Saturday, October 24, 2009

How much influence has Barnaby Joyce got in the ETS negotiations?

None at the moment. The Nationals are as relevant to the process as some of Barnaby's humourous one liners. You can wrap manure in cellophane, but it is still manure. What is his party's policy on soil carbon credits? Essentially it is: we don't want a bar of anything to do with carbon emissions or credits, etc. because we'll only get screwed by Government taxes on emissions and screwed by merchant bankers on carbon credits. In a debate with John Hewson in June 09 on ABC Radio, Barnaby claimed to be 'on the front foot' with this issue. But his contribution to the debate revealed a startling ignorance of fundamentals. Barnaby confuses soil carbon sequestration with bochar then, realising he is out of rope, changes the subject and then confuses biosecurity with biodiversity, switches to methane and cattle and rambles through a global conspiracy scenario and winds up with a oneliner. He's a monty - he's Jo Bejlke Petersen returned from the grave.
But what has this got to do with the reason the Nationals are boycotting the ETS negotiations? If Barnaby is the Leader in the Senate and he hasn't done his homework on a key issue, who has? Barnaby confirms below that he's as dumb as on this topic. He hasn't made the effort. SO it's either boycott the negotiations or be found out...
(Someone told me that they went to school with Barnaby and would I like an introduction? I said "Yes, of course. I like a good laugh.")


Barnaby Joyce: Well it's so marvellous, why hadn't we thought of that? Well the reason is, we have, and everybody's aware of the terra preta soils of Amazonia and it's a fact that greater carbon sequestration for soil improves productivity. There is a whole range of areas in Australia where it would be impossible to provide that, because just the structure of the soil wouldn't allow the sequestration of the carbon. You'd more likely have charcoal sitting on the top, which would be interesting in a bushfire.

Geraldine Doogue: How do you mean?

Barnaby Joyce: Ah well, you've got to obviously sequestrate the carbon inside the soil. If you can't get inside the soil, and there's a lot of places where that's just not possible, Geraldine, then your carbon, which would probably be in the form of charcoal, would be sequestrated on top of the soil, and unless you want to do it via – you see some of the issues in this argument by John – for instance, it is a fact that there is more carbon sequestrated in summer grasses in summer-growing pastures than there is in a dry sclerophyll forest. So if we were to follow this path, you would have to come forward with a policy. If you were going to be fair dinkum and upfront about it, that would pull over dry sclerophyll forest and plant Buffalo grass, Mitchell grass, summer pastures, possibly lucerne, and this doesn't work into the other side of the agenda of this debate, which is also – once you say that, they say 'There's also the biosecurity argument'. No-one ever talks about that, however, but we seem to ignore that fact.

What I don't believe, however, is that people are prepared, or the economics behind this, is about farmers getting an income stream. I think the economics behind this is that ultimately this program is going to make money, it is a tax, and Dr Hewson more than anybody else would understand what happens to people who introduce new taxes. And the idea that the farmers are going to somehow in Australia rise up, change the whole concept of the Kyoto Protocol which disaffirms soil carbon sequestration, is peculiar. But what I do see is an article such as Ben Macintyre yesterday in The Australian, where they talk about the evils of cattle, and how cattle now are next thing on the agenda that have to be removed. And what I can see our nation moving towards is a program of economic oblivion. I think we're being romantic in the extreme if we believe that at the end of this debate Australia is the one making money. No, at the end of this debate, Australia will be the one losing money, and when poverty walks in the door, your affection for a carbon trading system will fly out the window.


(Sound of laughter stage left.)

Science seduced to speak more than it knows

Other 'poison pills' masquerading as "Sound Science" are scientific opinions on soils' 'potential' to sequester carbon (supposedly based on peer-reviewed science but actually based on nothing at all except predisposition to believe or 'faith') , the insistence that the "fractions" must be measured because some of them are less stable than others (entirely irrelevant to trade because buyers are not interested in which carbon molecules are sequestered, only the gross amount), and the insistence that Bulk Density be measured to accurately determine the tonnages sequestered - an expensive process (and one that is entirely unnecessary in a trading environment where the sellers can agree to set Bulk Density at 1.0, sacrificing a percentage return to favour the buyer, to reduce uncertainty and avoid a costly process at the same time.) These and the thousands of other uncertainties attached to soil carbon can be equalised via the market mechanism of price. The misplaced belief in Sound Science's ability to provide a risk free market system for soil carbon is not an evil plot but a simple mistake: Politicians don't have enough headspace to devote to learning the soil carbon story, preferring to 'outsource' the judgement necessary to science (mistaking the task as being technical instead of commercial). Some scientists, in turn, are quite willing to give opinions on matters outside their competence (such as the operation of markets - ie. it will cost too much to measure, it will not be worth the expense because our soils cannot sequester significant amounts, etc.) - and they accepted the brief without questioning whether their actions were legitimate or relevant when the name of the game was "Trade". Yet decisions were taken in the name of "Sound Science" which have delayed "Trade" by diverting research funds into areas which may appear relevant to a scientist, but we believe are 'nice to know', not 'need-to-know'. A senior scientist involved in this process said, "I have know idea what the market will look like." But someone in the Minister's office assumed that the scientist did because they allowed them to make decisions which required knowledge of how a market works. Neither politicians nor scientists have 'knowledge of marketplace dynamics' on their Job Specification. Occasionally a Malcolm Turnbull appears. And he has never had a problem with soil carbon as a tradable commodity.

