Apr 10, 2010

Biochar Demonstration at Shelbourne Farms, Vermont

2010 Energy Conference Highlights

Pyrolysis is an Emerging Green Technology | RealEngineer.com

RealEngineer.comApril 9, 2010 by RealEngineer.com

Pyrolysis is an emerging technology and its green credentials when the feed is biomass are top notch. Everyone who has lit a wood or coal fire and watched it burn has seen pyrolysis. Pyrolysis is usually the first chemical reaction that occurs in the burning of many solid organic fuels, like wood, cloth, and paper, and also of some kinds of plastic.
In a wood fire, the visible flames are not due to combustion of the wood itself, but rather of the gases released by its pyrolysis; whereas the flame-less burning of embers is the combustion of the solid residue (charcoal) left behind by it.
Although the basic concepts of the process have been validated, the performance data for an emerging technology have not been evaluated according to methods approved by EPA and adhering to EPA quality assurance/quality control standards.
Waste is converted to a fuel by heating the waste which burns just as coal or wood does under the right controlled conditions. Whereas incineration fully converts the input waste into energy and ash, these processes limit the conversion so that combustion does not take place directly.
Waste Plastic under pressure and catalytic cracking produces fuel and can be used as a fuel source. Under certain temperature conditions the plastic macromolecular chains are broken down into small molecular chains (simple hydrocarbon compounds) and those small molecular compounds contain C4 to C20, this compound is a component of petrol, coal oil, and diesel.
Anhydrous pyrolysis can also be used to produce liquid fuel similar to diesel from solid biomass.
Fast pyrolysis occurs in a time of a few seconds or less. Therefore, not only chemical reaction kinetics but also heat and mass transfer processes, as well as phase transition phenomena, play important roles. Fast pyrolysis is a process in which organic materials are rapidly heated to 450 – 600 degrees C in absence of air. Under these conditions, organic vapors, permanent gases and charcoal are produced.
Researchers at Virginia Tech have identified pyrolysis as a potential technology for disposing of poultry litter. The ultimate goal of the project is to develop transportable pyrolysis units to process the waste from poultry growers within one locality, thus reducing transportation cost. Researchers believe that the char, an inert and highly porous material, plays a key role in helping soil retain water and nutrients, and in sustaining microorganisms that maintain soil fertility. Researchers have obtained from wood – initially beech and then coniferous species – oils with almost ideal characteristics. Straw, which has a lower energy yield – 50% as opposed to 70% for wood – is also due to be analysed in the near future.
Bill Gates’ personal investment vehicle, is reportedly backing Sapphire Energy, a start up working towards a commercial-scale facility to produce oil from algae, but we think he would do well to look at gasification and pyrolysis as his energy technology because there are so many possibilities in this technology.
Gasification technology also offers the possibility to create a new domestic supply of gas. It works by converting the hydrocarbons in coal, biomass and waste petroleum products into a gas called “syngas” that can be used in place of natural gas to generate power, or used in manufacturing as fuel or feedstock. Gasification avoids many problems which can occur in biogas digesters, and is also able to process lignin and cellulose, which are hard to ferment.
Steve Evans is enthusiastic about gasification and other renewable energy sources like anaerobic digestion plants. He also runs a great web site about the biogas.

Apr 9, 2010

Expect Mandatory Biochar Or Compost Use | Cattle Network

Turn that manure, household bio-waste, crop residue and sawdust into biochar or compost, and expect turning livestock manure into one or the other to be mandatory.

Biochar can be created by heating, not burning, waste input. It is basically heating the material in the absence of oxygen and converting it to charcoal. Biochar is a product mainly containing carbon, and its use as a fertilizer is being promoted extensively by several companies.

Companies are manufacturing biochar converters for individual farmers to install, and large-scale biochar facilities are being built. It is an industry in its infancy, but one gaining supporters.

Johannes Lehmann, a Cornell University soil scientist, has written extensively about biochar. Lehmann has used the example of a poultry producer converting chicken manure to biochar. The heat from the charring process can be used to heat the poultry facilities, and the resulting biochar enriches the producer’s farm ground for growing grain for chicken feed.

Lehmann notes that biochar stores slow-release carbon in the soil and emits carbon dioxide into the air much slower than if biomass is allowed to decompose. This is why there are claims that biochar is carbon negative, or stores more carbon than it releases, but this only appears logical in situations of using waste, not harvesting growing plants strictly to turn into biochar.

Biochar from biomass that would otherwise decompose rapidly or be burned makes sense in these days of concern about carbon emissions into the air. Much less run-off pollution potential from spreading biochar instead of spreading manure is being touted, too.

The wetter the input material the more energy needed to char it. Different methods for drying wet manure such as solar power are being investigated. There are a lot of solutions yet to be developed.

Another manure solution using less energy than biochar production is composting manure, but composting is probably more labor and time consuming than biochar production. Composting for use in growing mushrooms is typical, and some manure compost is sold as yard and garden soil amendments.

Composting manure or turning it into biochar to spread over thousands of farm ground acres is not going to happen over night, but it is going to increase in coming years. A choice of composting or biochar production, because of environmental concerns, are eventually going to be forced onto livestock producers, it is just a matter of time.

Source: Richard Keller, AgProfessional Editor

Dirt! The Movie

Dirt! The Movie is an insightful and timely film that tells the story of the glorious and unappreciated material beneath our feet. Inspired by William Bryant Logan's acclaimed book Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth, Dirt! The Movie takes a humorous and substantial look into the history and current state of the living organic matter that we come from and will later return to. Dirt! The Movie will make you want to get dirty.

YouTube - The Story of Cap & Trade

http://storyofcapandtrade.org - The Story of Cap & Trade is a fast-paced, fact-filled look at the leading climate solution being discussed at Copenhagen and on Capitol Hill. Host Annie Leonard introduces the energy traders and Wall Street financiers at the heart of this scheme and reveals the "devils in the details" in current cap and trade proposals: free permits to big polluters, fake offsets and distraction from whats really required to tackle the climate crisis. If you've heard about Cap & Trade, but arent sure how it works (or who benefits), this is the film is for you.

Apr 8, 2010

Research confirms biochar in soils boosts crop yields

Image: NSW DPI environmental scientist Steve Kimber shows one of the chambers used to monitor greenhouse gases emitted from the Wollongbar trial plot. Credit: NSW DPI.

New research confirms the huge and revolutionary potential of soils to reduce greenhouse gases on a large scale, increase agricultural production while at the same time delivering carbon-negative biofuels based on feedstocks that require less fertilizer and water. Trials at Australia's New South Wales Department of Primary Industries’ (DPI) Wollongbar Agricultural Institute show that crops grown on agrichar-improved soils received a major boost. The findings come at a time when carbon-negative bioenergy is becoming one of the most widely debated topics in the renewable energy and climate change community.

The Australian trials of 'agrichar' or 'biochar' have doubled and, in one case, tripled crop growth when applied at the rate of 10 tonnes per hectare. The technique of storing agrichar in soils is now seen as a potential saviour to restore fertility to depleted or nutrient-poor soils (especially in the tropics), and as a revolutionary technique to mitigate climate change. Moreover, agrichar storage in soils is a low-tech practise, meaning it can be implemented on a vast scale in the developing world, relatively quickly.

