GEN Climate Solutions
GEN Climate Solutions best practicies and success stories
Thousands of ecovillage communities around the world are taking action and responding to the challenges confronting us due to global warming and climate change. These actions range from and focus on developing and implementing Green Building Practices, Climate Friendly Agriculture, Restoring the Natural Environment, Sequestering Carbon and Green House Gases through BioChar and Soil Restoration, Protecting and Regenerating Local Water Cycles, Installing and Using Renewable Energy and Appropriate Technologies, and responding to emergencies and crises with resilient and regenerative planning and rebuilding practices. Below we feature many of the best examples of what is being done around the world in ecovillages and by the ecovillage community to do our part in solving the climate crisis - grouped by topic areas.
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Refugees & natural disasters
Natural disasters triggered by climate change are responsible for 150,000 deaths every year and cause millions of people to seek refuge elsewhere. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts 50 million “environmental refugees” by 2010, and 150 million by 2050. Millions of people living along the coast in Bangla Desh and elsewhere in SouthEast Asia and the Caribbean or in Small Island Developing States are likely to have to resettle and need to rebuild in a more resilient and sustainable manner unless humanity can make an immediate about face. Ecovillages provide an excellent model for regenerative and restorative community based development. Here are a few examples of what the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) is doing in response to this crisis and to deal more effectively with the situation. The September 2015 Issue of the GEN’s Newsletter focused on how many ecovillages around the world are dedicating their work, expertise and experience to disaster relief or prevention - and in the future, we imagine that this will become one of the core areas of engagement of our movement. You will find many examples in this newsletter.
"Blueprint" meeting in Tamera for sustainable aid in areas of crisis
In September 2015, a group of specialists, entrepreneurs and representatives of aid organizations came together at the Tamera Ecovillage to discuss the possibility of creating a "Blueprint" for coordinated aid measures in crisis and disaster areas.
Emergencies regenerative response to crises!
Natural disasters triggered by climate change are responsible for 150,000 deaths every year and cause millions of people to seek refuge elsewhere. Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest storm on global record hit the Philippines in 2014 killing more than 7,000 people and displacing hundreds of thousands of communities. Researchers have determined that the Syrian conflict worsened due to devastating droughts from 2006 - 2009 resulting in the displacement of up to 1.5 million people from rural to urban areas shortly before uprisings in 2011. Up to 250 million people in Africa are projected to suffer from water and food insecurity in the 21st century leading to increasing conflicts over land and basic resources, threatening of state structures and regional stability, and mass migration of Africans to Europe across the Mediterranean. ! It is in this backdrop of displacement due to conflict, climate change, and economic transitions around the world that EmerGENcies is emerging as a global initiative aiming to model and promote ecovillage, permaculture, and other ecologically sound and integrated approaches in response to crises!
An ecovillage response to natural disasters in Sri Lanka and India
Rob Wheeler, UN Representative for the Global Ecovillage Network, was invited to give a keynote address in China following the devastating earthquake in ChengDu province in 2006 focusing on how ecovillages can and do rebuild following natural disasters. In the process of putting together a slideshow he researched the efforts being made by the Sarvodaya and Auroville Ecovillages in SriLanka and india to rebuild and assist others following the destructive Tsunami which struck South Asian coastal communities throughout the region in 2004. This article details the incredible efforts made to rebuild and restore the natural environment in a much more effective and sustainable manner than had existed before.
Rewnewable energy & appropriate technology
For the past 40 or 50 years many ecovillage communities around the world have been experimenting with and using renewable energy and appropriate technologies. Many of these communities also offer workshops and training programs in their installation and application. The world community is finally taking notice of and investing in the transition to a truly renewable energy future; but we still have a long ways to go. Based on REN21's 2014 report, renewables contributed 19 percent to our global energy consumption and 22 percent to our electricity generation in 2012 and 2013, respectively. This energy consumption is divided as 9% coming from traditional biomass, 4.2% as heat energy (non-biomass), 3.8% hydro electricity and 2% is electricity from wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass. Worldwide investments in renewable technologies amounted to more than US$214 billion in 2013, with countries like China and the United States heavily investing in wind, hydro, solar and biofuels.
One of our major challenges is providing access to such technologies in the developing world and in smaller and rural communities. GEN provides examples and information that can be essential in making such a transition, particularly to low cost, distributed, and decentralized systems in such places. Read on for more.
