Monday, November 23, 2009

Making Green Behavior Happen!

Last week the American Council for an Energy Economy ( held a conference exploring the behavior and decision making of individuals and organizations and using that knowledge to accelerate our transition to an energy-efficient and low-carbon future.

Karen Ehrhardt-Martinez, the conference chair, remarked that personal choices have a huge collective impact on the climate crisis. Home energy use and the use of personal vehicles—that is, the way we live—accounts for about 38% of U.S. energy consumption.

” I just want to say that personal choices are probably the largest contributors to climate change and environmental degradation. I don’t know how one would conduct a study and come up with a percentage, but it would make sense that that percentage would be much higher than 38%".

Last Thursday at a Energy and Environment Study Institute briefing after this conference I asked the panelist about model programs. Karen responded the importance of grass roots organizing to foster green personal choices and I referenced one model leader I know named Annette Mills.

Ms. Mills’ transformed her community from a waste reduction rate of 39% in 1991 to a rate exceeding 65%. Because of her leadership, Falls Church had one of the best recovery rates in the country. For seventeen years, Annette lead the way in recycling and environment improvements in Virginia and the DC region. She enlisted the help of more than 130 citizen volunteers or “Recycling Block Captains.” Her grassroots approach to recycling and environmental education resulted in many successes. Annette’s showed that education through personal contact results in success.

She created a “tipping point” by empowering many to serve as their community’s conservation leaders. In her words, “People who are actively involved are far more motivating than media promotion of general environmental messages or ‘gloom and doom’ forecasts. The most effective models are those people who are actively working together to build relationship with each other and the natural environment”. Her approach is simple, work hard and lead by example, and people will follow! To quote one of the City’s council members, “…many of these programs have resulted in little extra cost and in many cases cost reductions.” Ms. Mills embodies frugality from another perspective. Her City’s solid waste management budget was reduced from 1.05 million in 1990 to $630,000 in 1997. The City saved more than $420,000 by implementing a curbside recycling program and providing a once a year.

Annette’s programs were effective because she both modeled the behavior and made it happen. Ms. Mills dedication was infectious. She inspired people in their personal and professional lives to whatever effort they undertook. One council member called the community volunteers “Annette’s Army” because she brings them out in full force for community programs related to environmental education and stewardship.

Annnette changed people's behavior because she made sustainability enjoyable. Ms. Mills integrated various environmental messages together showing how conserving is connected beyond just traditional recycling into all manners of showing reverence for our environment. Annette simply made saving resources attractive and easy whether it is planting a tree, or restoring wildlife habitats.

Revolutions happen because various individuals gather band together toward a common purpose. I challenge you to explore any major green innovation and the behavior change resulted due to the leadership of select group of individuals.

A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.

Margaret Mead

Green AT: Celebrating Green Acts That Better Our World

Back in April of 1979 I spent several weeks working full time at ACT 79. This was the first and largest national Appropriate Community Technology demonstration held next to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. Appropriate Technology (AT) celebrates positive green actions that conserve energy, preserve the environment, and better people’s lives. Highlighting such measures can and promoting what’s right inspiring others to the many ingenious, creative and artistic ways they can transform their home and community. Appropriate technology directly helps others and improves community by transforming local eco-friendly resources. AT is based in the traditional notion of thrift where there is sensible use of resources- human, fiscal and physical.

Alternative technologies are designed to make best use of local resources. Whether it is reducing, reusing, recycling and composting at home, walking/biking instead of driving, weatherization, greenhouses, solar, wind, bio-fuels, preventative health care and education, integrated best management, solar, wind and a wealth of other community actions.

AT uses people or "low tech" means rather than capital intensive or "high tech" measures. Also AT minimizes waste, cultivates renewable resources by “mending” instead of” ending” materials, people and sense of place. Appropriateness may be defined “is that which wastes least?”

Individuals, groups, and communities all over the world have developed appropriate techniques and technologies that profit from energy conservation and pollution prevention. Ingenious ways to provide better environmental management,and promote local community based decision making. These best management practices are founded on grass roots participation where people have the greatest effect on their life.

The term "appropriate technology" was born in 1970’s when E.F. Schumacher wrote, “Small is Beautiful,” Schumacher promoted practices and devices with special consideration to the environmental, ethical, cultural, social and economical aspects of the community it is intended for. AT uses fewer resources, is easier to maintain, and has a lower overall cost and less of an impact on the environment compared to other practices.
AT is not about utopian or futurist ideas yet practical and applicable ways we can become more self-sufficent. Developing community to be both interdependent and self-reliant interacting mutuality and treating people equally is.

