November 30, 2011

Planting Thoughts Using Social Media

I found a fascinating video visualization of the fractal growth of ideas that derive from social media. The Ecosphere Project video (above) is titled "Plant a Thought, Watch it Grow". CNN is using it to track the breadth and depth of discussion on Twitter concerning the Climate Change talks in Durban, South Africa (#COP17). Anyone who writes a tweet that includes "#COP17" in the message will be added to the growing fractal. Each tweet is analyzed for content and placed on the most appropriate growing thread. Presumably, any hashtag discussion on Twitter could be similarly tracked and visualized.

People who follow me know that I have been promoting social media as the new (& improved!) way to engage the public in opinion, commerce, and politics (see Social Media). It is a two-edged sword that carries consequences from the "sins of commission and omission." If you are engaged you might skew the fractal in a counter-productive direction. If you don't engage, it will grow based on other people's content without your input.

If you aren't blogging, tweeting, or otherwise messaging in social media you might be foregoing an opportunity to effect positive change - which starts with planting thoughts. From the tiny acorn grew the mighty oak.


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August 22, 2011

Increased global forest density necessitates more forest management

Environmental Research Web published a report last month based on U.S. and European research concluding that global "Forest Density is Increasing." This substantiates the argument that Indirect Land Use Change is a speculative theory because increased forest density can mitigate the impacts of deforestation - particularly in large forests like Brazil's. If we can sustainably grow and manage forests that have increased density or develop best practices that improve the health and yield of forests (just as we can with food and energy crops) then minor variations in the use of acres becomes a meaningless concern.

Unfortunately, many in the North American environmental community will conclude that the study results prove something else. They believe that, by obstructing forest industry development and enforcing a more laissez-faire attitude toward forests, that forests will cure themselves of the "exploitive invasion" by the forest products industry.

Almost everyone agrees that that an end to active fire suppression decades ago in North America has resulted in more forest density. However, the challenge and responsibility of maintaining forest health is more important now than ever before. Is it safe to have unmanaged forests with 400-600 trees per acre when, properly thinned, it is much healthier and fire resistant at 100?

What is the value of a carbon sink if it (and its diverse habitats) can be lost to megafires and beetle kill? These disasters have grown substantially since 2000 in North America - in acreage and intensity. One can believe that "natural conditions" will fix forests but if that same person believes that 39% more carbon in the atmosphere compared to the pre-Industrial era compromises natural conditions then a laissez-faire attitude toward forest health is pure negligence.

Increased density of our forests makes it imperative that we exercise more forest management. The academics (UC/Berkeley), agencies (USDA/Forest Service and the Woody Biomass Utilization Group), and associations I belong to (TAPPI, SAF, ACORE) all tell me that the key to improving forest management is building more "infrastructure." They define infrastructure to mean forest products facilities, including biopower plants and biorefineries, that can convert forest thinnings into products, power, and fuels.

These products that have the added carbon cycle benefit of reducing greenhouse gases from combusting coal and oil distillates. More infrastructure will also provide important disaster response alternatives for managing forest salvage from hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and droughts - all anticipated to rise with global climate change.

I wrote about a 2008 study of 4 wildfires in California and the carbon consequences of active vs. inactive forest management as carried out by private vs. federal managers (see Links between California Wildfires and GHG emissions). The data analysis from this study raises some important questions relevant to our perception of the best way to manage forests before and after high density fuelwood accumulation.


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May 27, 2011

Open Letter Defending REAP and BCAP

Yesterday the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee voted to eliminate USDA BCAP and REAP funding - this in the name of frugality. Biomass Magazine's Lisa Gibson has written an excellent article that accurately depicts the situation. I encourage readers to contact their House Congressional Representatives immediately to express their desire to keep these programs intact.

Cutting these biomass production initiatives are very likely just the opening salvo in an attack by the new House majority Republicans to gut alternative fuel and climate change programs. Surprising, really, since the states most likely to be hurt by these cuts are traditional Republican rural strongholds. The outcome of these cuts would be even less market entry of technologies providing choices at the pump and power outlets, shrinking markets for agricultural and forest industry producers, and declining of products that can provide America with greater energy self-reliance.

Here's an open letter to my Congressman on the possibility that the House Appropriations Committee will progress with plans to cut REAP and BCAP funding:

I want to express in the most vigorous way possible my alarm that the House Appropriations Subcommittee has recommended the elimination of two USDA programs (REAP and BCAP) that are critical to the future national and energy security of the nation.

