Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Air Repair via ways of least cost, waste, disruption and uncertainty.

1) The least possible cost is negative; carbon removal that is profitable independent of the carbon removed.
2) The least disruptive carbon removal methods may already escape notice.
3) The least uncertain technologies already exist and work now.
4) The least wasteful methods waste nothing while reducing earlier existing waste.
Hence let’s consider existing, profitable, efficiency-enhancing yet unnoticed carbon removal methods.
Reducing atmospheric carbon inevitably takes energy. Indeed, in storing energy, life reduced carbon, and in getting some of that energy back, we humans are oxidizing carbon.
The least disruptive energy source may well be existing sunlight already hitting earth, yet not inducing photosynthesizing much.
Two large regions now catching sunlight that don’t photosynthesize much are deserts and High-Nutrient-Low-Chlorophyll (HNLC) ocean regions.
Supply of limiting nutrients can allow greater productivity, where and when other nutrients supplied can not.
Provision of limiting nutrients to plants and/or plankton may be the greatest photo-productivity increase opportunity worldwide.
Deserts are dry due to climate. HNLC regions are unproductive due to oddities of water chemistry in oxygen-rich environs.
Deserts cover 10% of earth’s dry land, while HNLC waters stretch across 1/5th of the oceans, Dry land covers nearly 30% of earth, while water covers about 70%.
10% of 30% is 3%; 20% of 70% is 14%, 4.8-fold more, hence, opportunities for engaging sunlight energy in carbon reduction in HNLC waters may exceed those in deserts.
Are there existing unnoticed profitable activities that increase photosynthesis in HNLC waters?
Phytoplankton in HNLC waters typically photosynthesize so little because low iron levels limit their conversion of sunlight in three ways:
1) Low iron directly constrains photosynthesis, since iron irreplaceably catalyzes photosynthesis in multiple ways.
2) Ongoing iron additions to HNLC waters are tiny.
3) Iron rapidly precipitates out of oxygen-rich waters, due to surprising oddities of chemistry.
What existing profitable activity brings iron to HNLC waters without notice?
1) On the Georges Bank, a once-rich fishing region, fully 4% of these water’s iron content came to Georges Bank every year as trace iron in fishing fleet engine fuel, according to
2) Energy output is the driving objective of fuel consumption.
3) Iron in fuel additives catalyzes more complete oxidation of fuel carbon, reducing soot while increasing energy output, in matching counterpoint to iron's catalysis of carbon reduction in photosynthesis.
4) Some iron picrate fuel additives have proven profitable by increasing energy output of marine engines.
5) FPC is a prominent iron picrate fuel additive company worldwide.
6) The world’s shipping fleet burns about 300 million tons of fuel oil each year.
7) FPC’s current fuel additive treatment levels, of 50 ppb Fe, optimize individual ship owner profitability.
8) The Redfield ratio describes marine life’s ratio of use of sea nutrients, and predicts which nutrient’s low levels will limit sea life growth. It addresses carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus. Sea life uses C:N:P in the ratio of 106:16:1. The original Redfield ratio has been extended to describe another limiting nutrient, namely iron, after the discovery of iron’s importance in limiting sea life. The extended Redfield ratio is still under exploration, and is estimated to be C:N:P:Fe = 106:16:1:~0.001.
9) If 300 millions tons of marine fuel oil were treated with 50 ppb iron, and a fifth of this iron fell on HNLC waters, catalyzing photo-productivity, (at an extended Redfield ratio of C:N:P:Fe = 106:16:1:0.001), this iron would induce 1.5 million tons of carbon removal from air via HNLC waters’ increased photosynthesis.
Perhaps marine fuel can be treated with higher levels of iron, to optimize, not ship owner profitability, but global carbon removal.
1) The upper acceptable limit on treated fuel’s iron content may be maintaining existing fuel ash levels in tests at about 0.01%, or 100 ppm,.
2) Increasing fuel iron content via treatment to 50 ppm, instead of 50 ppb, might increase carbon removal in HNLC waters 1,000-fold, while perhaps negligibly affecting fuel ash content.
3) Expanding fuel treatment at these higher levels to the entire worldwide shipping fleet’s fuel usage of ~300 million tons fuel oil per year might increase carbon dioxide removal in HNLC waters to 5,500 million tons; carbon removal there to 1,500 million tons, to ~4% of annual human carbon release, and to more than the current carbon release of the entire worldwide shipping fleet’s fuel usage.

1) Mapped here are shipping densities worldwide.

