Archive | Philosophy

The EcoWorld Philosophy

What is this EcoWorld thing all about, anyway? Earlier this year, EcoWorld’s posts suddenly attracted a commenter who must have pasted a few dozen comments onto various stories within a week or two. Some of these comments were duplicates of previous comments, or had duplicate passages, and while the general thrust of the comments were well worth posting, it was getting to be a lot of work to read and edit the flow. Most websites have automatic blocks for this sort of thing, but we like most of what we get, including most of this. These many comments – all written in all-caps by the admitted hunt and peck typist – were very insightful and they looped into religion and civilization issues – and the writer was trying to tackle it all. That is a tall order. But this commenter’s digressions into the other great issues of humanity was a reminder – there is a person behind every editor. What do we believe – what philosophy underlies the opinions and analysis we’ve provided on literally thousands of many pages for over 12 years? Who is the man behind this editor? And doesn’t any editor who is crass enough to post a million dollar billboard owe his readers a goofy glimpse? So here goes…

There is an ideological struggle for the soul of environmentalism that anti-environmentalists don’t care about, and environmentalists barely grasp. There are two ways to address environmental challenges and they should be complimentary approaches. One approach centers on reducing consumption, improving efficient use of energy and water, conserving open space. This approach dominates environmental thinking today. But the other approach is vital – and that approach centers on increasing the production of clean energy and water, and developing land to accomplish these goals. We call these two complementary approaches demand side vs. supply side environmentalism. Without a balance between these approaches, solving environmental challenges (without incurring devastating economic hardship) is doomed to failure.

Global warming is not the principle cause of drought, for example, nor of extreme weather. Both of those problems on a global scale can be addressed by reforestation, especially in the tropics. Reforestation, reversing desertification, and refilling aquifers all over the world – actions that will mitigate global warming but are also extremely important to accomplish even if there was no global warming alarm – will require more energy production, to desalinate seawater and to operate pumps to relocate fresh water. As we document in “Revisiting Desalinization,” for $5.0 billion dollars (which includes a budget for mitigation and disposal of the brine) a desalinization plant can provide water for 5.0 million residential users, and would only require about 250 megawatt-years of electricity per year. This is an astonishingly low amount to those of us who bought into the conventional wisdom that desalinization requires too much energy – one good 1.0 gigawatt nuclear power plant can desalinate 4 cubic kilometers of water per year, enough to supply 20 million residential water users.

Using desalinated seawater to replenish aquifers and supply water to cities requires a lot of scratches in the ground – something the demand side environmentalists decry. But they are wrong. And speaking of scratches in the ground, why aren’t we building canals to redirect excess fresh water from the Volga to the Aral Basin, or from the Congo to the Lake Chad Basin? Compared to the costs to mitigate industrial CO2, redirecting huge volumes of water to restore the lakes and aquifers in Central Asia and in Africa’s Sahel is easily done – but it requires some big scratches in the ground.

The point here is sometimes we have to protect the environment from the environmentalists. The demand side environmentalists often seem to want no development, anywhere, yet in many critical areas development – more energy, more water – is what we need not only to service the world’s growing population but also to preserve and restore the environment. We should take all that CO2 tax revenue – and brace yourself, it’s coming – and use it to fund massive development projects to repower and rewater the planet, restoring rains, cooling the land, reforesting, moderating the weather and eliminating severe droughts. That would be a better use of funds.

So there is an attempt to summarize EcoWorld’s editorial philosophy – for the cautious reader’s examination – since the mission is more important than the money.

Posted in Consumption, Drought, Electricity, Other, Philosophy, Policy, Law, & Government, Religion0 Comments

Biodynamic Agriculture

Ceago Del Lago
Ceago Del Lago on the spring equinox, 2006
with Mount Konocti in the distance

Jim Fetzer owns a winery called Ceago del Lago in a fine place in California where the hills meet the northern shore of a lake. In the winter the sun shines directly onto the slopes beyond the water and bathes the land in light, allowing a sheltered microclimate where grapes grow warmer. Vineyards march up the low hillsides, and on the shore, a mission-nouveau chateau rises in the misty flats just off the lake.

In this pristine spot, where the air is cleaner than anywhere else in the USA, this winery and vineyards have arisen that emulate the vision of the pioneer of organic farming, Rudolf Steiner. His principles of biodynamic farming, recorded in 1924, were the first formal compilation of organic farming techniques, and in many respects remain the epitome of organic farming theory and practice. In northern California several notable wineries have adopted biodynamic practices, and the wines they make are as good as any.

