December 7, 2008

For the past week or more my consciousness has been almost entirely invested in this process of the battle for planet Earth that is the Poznan phase of our global climate change treaty negotiations.  So it is easy to lose track of the significance of events in the rest of the world on the same field of engagement.  It is in that regard that I will mention just one of the countless related developments elsewhere in my Poznan Diary.

Greenpeace (“you gotta love ‘em”) have been brave and inventive defenders of the planet for decades now.  It is their members who risk arrest, injury and death (Google the quoted search term “Rainbow Warrior” and “ship” some time) shining the light of day on the nefarious practices of unrelenting greed.  Several weeks ago some of their British contingent encamped 50 meters or so above the ground, clinging with climber’s gear to the sides of a smokestack in the UK through which thousands of millions of tons of CO2 have fouled our atmosphere and blanketed our shared Earth.

Well, a similar action was mounted here in Poland, at a coal-fired power plant not all that far from Poznan.  Clearly the intent was to divert some of the attention being received by the attempt to fix the problem through a consensus-based negotiation of 192 parties, large and small, both ‘franchised and disenfranchised, with an vast but not incomprehensible, array of prominently divergent interests.  That is did, attracting attention both here and in the international press.

Their banner was simple and clear, “Come Clean, Stop Coal”.  The police were out in force, but the demonstration was met with the kind of respect shown to dissidents when the world is watching.

If you can afford to fund only one environmental movement, I would seriously consider your directing those funds to Greenpeace.  Long live Greenpeace, long live Life on Earth!

For the Earth – §



December 6, 2008

December 6th – Yesterday I attended some wonderful side events.  Two in particular discussed an extremely valuable ‘piece of the puzzle’.

Apparently there are pockets, or pools, of very black soil in the Amazon region called ‘terrapreta’ in Portuguese.  These are the result of carbon being worked into the soil over time by indigenous peoples.  This soil is know to be much more fertile than surrounding areas of ‘normal’ rainforest soils, known to be exceptionally ‘washed out’ and nutrient poor.  But more important perhaps, is that the carbon is stable in the soil, and thus represents a sequestration of carbon by ancient peoples.  So we are rediscovering this old ‘technology’, dusting it off, and calling it biochar.  Granted we will likely create the ‘char’ in a more efficient manner, but I am tempted to quote the old adage that there’s ‘nothing new under the sun’ (pun intended).

Biochar can be made from any biomass feedstock, wood, agricultural waste (including manure), greenwaste from households or landscaping, etc.  It is made by a process called ‘pyrolysis’, the heating of the material in the absence of oxygen.  It differs in the method used to create ordinary charcoal in that the gasses that are emitted from the pyrolysis are captured and used.  These gasses would ordinarily be released into the atmosphere where they contribute to the greenhouse warming of the earth.  Or if the biomass were to be burned, such as is done daily in developing nations around the world, the gasses would become indoor air polution causing resperitory and other health problems.

But the capture gas can be used in one of several ways.  They can be burned to help fire the continued production of biochar; they can be captured for use as cooking gas or other heating gas; they can be liquified to become something now known as bio-crude, which is feedstock to refineries which can produce liqued transportation fuels; and more promising still, they can be fractionally distilled to search for applications to any number of valuable uses.  I am told that one of the ingredients of Chanel No. 5 perfume is a fractional distillate of Brazilian rosewood, for example.  Who knows what ‘cancer cure’ (figuratively speaking) may be locked up in some biomass feedstock for biochar.

This is an amazing potential win-win-win-win process.  It is early in its research and development stage, and people are seeking to have it listed as an approved CCS (carbon capture and sequestration) solution in terms of the climate change treaty under negotiation here in Poznan.  This approval could not come soon enough in my humble opinion.

The speakers were Debbie Reed, from the International Biochar Initiative, Jim Fournier from the Biochar Energy Corporation,
Johannes Lehmann, Cornell Soil Scientist and leading expert on biochar in US and likely in the world.

Folks, this is a big winner and its proliferation could not be more important as a distributed solution to many problems at once, carbon sequestration, soil productivity (food) in developed and developing nations, water conservation in agriculture (the char helps soils retain water better), alternative energy production, and potentially countless other valuable side-products as yet to be discovered.