How to build your own portable microgrid and create cleaner charcoal
Community Forests International has been assisting ecovillagers in Tanzania to build and use two new energy innovations to reduce greenhouse emissions and provide the local people with more sustainable sources of energy. In Tanzania only 14% of the people have access to electricity. So, CFI set out to design an electricity system for Kokota in Zanzibar (Tanzania) that would span the entire island and empower every single inhabitant. This meant providing electricity to over 80 homes and three public buildings. The technical limitations associated with a conventional hardwired grid (cost, safety, and efficiency) forced us to come up with an entirely new way of delivering household electricity.
With no previous access to electricity, Kokota’s energy demands were simple; people wanted electric lighting so they wouldn’t have to keep buying and burning kerosene, and they wanted a way to charge their mobile phones. After some head scratching, we calculated that a week’s worth of energy to meet basic demands for a single household could be stored in a small motorcycle battery. The community could generate renewable energy collectively at a central location and then distribute it via a fleet of small carry-home batteries – a ‘portable’ microgrid. Click here for the full story and simple instructions on how to do it.
CFI is also helping villagers in Zanzibar to install low-cost retort kilns to replace the old-school ‘earth mound’ technique for creating charcoal thus doubling production efficiency! That means it takes half as much wood to produce the same amount of charcoal; and in turn half as much forest to supply Tanzania’s demand for charcoal. Additionally, the ICPS cuts production time in half and reduces emissions by up to 75%
Skala ecovillage biogas digesters
After conducting a week long training program at Tamera Ecovillage in Portugal that Niko from Skala Ecovillage attended, BluePrint Team members and trainers built and installed a biogas digester and storage unit during a Permaculture Design Education course at Skala Ecovillage in Zagkliveri, Greece. “Biogas” is a naturally occurring mixture of 60 to 70% methane and 30 to 40% CO2 with some H2S (Hydrogen Sulfide), that burns similar to socalled “natural gas” but without releasing any green house gases. Biogas is primarily used around the world for cooking and heating at home scale, but it also has many other important applications both domestically and industrially. It can power electric generators at all scales and has a long history of use in gas lamps and absorption refrigeration systems. When purified and compressed we see it used as an effective fuel for cars, trucks and buses (Stockholm – Sweden is a leader in this application). Thus biogas is a flexible substitute for nonrenewable energy sources at many levels.
Biogas digesters installed At Tamera ecovillage
At Tamera Ecovillage in Portugal we first built two biogas digesters that run almost entirely on kitchen and garden scraps from the community. With this we were able to cook on one burner for 10 - 20 hours a day. Click here for the full story.
Then this past summer we built two more biodigesters during the Experimental Week at Tamera Solar Village. The system was inspired by Solar CITIES' 3 IBC tank system in Sao Paulo. The dual gas holder system is modified to avoid the use of a water pump.
Building your own biogas disgester
What is a biogas digester and how can you build one? It’s all explained here based on one built at Tamera Ecovillage. Includes a module for a decentral autonomous energy supply by TH Culhane.
Let Solar C³ities help you do it!!
Since 2006 TH Culhane’s Solar C³ITIES team has been assisting communities around the world in the development of their own sustainability solutions. We activate and engage using the "trainer of trainers" model. Want to bring the Solar C³ITIES Solution to your community? There are many ways to do it. You can "do it yourself" (DIY), you can work with people in our extended network, and you are welcome to invite our core trainers in to work with you directly.
The solar tunnel-dryer at use at Tamera ecovillage and around the world
Since its development at the University of Hohenheim many years ago, the Solar Tunnel-Dryer has proved itself many times over. It is used in many countries to preserve food through dehydration. It is used by fishermen in Bangladesh to dry fish, by famers in Togo for bananas, for spices in China, etc. Through the training that took place during the Global Campus, Solar Tunnel-Dryers were also introduced into the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, where they are used to dry Cacao. The Tunnel-Dryer is weatherproof; short rainfalls are therefore not a problem.
Going carbon neutral in Dyssekilde Ecovillage in Denmark
In Økosamfundet Dyssekilde we try to be conscious about our energy consumption, which is why almost all houses have a build on greenhouse on their south facing wall. The passive solar heating is particular efficient in houses with brick walls, or other dense walls that absorb the heat, under good circumstances this can shorten the active heating season with a month both in autumn and spring. When the eco-village first started wood was a popular fuel, as it was relatively cheap, easily obtainable and in effect co2 neutral. Many of the older houses are therefore heated by wood burning mass ovens, which is a big, heavy brick or stone oven in the middle of the house. It is fired once a day to very high degrees, which gives a cleaner combustion and less pollution. The pricks or stone then absorbs the heat and slowly releases it during the day, thus keeping the house warm. Many of our mass ovens also have built in ovens for baking bread or other cooking. Finally, in order to be self-sufficient with energy we build the first windmill in the area in the mid 1990s, producing 2 and a half times what is needed in the houses in the local village.