Biodynamic farming claims to be the original and purest form of organic agriculture. Often misunderstood because biodynamic theories include aspects of mysticism, the practical concepts of biodynamics are the key to restoring the earth, reinvigorating lands; when chemicals and corporations fail, biodynamics can bring back what has been lost in our mechanized world. Ceago’s winery and vinegarden apply the best of biodyamics; scrupulous adherance to the practice of biodynamic agriculture, with a respectful acknowledgement of the vast gray area where realities of the seasons finally may give way to superstition.

Jim Fetzer
Jim Fetzer
Founder of Ceago Del Lago

“It makes sense to work with the rhythms of nature instead of fight them.”

So says Jim Fetzer, owner and founder of Ceago. Fetzer, along with three of his grown children, Katrina, Barney, and Andraya, founded Ceago in 2000, and what they’re doing is a textbook example of biodynamic farming techniques.

There are significant distinctions between organic farming and biodynamic farming. As organic farming techniques have become increasingly mainstream, they have also embraced compromises that have invited criticism from the early adopters. Organic pesticides, for example, are concentrated natural substances which can be just as toxic and as persistant as synthetic pesticides.

“Organic farming has done a good job selecting treatments that won’t hurt people, but applied to insects they can be just as deadly to the good insects and micro-organisms as chemicals,” said Ceago’s vintner and winemaker, Javier Tapia.

Biodynamics is a word built on two words derived originally from ancient Greek; bio, meaning life, and dyn, meaning force. Biodynamics rests on the premise that any farm is still a natural ecosystem to be nurtured, that soil and cash crop health is dependent on retaining a natural balance where the health and vitality of the other plants, animals, insects, micro-organisms and soil are all integral to productive and sustainable farming.

Ceago Vinegarden Logo
The Ceago Fetzers

Embracing biodynamic practices was a natural extension of a commitment to organic winemaking that has a long history in the Fetzer family. The patriarch of the family, Bernard Fetzer, started up a winery in the Ukiah area back in the 1960′s, and was among the first to go totally organic. When he passed away in 1981, his wife and their eleven children kept alive the family tradition, until the popular Fetzer brand was sold by the family in 1992. For eight years, under the terms of the sale, the Fetzer family had agreed to stay out of the winemaking business. But during this time they continued to grow grapes, extending and intensifying their understanding of biodynamic techniques, and when their non-compete agreement expired, several of the Fetzer children, Jim Fetzer among them, jumped back into winemaking.

Semi-Wild Cover Crops
Semi-wild cover crops shelter the awakening vines
on a warm weekend of early spring

As soon as you approach the the 270 acre Ceago del Lago estate, you know you aren’t visiting just another winery. The Fetzers, who have a reputation for going first class, aren’t holding back. The mission-style winery, nestled on the shoreline, might just be one of the most beautiful new structures you’ve ever seen. To one side are the shimmering waters of Clear Lake, which at 67 square miles of surface and over 100 miles of shoreline is the largest freshwater lake in California. To the other side of the winery vineyards stretch across the flats, backdropped by rolling hills of grass and oak. It is a magical place.

The winery buildings may look like they are made of mission adobe, or Florentine stone, but in reality are constructed of huge blocks made out of a mixture of recycled styrofoam and concrete. These blocks, which are over a foot thick, are hollow in the middle, so when they’re stacked, their hollow core can be filled with steel rebar and cement, creating an extremely strong structural wall. With the outside covered with stucco, these walls are not only structurally strong, but they provide great insulation. These thick walled structures also contribute, of course, to Ceago’s architectural charm. They are manufactured by a Texas based company called Perform Wall, and they are truly building blocks for the green age.

The practice of biodynamic farming rests on six interrelated principals:

Plant Diversity: The farm is an ecosystem, and to be healthy, the farm must embrace, utilize and emulate nature. The land on the farm needs to include habitat corridors and fallow areas. Some plants restore essential nutrients that other plants deplete, and visa versa. With biodynamics, encouraging this synergistic diversity is extended to micro-organisms through composting and use of homeopathic sprays that nurture beneficial micro-organisms.