Agrichar is a black carbon byproduct of a process called pyrolysis, which involves heating biomass without oxygen to generate renewable energy. Pyrolysis of biomass results in the production of bio-oil, that can be further refined into liquid biofuels for transport (earlier post, on Dynamotive's trials). When the agrichar is consequently sequestered into soils, the biofuels become carbon-negative - that is, they take more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere than they release. This way, they can clean up our past emissions. No other renewable energy technology has both the advantages of being carbon-negative while at the same time being physically tradeable.

The biochar sequestration technique is now confirmed to boost soil fertility while storing carbon long-term. New South Wales Department of Primary Industries' senior research scientist Dr Lukas Van Zwieten said soils naturally turn over about 10 times more greenhouse gas on a global scale than the burning of fossil fuels.

“So it is not surprising there is so much interest in a technology to create clean energy that also locks up carbon in the soil for the long term and lifts agricultural production,” he said.

Multiple benefits
The trials at Wollongbar have focused on the benefits of agrichar to agricultural productivity: “When applied at 10t/ha, the biomass of wheat was tripled and of soybeans was more than doubled,” said Dr Van Zwieten. This percentage increase remained the same when applications of nitrogen fertiliser were added to both the agrichar and the control plots. For the wheat, agrichar alone was about as beneficial for yields as using nitrogen fertiliser only. And that is without considering the other benefits of agrichar.

Regarding soil chemistry, Dr Van Zwieten said agrichar raised soil pH at about one-third the rate of lime, lifted calcium levels and reduced aluminium toxicity on the red ferrosol soils of the trial. Soil biology improved, the need for added fertiliser reduced and water holding capacity was raised. The trials also measured gases given off from the soils and found significantly lower emissions of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide (a greenhouse gas more than 300 times as potent as carbon dioxide):
bioenergy :: biofuels :: energy :: sustainability :: climate change :: energy crops :: pyrolysis :: biomass :: biochar :: agrichar :: terra preta :: carbon-negative :: soil fertility :: Australia ::

Long term carbon storage
NSW DPI environmental scientist Steve Kimber said an added benefit for both the farmer who applies agrichar and the environment is that the carbon in agrichar remains locked up in the soil for many years longer than, for example, carbon applied as compost, mulch or crop residue.

“We broadly categorise carbon in the soil as being labile (liable to change quickly) or stable – depending on how quickly they break down and convert into carbon dioxide,” he said. “Labile carbon like crop residue, mulch and compost is likely to last two or three years, while stable carbon like agrichar will last up to hundreds of years.

“This is significant for farmer costs because one application of agrichar may be the equivalent of compost applications of the same weight every year for decades. “For the environment, it means soil carbon emissions can be reduced because rapidly decomposing carbon forms are being replaced by stable ones in the form of agrichar.”

Unfortunately, agrichar is not widely available yet. BEST Energies Australia, a company involved with NSW DPI in the trials, has a pilot plant at Gosford which is producing minimal amounts for research purposes. “We are hoping the technology will take hold and pyrolysis plants will be built where there is a steady stream of green or other biomass waste providing clean energy that is carbon negative,” Dr Van Zwieten said. “But until pyrolysis plants are up and running, the availability of agrichar for farmers will be scarce.”

Agrichar mimics Amazon
The pyrolysis process which BEST Energies Australia is using seeks to emulate creation of the highly fertile Amazonian dark earths known as ‘terra preta’ (previous post).

Organic matter or biomass, including green or feedlot wastes, is converted to char during pyrolysis, a thermochemical process conducted in the absence of oxygen. Between 25 and 70 per cent of the dry feed material is converted during pyrolysis into a high-carbon char material which is far more stable than the original biomass.

In the Amazon today, these highly fertile soils are prized. Created by pre-Columbian populations thousands of years ago through the addition of charred organic matter, terra preta continues to be staggeringly productive despite being intensively cultivated.

BEST Energies Australia first began working on the pyrolysis process 10 years ago and now has a fully operational demonstration plant on the NSW Central Coast with the capacity to take 300 kilograms of biomass per hour.

NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) formed a research partnership with BEST to investigate the potential of agrichar products as soil amendments which could boost profitability while also sequestering carbon and reducing greenhouse emissions. Initial laboratory trials conducted by DPI found that by matching soil type to char from certain feedstocks and processing conditions, yields of some crops more than doubled.

NSW has a vast untapped biomass resource from a variety of waste streams, estimated to be about seven megatonnes of biomass a year.