Renewable energy systems at Findhorn produce 100% + electricity
Our four community-owned wind turbines, which have a total capacity of 750kW, supply more than 100% of the community's electricity needs; and numerous homes and community buildings incorporate solar panels for hot water heating. Our wind system is unusual in that the community owns its own private electricity grid, the main campus having originally been a private caravan park.
Nordic folkecenter supports communities in installing renewable energy systems
The Nordic Folkecenter for Renewable Energy, a member of GEN, is a world leader in supporting the development of renewable energy technologies and applications suited for small, rural and developing country communities. It supports the development and implementation of renewable energy systems: small scale wind power innovation and design; advanced generator construction; farm biogas design, and demonstration; CO2 neutral transportation with hydrogen and plant oil; solar architecture and integration of solar cells in buildings; wave energy testing.
Folkecenter has designed and engineered windmills of various sizes and applications, biogas digesters, biofuel and hydrogen for transport, etc. and various components. It welcomes students from all over the world as trainees within renewable energy.
Natural building & climate friendly architechture
While transitioning to Natural Building would not be enough on its own to stop global warming, it is an important part of what must be done. Buildings use more fossil fuels and release far more carbon for heating, cooling, embodied energy in building materials, and shipping than does even road transport. For example, 6 - 10% of global greenhouse gases come just from cement making. And in the US something like 50% of the energy is used for buildings vs only 6% for road transport.
Thousands of ecovillages around the world have been experimenting with both new and old ways of building that are exemplary in nature. We are the pioneers striving to build structures that are carbon neutral or even better, that use passive solar and natural heating and cooling, that are as energy efficient and ecologically friendly as possible and that are built using local and natural materials. Most ecovillages welcome visitors, interns, and work exchangers; host community events; and organize workshops, permaculture classes and educational courses. We encourage you to take advantage of these opportunities. Read on for some of the things you could learn about natural building that is being done in ecovillage communities.
Living greener at Ithaca ecovillage
It’s a goal, a practice and an accomplishment. Conserving energy, solar power, planting trees, healthy buildings, growing and eating local, and a culture of sharing help us lower our collective resource use to about 30% of the typical American household. It’s easier to do together than alone. Ithaca Ecovillage is home to about 160 adults and 80 children. About a fifth of our residents are retired, and about a fifth are stay at home parents. We have a wide range of livelihoods, and diverse spiritual backgrounds; but most are middle class. Solar panels generate over half of our electricity needs. Our newest homes make use of Passive House design, thought by many to be the most stringent building code in the world. We’re glad that we can enjoy a high quality of life, while living more lightly on the planet.
The Eco Village concept climate mitigation requires experimentation
A Case Study: EcoVillage at Ithaca (EVI) is amongst the oldest and widely respected cohousing projects in the United States. EVI consists of three tightly-clustered residential neighborhoods with direct access to over 100 acres of open space, two community-supported farms, and several independent businesses. A combination of energy-conserving design and cooperative, low-impact lifestyles results in measurably lower ecological footprints without sacrifice to quality of life. Indeed, residences in the project’s newest neighborhood are net-zero energy consumers, meaning they produce as much energy as they consume.
EVI has teamed up with county planners to secure funding from the EPA’s Climate Showcase Communities program. The grant funding (awarded in 2010) is being used to replicate EVI’s successes in a mainstream market setting through innovative government initiatives throughout the United States.
The low carbon revolutions starts at home Findhorn Ecovillage
The construction of zero carbon buildings and the retrofitting of existing buildings offer some of the most cost-effective and most immediate strategies in response to climate change. The ecovillage at Findhorn in Scotland has erected 61 ecological buildings and there are ongoing plans for the continued construction of an ecologically respectful built environment. The publication of Simply Build Green, the UK's first technical guide to ecological housing, based on our research and experience, has helped the ecovillage become a major resource for environmental education locally, nationally and internationally.
Compressed, stabilised earth block construction An appropriate technology for building and construction in developing countries
In The Gambia deforestation is a major environmental challenge; sand mining is causing an ecological disaster. Cement manufacture is a highly polluting process and cement importation is the cause of a big loss of national resources.