Crop Rotation: Biodynamics depends on soil enrichment through regular crop rotations. Different food crops, cover crops, as well as leaving land fallow or wild all helps to maintain healthy soils. Crop rotation with biodynamics encourages beneficial insects, reduces compaction, and recycles nutrients.

Attra Logo
National Sustainable
Agriculture Information

Composting: This is perhaps the heart of a biodynamic farm, with a focus on soil quality, promoting growth, utilizing natural enrichments. Steiner’s biodynamic vision relied on six key preparations, most of which are buried in the fall then unearthed and spread in the spring – all of this during precise periods in the solar year. Some stay buried a full year. These include chamomile flowers packed into a bovine intestine, oak bark buried inside the skull of a domestic animal, dandelion flowers stuffed into a bovine peritoneum (abdominal cavity), yarrow flowers filling a stag’s bladder, as well as burying whole plants of stinging nettle and valerian flower extract. Each of these are treated in very specific manners in order through their decomposition to greatly enrich and revitalize compost and planting areas.

Homeopathic solutions: Homeopathy is the practice of using minute quantities of material to have a large effect on a large environment. Steiner specified two key homeopathic preparations, one to catalyse formation of life, and one to optimize distribution of light. Each of them are first prepared by burying the material in a cow’s horn through the winter. His life formula uses manure containing billions of diverse microbial organisms, which multiply in the fertile fields if mixed with water and sprayed during certain climatic conditions. This formula, so potent a few ounces can easily cover an acre or more, helps create life in the soil, it promotes root activity, stimulates soil micro-life and increases growth of beneficial bacteria. Steiner’s light formula, minutely ground quartz crystals, is mixed in minute quantities with water and sprayed onto the plants where millions of tiny prisms then capture and distribute more light, enhancing photosynthesis, bringing more light to the vines or other plants.

Weed Eating Compost Spreaders -
Certain times of year, Ceago’s sheep range free among the vines

Animal life: All native animal life as well as a spectrum of domestic farm animals should be encouraged and managed in an optimal way on every farm. Animals who live on the farm help control weeds and insects, and contribute manure. Wild animals are not discouraged, only managed. Ways Ceago’s keepers nurture animal life is by grazing sheep to eat the weeds (they don’t bother the grapes) at the same time as their manure enriches the soil. Similarly, chickens are released within a mobile chicken coop to eat insects and produce compost.

Life forces: Biodynamics embraces the totality of the influence of the cosmos, not stopping at close attention to the cycles of the sun and moon, which obviously do influence the seasons, but also the planets and stars. Whether or not these finer points are valid is somewhat irrelevant, they provide guidelines that schematicize the myriad of necessary cycles; racking wine, pruning trees, the harvest, the crush. Who is to say where to draw the line between recognizing the influence of the phases of the moon on plants – which is generally accepted – and the influence of the planets, which obviously have a much more subtle role? Steiner certainly didn’t shy away from acknowledging cosmic forces, for better or for worse.

Rudolph Steiner, the founder of biodynamics, was a scientist and mystic whose protean output of writings influenced disciplines ranging from education to theology and philosophy.

It was relatively late in his life, in 1924, that he gave farmers, researchers and landowners who became the founders of biodynamic agriculture two weeks of instruction in his theories in Koberwitz, Silesia, in a part of Germany that is now southwestern Poland. Into seven scintillating lectures he attempted to synthesize everything he’d learned about biodynamic agriculture, incorporating not only scientific principals of agriculture that were being established in that day, but also traditional farming techniques which were being lost in the onrush of modernity. His lectures, which have been compiled in his classic book, Agriculture, aspired to combine the best of these traditions, while comingling somewhat more controversial theories about the influence of astrological forces.

Ceago Kids
Ceago Fetzers
Andraya, Katrina, and Barney

When I asked the Fetzers about the mystical elements of Steiner’s philosophy, they didn’t cringe. “We can’t take everything Steiner said at face value, we have to rely on what works and we have to update his teachings for what we learn,” said Barney Fetzer, who clearly has studied the Steiner writings in great detail. Much of the concepts Steiner writes about that appear at first glance to be somewhat far fetched are in fact well recognized practices around the world, especially in areas where knowledge of traditional agricultural techniques are still strong.