Charcoal: Out of the Grill and into the Ground

by Cassandra Willyard Terra preta
B. Liang, Cornell University A layer of rich, black terra preta lies atop a layer of light brown, nutrient-poor rainforest soil near Manaus, Brazil.
In the heart of the Amazon rainforest lie small plots of fertile ground. Soils in tropical rainforests are notoriously nutrient poor, but the dirt that fills these plots is so rich that the locals sell it as compost. This soil — called terra preta, Portuguese for “black earth” — did not form by accident. Scientists speculate that it marks the spots where pre-Colombian civilizations once burned their refuse in small, smoldering piles. The leftover charcoal gave the soil below a long-lasting supply of carbon that continues to boost fertility hundreds of years later. Today the ancient idea of supplementing soils with charcoal is making a comeback as researchers search for new sources of renewable, non-polluting energy. Heating organic waste in an environment with little or no oxygen generates renewable fuels such as syngas and bio-oil, but it also produces charcoal. “The charcoal, or char, has always been a byproduct that we didn’t know what to do with,” says Robert Brown, director of the Center for Sustainable Environmental Technologies at Iowa State University in Ames. Now they do: If they add the charcoal to soil, it breaks down at a snail’s pace — over hundreds (if not thousands) of years. This slow rate of decomposition means not only that the soil is more fertile during this time, but also that carbon is sequestered. A charcoal market in Manaus, Brazil Christoph Steiner, www.biochar.org At this charcoal market in Manaus, Brazil, charcoal is packed into small and large bags before being sold.
In an ideal world, the process works more or less like this: Organic wastes — everything from manure and wood chips to corn stalks and nutshells — are fed into a kiln where they are heated. Instead of burning, the biomass chars, releasing energy-laden gases that can then be captured. Depending on the conditions inside the kiln, the process produces “syngas,” which is rich in hydrogen, methane and carbon monoxide, or bio-oil, a thick, dark brown liquid that can be used as a fuel or further refined to produce syngas, ethanol or even gasoline. Both syngas and bio-oil can also be broken down to form industrial chemicals. And the byproduct, charcoal, can be used to enrich soils. The system is meant to be self-sustaining (some of the fuel produced goes to heat the kiln) and carbon negative. Farmers often leave crop residues and other organic wastes until they decay, or they burn them. Both activities release substantial amounts of carbon dioxide. But if those wastes are converted to charcoal and spread on fields as a soil additive, 30 to 65 percent of the carbon gets trapped and sequestered until the charcoal breaks down. Studies suggest that charcoal — also called biochar or agrichar — can boost soil fertility in a number of ways: It attracts microbes, traps moisture in its tiny pores and helps the soil hold nutrients. “What we came to appreciate in the last five years or so is this is not the same thing as adding manure,” says Johannes Lehmann, a soil scientist at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. “It’s much more efficient.” In fact, Brown tells the story of a farmer who added charcoal to his sandy soil and saw his next crop double in yield. A banana plantation at the Embrapa research station in Manaus, Brazil Christoph Steiner, www.biochar.org At the Embrapa research station in Manaus, Brazil, researchers study nutrient dynamics and crop yields in charcoal-enriched soil in a banana plantation.
Why has the idea of adding charcoal to soil been so slow in making a comeback? Christoph Steiner, a soil scientist at the University of Georgia’s Biorefining and Carbon Cycling Program in Athens, wonders the same thing. Four years ago, he wrote his dissertation — Slash and Char as Alternative to Slash and Burn — on this very topic. “I have been waiting for years for this to take off,” he says. According to Brown, the scientists who know about terra preta and the engineers who know about fuel production didn’t get together until about two years ago, when the International Biochar Initiative held its first meeting. “You didn’t hear about it before,” he says. But despite the mounting interest, many questions have yet to be answered. Not all charcoal is created equal: Wood chip charcoal is not the same as peanut shell charcoal or corn stalk charcoal — or the charcoal found in terra preta, researchers say. Even charcoals made from the same feedstock can differ depending on the conditions inside the kiln: Temperature and the presence of oxygen during heating affect the charcoal’s composition. For instance, charcoal heated at higher temperatures is coarser and less cohesive, Brown says. Not all soil is created equal either. “There’s no question that you get lots of positive effects when you put [charcoal] on soils that are highly weathered,” says Randy Killorn, a soil scientist who works with Brown at Iowa State. “We’re wondering what kind of an effect it will have on the soils like we have in Iowa.” He and his colleagues spread biochar made from corn stalks on test plots a year ago. But they have yet to see positive or negative effects. It could simply be too soon, Killorn says. Or it could have something to do with the charcoal they’re using or the soils in the region. Even charcoal enthusiasts are willing to admit that charcoal won’t be beneficial everywhere. Christoph Steiner Dr. K.C. Das, University of Georgia Christoph Steiner, a soil scientist at the University of Georgia, stands in the midst of a field of pepper plants in Brazil. These plants are being grown in terra preta — soil enriched hundreds of year ago with charcoal. The ordinary Amazonian soils do not support such productive agriculture.
Questions remain regarding the ability of charcoal to sequester carbon too. A study published May 2 in Science reported that charcoal, because it increases microbial activity, can speed up the decomposition of organic matter in certain kinds of soil, thereby releasing more carbon into the atmosphere. The researchers looked at leaf litter in a boreal forest, but David Wardle, a soil ecologist at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Umeå and the paper’s first author, expects the same processes would apply on agricultural lands. “I don’t think the extra decomposition would totally negate the sequestration effect of charcoal,” he says, but it would certainly partially offset the benefits. Yet Harold Collins, a microbiologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service in Prosser, Wash., hasn’t seen any evidence of increased decomposition in his experiments. He and his colleagues have been tracking microbial activity in silt loam and sandy soils by measuring the amount of carbon dioxide produced in the lab. If adding charcoal to soil speeds up decomposition of organic matter, Collins would expect to see a rise in carbon dioxide after they added the charcoal. Yet, after 150 days of monitoring, he and his colleagues have yet to see any change. “There doesn’t appear to be any stimulation at this point,” he says. Killorn wonders what impact removing crop residues from the fields and replacing them with charcoal would have on the soil and on erosion. Leaving crop residue in the field has been standard practice for years. The decaying plant matter contributes valuable nutrients and holds the soil in place. “You don’t want to deplete the fields of the crop residue,” Lehmann agrees. “But I think one can make the point that by making biochar out of the crop residue, you’re actually making a better crop residue.” Of course, those researching the benefits of charcoal are not the only ones interested in getting their hands on organic wastes. Crop residues and other leftovers can also go to fuel the production of cellulosic ethanol. However, Brown says, “we can take a much wider diversity of materials.” No biomass is so moldy or dirty it can’t be converted to charcoal. Even the residues left over after biomass becomes ethanol can be charred. “This is a very rapidly developing market,” Lehmann says. “What is a waste today might be a resource tomorrow.”

Our Good Earth - National Geographic Magazine

Soil Our Good Earth
The future rests on the soil beneath our feet.

By Charles C. Mann
On a warm September day, farmers from all over the state gather around the enormous machines. Combines, balers, rippers, cultivators, diskers, tractors of every variety—all can be found at the annual Wisconsin Farm Technology Days show. But the stars of the show are the great harvesters, looming over the crowd. They have names like hot rods—the Claas Jaguar 970, the Krone BiG X 1000—and are painted with colors bright as fireworks. The machines weigh 15 tons apiece and have tires tall as a tall man. When I visited Wisconsin Farm Technology Days last year, John Deere was letting visitors test its 8530 tractor, an electromechanical marvel so sophisticated that I had no idea how to operate it. Not to worry: The tractor drove itself, navigating by satellite. I sat high and happy in the air-conditioned bridge, while beneath my feet vast wheels rolled over the earth.

The farmers grin as they watch the machines thunder through the cornfields. In the long run, though, they may be destroying their livelihoods. Midwestern topsoil, some of the finest cropland in the world, is made up of loose, heterogeneous clumps with plenty of air pockets between them. Big, heavy machines like the harvesters mash wet soil into an undifferentiated, nigh impenetrable slab—a process called compaction. Roots can't penetrate compacted ground; water can't drain into the earth and instead runs off, causing erosion. And because compaction can occur deep in the ground, it can take decades to reverse. Farm-equipment companies, aware of the problem, put huge tires on their machines to spread out the impact. And farmers are using satellite navigation to confine vehicles to specific paths, leaving the rest of the soil untouched. Nonetheless, this kind of compaction remains a serious issue—at least in nations where farmers can afford $400,000 harvesters.

Unfortunately, compaction is just one, relatively small piece in a mosaic of interrelated problems afflicting soils all over the planet. In the developing world, far more arable land is being lost to human-induced erosion and desertification, directly affecting the lives of 250 million people. In the first—and still the most comprehensive—study of global soil misuse, scientists at the International Soil Reference and Information Centre (ISRIC) in the Netherlands estimated in 1991 that humankind has degraded more than 7.5 million square miles of land. Our species, in other words, is rapidly trashing an area the size of the United States and Canada combined.

This year food shortages, caused in part by the diminishing quantity and quality of the world's soil (see "Dirt Poor"), have led to riots in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. By 2030, when today's toddlers have toddlers of their own, 8.3 billion people will walk the Earth; to feed them, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates, farmers will have to grow almost 30 percent more grain than they do now. Connoisseurs of human fecklessness will appreciate that even as humankind is ratchetting up its demands on soil, we are destroying it faster than ever before. "Taking the long view, we are running out of dirt," says David R. Montgomery, a geologist at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Journalists sometimes describe unsexy subjects as MEGO: My eyes glaze over. Alas, soil degradation is the essence of MEGO. Nonetheless, the stakes—and the opportunities—could hardly be higher, says Rattan Lal, a prominent soil scientist at Ohio State University. Researchers and ordinary farmers around the world are finding that even devastated soils can be restored. The payoff, Lal says, is the chance not only to fight hunger but also to attack problems like water scarcity and even global warming. Indeed, some researchers believe that global warming can be slowed significantly by using vast stores of carbon to reengineer the world's bad soils. "Political stability, environmental quality, hunger, and poverty all have the same root," Lal says. "In the long run, the solution to each is restoring the most basic of all resources, the soil."