Sandele Eco-Retreat and Learning Centre in The Gambia was constructed with low embodied energy and a small ecological footprint using an imported compressed, stabilised earth block (CSEB) machine. This incredibly beautiful EcoRetreat, a member of GEN, was built in the most environmentally friendly way possible. They looked world-wide for the best practices in sustainable design using local materials and labour and visited Auroville in India and sent two Gambians to learn the technology and construction methods. The project was so successful that others asked for their expertise, so they created EarthWorks Construction led and managed by their Gambian Construction Manager. Now it has built major construction projects using the compressed earth technology throughout the region.
This type of Earth Block construction is featured in GEN’s Solution Library. Read more
Auroville Earth Institute Natural building leader known around the world
For 25 years, the Auroville Earth Institute, which holds the UNESCO Chair on Earthen Architecture, has educated and empowered people to build their own dwellings using earthen techniques. They have trained over 10,600 people from 79 countries. This website provides information, images, and videos about the many earthen construction techniques, particularly Compressed Stabilized Earth Block (CSEB). Earth construction uses considerably less than 1/4th as much energy as country fired bricks. Read about all of its ecological and other advantages
Auroville Earth Institute is located at the Auroville Ecovillage in southeastern coastal India - much of which has been built using this approach and technology. Both are open to visitors and students year round.
Permaculture & climate friendly agriculture
Our systems of industrialized agriculture have enabled humanity to feed billions more people but it has had its problems as well and has caused havoc both on ecosystems and in helping to cause global warming around the world. It has been projected that if we don’t change our farming practices we will lose most of our topsoil on the planet in just 60 years. Fortunately humanity is learning that there are better ways to farm that not only limit the release of greenhouse gases and restore soil health but that also can help us sequester hundreds of billions of tons of carbon and reverse global warming - if we make the changes needed in a much more concerted manner.
Fortunately many ecovillages have been using permaculture, agroecology, no till and conservation tillage, cover cropping, organic farming, integrated pest management, and more recently key line farming to protect and build soil health, restore local and natural ecosystems, add to climate resiliency, and increase productivity for small scale and family farmers. Read on to learn more about both the problems and some of the best that is being done in ecovillage communities below.
Protecting and restoring soil health - essential for dealing with climate change
“The health and productivity of the ground that we stand on will influence the future prosperity and security of humankind,” writes Monique Barbut, Executive Secretary, of the UN Convention on Climate Change. “It will define what the more than 2 billion livelihoods that depend on just 500,000 small scale farms will do for food and labor. It will shape how the more than 1.8 billion people that face absolute water scarcity by 2025 will live. It will guide the decisions on migration for some 135 million people by 2045. It will determine how fast the Earth's temperature rises and whether our homes can withstand climate change shocks.”
The Economics of Land Degradation (ELD) Initiative report released a fortnight ago estimates that through land degradation, we forfeit ecosystem services valued at a staggering US$6.3-$10.6 trillion every year. Just eight countries with a large potential to mitigate climate change through the land sector could help us to cut by half,the outstanding greenhouse gas emissions that we must cut to keep temperature rise within 2 degrees C. And it can take as little as US$20 per year to rehabilitate and sustainably manage one hectare of farmland in Africa using traditional agro-forestry, water conservation and livestock management practices.
Increasing soil humus Essential for feeding one billion more hungry people
The Sahel was once fertile land and an important zone of agriculture. Erosion, overgrazing, humus loss and climate change brought desertification.
Increasing the carbon content of the soil by 10% worldwide in the next 100 years could sequester the equivalent of 900 billion tons of CO2 in the soil, thus reducing the CO2 content of the atmosphere by up to 110 ppm, so the CO2 level could even fall back to pre-industrial levels. Soil sequestration of carbon through agriculture is therefore the most cost-effective way to reduce the CO2 content of the atmosphere, as compared to the expensive CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage) methods for separation of CO2 from flue gas and storing it underground.
If farmers were to increase levels of humus at the rate of 0.07% per year and they were paid as much as for CCS, then farmers could anticipate annual revenues of between $210 and $36 per hectare just for carbon abatement. For many farmers in the tropics and subtropics, this would be more income than they have ever earned with any crop. But above all, their soils would once again provide enough food to feed their children. This article also includes 9 essential recommendations for recreating healthy soil.
