Friday, September 28, 2012

Bruce Ward, hero

Bruce Ward introduced us to Holistic Management and the methods of Allan Savory. He changed the lives of many people, far more than the 2500 he personally trained. He was passionate and forthright. I saw him rip into an academic or agronomist or extension officer at one of our soil science summits who trotted out the now discredited factoid that methane from cattle was the big problem with Global Warming, and that reducing stock numbers and sowing the rangelands down to soy beans was the solution. It wasn't the animals, he said, but the way they were managed. Bruce was a visionary. He was one of the first to move on soil carbon after we returned from the US in 2006 when we met Prof. Rattan Lal. Bruce felt the urgency. In 2007 he co-founded Soil Carbon (Australia) Pty Limited, a company dedicated to building awareness around the vital relationship between soil carbon, soil health and land management, specifically regarding grazing management. He and Tony Lovell blew the loudest horns as we marched around the walls of Jerico. Bruce was a social revolutionary in many ways, liberating farmers from outmoded ideas that degrade the natural capital on which civilised society depends and giving hope to those who feel trapped in the vortex. He will be remembered as a leader for the times. Comes the times, comes the man.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Truckie from Dubbo leads the world on carbon cuts

A trucking company from North Dubbo NSW is the first officially certified carbon neutral bulk haulage company on the planet.
Not only is it slashing the amount of CO2 its trucks emit, Transforce Bulk Haulage is voluntarily paying a carbon tax to cover the emissions that it has yet to reduce.

Owner Steve Fieldus has just completed the last requirements for certification under the National Carbon Offset Standard, a voluntary program run by Low Carbon Australia, a Commonwealth Government agency.

The process took 10 months. "First we had to measure the company’s carbon footprint, then Steve decided how much of his emissions he could eliminate in the first year,” says Louisa Kiely of Carbon Farmers of Australia (CFA) who managed the process for Transforce.. “This left a gap that we couldn’t fill with savings this coming year. So Steve purchased offsets on the voluntary market,” In this case he contributed to a project for farmers in Africa.

"I wanted to buy offsets from Australian farmers - especially soil carbon offsets - but they aren't available yet.  Hopefully next year," he says. “A lot of my customers are farmers and we want to support them because we believe that they can make a huge impact on Global Warming.” He was inspired by attending the annual Carbon Farming Conference and the vision put forward by CFA, a farmer-led organisation that believes those leading scientists who believe that massive increases in photosynthesis on the world's farmland can stall global warming long enough for the world to make the shift to low carbon energy sources. (Steve is presenting at this year’s Carbon Farming Conference In Dubbo, 23-24 October)

Steve is convinced that the world will be a safer place for his 4 children and grandchildren if other companies follow his lead. "There's a lot of debate about climate change - who knows what's right, but if the majority of the world's recognized scientists are right, we had better have done something."

Steve wants the Government to consider his voluntary approach to reducing emissions verses the plan to phase out the diesel rebate scheme in 2014. Transforce is using the twin strategies of engine technology upgrades and driver incentives to deliver reductions in fuel usage and carbon emissions each year. In the meantime, Steve believes he will impress his customers and prospects with his feat. "It's a win/ win for our customers, for our business and for the kids of the future," he says.

*Many transport companies have gone some way towards neutralising their carbon emissions, particularly in Europe, but no bulk haulage company is reported to have achieved it yet with their entire operation.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Carbon Cocky: The Secret Ingredient for Big Soil Carbon

When you read of farmers increasing the carbon levels in their soils by prodigious amounts you can be forgiven for being sceptical. The conventional view says it can't be done. But it is done - CARBON COCKY Col Seis has seen soil carbon levels increase 200% in ten years. CARBON COCKY Martin Royds has seen his soil carbon levels from less than 3% to as high as 7% in 5 years. These are big numbers. But they are not out of place in the Soils For Life Report: Innovations for Regenerative Landscape Management: Case studies of regenerative land management in practice 
where each case study has a story of increased production or carrying capacity that is typical of major shifts in soil carbon levels. There is historical evidence that big numbers are possible. "Sir Paul Edmund Strzelecki collected 41 soil samples around south eastern Australia between 1839 and 1843, average soil organic matter in the top ten most productive farm samples was 20%, with levels of organic matter up to 37.75% – equating to SOC content of 10% to nearly 20%," says the report. Australian soils can carry large amounts of carbon when there is a CARBON COCKY managing them. The NATIONAL CARBON COCKY OF THE YEAR AWARDS will be presented at this year's CARBON FARMING CONFERENCE. (23-23 October, 2012)

The Opportunity For Farmers In The Soil Crisis

How much would you pay the people who could solve this problem? 
Soil carbon is the active agent in the process that made human life possible, according to the Soils For Life Report: Innovations for Regenerative Landscape Management: Case studies of regenerative land management in practice  Over the past 420 million years bare rock was turned into healthy soils that underpin our biosystems, hydrology, climate, water, food security and survival. "Microbial ecologies governed these processes through the bio-sequestration of carbon to build soil structures, water holding capacities, nutrient availabilities, bio-productivity and resilience to stress," says the Report.
The dramatic loss of carbon from soils has been declared a major crisis by the UNEP Year Book 2012. Soil carbon has a critical role to play in climate change, food security and the health of ecosystems. 
The soil crisis is a major theme of this year's CARBON FARMING CONFERENCE.
"Around 60% of the carbon in the world’s soils and vegetation has been lost as a result of land uses since the 19th century. As a result of soil carbon losses, one- quarter of the global land area has suffered a reduction in productivity during the past 25 years."
SOC stocks are low in many Australian agricultural systems. "On average, Australia’s current SOC content is around 1%. 
Current landscape management practices are contributing to poor health of our soils through the loss of carbon and topsoil, acidification, erosion, mineral deficiencies and chemical dependencies. Nutrients are being chemically locked-up and made unavailable to plants, or being lost through waste in urban areas which is not returned to the soils for use by plants and animals."
"Carbon is a master variable within soil that controls many processes, such as development of soil structure, water storage and nutrient cycling. Every extra gram of carbon in soil can retain and make available up to eight extra grams of water. Without carbon in the soil, the resilience of the landscape is weakened, water losses to the effects of wind and extreme temperatures continue and the capacity to respond and adapt to a changing climate declines.
"Soil health must be built; depletion cannot be rectified by adding chemical elements to address identified symptoms. 
"It is vital that carbon is returned to Australian soils..."

