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Ancient knowledge may slow Global Warming

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Perhaps one of the greatest ironies of the modern era may be recognized when it becomes commonly known that ancient knowledge possessed by Fourth World nations can solve modern problems like global warming. As scientists are beginning to realize, forest practices and jungle management developed more than 2000 years ago in the jungles of Brazil and the forests of the Pacific Northwest and Atlantic Northeast of the United States. Complex Fourth World societies in the Rio Negro (upstream of the Amazon) employed a technique now popularly labeled "slash and char" to manage and grow the jungle in a fashion that balanced carbon releases with carbon sequestration. The terra preta--rich dark soils created by the Manacapuru about A.D. 400 and continued in use by the Paredão from A.D. 700 is  made to include charcoal. Charcoal is made from slow. smoldering burns of wood instead of rapid burning. Folding charcoal into otherwise depleted jungle soil adds a binder that allows the soil to retain potassium and phosphorous as well as other minerals and nutrients. At least half of the carbon produced from burning a forest using the charcoal method goes into the soil--a form of carbon sequestration.

By improving the nutrients in the jungle soil, the makers of terra preta so enriched the soil that new trees grew faster and healthier. The dark soil also provided a powerful, highly nutritious substrate for growing food plants as well.


This "cooperative management" of the jungle appears to be responsible for the successful development of a great portion of the Brazilian jungle. Yes! Human created jungle.  Cooperative management of the jungle produced more jungle, stronger jungle and nutritious foods for sizable populations along the Amazon River centuries before Europeans set foot on the hemisphere's coasts.

Cooperative management appears to have been as important in the Pacific Northwest of the United States-Pacific Southwest--of Canada. While conventional scientists suggest that the peoples of this region use slash-and-burn techniques for managing the forests, it is possible that slash-and-char may also have been employed.  Partial burns of forests in the Atlantic northeast by Haudenosaunee, Micmac and others  created garden forests that were sustained over long periods of time--benefiting the earth and the people.

The Kyoto treaty signators have a great deal to learn from Fourth World nations. And, Fourth World nations have a great deal to contribute to the debate over global climate change. Fourth World nations that still draw on their ancient knowledge should now apply that knowledge in their own territories; and the Kyoto signators should ask to be invited to the table of negotiations for a new global climate change treaty.

Pacific  coastal nations like the Quinault Indian Nation, the Nuxalk Nation and the Wuikinuxv Nation have the potential for contributing substantially to the reduction of carbon emissions simply as a result of their forest management practices.  Like the Menominee Nation that so successfully grew a forest in their territory while the remainder of Wisconsin is denuded, the Haudenosaunee and the nations of Brazil have practiced holistic environmental management--balancing human need with the environment's capacity to reproduce. All should be seated at the table to engage states' governments on cooperative environmental management.

Some leaders in the Fourth World now call this process Holistic Environmental Management. As a body of knowledge, Holistic Environmental Management is an accurate description for the process of creating terra preta and balancing environmental pressures to growing a jungle and a garden.

(c) 2007 Center for World Indigenous Studies

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  1. Here are the current news and links on Terra Preta soils and closed-loop pyrolysis , I hope would interest you.
    SCIAM Article May 15 07;

    http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?articleID=5670236C-E7F2-99DF-3E2163B9FB144E40

    After many years of reviewing solutions to anthropogenic global warming (AGW) I believe this technology can manage Carbon for the greatest collective benefit at the lowest economic price, on vast scales. It just needs to be seen by ethical globally minded companies.

    Could you please consider looking for a champion for this orphaned Terra Preta Carbon Soil Technology.

    The main hurtle now is to change the current perspective held by the IPCC that the soil carbon cycle is a wash, to one in which soil can be used as a massive and ubiquitous Carbon sink via Charcoal. Below are the first concrete steps in that direction;

    Tackling Climate Change in the U.S.

    Potential Carbon Emissions Reductions from Biomass by 2030by Ralph P. Overend, Ph.D. and Anelia Milbrandt
    National Renewable Energy Laboratory

    http://www.ases.org/climatechange/toc/07_biomass.pdf

    The organization 25×25 (see 25x’25 – Home) released it’s (first-ever, 55-page )”Action Plan” ; see; http://www.25×25.org/storage/25×25/documents/IP%20Documents/ActionPlanFinalWEB_04-19-07.pdf
    On page 29 , as one of four foci for recommended RD&D, the plan lists: “The development of biochar, animal agriculture residues and other non-fossil fuel based fertilizers, toward the end of integrating energy production with enhanced soil quality and carbon sequestration.”
    and on p 32, recommended as part of an expanded database aspect of infrastructure: “Information on the application of carbon as fertilizer and existing carbon credit trading systems.”