I am deeply involved with bioenergy issues throughout the U.S. because of my firm belief in the need to insure that next generations of Americans have the choice of alternative fuels at the pump. Fossil fuels are not only not renewable but are getting dirtier, more expensive, and unsustainable (economically, environmentally, and socially) all the time.

REAP and BCAP are small investments that will help propel the development of new energy projects that cannot be off-shored. At the same time they will enable rural communities to remain economically self-reliant at a time when too many of our resources are being underfinanced for proper management or, worse, plowed under to make room for urban sprawl.

I implore you to take a leading role in fighting this attack on renewable energy development on the false perception that it will "save money." That is penny-wise and "pound-fuelish" to the extreme.
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May 18, 2011

Carbon Accounting and the Titanic Analogy

In a Forest Business Network article May 15th, it was reported that:

The National Alliance of Forest Owners (NAFO) told the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today that they support the proposed rule to defer the regulation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from biomass for three years while the agency studies the science and policy of regulating biomass energy the same as fossil fuels.

I join NAFO in supporting this rule to defer, too, because carbon accounting has become an incredibly controversial issue between the bioenergy industry and those who seek to obstruct its emergence as an alternative to fossil fuel. Finding clarity on this issue appears to be a losing battle in Massachusetts but there is no reason for the federal EPA to compound their mistake of confusing fossil with biogenic carbon emissions.

I would like to offer an analogy that I think puts in proper perspective the difference between carbon accounting of biogenic feedstock sources (biostock) with those of fossil origin.

GHG emissions was not an issue during pre-Industrial times because the carbon cycle – which includes plowing and tilling of land and harvesting of timber – was closed loop. Whatever the fluctuations, the carbon content of the atmosphere stayed relatively constant.

The advent of the Industrial Age was characterized by the need for denser fuels. Cheap sources of dense fuels were found in subterranean geologic formations in the form of fossil fuels (carbon sequestered as coal and oil). The carbon cycle was violated (open looped) with carbon that had been sequestered for millions of years. Hence the carbon cycle gained input that had been successfuly sequestered. It is estimated that, as of 2009, the carbon content in the atmosphere is a full 39% greater than the pre-industrial levels. The rate of change is increasing (see breakdown of sources in the chart below). That increase from fossil carbon reintroduction to the atmosphere is what should be considered carbon positive.

Carbon accounting that measures biogenic emissions (wood and biomass) and compares it with fossil atmospheric impacts is like comparing the arrangement of deck chairs (biogenic) to the fatal impact of the iceberg (subsurface fossil) on the Titanic.

Fossil carbon is carbon positive and without mitigation, a climate and health threat that is within the authority of the EPA to regulate. Biogenic sources are carbon neutral and should be exempt from EPA comparative accounting.

I welcome comments that support or challenge this analogy.


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March 3, 2010

Southern Forests for the Future

Check out this SlideShare Presentation created by World Resources Institute concerning the history and current status of Southern Forests. It addresses questions concerning how to maintain our forest health in the face of a dwindling forest products industry and urban/suburban development in the South.

July 1, 2009

Ag and Forestry Provisions in Waxman/Markey ACES bill

The Waxman/Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) narrowly passed through the House vote on June 26. It would not have passed if the authors had failed to accede to the amendments insisted upon by Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN). What are the provisions?

Below is a condensed explanation of the key provisions agreed to by bill sponsor Henry Waxman (D-CA) as reported by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI). Aside from securing approximately support of 45 Democrats who would have voted against the bill without the compromise, the ACES bill is much more likely to achieve its stated objective of creating more green jobs, stimulating investment and local economies, and contributing to greenhouse gas emission reductions.

Should these provisions survive Senate deliberations, it also would reverse the polarizing language of the 2007 EISA which severely reduced the availability of qualifying biomass feedstock for bioenergy projects.

Democrats Strike Deal With Agriculture on Climate Bill

On June 23, Democrats in the House of Representatives announced that they had reached a deal on several key agricultural concerns in the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) (H.R. 2454). The deal, struck with Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee and bill sponsor Henry Waxman (D-CA), included the following key provisions:

1) The agricultural and forestry sectors will be fully exempted from carbon emissions caps.

2) Oversight of the domestic agricultural and forestry offsets program would be moved from the EPA to the USDA. Under these provisions, farmers could sell carbon credits in exchange for practices that reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions or store carbon in the soil and vegetation. Supporters believe that the USDA is in a better position to implement such a program effectively, while critics fear that the USDA will be more lax than the EPA in determining which practices actually reduce carbon emissions. For the time being, the role of the EPA in implementing the offsets program will remain undefined, subject to future guidance from the Obama administration.