For the Earth – §

The Spoken Word

December 6, 2008

December 6th – First let me apologize to my regular readers (both of them) for ‘playing hookie’ as we say, and not posting for a couple of days.  I will try to catch up a little here.  By now I have an immense backlog of thoughts and feelings to share with you.  But I will try to at least reduce that backlog a bit now.

Through my connection with Al Gore’s Climate Project, I was interviewed several days ago, over the Internet.  It was a wonderful chat I had with Greg Mattison, from Poland to New Jersey, over the Internet, with no time delay at all… like he was in the next room.  I suppose my surprise at this minor miracle may surprise some.  But let’s just say that we should not take any of this technological miracle for granted.

The entire pre-edited conversation is a a bit long, but is, as Greg states at one point, “theater of the mind”, which you can access at the following address…

As always, I invite your feedback and comments (please be gentle ;^)

For the Earth – §

Emotional Roller Coaster

December 4, 2008

Dec 3rd – This may be my shortest post so far.  Today I spent riding the emotional waves.  At one moment I am in a state of elation that so many people are here earnestly searching for a way out of the mess we have created.  Then I crash realizing that we are just so many people here quibbling about details… fiddling about as Rome burns.

I am looking deep for the renewed commitment that, independent of outcome I need to stay focused on making a difference in whatever way I can.

For the Earth – §

Plenary Sessions

December 4, 2008

Dec 3rd –  Today I decided to attend one of the plenary sessions.  They are the main event, the real deal, where the rubber meets the road (see how deeply the old paradigm is ingrained in even the language).  They are also quite boring at first blush.  They are held in a huge room, with space for up to 4 member of about 190 national delegations, plus other organization parties to the talks, like the World Bank, UNESCO, indigenous peoples’ organizations, environmental organizations (not all, but some have ‘standing’ to ask for the floor).  These are the meetings where anyone with standing who wants to talk gets a chance to say their piece.

The tend to be very polite, and comment usually (but not always) start off with an expression to the chairperson, nation sponsoring the particular meeting (these things cost large sums to put on after all), and so on.  The statements are almost always written out in advance and read verbatim.  Hence they are not usually passionate statements; but there are exceptions.

The plenary session I attended today was one on CDM, or Clean Development Mechanism.  Statements at this one were limited to 2 minutes in respect of all the parties that need to be heard.  Most statements were relatively stayed affairs, good for catching up on email to.  But a few were noteworthy and I snapped to attention to get what was happening.   For example the speaker representing indigenous peoples just skewered the CDM as imposing things upon indigenous peoples.  That’s a theme echoed a lot here at the conference.

The speaker for the Climate Action Network, a consortium of climate change non-profit groups said the Clean Development Mechanism was ‘failing in it’s doables, that it actually undermines efforts to cut emissions in some ways, that it does not properly incentivize projects which create ‘additionalities’, decreases in emissions beyond what was already going to happen, that it permits too many ‘leakages’, loss of emissions controls inadvertently or by the intention of unscrupulous parties, that too few projects are being created in the least developed countries… The list went on and the speaker ‘timed out’, but the president of this year’s COP gave her additional time.

Tuvalu made many technical comments to improve the CDM framework.  I must note how sharp most of the speakers seem.  Small nations, island nations, ‘third world’ nations… we tend to think they own’t have the brightest people in their midst.  Think again.  Their negotiators are some of the sharpest most powerful and passionate speakers.

The speaker from Cuba got my attention heartily.  He cited the vast damage done to the island from the last 4 hurricanes that came by in 2008, two within one month’s time.  Even if they were compensated that amount we could not repair the damage.  He passionately documented the problem for the most exposed nations.

For the Earth – §

Green Cross, Obama-to-be, and Business Solutions to the Crisis

December 3, 2008

December 3rd – Yesterday afternoon, in a state of near exhaustion from jetlag, adrenalin-driven enthusiasm, and over stimulation, I attended a side event sponsored by Green Cross International.  A word about this organization.  GCI is the cyber-child of Mikael Gorbachev.  While one generation will remember that name with clarity, the next on will likely never have heard it.  Mr. Gorbachev was the leader of the USSR who’s open and honest engagement with the West led ultimately to the dissolution of the communist state, and a re-instatement of all its member states into nationhood.  He was arguably one of the most courageous heroes of the 20th century, willing to radically change the paradigms of the world.