2) “HNLC conditions occur in remote, offshore areas of the
subarctic north Pacific, subtropical equatorial Pacific, and Southern Ocean...” EldridgeML 2004: 19
3) Much shipping crosses to and from Asia and North America via‘Great Circle’ routes, between Asian manufacturing and USA consumers. Perhaps this shipping traverses the subarctic North Pacific.
4) Perhaps FPC targeting those ships traversing subarctic North Pacific waters for fuel treatment at the higher 50 ppm level would restore much carbon fixation/reduction while using existing infrastructure in profitable ways.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Industrialism or survival?

      Trump is a train wreck, but Clinton, also too bound to Wall Street, can not stop industrialism from ruining our earth. Wall St. finances most industry, and industry now eliminates too much labor using technology and too much resources. This yields unnecessary unemployment and pollution, while depleting resources and destroying our climate, and thus our food system.

      Trump is a nightmare, but Clinton awakens us not from that horrible dream. Committed to industrial finance atop the world, she too would doom earth to this ongoing climate crisis; to unneeded unemployment, and thus undue poverty spreading widely; and to expanding wars for fleeting resources, wastefully propping tottering industrial titans up for moments more, before industry, thus expanded, takes more of humanity out by it’s inevitable collapse.

      We need Dr. Stein as U.S. President. Jill understands the interlocking nature of finance, industrialism and the degradation of earth’s human habitability. She is acutely aware of the opportunities awaiting us by turning from industrial suicide to sustainable survival.

      Why choose between different flavors of apocalypse? We can quickly convert industrialism into something lasting, helpful, and just. Vote Jill.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Did our Ancestors Stumble From Night Paddocks to Grain Agriculture?

Did our ancestors stumble upon grain agriculture through paddock grazing?

Many grain crop ancestors exhibit fur-zoospory. In other words, many wild relatives of grain crops are adapted to burlike dispersal, forming spiny seedheads that tangle in livestock, etc. fur so that the seed is carried enmeshed animal’s coats to distant grounds to grow.
Night paddocks can protect herded animals from non-human predators. Burlike fur-zoospore  seed might be inadvertantly sown into night paddocks rendered fertile by livestock manure built up over the night stays of the animals.
A livestock rotation among night paddocks could induce grazing down of competitors, fertilizing with manure and seeding with large-seeded grain relatives, all to yield grain-like harvest after a seasons’ growth. Rotation among paddocks could help interrupt livestock pest and disease cycles.
Perhaps early nomadic gatherer-pastoralists noticed better wild grain relative yields where night paddocks were the year before, then tried sowing paddocks after grazing.

One way to check whether this happened is to see whether it is happening among current mixed pastoralists-agriculturalists now.

Raising Grain.

    Grain farming provides us with calories, protein, and edible oils (from oil seed crops). But the current culture of annual spring grain crops, (and ‘biennial’ winter grain crops) uses lots of energy-intensive plowing and cultivating, leading to wind and water erosion of our practically irreplaceable topsoil.

    Enter the dream of perennial grains, that would yield year-after-year continuously, and catch the spring sunlight that annual grain plants are still too small and young to intercept. By catching more sunlight, perennial grains might both yield well and have energy reserves to fight off diseases and such, to survive and yield for many years. Perennial grains could also preserve soil from erosion, by leaving little ground exposed by tillage, compared to frequent tillage for annual grains, at least in theory.

    In practice, according to Rodale’s Peggy Wagoner, attempts at perennial grains have yielded either lots for a few years or little for many years. This may be because of the different life strategies of massively-seed-yielding annuals versus massively-pest-resistant perennials. To explain, perennials face a longer window of disease and pest susceptibility. Their perennial life strategy is a gamble that they can do better than annuals by setting seed years from now, instead of this year (or next). To hedge their bet, they invest energy resources in preparing to fight, and actually fighting off, diseases and pests. This leaves less energy to build big seed yield in early life.

    This contrasts with heavy-yielding spring and winter grains, which dodge much pest and disease susceptibility by going to seed quickly and completely. This uses up energy that might have otherwise been available for weathering the long multi-year windows of disease and pest susceptibility faced by perennials. Is there a reason that it has been so difficult to combine large yearly seed yields with long life? Perhaps there has been both evolution of traits valuable for either lifestyle, as well as evolution of assemblages of these traits.

    DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) encodes traits in specific locations within chromosome chains. Maybe traits useful for either one lifestyle or another; either annual or perennial, have evolved to be grouped into assemblages of traits nearby on the DNA chain. They might tend to have evolved to be in two groups, one for each lifestyle, because plants did well with either one assemblage, say annual, or the other, perennial, but plants with mixed traits did poorly, and left relatively less mixed-trait offspring. This can explain why it’s been so difficult to combine heavy, constant yields and long life in grains.