Cool! - ecovillage responses to climate change
Albert Bates is the cofounder of Global Village Institute for Appropriate Technology and of the Global Ecovillage Network. He gave this keynote address at Great Lakes Bioneers Chicago's 2nd annual event on November 2, 2013. In the video Bates suggests that ecovillages have been making strategic investments in adaptive responses to climate change by reducing, or even reversing, the transfer of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, including:
- Carbon farming
- Holistic management
- Integrated aquaponics and waste remediation
- Organic no-till
- Keyline management
- Soil-food-web microbiology
- Agroforestry; and “Permafuels” for transportation and district heating
Agroecology in zanzibar
Agroforestry in Zanzibar provides the tools to marry annual cash crops with perennial trees. The trees improve the soil and prevent erosion, while the annual crops provide immediate income. Click here for 10 articles on Agroforestry
Click here for an article on how we can feed the world’s people on a crowded planet
Producing liquid bioconcentrates From organic waste
This article from the Global Ecovillage Network’s Solution Library describes how compost tea, which is made and used in many ecovillages, can greatly increase soil productivity and net-sequester carbon, accelerate ecological restoration, increase weather event resilience and enhance the nutrient density of food.
GEN’s Solution Library includes more examples of appropriate technologies and practices for dealing with the Climate crisis.
Build a $300 walipini underground greenhouse For year-round gardening
This article about building a Walipini underground greenhouse is perfect for colder climates where you want to be able to harvest your own fresh produce in the cold winter months, even with snow outside and thus eliminate the costs that accrue from shipping produce from other parts of the world, freezing or drying it, or otherwise preserving it for months at a time. Click read more for the video, the instruction/construction manual, and article
Permaculture and keylining at The Farm in Tennessee
Is it better to construct ponds, lakes, and aquifer-recharge zones OR just to key line the land?
In 2008, The Farm community and ecovillage decided to do whatever it could to help stave off global warming. The Farm’s Land Use Committee decided to upgrade it’s permaculture plan to prepare for the expected and on-going rise in global warming. They asked permaculture land use expert Darren Doherty for advice. “Don’t put in the dams until you’ve keylined the place,” he said. So in 2009, the Ecovillage Training Center at The Farm invited Darren and a group of distinguished co-teachers to give the first carbon-farming course in North America.
We found out that keyline design combines cultivation, irrigation, and stock management techniques to greatly speed up the natural process of soil formation, and results of 400 to 600 tons of topsoil per acre each year are possible. Keylining can annually deepen topsoil four to six inches, and darken it a meter deep in less than a decade. Now, keylining is doing more to hold water in the landscape of The Farm and to protect its fields and forests than any number of dams could have. It is recharging both our aquifers and the water-retaining capacity of our soils. Click Read more for the full story and an explanation of what Keylining actually is
Permaculture keyline water systems Don Tipping @ seven seeds farm
Permaculture seed wizard Don Tipping takes us on a 10 minute animated tour of the epic Seven Seeds Farm in the Siskiyou Mountains of Southern Oregon, USA. The farm was designed using Permaculture Principles and Keyline patterning. We follow the water system from top to bottom, and then the amazing downstream effects are revealed.
Sustainable biochar is a powerfully simple tool to fight global warming. This 2,000 year-old practice converts agricultural waste into a soil enhancer that can hold carbon, boost food security, and discourage deforestation. Sustainable biochar is one of the few technologies that is relatively inexpensive, widely applicable, and quickly scalable. Biochar is a solid material obtained from the carbonisation of biomass. Biochar may be added to soils with the intention to improve soil functions and to reduce emissions from biomass that would otherwise naturally degrade to greenhouse gases. Biochar also has appreciable carbon sequestration value. These properties are measurable and verifiable in a characterisation scheme, or in a carbon emission offset protocol.
And to read more about the basics of biochar, please see www.biochar-international.org/biochar
Reforestation with biochar by Achim Ecker
Chief landscape designer and ecobuilder Achim Esker describes the challenges of reforesting the arid land near Tamera Ecovillage in Portugal and explains how producing and using Biochar has greatly eased the challenges. This article describes Achim’s experiences and includes lots of photos and instructions for making and using a Kontiki biochar pit.
Terra preta production, part II Waterless urinals - charging terra preta at ZEGG ecovillage
In 2013 ZEGG Ecovillage in Germany found itself in the struggle of keeping the right to their own sewage treatment and drinking water. In this situation Achim Ecker was looking for ways to reduce water consumption and reuse waste water. After visiting Dr. Jürgen Reckin of the University Eberswalde and the Terra Preta Biochar Project in the Botanical Garden in Berlin he started to work with the fascinating prospects Terra Preta offers. In the last newsletter he shared about the production of biochar, this time he explains ways to charge the biochar with nutrients - using urinals.
