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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