    I feel 25×25 is now the premier US advocacy organization for all forms of renewable energy, but way out in front on biomass topics.

    There are 24 billion tons of carbon controlled by man in his agriculture , I forgot the % that is waste, but when you add all the other cellulose waste which is now dumped to rot or digested or combusted and ultimately returned to the atmosphere as GHG, the balanced number is around 24 Billion tons. So we have plenty of bio-mass.

    Even with all the big corporations coming to the GHG negotiation table, like Exxon, Alcoa, .etc, we still need to keep watch as they try to influence how carbon management is legislated in the USA. Carbon must have a fair price, that fair price and the changes in the view of how the soil carbon cycle now can be used as a massive sink verses it now being viewed as a wash, will be of particular value to farmers and a global cool breath of fresh air for us all.

    If you have any other questions please feel free to call me or visit the TP web site I’ve been drafted to co-administer. http://terrapreta.bioenergylists.org/?q=node

    It has been immensely gratifying to see all the major players join the mail list , Cornell folks, T. Beer of Kings Ford Charcoal (Clorox), Novozyne the M-Roots guys(fungus), chemical engineers, Dr. Danny Day of EPRIDA , Dr. Antal of U. of H., Virginia Tech folks and probably many others who’s back round I don’t know have joined.

    Also Here is the Latest BIG Terra Preta Soil news;

    The Honolulu Advertiser: “The nation’s leading manufacturer of charcoal has licensed a University of Hawai’i process for turning green waste into barbecue briquets.”

    About a year ago I got Clorox interested in TP soils and Dr. Antal’s Plasma Carbonazation process.

    See: http://www.honoluluadvertiser.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2007707280348

    ConocoPhillips Establishes $22.5 Million Pyrolysis Program at Iowa State 04/10/07

    Mechabolic , a pyrolysis machine built in the form of a giant worm to eat solid waste and product char & fuel at the “Burning Man” festival ; http://whatiamupto.com/mechabolic/index.html

    Here is my current Terra Preta posting which condenses the most important stories and links;

    Terra Preta Soils Technology To Master the Carbon Cycle

    Man has been controlling the carbon cycle , and there for the weather, since the invention of agriculture, all be it was as unintentional, as our current airliner contrails are in affecting global dimming. This unintentional warm stability in climate has over 10,000 years, allowed us to develop to the point that now we know what we did,………… and that now……… we are over doing it.

    The prehistoric and historic records gives a logical thrust for soil carbon sequestration.
    I wonder what the soil biome carbon concentration was REALLY like before the cutting and burning of the world’s forest, my guess is that now we see a severely diminished community, and that only very recent Ag practices like no-till and reforestation have started to help rebuild it. It makes implementing Terra Preta soil technology like an act of penitence, a returning of the misplaced carbon to where it belongs.

    On the Scale of CO2 remediation:

    It is my understanding that atmospheric CO2 stands at 379 PPM, to stabilize the climate we need to reduce it to 350 PPM by the removal of 230 Billion tons of carbon.

    The best estimates I’ve found are that the total loss of forest and soil carbon (combined
    pre-industrial and industrial) has been about 200-240 billion tons. Of
    that, the soils are estimated to account for about 1/3, and the vegetation
    the other 2/3.

    Since man controls 24 billion tons in his agriculture then it seems we have plenty to work with in sequestering our fossil fuel CO2 emissions as stable charcoal in the soil.

    As Dr. Lehmann at Cornell points out, “Closed-Loop Pyrolysis systems such as Dr. Danny Day’s are the only way to make a fuel that is actually carbon negative”. and that ” a strategy combining biochar with biofuels could ultimately offset 9.5 billion tons of carbon per year-an amount equal to the total current fossil fuel emissions! ”

    Terra Preta Soils Carbon Negative Bio fuels, massive Carbon sequestration, 1/3 Lower CH4 & N2O soil emissions, and 3X FertilityToo

    This some what orphaned new soil technology speaks to so many different interests and disciplines that it has not been embraced fully by any. I’m sure you will see both the potential of this system and the convergence needed for it’s implementation.

    The integrated energy strategy offered by Charcoal based Terra Preta Soil technology may
    provide the only path to sustain our agricultural and fossil fueled power
    structure without climate degradation, other than nuclear power.

    The economics look good, and truly great if we had CO2 cap & trade or a Carbon tax in place.