Sounds good, but lookout for "sound science" poison pill

Penny Wong is a clever woman. She had a glint in her eye when she referred to Agriculture in the press conference after the first day of negotiations with the Opposition on the Emissions Trading Scheme. She had convinced Ian Macfarlane that the Opposition will get what it wants on Agriculture. We know this by the gushing tone of "we'll stand up for Agriculture" and "we won't weaken" that Mr Macfarlane adopted in Lucy Knight's piece in The Land. It sounds like the Opposition will accept increased costs of energy and fuel in return for 'offsets'. Macfarlane sounds upbeat about the possibility of 'offsets': "Offsets are an area where there could be huge money in it for farmers... An ETS is going to cost rural industries money... but to counter-balance that, if you can give them an offset then they could come out net better off." But does Ian know the way Penny can give with one hand and take away with the other? It's a trick called "Sound Science" or "Robust Science" and it can be set to go off in any one of a number of areas. It works by demanding that Soil Carbon pass a test that is impossible for it to pass. For instance, measurement. "Science has not yet found a reliable way to measure soil carbon for the purposes of trade." The test: Find a method of recording exactly how much carbon is in a given piece of land. Reason task is impossible: carbon cycles (fluxes) in and out of soil so measurements vary by location and time of day. Official Position: Wait for Science to find a method. (Task impossible.) Evidence of Poison Pill: Science accepts Remote sensing (satellite imaging) ground-truthed by core sampling as sufficiently accurate for the exacting levels of robustness required for scientific research. Why does it have to be even more exact for purposes of trade? Every other category of carbon emission or sequestration under Kyoto is managed by estimation. Why not soils? (No one from the Government has answered this question, ever.) So Ian Macfarlane should be wary of looking like Neville Chamberlain returning from Berlin with Hitler's signature on a letter saying he would never attack Britain less than 12 months before he attacked Britain.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


We were privileged to have an opportunity to recognise the contribution of the founder and intellectual leader of the soil carbon movement, Dr Christine Jones. The dedication on the plaque says:

"Dr Christine Jones risked all to realise her vision of the nation’s grasslands and farmland perpetually green and their soils rich with carbon. Her great compassion for the land and those who work on it compelled her to develop many successful theories to explain the rapid accumulation of carbon in soil. Her ability to communicate the drama of the soil carbon story has inspired many to dedicate their energy to the soil carbon solution in an era when they are most needed. Now.


Gratefully Acknowledged By Members of the Carbon Coalition"

The presentation took place at the Yass Area Network of Landcare Groups' "Your Land, Your Soil, Your Future"