3) The renewable fuel standard in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 requires the EPA to conduct a life cycle assessment of greenhouse gas emissions attributed to indirect land use changes around the world caused by the production of biofuels in the United States. Under the agreement, this assessment would be put on hold for the next five years while the National Academy of Sciences conducts a study of the scientific basis and methodologies used in conducting such assessments.

4) The definition of renewable biomass would be expanded to include a much larger portion of available woody biomass on both federal and non-federal lands, and the definition of renewable biomass would be similarly amended for purposes of implementing the renewable fuel standard.

President Obama spoke in favor of the bill on Tuesday, saying it “will spark a clean energy transformation that will reduce our dependence on foreign oil and confront the carbon pollution that threatens our planet.”



Over the past two years, EESI has undertaken a project to assess the state of woody biomass utilization and to develop a suite of policy recommendations intended to promote woody biomass as part of the sustainable forestry paradigm.

After soliciting the opinions of a diverse group of foresters, researchers, NGOs, civic officials, as well as forest industry stakeholders, EESI has put together a well-documented policy paper that is balanced in the areas of environmental, economic, and soclal sustainability.
Although sustainability should be a cornerstone of federal biomass policy, it is important that federal laws and programs do not include highly prescriptive (or proscriptive) rules for where biomass can be harvested, for what purposes, or in what quantities.

It includes a call to evaluate the true comparative costs of various energy paradigm solutions whereby the lifecycle assessment of new approaches are compared not only with each other, but also with a fair assessment of costs and liabilities of the current fossil paradigm.

To view the entire policy paper written by EESI veteran Jesse Caputo, go to Sustainable Forest Biomass: Promoting Renewable Energy and Forest Stewardship.

Advanced Wood Combustion: Rekindling Wood Energy in America

Opened in February 2009, the new biomass power plant at Vermont's Middlebury College is expected to burn 20,000 tons of wood chips each year to provide heat and electricity for the campus.

The plant uses an "advanced wood combustion" system. Such plants hold great potential to save energy, cut costs, and even fight global warming, a March 2009 study says.

Photograph by Brett Simison, courtesy Middlebury College

Daniel Richter is professor of soils and forest ecology at Duke University and Director of Graduate Studies for Duke’s interdepartmental University Program in Ecology. His research investigates forest sustainability, biogeochemistry, interactions of soil and forests with the wider environment, and global soil change.

Below are excerpts from an article he wrote recently for Renewable Energy about advanced wood combustion (AWC) and its promise for helping understand the intertwining of the carbon cycle and combustion - and how we can efficiently tap that energy for fuels, power, steam, and heat.

Rekindling Wood Energy in America - Renewable Energy World

One of the largest sources of renewable energy available today is one of the oldest, that is direct combustion of wood. Recent European developments in advanced wood combustion (AWC, defined as automated, high-efficiency wood-fired energy systems with strict air pollution control) have wood supplying thermal and electrical energy cleanly and reliably to thousands of communities in Europe and increasingly in North America. AWC minimizes air pollutants including fossil greenhouse gases.

AWC is so clean and safe that AWC systems are commonly deployed in the midst of picture-perfect European towns and villages. Because AWC systems can be developed in community-sized increments of 0.1 to 20 MWth, they can be managed to meet community needs and not overwhelm the productivity of local woodsheds.

Wood in the United States is several-fold less expensive per unit of energy compared with natural gas or heating oil ($2 to 5 per GJ vs $7 to 10 per GJ for recent USA prices of natural gas and heating oil). If properly deployed, AWC systems can not only affordably supply clean and renewable energy, AWC can add value to the forest itself, promote community development, and support local employment and rural and municipal economies. AWC can complement other renewable energy resources as well.

It is now time for AWC and renewable thermal energy sources to take center stage in North American energy deliberations. Not only can wood safely and affordably supply energy, but wood can teach us much about energy in general, energy-use efficiency, and sustainability itself.

No one renewable will solve our energy crisis, not solar, not wind, not wood. But recent multi-agency estimates indicate that AWC can sustainably supply at least 5% of the nation’s currently inefficient energy consumption without impacting forests that are protected for environmental, social, or economic reasons. This is more energy that that stored in our Strategic Petroleum Reserve, more than what all American hydro-power plants produce in a year, and slightly more than half of the electric energy produced annually by the entire nuclear industry.