When I met Zhang Liubao in his village in central China last fall, he was whacking the eroded terraces of his farm into shape with a shovel—something he'd been doing after every rain for more than 40 years. In the 1960s, Zhang had been sent to the village of Dazhai, 200 miles to the east, to learn the Dazhai Way—an agricultural system China's leaders believed would transform the nation. In Dazhai, Zhang told me proudly, "China learned everything about how to work the land." Which is true, but not, alas, in the way Zhang intended.

Dazhai is in a geological anomaly called the Loess Plateau. For eon upon eon winds have swept across the deserts to the west, blowing grit and sand into central China. The millennia of dust fall have covered the region with vast heaps of packed silt—loess, geologists call it—some of them hundreds of feet deep. China's Loess Plateau is about the size of France, Belgium, and the Netherlands combined. For centuries the silt piles have been washing away into the Yellow River—a natural process that has exacerbated, thanks to the Dazhai Way, into arguably the worst soil erosion problem in the world.

After floods ravaged Dazhai in 1963, the village's Communist Party secretary refused any aid from the state, instead promising to create a newer, more productive village. Harvests soared, and Beijing sent observers to learn how to replicate Dazhai's methods. What they saw was spade-wielding peasants terracing the loess hills from top to bottom, devoting their rest breaks to reading Mao Zedong's little red book of revolutionary proverbs. Delighted by their fervor, Mao bused thousands of village representatives to the settlement, Zhang among them. The atmosphere was cultlike; one group walked for two weeks just to view the calluses on a Dazhai laborer's hands. Mainly Zhang learned there that China needed him to produce grain from every scrap of land. Slogans, ever present in Maoist China, explained how to do it: Move Hills, Fill Gullies, and Create Plains! Destroy Forests, Open Wastelands! In Agriculture, Learn From Dazhai!

Zhang Liubao returned from Dazhai to his home village of Zuitou full of inspiration. Zuitou was so impoverished, he told me, that people ate just one or two good meals a year. Following Zhang's instructions, villagers fanned out, cutting the scrubby trees on the hillsides, slicing the slopes into earthen terraces, and planting millet on every newly created flat surface. Despite constant hunger, people worked all day and then lit lanterns and worked at night. Ultimately, Zhang said, they increased Zuitou's farmland by "about a fifth"—a lot in a poor place.

Alas, the actual effect was to create a vicious circle, according to Vaclav Smil, a University of Manitoba geographer who has long studied China's environment. Zuitou's terrace walls, made of nothing but packed silt, continually fell apart; hence Zhang's need to constantly shore up collapsing terraces. Even when the terraces didn't erode, rains sluiced away the nutrients and organic matter in the soil. After the initial rise, harvests started dropping. To maintain yields, farmers cleared and terraced new land, which washed away in turn.

The consequences were dire. Declining harvests on worsening soil forced huge numbers of farmers to become migrants. Partly for this reason, Zuitou lost half of its population. "It must be one of the greatest wastes of human labor in history," Smil says. "Tens of millions of people forced to work night and day on projects that a child could have seen were a terrible stupidity. Cutting down trees and planting grain on steep slopes—how could that be a good idea?"

In response, the People's Republic initiated plans to halt deforestation. In 1981 Beijing ordered every able-bodied citizen older than 11 to "plant three to five trees per year" wherever possible. Beijing also initiated what may still be the world's biggest ecological program, the Three Norths project: a 2,800-mile band of trees running like a vast screen across China's north, northeast, and northwest, including the frontier of the Loess Plateau. Scheduled to be complete in 2050, this Green Wall of China will, in theory, slow down the winds that drive desertification and dust storms.

Despite their ambitious scope, these efforts did not directly address the soil degradation that was the legacy of Dazhai. Confronting that head-on was politically difficult: It had to be done without admitting Mao's mistakes. (When I asked local officials and scientists if the "Great Helmsman" had erred, they changed the subject.) Only in the past decade did Beijing chart a new course: replacing the Dazhai Way with what might be called the Gaoxigou Way.

Gaoxigou (Gaoxi Gully) is west of Dazhai, on the other side of the Yellow River. Its 522 inhabitants live in yaodong—caves dug like martin nests into the sharp pitches around the village. Beginning in 1953, farmers marched out from Gaoxigou and with heroic effort terraced not mere hillsides but entire mountains, slicing them one after another into hundred-tier wedding cakes iced with fields of millet and sorghum and corn. In a pattern that would become all too familiar, yields went up until sun and rain baked and blasted the soil in the bare terraces. To catch eroding loess, the village built earthen dams across gullies, intending to create new fields as they filled up with silt. But with little vegetation to slow the water, "every rainy season the dams busted," says Fu Mingxing, the regional head of education. Ultimately, he says, villagers realized that "they had to protect the ecosystem, which means the soil."

Today many of the terraces Gaoxigou laboriously hacked out of the loess are reverting to nature. In what locals call the "three-three" system, farmers replanted one-third of their land—the steepest, most erosion-prone slopes—with grass and trees, natural barriers to erosion. They covered another third of the land with harvestable orchards. The final third, mainly plots on the gully floor that have been enriched by earlier erosion, was cropped intensively. By concentrating their limited supplies of fertilizer on that land, farmers were able to raise yields enough to make up for the land they sacrificed, says Jiang Liangbiao, village head of Gaoxigou.

In 1999 Beijing announced it would deploy a Gaoxigou Way across the Loess Plateau. The Sloping Land Conversion Program—known as "grain-for-green"—directs farmers to convert most of their steep fields back to grassland, orchard, or forest, compensating them with an annual delivery of grain and a small cash payment for up to eight years. By 2010 grain-for-green could cover more than 82,000 square miles, much of it on the Loess Plateau.

But the grand schemes proclaimed in faraway Beijing are hard to translate to places like Zuitou. Provincial, county, and village officials are rewarded if they plant the number of trees envisioned in the plan, regardless of whether they have chosen tree species suited to local conditions (or listened to scientists who say that trees are not appropriate for grasslands to begin with). Farmers who reap no benefit from their work have little incentive to take care of the trees they are forced to plant. I saw the entirely predictable result on the back roads two hours north of Gaoxigou: fields of dead trees, planted in small pits shaped like fish scales, lined the roads for miles. "Every year we plant trees," the farmers say, "but no trees survive."

Some farmers in the Loess Plateau complained that the almonds they had been told to plant were now swamping the market. Others grumbled that Beijing's fine plan was being hijacked by local officials who didn't pay farmers their subsidies. Still others didn't know why they were being asked to stop growing millet, or even what the term "erosion" meant. Despite all the injunctions from Beijing, many if not most farmers were continuing to plant on steep slopes. After talking to Zhang Liubao in Zuitou, I watched one of his neighbors pulling turnips from a field so steep that he could barely stand on it. Every time he yanked out a plant, a little wave of soil rolled downhill past his feet.

Sometime in the 1970s, "Sahel" became a watchword for famine, poverty, and environmental waste. Technically, though, the name refers to the semiarid zone between the Sahara desert and the wet forests of central Africa. Until the 1950s the Sahel was thinly settled. But when a population boom began, people started farming the region more intensively. Problems were masked for a long time by an unusual period of high rainfall. But then came drought. The worst effects came in two waves—one in the early 1970s and a second, even more serious, in the early 1980s—and stretched from Mauritania on the Atlantic to Chad, halfway across Africa. More than 100,000 men, women, and children died in the ensuing famine, probably many more.