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Corey's head was spinning

After a grilling on Country Hour by the enraged agriculturalists who are attracted to call radio stations and vent, the Climate Institute's Corey Watts (ex-ACF, now the Regional Projects Manager at the Institute), told me his 'head was spinning'. Corey is an important player in this field because he is the best chance environmentalists have got to get a seat at the table we call Agriculture. Instead of coming from an ideologically-fixed position, Corey is trying to understand. So we'll give him the benefit of the doubt for the 'classic bloopers' in his soils section of his recent report "Towards Climate-Friendly Farming: Policies, Issues and Strategies for Low-Emissions Agriculture & Rural Land Use". There is significant evidence of over-exposure to conventional science and its prejudices: "There is a great deal of enthusiasm amongst landholders for soil carbon as a new commodity." Enthusiasm is code for 'irrational exuberance based on superstition and blind faith'. It is the classic put-down language. He goes on: "Indeed, [soil carbon] sometimes seems touted as something of a panacea." This is code for 'silver bullet' and leads directly to 'snake oil salesman'. Rather than listen to enthusiasts, we should observe what "best available science" says - and it "suggests clear thinking is needed before the real potential can be tapped." That is opposed to the woolly thinking of the enthusiasts. We've heard it all before. Australia is different: "Globally, the theoretical potential of soils to sequester carbon is significant. Moreover, the productivity benefits of soil carbon can make a powerful case for encouraging practices that improve soil health, though this is not always straightforward. In practical terms, however, the soil’s capacity to permanently store carbon is limited by a host of factors, most especially rainfall. Given Australia’s erratic conditions together with declining rainfall in southern regions, substantial long-term soil carbon management is generally less reliable here than in North America or Europe." Such generalisations are not useful unless you are seeking to discourage 'enthusiasts'. But those looking at the glass half-full see great reason to be enthusiastic about Australia's capacity to sequester carbon. The Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists said yesterday, "As a consequence of the loss of soil carbon in agricultural systems, many Australian soils now have a significant capacity to store additional carbon." The Climate Institute's report covers all the bases we have come to expect from defenders of the old regime:
"Accurately measuring soil carbon can be very expensive and very tricky, and there are significant risks of inadvertent release." And a final genuflection to 'sound science,' and thumbs up to biochar with no evidence of its viability. Now, if enthusiasm is cause for doubting one's credibility, biochar is full of it.

Halfway to Paradigm Heaven

“The science now tells us that it will be next to impossible for nations to achieve the scale of reductions required in sufficient time to avoid dangerous climate change unless we also remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it in vegetation and soils…The power of terrestrial carbon to contribute to the climate change solution is profound.”

“Optimising Carbon in the Australian Landscape” - Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists, October 2009

They say that nothing focuses the mind like the prospect of a hanging. The WGCS have noticed the 900 gorilla in the room... 'the Legacy Load' - the fact that extraction on a massive scale is urgently needed to stall runaway Climate Change long enough for clean energy to gain critical mass. The Group also notes that the massive potential of 'terrestrial carbon' make it capable of offsetting 25% of our emissions, a huge economic win. It argues for the inclusion of agriculture in the CPRS as an offset provider, but only after the international community agree new rules on definitions and measurement.

But can the world afford the time it will take to draw up new convention, and come to a position on measurement, permanence and additionality that will not offend the purists. The Group says the voluntary market should also be built on 'robust design principles' that guarantee 'permanence' and address 'additionality issues'. Here we see the optimism of those who have only recently entered the swamp of sol carbon sequestration. These are Kyoto terms. Kyoto was designed to keep soil out. We will need more than a new city name to change the paradigm that governs IPCC mindsets. We need new definitions of these terms that make it easy for soil to get in. The definitions currently in vogue were developed to meet the needs of industrial polluters, not those business engaged with biological cycles.

Even people working in the biophysical area were seduced by the idea that soil would never fit in, because of the dominance of the Kyoto mindset (which had Mick Keogh bluffed over at the Farm Institute) but this was because they had little knowledge of soil biology, which is the powerhouse of soil carbon activity. And they hadn't seen the gorilla... the four aces in their hand.

Agriculture doesn't need to ask permission any more. The genie is out of the bottle. If the silently depressed masses - suffering from the sense of despair that they can't share with each other - hear about this 'cure' for Climate Change, they will
demand it, ripping up the rule books and sacking the offices of the rule makers.

So the Wentworth Group have made the leap across the chasm separating the to paradigms of soil carbon, and made it halfway. Let's see them complete the job - sit down with like-minded folk and use their considerable talents to help fashion the solutions needed. Or simply endorse some of the many solutions that are bubbling up from below, where the microbes grow.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Christine Jones: Carbon Farming Conference "an excellent program, with a top line-up of speakers"

Dr Christine Jones is unable to be with us at this years Carbon Farming Conference (November 4-5, 2009), but says, "I must say that it is an excellent program, with a top line-up of speakers, for which you are to be sincerely congratulated." There are so many speakers we would like to bring you in the Carbon Farming Conference that we would need 10 days to cover them all.

The themes for this year are Urgency and Practical Carbon Farming.