    .Nature article, Aug 06: Putting the carbon back Black is the new green:
    http://bestenergies.com/downloads/naturemag_200604.pdf

    Here’s the Cornell page for an over view:
    http://www.css.cornell.edu/faculty/lehmann/biochar/Biochar_home.htm

    University of Beyreuth TP Program, Germany http://terrapreta.bioenergylists.org/?q=taxonomy/term/118

    This Earth Science Forum thread on these soils contains further links, and has been viewed by 19,000 self-selected folks. ( I post everything I find on Amazon Dark Soils, ADS here):
    http://forums.hypography.com/earth-science/3451-terra-preta.html

    There is an ecology going on in these soils that is not completely understood, and if replicated and applied at scale would have multiple benefits for farmers and environmentalist.

    Terra Preta creates a terrestrial carbon reef at a microscopic level. These nanoscale structures provide safe haven to the microbes and fungus that facilitate fertile soil creation, while sequestering carbon for many hundred if not thousands of years. The combination of these two forms of sequestration would also increase the growth rate and natural sequestration effort of growing plants.

    The reason TP has elicited such interest on the Agricultural/horticultural side of it’s benefits is this one static:

    One gram of charcoal cooked to 650 C Has a surface area of 400 m2 (for soil microbes & fungus to live on), now for conversion fun:

    One ton of charcoal has a surface area of 400,000 Acres!! which is equal to 625 square miles!! Rockingham Co. VA. , where I live, is only 851 Sq. miles

    Now at a middle of the road application rate of 2 lbs/sq ft (which equals 1000 sqft/ton) or 43 tons/acre yields 26,000 Sq miles of surface area per Acre. VA is 39,594 Sq miles.

    What this suggest to me is a potential of sequestering virgin forest amounts of carbon just in the soil alone, without counting the forest on top.

    To take just one fairly representative example, in the classic Rothampstead experiments in England where arable land was allowed to revert to deciduous temperate woodland, soil organic carbon increased 300-400% from around 20 t/ha to 60-80 t/ha (or about 20-40 tons per acre) in less than a century (Jenkinson & Rayner 1977). The rapidity with which organic carbon can build up in soils is also indicated by examples of buried steppe soils formed during short-lived interstadial phases in Russia and Ukraine. Even though such warm, relatively moist phases usually lasted only a few hundred years, and started out from the skeletal loess desert/semi-desert soils of glacial conditions (with which they are inter-leaved), these buried steppe soils have all the rich organic content of a present-day chernozem soil that has had many thousands of years to build up its carbon (E. Zelikson, Russian Academy of Sciences, pers. comm., May 1994). http://www.esd.ornl.gov/projects/qen/carbon1.html

    All the Bio-Char Companies and equipment manufactures I’ve found:

    Carbon Diversion
    http://www.carbondiversion.com/

    Eprida: Sustainable Solutions for Global Concerns
    http://www.eprida.com/home/index.php4

    BEST Pyrolysis, Inc. | Slow Pyrolysis – Biomass – Clean Energy – Renewable Ene
    http://www.bestenergies.com/companies/bestpyrolysis.html

    Dynamotive Energy Systems | The Evolution of Energy
    http://www.dynamotive.com/

    Ensyn – Environmentally Friendly Energy and Chemicals
    http://www.ensyn.com/who/ensyn.htm

    Agri-Therm, developing bio oils from agricultural waste
    http://www.agri-therm.com/

    Advanced BioRefinery Inc.
    http://www.advbiorefineryinc.ca/

    Technology Review: Turning Slash into Cash
    http://www.technologyreview.com/Energy/17298/

    The International Agrichar Initiative (IAI) conference held at Terrigal, NSW, Australia in 2007. ( http://iaiconference.org/home.html ) ( The papers from this conference are now being posted at their home page)
    .

    If pre-Columbian Kayopo Indians could produce these soils up to 6 feet deep over 15% of the Amazon basin it seems that our energy and agricultural industries could also product them at scale.

    Harnessing the work of this vast number of microbes and fungi changes the whole equation of energy return over energy input (EROEI) for food and Bio fuels. I see this as the only sustainable agricultural strategy if we no longer have cheap fossil fuels for fertilizer.

    We need this super community of wee beasties to work in concert with us by populating them into their proper Soil horizon Carbon Condos.

    Erich J. Knight
    Shenandoah Gardens
    1047 Dave Berry Rd.
    McGaheysville, VA. 22840
    (540) 289-9750
    shengar@aol.com

  2. Finaly some legislation that talks of Charcoal sequestration in the soil, Please contact your represenative about how important it is to get this into the farm bill!!

    S.1884 – The Salazar Harvesting Energy Act of 2007

    A Summary of Biochar Provisions in S.1884:

    Carbon-Negative Biomass Energy and Soil Quality Initiative

    for the 2007 Farm Bill

    http://www.biochar-international.org/newinformationevents/newlegislation.html

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