"If people had the means to leave, they left," says Mathieu Ouédraogo, a development specialist in Burkina Faso, a landlocked nation in the heart of the Sahel. "The only people who stayed here had nothing—not enough to leave."

Scientists still dispute why the Sahel transformed itself from a savanna into a badland. Suggested causes include random changes in sea-surface temperatures, air pollution that causes clouds to form inopportunely, removal of surface vegetation by farmers moving into the desert periphery—and, of course, global warming. Whatever the cause, the consequences are obvious: Hammered by hot days and harsh winds, much of the soil turns into a stone-hard mass that plant roots and rainwater cannot penetrate. A Sahelian farmer once let me hack at his millet field with a pick. It was like trying to chop up asphalt.

When the drought struck, international aid groups descended on the Sahel by the score. (Ouédraogo, for instance, directed a project for Oxfam in the part of Burkina where he had been born and raised.) Many are still there now; half the signs in Niamey, capital of neighboring Niger, seem to be announcing a new program from the United Nations, a Western government, or a private charity. Among the biggest is the Keita project, established 24 years ago by the Italian government in mountainous central Niger. Its goal: bringing 1,876 square miles of broken, barren earth—now home to 230,000 souls—to ecological, economic, and social health. Italian agronomists and engineers cut 194 miles of road through the slopes, dug 684 wells in the stony land, constructed 52 village schools, and planted more than 18 million trees. With bulldozers and tractors, workers carved 41 dams into the hills to catch water from the summer rains. To cut holes in the ground for tree planting, an Italian named Venanzio Vallerani designed and built two huge plows—"monstrous" was the descriptor used by Amadou Haya, an environmental specialist with the project. Workers hauled the machines to the bare hills, filled their bellies full of fuel, and set them to work. Roaring across the plateaus for months on end, they cut as many as 1,500 holes an hour.

Early one morning Haya took us to a rainwater-storage dam outside the village of Koutki, about 20 minutes down a rutted dirt road from Keita project headquarters. The water, spreading oasis like over several acres, was almost absurdly calm; birds were noisily in evidence. Women waded into the water to fill plastic jerry cans, their brilliant robes floating around their ankles. Twenty-five years ago Koutki was a bit player in the tragedy of the Sahel. Most of its animals had died or been eaten. There was not a scrap of green in sight. No birds sang. People survived on mouthfuls of rice from foreign charities. On the road to Koutki we met a former soldier who had helped distribute the aid. His face froze when he spoke about the starving children he had seen. Today there are barricades of trees to stop the winds, low terraces for planting trees, and lines of stone to interrupt the eroding flow of rainwater. The soil around the dam is still dry and poor, but one can imagine people making a living from it.

Budgeted at more than $100 million, however, the Keita project is expensive—Niger's per capita income, low even for the Sahel, is less than $800 a year. Keita boosters can argue that it costs two-thirds of an F-22 fighter jet. But the Sahel is vast—Niger alone is a thousand miles across. Reclaiming even part of this area would require huge sums if done by Keita methods. In consequence, critics have argued that soil-restoration efforts in the drylands are almost pointless: best turn to more promising ground.

Wrong, says Chris Reij, a geographer at VU (Free University) Amsterdam. Having worked with Sahelian colleagues for more than 30 years, Reij has come to believe that farmers themselves have beaten back the desert in vast areas. "It is one of Africa's greatest ecological success stories," he says, "a model for the rest of the world." But almost nobody outside has paid attention; if soil is MEGO, soil in Africa is MEGO squared.

In Burkina, Mathieu Ouédraogo was there from the beginning. He assembled the farmers in his area, and by 1981 they were experimenting together with techniques to restore the soil, some of them traditions that Ouédraogo had heard about in school. One of them was cordons pierreux: long lines of stones, each perhaps the size of a big fist. Snagged by the cordon, rains washing over crusty Sahelian soil pause long enough to percolate. Suspended silt falls to the bottom, along with seeds that sprout in this slightly richer environment. The line of stones becomes a line of plants that slows the water further. More seeds sprout at the upstream edge. Grasses are replaced by shrubs and trees, which enrich the soil with falling leaves. In a few years a simple line of rocks can restore an entire field.

For a time Ouédraogo worked with a farmer named Yacouba Sawadogo. Innovative and independent-minded, he wanted to stay on his farm with his three wives and 31 children. "From my grandfather's grandfather's grandfather, we were always here," he says. Sawadogo, too, laid cordons pierreux across his fields. But during the dry season he also hacked thousands of foot-deep holes in his fields—zaï, as they are called, a technique he had heard about from his parents. Sawadogo salted each pit with manure, which attracted termites. The termites digested the organic matter, making its nutrients more readily available to plants. Equally important, the insects dug channels in the soil. When the rains came, water trickled through the termite holes into the ground. In each hole Sawadogo planted trees. "Without trees, no soil," he says. The trees thrived in the looser, wetter soil in each zai. Stone by stone, hole by hole, Sawadogo turned 50 acres of wasteland into the biggest private forest for hundreds of miles.

Using the zaï, Sawadogo says, he became almost "the only farmer from here to Mali who had any millet." His neighbors, not surprisingly, noticed. Sawadogo formed a zaï association, which promotes the technique at an annual show in his family compound. Hundreds of farmers have come to watch him hack out zai with his hoe. The new techniques, simple and inexpensive, spread far and wide. The more people worked the soil, the richer it became. Higher rainfall was responsible for part of the regrowth (though it never returned to the level of the 1950s). But mostly it was due to millions of men and women intensively working the land.

Last year Reij made a thousand-mile trek across Mali and then into southwestern Burkina with Edwige Botoni, a researcher at the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel, a regional policy center in Burkina. They saw "millions of hectares" of restored land, Botoni says, "more than I had believed possible." Next door in Niger is an even greater success, says Mahamane Larwanou, a forester at Abdou Moumouni Dioffo University in Niamey. Almost without any support or direction from governments or aid agencies, local farmers have used picks and shovels to regenerate more than 19,000 square miles of land.

Economics as much as ecology is key to Niger's success, Larwanou says. In the 1990s the Niger government, which distributed land in orthodox totalitarian fashion, began to let villagers have more control over their plots. People came to believe that they could invest in their land with little risk that it would be arbitrarily taken away. Combined with techniques like the zaï and cordons pierreux, land reform has helped villagers become less vulnerable to climate fluctuations. Even if there were a severe drought, Larwanou says, Nigeriens "would not feel the impact the way they did in 1973 or 1984."

Burkina Faso has not recovered as much as Niger. Sawadogo's story suggests one reason why. While villagers in Niger have gained control over their land, smallholders in Burkina still lease it, often for no charge, from landowners who can revoke the lease at the end of any term. To provide income for Burkina's cities, the central government let them annex and then sell land on their peripheries—without fairly compensating the people who already lived there. Sawadogo's village is a few miles away from Ouahigouya, a city of 64,000 people. Among the richest properties in Ouahigouya's newly annexed land was Sawadogo's forest, a storehouse of timber. Surveyors went through the property, slicing it into tenth-of-an-acre parcels marked by heavy stakes. As the original owner, Sawadogo will be allotted one parcel; his older children will also each receive land. Everything else will be sold off, probably next year. He watched helplessly as city officials pounded a stake in his bedroom floor. Another lot line cut through his father's grave. Today Yacouba Sawadogo is trying to find enough money to buy the forest in which he has invested his life. Because he has made the land so valuable, the price is impossibly high: about $20,000. Meanwhile, he tends his trees. "I have enough courage to hope," he says.