AT works in such areas as;

• Land use
• Energy
• Transportation
• Health
• Food and Agriculture
• Recreation and Culture
• Community Economic Development

Today AT green action is the tenor of the time. AT or appropriate technology demonstrates that people, resources and community are all interconnected. AT is green action bettering our world for the enjoyment of all.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Biochar- Black Earth Biotechnology

It can be described as a handful of charcoal, but Terra Preta (black earth), an ancient Amazonian agricultural practice, is gaining widespread attention. It is called “Biochar” or “Agrichar” these days, and it offers great potential for our planet. It may play a significant role in addressing issues of climate change, lessening erosion, improving crop yields and other environmental benefits.

Biochar is a process where carbon is drawn from the atmosphere. Biochar stores carbon in the ground for hundreds of years and its potential in reducing greenhouse gases (GHGs) is impressive. Biochar diminishes carbon release and reduces the impact from all farming and agricultural waste. Both the burning and natural decomposition of agricultural matter contributes to a vast amount of carbon released into our air. Biochar uses waste as feedstock—products typically mulched, composted or left to rot. Biochar stores carbon in the ground for long periods of time (estimates range from hundreds to thousands of years) and reduces atmospheric GHG levels, including nitrous oxide and methane in addition to CO2. Also there are research that Biochar it increases soil fertility, lessens erosion, increases agricultural productivity and improves water quality.

The third largest carbon pool on the Earth’s surface is the soil. There are various ways we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions such as minimizing tillage, diminishing or eliminating the use of nitrogen fertilizers, and preventing erosion. By enriching our soil with carbon we can store vast amounts of extra carbon when we bury it in the form of Biochar (biomass heated in a low-oxygen environment).

Roughly 30% of greenhouse gases result from land use practices and exceed the combined emissions of the industry and transportation sectors. Advancing agricultural carbon sequestration is critical to offset global fossil fuel used in food production. When natural ecosystems are converted to agricultural land use, most carbon in the soil is simply lost as greenhouse gas. So exploring how we can capture or sequester carbon due to farming, forestry and other land use practices is a pressing necessity. Sequestration of greenhouse gases so that they are not released into the atmosphere already happens naturally through photosynthesis—it is required to grow and sustain all plant life. Exploring how we can best sequester greenhouse gases in other ways so that they are not released into the atmosphere is critical in the reduction of our carbon footprint.

In addition to reducing CO2 released into the atmosphere, Biochar has been found to decrease methane and nitrous oxide emissions from soil, thus further reducing GHG emissions. Nitrous oxide is approximately 300 times stronger than CO2 in terms of global warming potential, and laboratory studies to date show that nitrous oxide emissions were reduced by 80-90% by land application of Biochar.

Biochar provides significant benefits in addition to carbon sequestration. Studies suggest that Biochar sequesters around 30-50% of the carbon available in the feedstock being used. It allows us to manage waste—agricultural, forest, municipal, wastewater, etc.—in a more sustainable manner. It assists the soil food web to build much more recalcitrant organic carbon (living biomass microbes & fungus) in addition to the carbon in the Biochar. It reduces nitrogen leaching and nitrous oxide emissions; it augments nutrient retention and moderates soil acidity; it increases water retention and productivity.

Biochar can retain up to 50% of the feedstock carbon in charcoal under best conditions. A fine-grained, porous charcoal substance is made when Biochar is produced. When this product is used as a soil amendment, it effectively removes carbon dioxide from the air. Biochar provides a habitat for soil organisms, yet is not itself consumed by them. Biochar holds and slowly releases water, minerals and nitrogen to plants. When Biochar is used as a soil amendment along with manure or fertilizer it greatly improves the soil, its productivity, nutrient retention and availability according to several studies.

It has been concluded by some soil experts that biochar keeps nutrients from running off or leaching out of soils allowing for increased plant growth. Since adding charcoal to soils appears to increase crop production. What’s more is reduces acidity and lessens nitrogen leaching while adding potassium. This reduces the amount of fertilizer required and increases water retention.

Innovations in agriculture provide the best opportunity to remove carbon from the atmosphere by changing the way we grow our food and use our land. Unfortunately, farming over the last 10,000 years has released roughly two-thirds of our excess greenhouse gases. Various agricultural practices have mined out soil carbon, converting it to carbon dioxide.

However, there are a few environmental groups who question the benefits of this biotechnology. They feel it is “dangerously premature”, that most of the claims made by Biochar advocates are unproven, and these critics argue that it has a high potential for causing harm.

Advancing Biochar technologies have significant implications. As this technology evolves so will Biochar best management practices. Apart of this process we will find how Biochar affects and effects our soil, water, air and climate. Researching and developing biochar offers numerous opportunities and challenges. More trials and tribulation will determine whether this black earth will result in greener rewards.