The Biochar Revolution How biochar helps the soil (chapter 7)
Biochar is a natural material that has been deposited into soil by groundcover fires for billions of years. In its modern application, however, biochar can be manufactured and applied to improve soil fertility. Biochar works in combination with other soil components and soil microbes to permanently improve the overall soil dynamics and plant nutrition, which in turn improves plant growth and yield. Although conventional fertilizers may provide short-term benefits, they do not contribute to overall, long-term soil quality as biochar does. In this chapter from the BioChar Revolution you can learn the constituents of biochar and how they act; how biochar mitigates physical deficiencies in the soil; and how biochar restores the soil to its natural biological role. - helping to conserve plant nutrients by storing them within its matrix and making the nutrients available when crops need them.
Producing and using biochar in your garden
After watching this video you should be better aware of what biochar is, how best to apply and use it as well as other important information about biochar. It answers such questions as:
14:00 SHOULD I USE BIOCHAR WITH GREEN COMPOST?
17:45 CAN I ADD TOO MUCH BIOCHAR TO MY SOIL MIX?
20:00 DOES BIOCHAR CHANGE THE PH OF MY SOIL?
26:30 WHAT IS "MATURED" BIOCHAR AND IS IT BETTER?
32:10 WHAT ABOUT "FRESH, RAW" BIOCHAR?
34:40 IS BIOCHAR IDIOT PROOF?
39:25 NEGATIVE EFFECTS ON SOIL?
42:25 HOW MUCH BIOCHAR SHOULD I USE?
52:10 TOP THREE REASONS TO USE BIOCHAR!
Meet Biochar Bob a great video on small scale biochar projects in Hawaii
Biochar Bob, is a real Bob, Bob Cirino, who has a strong passion for soil science, biochar and life in general. Bob's mission is to tell the biochar story, through the people, the places, the reasons, and the results related to biochar's development and use around the world. Biochar in the soil, clean cooking charcoal, and cleaner stoves in the home, can all have a dramatic impact on the health and prosperity of developing world citizens. Meet Bob, and help us introduce him to the world by sharing this with your networks.
Creating carbon-negative communities from The Biochar Solution
Albert Bates, the Director of the Ecovillage Training Center at The Farm in Tennessee and Author of Biochar Solution, tells the story in this blog post of how people already are creating “Carbon-Negative Communities” by sequestering carbon through green building and the use of biochar.
For an intriguing article on why anyone interested in reversing climate change should read Biochar Solution click here.
Reforistation & Environmental Restoration
Over the last several hundred years humanity has released much more carbon into the atmosphere through deforestation, destroying once abundant grasslands, replacing them with built environments and industrial agricultural practices than has been emitted through the production and usage of fossil fuels. Similarly, we could do much more, and much more quickly, by restoring the natural environment, reforestation, restoring the health of grassland areas, adopting climate friendly agricultural practices and engaging in carbon farming than through investing in energy efficiency and transitioning to renewable energy - as important as both of these still are.
Many people, organizations and villages in the Global Ecovillage Network and movement are doing the pioneering work needed now to show how we might best restore the natural environment, sequester considerably more carbon than humanity produces, stabilize the climate and reverse global warming - while at the same time dramatically increasing ecosystem services, restoring natural water cycles, and substantially increasing our ability to feed the world’s people.
Read on for the best of what is being done in this regards, why it is urgently and crucially needed and how we can and to a limited extent are already doing it.
A personal forest Albert Bates looks at what it would take to sequester all the carbon needed and to reverse global warming
"Every year on New Years Day I write down my annual electric meter reading, chart the milage of whatever vehicles I used, including buses, trains and airplanes, and also quantify my use of propane gas, firewood, etc. From that I determine how many trees I need to plant in the coming year to offset the climate impact of my lifestyle."
Albert Bates, Author and Director of the Ecovillage Training Center at The Farm in Tennessee writes, “There are a few promising signs that something can be done to reverse the effects of three centuries of oil and coal addiction. The forests of North America remain a net carbon sink, but when land goes from forest to farm, it generates a huge spike in atmospheric carbon. In Mexico, which is losing more than 5000 km2 of forest every year, logging, fires and soil degradation account for 42% of the country’s estimated annual emissions of carbon. In addition to the carbon lost from trees, soils lose 25-31% of their initial carbon (to a depth of 1 m) when plowed, irrigated and cultivated.”
“In the US, croplands increased from about 2500 km2 in 1700 to 2,360,000 km2 in 1990 (although nearly all of that occurred before 1920). Between 1938 and 2002 the US gained 123 million acres of forest from farm abandonment while losing 150 million acres to logging. This trend, net marginal loss, continues today in the US and Canada, in contrast to Mexico which is rapidly destroying its forests, and not re-growing them anywhere.”