Wim Sombroek learned about soil as a child, during the hongerwinter—the Dutch wartime famine of 1944-45, in which 20,000 or more people died. His family survived on the harvest from a minute plot of plaggen soil: land enriched by generations of careful fertilization. If his ancestors hadn't taken care of their land, he once told me, the whole family might have died.

In the 1950s, early in his career as a soil scientist, Sombroek journeyed to Amazonia. To his amazement, he found pockets of rich, fertile soil. Every Ecology 101 student knows that Amazonian rain forest soils are fragile and impoverished. If farmers cut down the canopy of trees overhead to clear cropland, they expose the earth to the pummeling rain and sun, which quickly wash away its small store of minerals and nutrients and bake what remains into something resembling brick—a "wet desert," as these ruined areas are sometimes called. The certainty of wrecking the land, environmentalists argue, makes large-scale agriculture impossible in the tropics. Nevertheless, scattered along the Amazon River, Sombroek discovered big patches of (black Indian earth). As lush and dark as the plaggen of his childhood, it formed a rich base for agriculture in a land where it was not supposed to exist. Naturally, Sombroek paid attention. His 1966 book, Amazon Soils, included the first sustained study of terra preta.

Later Sombroek worked across the globe, eventually becoming director of ISRIC and secretary general of the International Society of Soil Science (now International Union of Soil Sciences), positions he used to convene the first ever world survey of human-induced soil degradation. All the while he never forgot the strange black earth in Brazil. Most restoration programs, like those in China and the Sahel, try to restore degraded soil to its previous condition. But in much of the tropics, its natural state is marginal—one reason so many tropical countries are poor. Sombroek came to believe that terra preta might show scientists how to make land richer than it ever had been, and thus help the world's most impoverished nations feed themselves.

Sombroek will never see his dream fulfilled—he died in 2003. But he helped to assemble a multinational research collaboration to investigate the origin and function of terra preta. Among its members is Eduardo Göes Neves, a University of São Paulo archaeologist whom I visited not long ago at a papaya plantation about a thousand miles up the Amazon, across the river from the city of Manaus. Beneath the trees was the unmistakable spoor of archaeological investigation: precisely squared off trenches, some of them seven feet deep. In the pits the terra preta, blacker than the blackest coffee, extended from the surface down as much as six feet. Top to bottom, the soil was filled with broken pre-Columbian pottery. It was as if the river's first inhabitants had thrown a huge, rowdy frat party, smashing every plate in sight, then buried the evidence.

Terra preta is found only where people lived, which means that it is an artificial, human-made soil, dating from before the arrival of Europeans. Neves and his colleagues have been trying to find out how the Amazon's peoples made it, and why. The soil is rich in vital minerals such as phosphorus, calcium, zinc, and manganese, which are scarce in most tropical soils. But its most striking ingredient is charcoal—vast quantities of it, the source of terra preta's color. Neves isn't sure whether Indians had stirred the charcoal into the soil deliberately, if they had done it accidentally while disposing of household trash, or even if the terra preta created by charcoal initially had been used for farming. Ultimately, though, it became a resource that could sustain entire settlements; indeed, Neves said, a thousand years ago two Indian groups may have gone to war over control of this terra preta.

Unlike ordinary tropical soils, terra preta remains fertile after centuries of exposure to tropical sun and rain, notes Wenceslau Teixeira, a soil scientist at Embrapa, a network of agricultural research and extension agencies in Brazil. Its remarkable resilience, he says, has been demonstrated at Embrapa's facility in Manaus, where scientists test new crop varieties in replica patches of terra preta. "For 40 years, that's where they tried out rice, corn, manioc, beans, you name it," Teixeira says. "It was all just what you're not supposed to do in the tropics—annual crops, completely exposed to sun and rain. It's as if we were trying to ruin it, and we haven't succeeded!" Teixeira is now testing terra preta with bananas and other tropical crops.

Sombroek had wondered if modern farmers might create their own terra preta—terra preta nova, as he dubbed it. Much as the green revolution dramatically improved the developing world's crops, terra preta could unleash what the scientific journal Nature has called a "black revolution" across the broad arc of impoverished soil from Southeast Asia to Africa.

Key to terra preta is charcoal, made by burning plants and refuse at low temperatures. In March a research team led by Christoph Steiner, then of the University of Bayreuth, reported that simply adding crumbled charcoal and condensed smoke to typically bad tropical soils caused an "exponential increase" in the microbial population—kick-starting the underground ecosystem that is critical to fertility. Tropical soils quickly lose microbial richness when converted to agriculture. Charcoal seems to provide habitat for microbes—making a kind of artificial soil within the soil—partly because nutrients bind to the charcoal rather than being washed away. Tests by a U.S.-Brazilian team in 2006 found that terra preta had a far greater number and variety of microorganisms than typical tropical soils—it was literally more alive.

A black revolution might even help combat global warming. Agriculture accounts for more than one-eighth of humankind's production of greenhouse gases. Heavily plowed soil releases carbon dioxide as it exposes once buried organic matter. Sombroek argued that creating terra preta around the world would use so much carbon-rich charcoal that it could more than offset the release of soil carbon into the atmosphere. According to William I. Woods, a geographer and soil scientist at the University of Kansas, charcoal-rich terra preta has 10 or 20 times more carbon than typical tropical soils, and the carbon can be buried much deeper down. Rough calculations show that "the amount of carbon we can put into the soil is staggering," Woods says. Last year Cornell University soil scientist Johannes Lehmann estimated in Nature that simply converting residues from commercial forestry, fallow farm fields, and annual crops to charcoal could compensate for about a third of U.S. fossil-fuel emissions. Indeed, Lehmann and two colleagues have argued that humankind's use of fossil fuels worldwide could be wholly offset by storing carbon in terra preta nova.

Such hopes will not be easy to fulfill. Identifying the organisms associated with terra preta will be difficult. And nobody knows for sure how much carbon can be stored in soil—some studies suggest there may be a finite limit. But Woods believes that the odds of a payoff are good. "The world is going to hear a lot more about terra preta," he says.

Walking the roads on the farm hosting Wisconsin Farm Technology Days, it was easy for me to figure out what had worried Jethro Tull. Not Jethro Tull the 1970s rock band—Jethro Tull the agricultural reformer of the 18th century. Under my feet the prairie soil had been squashed by tractors and harvesters into a peculiar surface that felt like the poured-rubber flooring used around swimming pools. It was a modern version of a phenomenon noted by Tull: When farmers always plow in the same path, the ground becomes "trodden as hard as the Highway by the Cattle that draw the Harrows."

Tull knew the solution: Don't keep plowing in the same path. In fact, farmers are increasingly not using plows at all—a system called no-till farming. But their other machines continue to grow in size and weight. In Europe, soil compaction is thought to affect almost 130,000 square miles of farmland, and one expert suggests that the reduced harvests from compaction cost midwestern farmers in the U.S. $100 million in lost revenue every year.