My friend Bill Becker spoke first.  Dr. Becker is a fellow Climate Project presenter and lead author of the Presidential Climate Action Plan, a program he and colleagues at Colorado University developed highlighting how the next president of the US could made a radical engagement of the solutions to the climate crisis in the first 100 days of office, without any congressional action at all.  He had been asked to highlight for the conference what President Obama is expected to do when he assumes office.

The next presenter was an Italian gentleman whose predisposition fairly well matched mine.  I found out subsequently that he was Guilietto Chiesa, MEP (Member of the EU Parliament).  His position was that the business community cannot really be relied upon to come up with a meaningful climate solution since its world of operation is precisely the paradigm that created the problem.  Speaking right after him was the founder and CEO of a business-consulting group whose position was the exact opposite!  This was one of the most interesting side events I had attended thus far.

As I dwelt upon this clash of points-of-view over the next several hours an image emerged in my mind.  This entire conference, with some 9,000 souls in attendance, is bound to have a myriad of different points of view.  Like the famous fable of the 5 blind men and the elephant, here we have 9,000 pairs of eyes and the mother-of-all-elephants.

We can only hope and work for truth to emerge and a path to a higher state for the planet be created by this discourse, rather than is descent into a massive exercise in blind-leading-blind.

Oh yes, and lest I forget to complete this vignette properly, beverages and snacks are apparently served by the hosts of these evening side events, and there are so many that the conference doesn’t really close for the day until about 9:30 or 10:00 when the last stragglers wander off home, and the cleaning and printing staff get to prepare for the next day’s excitement.

For the Earth – §

Climate and Gender

December 3, 2008

December 3rd – Let me catch up on impressions of the last 2 days that have not made their way to print yet.  On Monday afternoon I went to a side event on gender and climate.  One is tempted to think naively that both genders are affected equally in the grand scheme of climate change mitigation and adaptation.  Here was a panel of 4 presenters, and a moderator, clarifying that this was not the case.  Let me just highlight the briefest recollections from some 90 minutes of presentations.

First of all, in our male dominated global society, one can tease out the data comparing the carbon footprints of women over men on a country-by-country basis.  The data for Sweden appeared to reveal perhaps a 15% greater carbon footprint for men.  The suggestion was also made that the dominance of men in the process of the design and evolution of our cities has lead to less efficient paradigms on many things, including transport, due to the particular concerns and preoccupations of men.

One speaker pointed out that the attempt to reintroduce nuclear energy into the mix as a response to climate change puts a greater burden on women since the inevitable dissipation of ionizing radiation into the environment, no matter how dilute, will tend to concentrate in the bodies of women and children, and be passed by women to their unborn children in breast mild.

On this point I had to introduce a bit of controversy myself when time came for Q&A.  I had just the night before finally cracked an open letter from Dr. James Hansen to President-elect Barack Obama, and had experienced somewhat of a shock in his qualified support for two new nuclear technologies that he insisted must not be locked out of the possible solution to our collective problem.  I have been a staunch nuclear opponent for years.  But when James Hansen, the granddaddy of climate change scientists, insists that the new president consider nuclear solutions, I am forced to re-open my mind and evaluate my position.

I made this point to the panel.  The speaker who’s talk covered nuclear energy had not seen the Hansen paper yet.  A quick query with the great Google and she quickly had it up on her laptop (there is free wireless Internet service throughout the venue) and was after a few moments of reading (the reference in Hansen’s paper is brief… about a half page to a page) she felt able to comment.  She expressed, as I had, that when James Hansen says something, that one must at least take open-minded notice, since his credentials are flawless in the area of concern for the climate of Earth.

So let me offer you the link to Dr. Hansen’s paper, and let you decide for yourself. Note that the paper itself is downloaded in PDF form via a link on the first line of text of this World-Changing website referred to in this link

For the Earth – §