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Soil carbon network of demo farms: "Our Science"

At last someone has pulled together the knowledge Australian farmers have distilled over decades of listening to Nature. Former Governor General Major-General Michael Jeffery launches the Outcomes Australia "Soils For Life" report which features 20 farmers who embody a new approach to managing soil and water. They manage soil in ways that increase carbon. At least half of them have been recognised in the Carbon Cocky of the Year Awards at the annual Carbon Farming Conference.  Chosen to replicate the Australian landscape, these properties will form a network of demonstration farms, hosting visitors interested in sustainable land management. Typically the properties started from a degraded state with a spiralling financial position which forced the farmer to try a new approach. Each case was different, yet they share a common attitude towards soil health and groundcover and all feature solutions that maximise water efficiency. The Major General believes soil and water should be a national issue. Farmers should get a fair price for their produce, he says. They should be recognised as the primary keepers of the landscape and rewarded for it. (But it is not a Landcare model, he insists.) It looks like a soil carbon trading model. "Correct land management can play a huge part in pulling down CO2 from the atmosphere, for which farmers should be rewarded." He favours "direct deals with farmers at set prices". The former Special Forces officer has seen enough human misery caused by conflict over resources and flags the 'coming crisis' in food security as his motivation. He wants the G20 to recognise soil security as a global issue. "Unless we get the paddock right, the rest of the supply chain is a second order issue," he says. The key is the link between soil and water, starting with rainfall management at the place where it falls. Around 2% of water falls on our roads and rooftops. The rest falls on the landscape, 50% of it escaping as runoff or evaporation. If we can slow this process down, we can save hundreds of gigalitres. "And we can fix it by getting soils right," he says. Higher carbon levels can guarantee massive increases in a soil's water holding capacity. The 20 sites have been benchmarked by DAFF and the process has scientific endorsement, says the Major-General.  The teaching base behind the demo sites will be turned into learning packages to be delivered by existing educational institutions. "But they must teach the true way," he says. As part of the grand alliance he hopes to forge around this vision, the Chairman of the Deans of Agriculture and the NFF have been approached. Bankers will be approached. (Banks will eventually start to value farms based on soil health, in the M-G's vision.) He hopes to have the teaching systems up and running within 3 years. It's a big vision. It will require big leadership to get what is essentially fringe knowledge accepted by mainstream organisations who are used to telling farmers what's what rather than listening to and learning from them. (Soils For Life is a project of Outcomes Australia. Michael Jeffery is also Chairman of the Global Foundation.)

Sunday, September 02, 2012

An Idiot's Guide to Permanence

To justify its influence in decisions about how the world community responds to Global Warming, the Permanence Principle needs two key credentials: 1. a clear definition as to what it means, ie. what separates Biosequestration from other forms of mitigation and justifies its special treatment; and 2. a firm foundation in science. It has neither. This week, in his blog "Permanence Revisited", Dr Richard Tipper of British software company Ecometrica described what he found when he tried to trace the concept to its source - nothing.
"The concept of permanence or reversibility of emission reductions was a recurrent topic in the negotiations of the Kyoto Protocol ... [but] none of the key UNFCCC, IPCC or ISO documents gives a satisfactory definition of this important term."
The leading voluntary market standard, the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS), insists on Permanence as a core principle. But it does not say what Permanence means. It refers to ISO 14062, part 2 for a definition. “…a criterion to assess whether GHG removals and emission capture and storage are long-term, considering the longevity of a GHG reservoir or carbon pool and the stability of its stocks, given the management and disturbance environment in which it occurs.” This is a "Clayton's Definition" - the definition you have when you're not having a definition.
ISO 14062 refers to an agreement between parties negotiating the Kyoto Protocol,  Decision 19/CP.9 which refers to work carried out by the IPCC (Special Report on Land Use, Land Use Change and Forests), which repeatedly states “there is no consideration of non-permanence…. because these items are under consideration by SBSTA”. This was 2004. The Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice has yet to deliver a useful definition.
"Without a clearer definition, an examination of the underlying processes associated with GHG emissions shows many emission-reduction activities could have permanence issues," says Richard Tipper.
You don't need a PhD to see that Renewable Energy, Fuel Switching and Energy Efficiency measures all face the same uncertainty that dogs soil carbon. "The physical units of carbon that would have been emitted in the absence of the low carbon energy strategy are likely to be combusted by another fuel user, especially if renewable energy supply depresses the price of fossil fuels, and the lower price consequently leads to increased consumption of fossil fuels in other places."
 If we can rid ourselves of the false distinction and get a level playing field between emissions avoidance and emissions sequestered, we will understand the strategic role each can play in an integrated plan. Biosequestration in the short to medium term, renewable energy in the medium to long term. Biosequestration to draw down CO2 to buy time while alternative energy solutions gain critical mass.
We need a definition of Permanence that has real integrity.