The ultimate reason that compaction continues to afflict rich nations is the same reason that other forms of soil degradation afflict poor ones: Political and economic institutions are not set up to pay attention to soils. The Chinese officials who are rewarded for getting trees planted without concern about their survival are little different from the farmers in the Midwest who continue to use huge harvesters because they can't afford the labor to run several smaller machines.

Next to the compacted road on the Wisconsin farm was a demonstration of horse-drawn plowing. The earth curling up from the moldboard was dark, moist, refulgent—perfect midwestern topsoil. Photographer Jim Richardson got on his belly to capture it. He asked me to hunker down and hold a light. Soon we drew a small, puzzled crowd. Someone explained that we were looking at the soil. "What are they doing that for?" one woman asked loudly. In her voice I could hear the thought: MEGO.

When I told this story over the phone to David Montgomery, the University of Washington geologist, I could almost hear him shaking his head. "With eight billion people, we're going to have to start getting interested in soil," he said. "We're simply not going to be able to keep treating it like dirt."

Apr 7, 2010

Massey Energy & Don Blankenship: Million-dollar Tea Party sponsors | Crooks and Liars

Meet Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy Company. Blankenship is also on the Board of Directors of the US Chamber of Commerce. In this speech above, he denies climate change, derisively refers to Speaker Pelosi, Senator Reid, and others as "greeniacs", and calls them all crazy. Watch the speech, you'll see. In his mind, "the greeniacs are taking over the world." Massey Energy Company, Blankenship's highly successful strip-mining and mountaintop removal operation is the parent company of Performance Coal Co, where a tragic explosion occurred on April 5th. As of this writing, 25 miners have died and 4 more are still missing. Twenty-five families are without a loved one. Four more may discover they have lost someone they love too. 29 families in all, forever changed by one single, violent event in a coal mine. One single violent event in a coal mine run by a company so obsessed with profit it runs roughshod over employees' and neighbors' health and safety. Here's something else about Don Blankenship and Massey Energy Company: Blankenship spent over $1 million dollars along with other US Chamber buddies like Verizon to sponsor last year's Labor Day Tea Party, also known as the "Friends of America Rally." Here's Massey's pitch. Note how he makes it sound like he isn't one of the corporate enemies of America. The Friends of America Rally featured such notables as Sean Hannity, Ted Nugent, and Hank Williams, Jr., and was graced by Blankenship himself going off on a diatribe that seemed strange at the time, but has come to be commonplace these days. It concerned President Obama, Democrats, and any one who doesn't salute God, coal, and apple pie. Oh, and we're also going to 'steal their jobs,' if Hannity is to be believed. Blankenship and Massey Energy spend millions to defend unsafe workplaces Even while coal dust settles on nearby schoolchildren, there are lessons to learn from this disaster about Massey Energy in general, and Don Blankenship in particular. It seems that Performance Coal's safety record is spotty, at best. From the Mississippi Business Journal: Massey ranks among the nation’s top five coal producers and is among the industry’s most profitable. It has a spotty safety record. The federal mine safety administration fined Massey a then-record $1.5 million for 25 violations that inspectors concluded contributed to the deaths of two miners trapped in a fire in January 2006. The company later settled a lawsuit naming it, several subsidiaries and Chief Executive Don Blankenship as defendants. Aracoma Coal Co. later paid $2.5 million in fines after the company pleaded guilty to 10 criminal charges in the fire. Massey and Blankenship also settled a lawsuit brought by the Manville Trust in 2007 with regard to workplace safety and environmental compliance. The Manville Trust filed the case in July 2007 against company Chairman, CEO, and President Don Blankenship and certain other current and former officers and directors. The plaintiff sought several corporate governance reforms, specifically regarding environmental compliance and worker safety. Citing several incidents involving Massey Energy, including a major federal water pollution lawsuit, penalties for two coal miners' tragic deaths and other safety and environmental compliance problems, the lawsuit claimed that a "conscious failure" by the defendants to ensure compliance with federal and state regulations and other legal obligations posed a "substantial threat of monetary liability for violations." Keep unions out, let teabaggers in Don Blankenship inhabits a strange and bizarre world. In his world: It's fine for elementary school-age children to inhale coal dust while playing at school because Massey Coal "already pays millions of dollars in taxes each year". Blankenship truly believes that government regulation means "we all better learn to speak Chinese." He has absolutely no problem paying $3 million to elect state Supreme Court justice Brent Benjamin just ahead of a scheduled hearing of his appeal to overturn a large damage award for driving competitor Harman Mining Corporation into bankruptcy. Blankenship will spend millions to keep the Massey Energy's workforce non-union, is perfectly happy to discriminate against union workers even if it means being sued and losing, and might hate unions as much as he hates 'greeniacs'. This is the same mine where the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recently ruled that Spartan Mining illegally discriminated against 82 UMWA members by refusing to hire them because of their union membership status. “This settlement highlights yet again the treacherous and backhanded manner Massey treated the miners who had worked at the Cannelton mine for decades,” UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts said. “While it was discriminating against these experienced miners because of their age or union status, the company was at the same time publicly crying about the lack of experienced miners in the coalfields. “But it wasn’t that Massey couldn’t find experienced miners,” Roberts said. “They were there all along and wanted to work. It was that the company would rather break the law than allow its employees to have a strong voice at work and the tremendous benefits of a union contract. Penny-wise, pound-foolish. An investment in experienced workers trained in state-of-the art safety measures combined with OSHA compliance and mine safety measures might have saved at least 25, and possibly 29 lives. Instead Don Blankenship spent that money and more on a US Chamber of Commerce corporate-sponsored tea party to convince good, hard-working honest people to work against their best interests. I hope those families take a large pound of flesh from him in return.

The Sophie Prize 2010 Goes to Dr. James E. Hansen

Dr. James E. Hansen
Wednesday 07 April 2010
Dr. James E. Hansen (born 1941) has played a key role in the development of our understanding of human impact on the climate for more than 30 years. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, an adjunct professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University and at Columbia’s Earth Institute, and director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies since 1981, where he has been researching planetary atmospheres. He is frequently called to testify before Congress on climate issues. His main focus has been on climatology, and primarily how greenhouse gases affect the global climate. As early as 1988 he presented results for the American congress testifying to the probability that human-induced climate change was a threat to the planet.

Dr. James E. Hansen is an outstanding scientist with numerous scientific articles published in high-ranking journals. His conscience, and later his role as a “concerned grandfather”, has committed him to combine his research with political activism based on personal conviction. He has managed to translate his research into concrete and understandable warnings about what will happen if we do not act to reduce the human CO2 emissions. Based on his research Hansen has predicted that 350 ppm should serve the upper limit of atmospheric CO2 concentrations if we are to avoid dramatic effects of climate change. This has inspired the formation of the worldwide activist movement 350.org.

Hansen’s clear message and warnings have been met with a lot of resistance. As a scientist he has experienced censorship. He has endured criticism for his activist engagement, seen by some as unscientific. Hansen has stood firm and countered these arguments by exposing the economic interest of the actors that spread doubt about human impact on climate change. Whilst these voices often have economic interests backing them, it is the youth of today and the ecosystems with their biodiversity that will pay the price in the future.