    Is the dream of having living roots continually holding soil while yielding grain year-after-year practically impossible? Is there any way to use what we have created; short-lived heavy-yielding grains and long-lived, light-yielding grains, to piece together some method that can sustain itself, while sustaining humanity?

    Masanobu Fukuoka sowed winter grain into ripening rice in autumn, then, a couple of weeks later, he harvested the rice, leaving the winter grain growing with a head-start on the weeds. Late next spring, he then sowed rice into the ripening winter grain before harvesting the winter grain, so the rice growing in the stubble also had a head-start on weeds. This model of staggering two short-lived grains growing together to continually hold the soil might guide us.

    A part of Fukuoka’s method may be hand-harvesting - heavy mechanical combines might crush the young sprouts beneath the ripe standing ready-to-harvest crop. Can we overlap a set of the short-lived high-yielding perennial grains that Wagoner documented, to have living roots continually holding soil, but by a changing assemblage of plants? This might yield mixed-type harvests.

    Can we sort, after harvest, different grains mixed within the same year’s harvest, or use them mixed together? We now sort weed seed from grain commercially, so separating differently sized grains seems do-able.

    If this works, we might succeed at getting harvests of grain while living roots continually hold grain field soil, yet without any one grain opening a long window of susceptibility to diseases and pests.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Splitting the Difference with Somewhat-Perennial Grains

Splitting the Difference with Somewhat-Perennial Grains

    The difference being split here is between grain crops that live less than a year and long-lived crop relatives that persist over a decade. It is the difference between traditional grain crops and the perennial relatives under development for ongoing grain yields every year. The word ‘perennial’ has two meaning that contrast here; it means ‘year-after-year on an ongoing basis’ as used generally, and means ‘surviving more than a couple of years’ in a botanical sense. I accentuate this distinction because of the importance of crop relatives that ‘split the difference’ - they persist more than a couple of years, yet die out over a decade or more. But first a review of other competitive approaches.
    Most grain crops are annual or biennial. There are annual spring barley, oats, wheat and rye, as well as winter rye, barley and wheat, that can be considered biennial, as they survive a winter. After these crops ripen and are harvested, the ground is traditionally plowed and another crop sown. This kills weeds, but allows erosion of soil, as before the newly sown crop grows roots, the soil is not held in place by any living roots.
    Why not just use long-lived perennial relatives of our crops instead, as The Land Institute strives to do? Wes Jackson’s institute has striven to produce perennial grains that would yield lots of useful grain year-after-year, without yearly plowing. They’ve been cross-breeding our annual grain crops with their wild, perennial relatives, striving to combine long life with heavy yield. They hope to develop crops which yield well every year, while the living roots permanently hold the soil from eroding. But it has been difficult. They have been breeding plants for decades. While the dream of everlasting yields from one planting has drawn interest perennially, the work has been hard.
    The problem may lie in strong genetic linkages between, first, traits that we hope to combine, and second, traits that we hope to omit. We want large yields and long life. But long life provides an extended window of disease and pest susceptibility. Long-lived plants survive these long susceptibility windows by guiding energy to defense, energy that could have gone to large yields, as in our short-lived crops. Since there’s a limited amount of sunlight energy caught by any plant, there must be a choice between defense and reproduction - and this choice has been faced by our crops and their wild relatives for eons; faced for so long that clusters of these traits may have evolved to be tightly bound together, so that a plant either prepares to withstand long windows of susceptibility, or commits itself to forming lots of offspring rapidly, but not both. Breaking these genetic linkages may be the difficult challenge of The Land Institute’s approach.
    Let’s look a bit afield, for inspiration:
    1. Some varieties of biennial winter grains will not go to seed until they’ve experienced a winter, even if first planted three seasons earlier, in spring. But most crops are annuals, and die after going to seed.
    2. There are crop wild relatives that are not quite as short-lived as annuals, yet are still pioneer species adapted to large seed yields and short life spans, unlike long-lived perennials. For example barley, Hordeum vulgare, is closely related to Hordeum bulbosum, a short-lived perennial with large yields of big, heavy seed, which crosses with barley. And rye, Secale cereale has a relative, Secale montanum, that also colonizes disturbed soils for a few years, via its large seed yield of heavy seed.
    3. Farmers sometimes ‘oversow’ seed for a following crop above the previous standing crop, before harvesting the standing crop. This leaves the ‘oversown’ crop with a head-start on any weeds that start to grow after the previous crop’s harvest, if everything works out.
    4. Shingles protect an entire roof, yet each shingle is shorter than the whole roof.
    In light of these four factoids, perhaps there’s another way that splits the difference between annuals and long-lived perennials. Perhaps we can conceed long life, because what we really want is living roots always holding the soil. Could we have a constantly-changing succession of plants growing roots that protect soil over the duration, like a roof, yet with each crop itself only surviving a short portion of that time, like a roof shingle? Perhaps we can have living roots constantly holding soil, yet have those roots grow, not from one long-lived crop, but from an overlapping series of short-lived crops, growing one after another. If these crops overlap their times in the field, one crop’s roots can grow in as a previous crop’s roots die, so that soil is always held by living roots. Thus, like shingles, each crop’s life is short, yet together their roots hold soil for the duration. This is a central concept to an alternate approach that might be called ‘somewhat-perennial grains.’
    As an aside, these two wild relatives, Hordeum bulbosum and Secale montanum, share an adaptation; a means of seed dispersal. They form seedheads which get stuck, via long spiny parts, to the fur of animals that travel and distribute that seed. Fur-zoochory or animal-fur-borne dispersal of seed, allows the seed to be heavy, compared to wind-dispersed seed, and still disperse. This seed density may have been very attractive to early humans, because they could easily winnow apart heavy seed from light chaff. Perhaps early animal herders protected their flocks in night paddocks, which got grazed down, manured and seeded to these wild crop relatives via fur-zoochory. Then perhaps Hordeum species grew and set much seed, and people harvested it, liked it, understood what happened, and learned to sow to repeat this feat. In any case, fur-zoochory in crop relatives may signal usefulness in somewhat-perennial grain cultures.
    ‘Grains’ here means seed crops, and includes peas, lentils, edible vetches and chickpeas and their wild relatives, as well as flax, sunflower and the like. And as folks at The Land Institute have so ably envisioned, polycultures of somewhat-perennial grains could include:
    1. summer-adapted grasses, like sorghum, maize and millet, and their wild relatives,
    2. cool-season-adapted grasses like barley, wheat, rye and oats, and their relatives,
    3. composites, like sunflower, and relatives, and
    4. legumes like peas, lentils, vetch and chickpeas, and their relatives. These could grow together, and their seed could perhaps be separated by shape, size and density, if harvested together, or could be used together.
    In sum, some short-lived wild grain relatives (with lifespans in the single digits) might help form a more sustainable agriculture that would use plowing only rarely. These grain relatives might be over-sown into ripening crops before the earlier crop's harvest, to allow the over-sown crop a head-start over weeds. Like shingles shielding a roof, these crops together might protect soil over an extended duration, while yielding year after year, yet without any one crop presenting a long window of vulnerability to pests and disease.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Garden plot after 2015/16 winter.

