no-till farming.

I spoke with Jon Nilsson of the CarbonChar Group, in their third year of field trials ;
An idea whose time has come | Carbon Char Group
He said the 2008 trials at Virginia Tech showed a 46% increase in yield of tomato transplants grown with just 2 - 5 cups (2 - 5%) "Biochar+" per cubic foot of growing medium.
"Biochar+" is available now only with orders of four pallets ( 4 tons )
40 - 50# bags / pallet @ $50 per bag = $2000 / ton

Farming is Carbon Management:

Farmers should embrace carbon taxes, they have the greatest ability to capture and store it. No till practices are now granted carbon credits for increases in soil carbon content. Increased soil carbon means increased yields.

Virginia Tech, JMU and several other major universities are doing soil trials now that will super charge the soil food webs. By amending soils with charcoal or "biochar". "Biochar" is produced from all type of biomass waste after the gases and bio-oils are extracted with pyrolysis (ie heating with no oxygen). The oil and gas are bio-fuels, the biochar becomes a massive carbon condominium for beneficial microbes and fungi in the soil food web. The results to date show yield increases of 50-100%,and has been certified by the European Union.

This amendment is unlike any other in that it is biologically inactive and remains in the soil for thousands of years. If American farmers were paid what the Europeans pay out in carbon taxes they would receive $500 for every ton of biochar spread on their fields. The increased yields...icing on their black earth cake.

Carbon back to the soil, the only ubiquitous and economic place to put it.

Erich J. Knight
540 289 9750

Pagan Sphinx said...

I love the last line. It made me smile really big.

susan said...

randal - It's looking more likely every day all that might happen.

pagan - Crow has an exciting announcement coming soon ;-)

Anonymous said...