According to Hansen, humanity is at a tipping point. We have to act now, or we can trigger feedback mechanisms that may cause damage beyond repair. Hansen states that the international community is not responding to this rising crisis fast enough. The measures taken today are not sufficient to reach the necessary level of reduction in CO2 emissions. This is why he is advocating an end to coal mining and a substantial tax on CO2 to ensure a fast transfer to alternative forms of energy. Hansen emphasises that this might also contribute to new opportunities: New high-tech workplaces, new energy sources and cleaner air for everybody.

Dr. James E. Hansen is the person that has made it impossible for us to tell our grandchildren that we did not know what we were doing. He is awarded the Sophie Prize 2010 for his vital research, for his abilities to communicate his findings, and for his genuine and inspiring involvement for future generations.

In January of 2008 he released a report along with a number of climate scientists called, "Target CO2: Where Humanity Should Aim," which first identified 350 ppm as the safe upper limit of CO2 in the atmosphere and became one of the primary inspirations for the 350 campaign.

Most recently, Dr. Hansen has published a book, Storms of My Grandchildren -- The truth about the coming climate catastrophe and our last chance to save humanity.

Apr 6, 2010

Speaker Wayne Keith On His Wood Gas Powered Trucks - Forestry and Wildlife Sciences

March 26, 2010 presentation — Wayne Keith runs a small cattle ranch in St. Clair County, Alabama. Wayne has developed gasification technology that enables Dodge pick-up trucks which are normally fueled with gasoline, to also be powered with wood. In 2008, he drove his wood-powered truck across the US and drove in a race with other renewable fueled vehicles. His truck was awarded second place. Wayne has traveled about 20,000 miles on wood in each of his two green trucks, for a total of 40,000 miles, and has not traveled anywhere on petroleum fuels for over two years. His currently drives his fifth wood powered truck. More on Wayne Keith: http://www.woodgas.net/wayne_keith.htm More Wood Gas Experimenters: http://www.woodgas.net

Increasing Global Nonrenewable Natural Resource Scarcity—An Analysis

A MUST READ! This is a excellent post by Chris Clugston. It is a somewhat abbreviated version of a longer analysis he did. For the past four years, he has been researching aspects of sustainability. Prior to that time, he worked for 30 years as an executive and consultant in Information Technology. During the pre-recession years of the 21st century, we experienced wide-ranging nonrenewable natural resource (NNR) scarcity on a global scale for the first time. Supplies associated with an overwhelming majority of the global energy resources, metals, and minerals that enable our industrialized way of life failed to keep pace with increasing global demand during the 2000-2008 period, resulting in global NNR supply shortfalls. Global NNR scarcity will intensify going forward, as global economic activity levels, economic growth rates, and corresponding NNR demand return to their pre-recession levels; and global NNR supply levels continue to approach and reach their geological limits. The debilitating societal effects associated with global NNR scarcity, which we experienced to a limited degree during the Great Recession, will also intensify going forward, as temporary global NNR supply shortfalls become permanent. The Global Nonrenewable Natural Resource Scarcity Assessment quantifies the scope associated with global NNR scarcity, both prior to the Great Recession and going forward, by analyzing global production (extraction) data, price data, and reserve base estimates associated with a broad array of energy resources, metals, and minerals. The salient findings associated with the assessment: 50 of the 57 analyzed NNRs (88%) experienced global scarcity during the 2000-2008 period; 23 of the 26 analyzed NNRs (88%) will likely experience permanent global supply shortfalls by the year 2030. At the end of the day, we are not about to “run out” of any NNR; we are about to run “critically short” of many. This reality will have a devastating impact on our industrial lifestyle paradigm.

Other works of Chris Clugston: http://www.wakeupamerika.com/papers-and-essays.html

A Revolution of the Middle... and the Pursuit of Happiness

John E. Ikerd, Professor Emeritus of Agricultural Economics, University of Missouri Columbia College of Agriculture has put a new great book on line that is well worth reading at: https://sites.google.com/site/revolutionofthemiddle/home ... Monte

The book addresses the current economic and political situation and concludes that our current economy and society are not sustainable -- we simply can't continue doing what we have been doing for very much longer. The change we need will require different ways of thinking, not just about economics and politics but about how the world works and our place within it.

The change we need must begin with each of us. We must abandon our relentless pursuit of wealth and return to the pursuit of happiness. Beyond some very modest level of material well-being, our happiness depends on the quality of our relationships and our sense of purpose and meaning in life -- not additional wealth. I believe that each of us has a purpose in life, which is to realize the highest potential from our unique abilities, aptitudes, and aspirations. The key to happiness is not to become wealthy, famous, or powerful, unless we are among the few with the unique abilities, aptitudes, and abilities to do so. The key to happiness is to fulfill our unique purpose in life, to realize our highest potentials from our unique opportunities as they unfold before us.

The change we need as a nation must arise from the "Middle." Real change rarely comes from those in positions of political and economic power because the status quo is working for them. Real change must come from the common people whose common sense tells them the nation must abandon its relentless pursuit of individual wealth and economic growth and return to the pursuit of happiness. Those on the political Left and Right have become so entrenched in their respective political dogma that they have not only lost the ability to lead but have lost their ability to govern. Rather than focusing on the common good of the people, they are constantly focusing on the next election. In fact, our government has lost its "just power" to govern because it has lost the "consent of the governed."

We Americans agree much more than we disagree, we have just become accustomed to focusing on our differences. If we are to sustain our economy and our society, we must come together around the core values that unite us, such as honesty, fairness, responsibility, respect and compassion to find common ground on the social and political issues that divide us. We must restore the consent of the governed and with it the just power of our government. We have the public institutions and political processes in place to facilitate the changes we need -- to restore ecological, social, and economic integrity to our economy and society. Unfortunately, these changes will not take place without a Revolution of the Middle.

This kind of thinking is apparently is a bit too far out of the mainstream to interest publishers. If you are interested in such things, I hope you enjoy reading The Revolution of the Middle.

Apr 5, 2010

Dairy-Manure Derived Biochar Effectively Sorbs Lead and Atrazine

Environmental Implication.
Results from this study indicated that dairy manure can be converted into biochar as a unique sorbent for both metals and organics, implying that manure can potentially serve as a remediation amendment. In the United States, 350 billion tons of manure are generated annually (29). Land application of manure to fertilize soil as a common method for managing dairy manure has caused a serious environmental issue, i.e., high levels of P accumulated in the soils receiving long-term manure applications led to P enrichment and water quality dete- rioration in aquatic systems (30). Therefore, turning dairy manure into biochar as a sorbent is a “win-win†solution via improving waste management and protecting the environment. Several studies have successfully converted animal waste into activated carbon (AC) as sorbent for environmental remediation (31). However, production of AC needs higher temperature and additional activation processing, which require more energy and higher production cost. In comparison, biochar can be produced at low temperature for direct use, consuming less energy. Furthermore, previous work consistently shows that biochar generated from other sources such as crop residues, peat, and wood is only effective in sorbing organic contaminants (12), whereas most contaminated sites contain both heavy metals and organic pollutants. Therefore, it is advantageous to produce a sorbent such as manure-derived biochar, which can remove both metals and organics. High content of P in the biochar is mainly responsible for Pb retention via formation of stable phosphate minerals, with less contribution from surface sorption, whereas atrazine sorption is attributed to its partitioning into the noncarbonized organic phase. However, more studies are needed to verify remediation efficacy of the biochar for sorption of other heavy metals (e.g., Cd and Hg)
and organic contaminants (e.g., PAHs and PCBs).