Wood is abundant but is far too valuable to inefficiently burn. Resource policy questions should turn on how to encourage wood-energy efficiency, community development and sustainability, and how to avoid extracting wood from the forest like coal from a mine.

June 1, 2009

NACD's Woody Biomass Desk Guide and Toolkit

It seems like every bioenergy and conservation conference I go to drives toward the same conclusion... "What we need is education, education, education." Of course, determining which messages should be communicated is key - which is why the credibility of the authors is paramount. Who is writing the content and what is their motivation?

Whenever I come across material that I think is credible and approachable from a lay audience's perspective, I upload links to them through this Bioenergy BlogRing. Some of the guides I have written about in the past include:
• 25x'25 - Agriculture and Forestry in a Reduced Carbon Economy
• USDA Forest Service - Woody Biomass Utilization Desk Guide
• Southern Forest Research Partnership, Inc. - Sustainable Forestry for Bioenergy and Bio-based Products Training Curriculum Notebook
• California Forest Foundation - Protecting Communities and Saving Forests

Fred Deneke of 25x'25 just sent me a treasure trove of information about Woody Biomass amassed by the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD).

Conservation Districts were born out of necessity in the 1930s Dust Bowl when America's topsoil rapidly eroded. They are local units of government established under state law to carry out natural resource management programs at the local level.

NACD is the nonprofit organization that represents America’s 3,000 conservation districts and the 17,000 men and women who serve on their governing boards. It was founded in 1946 on the philosophy that conservation decisions should be made at the local level with technical and funding assistance from federal, state and local governments and the private sector.

The association's programs and activities aim to advance the resource conservation cause of local districts and the millions of cooperating landowners and land managers they serve.

The desk guide is intended to be used for public outreach in support of biomass industry planning and development. It includes educational content, handouts, introductory Powerpoint presentations, case studies, FAQs, and a glossary of terms.

Here is how the authors describe the guide...

Woody Biomass Desk Guide and Toolkit

Communities today are challenged to develop effective strategies that support forest ecosystem health, mitigate the effects of climate change, satisfy growing energy needs, and provide local economic opportunities. For some communities, woody biomass may be a viable option for meeting these needs and deserves serious consideration. Forests in the United States represent an important potential energy and biobased product resource.

NACD, in collaboration with federal, state, and local partners is working to raise awareness about the potential for woody biomass as a primary feedstock for such products.

This Woody Biomass Desk Guide and Toolkit provides an overview of woody biomass production and utilization in the U.S., tips of how to provide effective outreach for your clientele, and educational handouts to share with your audiences. The purpose of this guide is to equip natural resource professionals and outreach specialists with the information and tools needed to increase awareness of the use of woody biomass for energy in the U.S.

Desk Guide and Toolkit Chapter Topics

Introduction and Table of Contents (1MB PDF)
Chapter 1 - Setting the Stage (836KB PDF)
Chapter 2 - What is Biomass? (2.5MB PDF)
Chapter 3 - Products and Possibilities (1.7MB PDF)
Chapter 4 - Implications of Producing and Using Woody Biomass (1.5MB PDF)
Chapter 5 - Incentives to Produce and Use Woody Biomass (1.3MB PDF)
Chapter 6 - Do-It-Yourself Supply Curve: Tools to Help You Get Involved in an Entrepreneurial Biomass Project (13.8MB PDF)
Chapter 7 - Outreach and Education (492KB PDF)
Chapter 8 - Case Studies (2.15MB PDF)

In addition to the reference sections, most of the chapters also contain handouts. These outline important points, strategies, and information that may be useful for landowners, the public, local leaders, or other audiences.
Handout 1 - Electricity Production: Comparing Wood and Fossil Fuel Feedstocks (2MB PDF)
Handout 2 - Woody Biomass Basics (2.25MB PDF)
Handout 3 - Agricultural Biomass (1.5MB PDF)
Handout 4 - Implications of Using Woody Biomass for Energy and Other Products (1.15MB PDF)
Handout 5 - State and Local Policies and Incentives to Produce and Use Woody Biomass (1.5MB PDF)
Handout 6 - Financing a Bioenergy Project (1.15MB PDF)
Handout 7 - Common Concerns (1.15MB PDF)

NACD has two more Desk Guides in the works that will be out shortly. One will be on Community Wildfire Planning (Pre, During, & Post) and the third on Woody Disaster Debris Disposal.

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