“The net sink effect of a recovering forest is variable but the average for Eastern deciduous successional forest is two metric tons per hectare. Forests are like scrub brushes. They absorb CO2 from the air, transform it to O2 with the magic of photosynthesis, and sequester the C in lignin and cellulose. They also transfer it deep into the ground through their roots and the soil food web.”
“We, the humans, might be able, under optimal conditions, to get up to sequestering as much as 1 gigaton of carbon (petagram C or PgC) annually by switching to “carbon farming:” holistic management; compost teas; keyline; and organic no-till. Biochar’s full potential is estimated at 4 to 10 PgC per year, if the world were to widely employ biomass-to-energy pyrolysis reactors. But even that is not likely to be good enough. Tree planting is our best bet. And so I started calculating my annual carbon footprint and planting trees to offset it.”
My personal forest part 2
In this BlogPost Albert goes on to tell us what he has done to offset his carbon footprint and how successful it has been. “In the 1990s I introduced many bamboo stands, along the swales and in “canebreaks” where creeks would overflow in high water. I put in a half-dozen varieties in discrete patches, spread over about 20 acres. These have multiplied so quickly that they alone more than offset all the annual carbon consumption at Global Village Institute, including the Ecovillage Training Center and all its employees, visitors and volunteers, and all my annual travel around the world giving courses and workshops. Counting sequestration both above and below ground, 10 acres of bamboo locks up 63.5 tC/yr (metric tons carbon per year).”
“I also planted fruit trees, berry bushes, and cactus, as well as the tried-and-true local trees. My planting method relies heavily on natural regeneration, followed by selection for desirable traits. Because of the poor highland soil in our region, cedars are a common pioneer species. Tulip poplar and black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) are also common. Most disturbed ecosystems will revert to woodland through natural succession if left un-grazed and un-mowed. I have been planting at densities of about 100 trees per acre, but those densities will increase substantially as the forest fills itself in. I imagine 400-1000 trees per acre to be more typical at climax, plus a wide range of understory plants.”
“Studies aggregated by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration suggest that 400 trees (one acre at maturity) would structurally absorb 2.6 tons of carbon per year. Our 30 acres are now at about 5% of the eventual biomass density, so they are sequestering 3.9 tC/yr. At maturity they would sequester 78 tC/yr. So, at this point in time my tree plantings are not covering my footprints, although my bamboo plantings are, and I am also neglecting to mention my experiments with algae in constructed wetlands. Algae and bamboo are the number one and number two fastest photosynthesizing plants we know of.”
Believing in Zanzibar resilient landscapes for resilient communities
Imagine if Zanzibar found the solution to climate change. Imagine if Zanzibar wasn’t the victim but provided the world with viable ways for communities to adapt. Community Forests Pemba (CFP) and Community Forests International (CFI) believe that Zanzibaris can innovate the solutions to the world’s greatest environmental challenges. Over the past few years, CFP and CFI have been piloting new technologies. Over 1,000,000 trees have been planted through community-driven projects. 32 hectares of agroforestry have been planted, Some of the species grown include casuarina, acacia, black mahogany, neem, teak, indian almond, moringa, tamarind, afzelia, mango, rose apple, guava, cinnamon, rumbutam, durian, avocado, citrus jackfruit and cloves. Eight rural energy systems have been built using solar power and 554 fuel efficient cookstoves have been made. Rural communities are building their homes from earth blocks and using bees to pollinate their kitchen gardens.
Community Forests Pemba is building a Rural Innovation Campus in Minyenyeni, Wete, Pemba, Already, successful trainings in cooking stove production and compressed stabilized earth-block production have been held There is also a beekeeping apiary constructed on the site, as well as farm demonstration plots. CFP will invite individuals from different countries around the world to come to the Rural Innovation Campus, learn about their work in Zanzibar and then return to their own country in order to adapt CFP-style change in order to serve their own community needs.