Overwintered yellow vetch, Vicia grandiflora cv. 'Woodford'.
Overwintered spinach, cv. 'Giant Winter' March 16th, 2016
Foreground: Yellow Vetch. Midground: Overwintered Chicory-Endive cross. Background: Spring Crocuses. Mar 16th, 2016

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Our Future After Progress

Mostly, we currently progress technically, which is dependent on industry. Industry itself depends on burning fuel carbon into air.
Because our agriculture depends on a steady climate, and increases in air's carbon alter our climate, our food system can not withstand much more carbon in our air.
So, to keep eating, we must stop burning. Hence our industrial progress must cease.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Why green jobs will abound in any green future.

Industrial humanity uses fuel and tech to eliminate labor. This approach cleverly suited a world empty of laborers and replete with fuel, mineral resources and air to pollute into. But in our current world, now emptying of fuel, mineral resources and air to carbonate, and full of workers willing to labor, we can all do better together by altering the tech we use to that which employs more of our plentiful labor and uses up less of the now-scarce fuel and resources, as well as less of the air we depended on for climatic stability. I tip my hat to Herman Daly and Hazel Henderson, from whom I learned this.

Some argue that the future holds less work and more leisure or unemployment, but this supposes industrialism somehow continues eliminating labor with resources and tech. While that has certainly predominated in the past, we know this can not continue, since resources are growing scarce. Air, into which to burn carbon, is the first limit, and our past stable climate is an early casualty of industrialism. Increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide can not continue. Either industrialism will end the agriculture industrialism relies on, by altering the climatic stability farmers need; or in a green future, fuel will be used less, and labor more. Any robotic replacement of human labor would rely on industrialism’s dependence on finite resources, hence must be fleeting. The sooner we acccept the essentiality of labor in our green future, the better.

Is USA a special case? Does USA's dependence on industrial agriculture now bode slack labor tomorrow? Or can we assure the now-jobless USers of green jobs?