Topics and speakers in order are:

A Year On: Does Science Feel The Urgency? (Dr Andrew Rawson, DCCEW)
Soil Carbon Credits Without the Debits? Carbon Farming After Copenhagen - Will Australia Follow The USA? (Bryan Clark, Grain Growers Association)
Water: Foundation of Soil Carbon (Peter Andrews, Natural Sequence Farming – Farmer)
Engine Exhaust Fumes As Fertiliser (Gary Lewis, Bio-Agtive Emissions Technology, Canada)
Is Science Taking Us Closer To Trade? (Dr Jeff Baldock, CSIRO)
The Matrix Method of Estimating Soil Carbon Potential (Dr Brian Murphy DECCEW)
Can Soil Choose To Sequester Carbon? (Prof. John Crawford, University of Sydney)
Manage Your Microbes to Make Carbon. (Dr Maarten Stapper, Consultant Soil Biologist)
Compost 101: Practical Steps For Beginners (Rhonda Daly, YLAD Living Soils - Farmer)
Bioferts: Carbon, Productivity and Profit (Bart Davidson, BioNutrient Solutions – ex-Farmer)
“Landsmanship”: NSF without bulldozers - Paul Newell, Landsmanship - Farmer)
Practical Permaculture For Carbon Farmers (Nick Ritar, Milkwood Permaculture - Fparmer)
Algae For Fuel and Fertiliser (Michael Longhurst, Central West CMA)
Biochar? Promises Promises? (David Waters, NSW Department of Industry & Investment)
Gala Dinner – Chairman: Hon. Tony Windsor, MP., Farmer and long-time supporter of the Soil Carbon Movemet
The First Annual “Farming For Planet Earth” Oration - Speaker: Former Governor General Major-General Michael Jeffery AC CVO MC
Hall Of Heroes Inductees awarded
Healthy Soil, Healthy Food, Healthy People, Healthy World (Dr Carole Hungerford, GP)
Local Food Lowers Emissions - Linking Carbon Farmers and Consumers (Robert Pekin, Food Connect- Ex-Farmer)
Launching Ecological Agriculture Australia: Food. Farming. Knowledge. Ecology. Ethics. (Kerry Cochrane, CSU)
A New Theory of Photosynthesis: Making Water Out Of Air (Ken Bellamy, Institute of Bioengineering)
New Technology Solutions for Soil Carbon Trading (Ichsani Wheeler, University of Sydney)
"Storing Carbon At Three Levels By Integrating No Kill Cropping" (Bruce Maynard, Narromine) Farmer
A Carbon Cocky One Year On (Graham Ross, Bathurst) Farmer
The Power of A Goal (Tony Coote, Braidwood) Farmer
The Drought Proof Property (Tim & Karen Wright, Uralla) Farmer
A Revolutionary Theory of Humus (Clive Kirkby, CSIRO)
Soil Carbon Market-Based Instrument Trial (Kate Lorimer-Ward, NSW DII)
Start Banking Your Soil Carbon Now (Louisa Kiely, Carbon Farmers of Australia, Farmer)

Call 02 6374 0329 or email

The Soil Carbon Bank Is Open For Business!

“Start Banking Your Soil Carbon Now (Even if you’re not interested in selling right away)”

The Soil Carbon Bank allows farmers to take a wait and see approach with soil carbon trading without losing any of the value they are storing in their soil. It is part of a Program being launched at the upcoming Carbon Farming Conference & Expo at the National Field Day Site at Borenore, near Orange NSW, 4-5th November, 2009. To open a ‘Savings Account,’’’ a grower must have a baseline measurement so that they have a starting point For information about the Conference or to apply for Baselining, call (02) 6374 0329


To reduce risks and guard against losses:
• 5 year contracts
• “Bulk Density” set at 1.0, which reduces the cost of measurement.
• Each grower can sell only half the soil carbon they grow
• balance is held in case of losses
• each grower will be protected by being part of a pool of millions of units that can make good losses
• 75% of earnings are held in trust until the end of the contract
• half interest returned to grower; balance used to cover costs of organising hundreds of small parcels, especially when order size are in millions of units, auditing and managing the pool, marketing them, and tracking them through a register, dealing with regulators.
• all administrative costs have been capped at 10%, which is 20% lower than the American system was charging until
recently when charges fell from 30% to 15%.


• Not-for-profit.
• ‘Membership’ organisation
• Growers’ representatives and agents.
• Not brokers or promoters
• Advise growers on risks and rights.
• Representation in disputes/negotiations
• Maximise farmers financial returns.
• Assist farmers make decisions and between competing soil carbon offset scheme promoters.

Services include
• soil carbon ‘baselining’ (core sampling to set the ‘floor’ or starting point);
• advice on contracts;
• advice on growing soil carbon quickly;
•general soil carbon education and training.

Grew out of the Carbon Coalition Against Global Warming which has been
camApaigning for 4 years in pursuit of its “Mission: To see soil carbon traded and farmers paid fairly
for what they grow.”
02 6374 0 329