Read here for more on Community Forests Pemba’s efforts at Reforestation for Adaptation
A community of ideas
Click here for Community Forests International’s list of 40 incredibly informative articles and blogposts on all aspects of reforestation and other innovative responses to the climate crisis. For example here are two articles on Community Forests’ efforts in energy efficiency and appropriate technologies:
Compared to the old-school ‘earth mound’ technique for creating charcoal which is commonly used in Zanzibar, this low-cost retort kiln doubles production efficiency! That means it takes half as much wood to produce the same amount of charcoal; and in turn half as much forest to supply Tanzania’s demand for charcoal. Additionally, the ICPS cuts production time in half and reduces emissions by up to 75%. Read How
Water Retention Landscapes and Restoring Natural Water Cycles
The secret of water as basis for a new earth healing the water cycles through the creation of water retention landscapes
The director of the Global Ecology Institute at Tamera Ecovillage, Bernd Muller writes, “Desertification is increasing around our planet and 2/3rd of the world’s countries are facing severe water shortages in the coming years. Meanwhile the water table is falling – worldwide and dramatically so and we have to do something about this. The global supply of drinking water is diminishing and the soil and water are becoming increasingly salinated. Forests and grasslands have been stripped and our agricultural practices have added to the loss of topsoil. The erosion process has progressed so rapidly and extensively that it is a global disaster. We must not delay ourselves by developing ecosystems which create a thin layer of humus but only after thirty, forty or even more years.”
“We need to return to where the earth can act as a buffer, absorbing a large amount of water at once but releasing it only slowly. In this way floods can be prevented, and at the same time the streams carry clear, clean water all year long. There are plenty of ways to hold the rain water on the land that can be used in various combinations. For example, the creation of retention areas, from “check dams”, “swales”, terraces, deep plowing along the “keylines” or by land stewardship such as reforestation, organic farming, and special pasture management (eg. Holistic Planned Grazing)*. The aim of this work is that no rain or waste water will runoff the area anymore.”
Read the full fascinating, even astounding, story and for details on what we can do about this crisis
Rehydrating the earth new paradigm for water
Whilst the role of water in our climate may be under-researched, what is certain is that a key condition for the alleviation of climate change is the renewal of basic ecological functions that are closely associated with increases in water and vegetation on land. These functions primarily include the “soft dissipation of solar energy through the cycling of water” and the increased absorption of carbon dioxide and conservation of nutrients on land associated with increased vegetation.
The new water paradigm, rather than focusing on dams and rivers, focuses instead on slowing down the progress of water through the system, holding it in soils, vegetation and groundwater systems, based on the knowledge that the small water cycle will ensure that water is continually cycled through the landscape before eventually returning to the ocean. By acting to increase the amount of fresh water on land, we would, by default, increase the diversity and resilience of our ecosystems. In turn we will begin increasing the organic content of our soils and landscapes, pulling in large volumes of carbon from the atmosphere.
Read an overview of the leading experts and practices for rehydrating the earth and restoring small water cycles
Water for the recovery of the climate a new water paradigm
Some years back water expert, Michal Kravcik, co-authored a book entitled, “Water for the Recovery of the Climate: A New Water Paradigm.” The following explanation of how our disruption of small water cycles is causing climate change and what we can do about it is taken from the book.
The circulation of water in nature takes place through the large and small water cycles. Humanity, through its activities and systematic transformation of natural land into cultured land, accelerates the runoff of rainwater from land. Limiting evaporation and the infiltration of water into the soil decreases the supply of water to the small water cycle. If there is insufficient water in the soil, on its surface and in plants, immense flows of solar energy cannot be transformed into the latent heat of water evaporation but are instead changed into sensible heat. The surface of the ground soon overheats, and as a result, a breakdown in the supply of water from the large water cycle arises over the affected land.
Local processes over huge areas inhabited and exploited by human beings are changed into global processes and together they create global climate change. The part of global climate change caused by human activities then is largely based on the drainage of water from the land, the consequent rise in temperature differences triggering off mechanisms which cause a rise in climatic extremes. The disruption of the small water cycle is accompanied by growing extremes in the weather, a gradual drop in groundwater reserves, more frequent flooding, longer periods of drought and an increase in the water shortage in the region.
The part of climatic change which is the result of human activities (draining of a region), can be reversed through systematic human activity (the watering of a region). The watering of land can be achieved through saturation of the small water cycle over land by ensuring comprehensive conservation of rainwater and enabling its infiltration and evaporation.
Exemplary work to restore the natural environment and water cycles
Here Michal describes the work carried out by the Government of the Slovak Republic under the Landscape Revitalisation and Integrated River Basin Management Programme to effectively deal with these types of problems.
Restoring the natural water cycles and climate
After having restored huge landscapes in Slovakia, Tamera Ecovillage´s cooperation partner, Michal Kravcik, wrote and proposed a detailed Global Action Plan for Reversing Climate Change through Proper Water Management. It is an incredibly promising, practical and informative read. Click Read more for the full story and to read the Plan.