Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sustainability Strategy for Cities

To quickly follow-up on a rather gloomy reality-check out of Australia, I'd like to get right back to a strategic, solutions-oriented approach to sustainability, and highlight what sounds like a great webcast coming up on Thursday (Apr. 16, 2009) about developing strategies at the city and county level.

This event - and a strategic approach to sustainability generally, jibes nicely with a great piece I just read about "rants" - and how they can help us break from problematic trajectories we're on and create the future we want.

Have a read, and check out the webcast Thursday, they've got an excellent line-up of speakers, and it's free, you just need to register - here are the details:

"Creating Your Most Effective Sustainability Strategy: What Cities and Counties Can Do"April 16, 2009, from 1 - 2:30 pm (EDT)

~Harvard online event. Pre-registration required, and free of charge.~

This online event, cosponsored by greenerApplications and Harvard’s Government Innovators Network, will enable city- and county-level executives and policy-makers to create highly effective sustainability strategies. The panel will offer a full spectrum review of the latest tools and policies your jurisdiction can use to lower greenhouse gas emissions and implement low-risk energy cost saving projects.

* Gerry DeSeve (moderator) - President of greenerApplications
* Michelle Moore - Senior Vice President, Policy & Public Affairs, U.S. Green Building Council
* Missy Stults - Senior Program Officer ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability
* David Smith - CEO, Princeton Energy Systems, Inc.

For more information and to pre-register for this event, visit our event page.

Stay going...

Oz on fire

Worth taking a quick read of this update from the LA Times last week on the situation in Australia this winter (their summer) - it's been very hot and dry, and showing many of the features of what climate disruption looks like, and how it impacts human civilization, and the natural systems on which we depend.


A great gathering of MSLS alums took place down under in February for the Hallbarhet '09 event - part conference, part reunion, part sustainability learning journey - and while it was by all accounts an uplifting and positive experience, it took place with the backdrop of rampant wildfires and drought - just a real-time example to underscore the urgency we face in creating innvative strategies for sustainability... Stay going.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Biochar & Synergistic Solutions

When dealing in complex systems, and working to create solutions to tough problems, it’s rarely useful to look for a “silver bullet” – one single answer that can solve all the problems. We hear this with regard to the climate crisis quite a bit – we can’t eliminate our net emissions with just one activity or technology. It’s not just efficiency, or better design, or biofuels, or solar, or wind, or geothermal, or changing lifestyles, or new laws that will do it – it’s some combination of all them, plus many more exciting solutions we will create.

However, in complex systems we can (and should) look for synergistic solutions – positive activities that also generate more positive side-effects. We’ve been talking about this with regard to Village Corps, and the possibility of helping to generate some economic activity through animal husbandry, which could provide food and income, and could help the chances of reopening a processing plant which would create jobs, and the animal waste could be used in an anaerobic digester to generate methane for cooking fuel, which is cleaner burning and more healthy than wood fires, and would help stem deforestation in the area, which would help stop erosion and improve agriculture, which would provide more food and jobs, etc. etc.

Well, a similar kind of synergistic solution with tremendously exciting global potential is biochar – essentially charcoal derived from any kind of biomass that acts as a carbon sink for thousands of years. It is essentially a way to lower the atmospheric concentrations of CO2 (currently at 387 parts per million) back down to what more and more scientists are sighting as a safe level – 350 ppm. The process of creating it generates carbon neutral electricity (displacing the current common sources like coal, that has a whole host of other negative side effects) and the char itself provides a powerful organic soil amendment (displacing the current common sources of chemical based options that deplete soils over time and pollute oceans and water tables). While the reasons are fully understood (because the complex world of soil science isn’t fully understood), the biochar provides a great habitat, essentially, for the diverse array of soil microorganisms that create healthy, fertile soils.

This article from the Financial Times last month provides a great overview on how this technique was “rediscovered” by studying patches of fertile soil left by ancient peoples of the Amazon: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/67843ec0-020b-11de-8199-000077b07658.html.

There is lots of exciting research and development going on around the world. Our colleague Scott Grierson in Australia has been doing research on the potential of algae feedstocks for biochar. Universities in the US are looking into as well, including Cornell, UGA, and Iowa State.

And there are some young companies looking to commercialize this process and bring it to scale, including Best Energies and Eprida (who we had a chance to see present at Bioneers last year – very exciting results). The International Biochar Initiative is keeping track of the developments in this rapidly growing area and has a lot of great information.

It’s no silver bullet, but estimates for how much CO2 this process could remove from the atmosphere each year range from 2-4 Gigatonnes –that’s a billion tonnes – and a significant percentage of the approximately 8.8 GTs humans emit annually. And with all of the positive ‘side effects’ – like clean renewable energy, and healthy, productive soil gives biochar great potential as a synergistic solution on the path to sustainability.

Stay going