As Katrina Fetzer pointed out, planting on the full moon, when there is less gravity, or pruning on the new moon, when there is more gravity, are time-honored practices that have been validated by empirical observation. Whether or not this means that the timing of other agricultural techniques should take into account the positions of the planets is more debatable, of course, but throughout Steiner’s book
“Agriculture” he reiterates his belief that farmers must see for themselves. Everywhere in Steiner’s writings he urges the readers to verify all of his ideas with scientific experimentation.

If the mystical aspects of the theory and practice of biodynamic agriculture animate its critics, these critics might do well to also reflect on what has happened to organic agriculture as it has gone mainstream. In the May 15th, 2006 issue of the New Yorker, in an article entitled “Paradise Sold,” the author Steven Shapin examines what he calls “Big Organic” agriculture. In this wholly commercialized realm, for example, USDA certified “free range” chickens are grown in a factory warehouse with 20,000 genetically identical birds. Only two small doors open up onto a small outdoor area, and they are only opened up after the birds are six weeks old. Are these birds better than the antibiotic-saturated non-organic chickens? They probably are, but how they are raised is grossly removed from the ideals of organic farming. Big Organic agriculture has been completely coopted by industrial farming techniques, and needs to have its drawbacks recognized equally with its undeniable accomplishments.

Demeter United States Branch Logo
Demeter USA
The prevailing Biodynamic certification
organization in the United States

If anything might give one pause about biodynamic agriculture, and, for that matter, organic agriculture performed as it was originally intended, it is the high level of knowledge required for its successful practice. It is theoretically possible to eke equal measures of calories from the land using sustainable agricultural practices compared to chemical dependent practices. But the number of people involved in farming worldwide, and the level of expertise they would have to possess, would have to increase by orders of magnitude. Is it likely that we will repopulate the great plains of North America with small biodynamic – or organic – intensively cultivated farms? Because if we did, then American crops might still feed the urban centers of the world, but how likely is that? It is a beautiful dream, but in reality biodynamic or pure organic agriculture will probably remain a practice that takes root slowly, establishing niches of enlightened practitioners all over the world. The best we may hope for at the level of agricultural commodities may be Big Organic, somewhat reformed, more thoughtfully monitored, incrementally improved, but never completely true to its ideals.

Biodynamic agriculture is a science and belief system that transcends Steiner, or anyone’s individual theories and teachings. It was articulated first by him, partly in reaction to the onslaught of industrialized agriculture that began a century ago. Mechanization, chemical treatments, and increasing standardization of agriculture prompted Steiner’s attempt to preserve millenia of accumulated wisdom and superstitions which in their application had practical value – and were being washed away in a single generation.

To see the farm as a healthy ecosystem, to emphasize the health and interdependence not just of the crops, but all the plants, along with the farm animals and wildlife, and the soil and micro-organisms – to recognize the uniqueness of each terrain and live sustainably within the seasons – this at the core is highly advanced organic agriculture, true to its highest ideals. That is what Steiner, who in his heart and throughout his intellectual output was a scientist first, meant to be the overriding meaning of biodynamic agriculture. Biodynamics is a science that is meant to evolve, shedding the superfluous, yet recognizing the seasons, the stars, the individuality of each farm, each farmer, each climate and micro-climate, indeed every distinct culture and tradition where it may find its expression.

Refining & spreading biodynamic theories
Will Ceago be Koberwitz for the 21st Century?

The Fetzers have plans to expand their Ceago winery buildings to accomodate gatherings perhaps not unlike the one where Steiner gave his lectures back in 1924. A place where anyone can come to learn alternatives to industrial agriculture, and learn about ways to restore lands that have been overused. Imagination alone can visualize exactly what it may have been like in 1924, on a great estate in a tranquil corner of Germany, in the middle of a restless continent, during brief decades of respite from the horrors of total war.

Looking back in time to Koberwitz just eighty years ago, no doubt the hills of Silesia were all the more beautiful because it was during too few years of fitful peace during that second week in June when biodynamics first took root, as the summer solstice approached, and Steiner passed his inspiration on to posterity.

If any place might do such a historical moment justice, and serve as a venue to help carry the principles of biodynamics into the 21st century, it is Jim Fetzer’s spectacular winery “Ceago del Lago” ( in California’s verdant Lake County, nestling on Clear Lake’s tranquil and bucolic northern shores where land meets water. Who is to say what great new ripples will emanate from these biodynamic pioneers in the heart of California?

Biodynamic Associations and Reference Sources:

Demeter USA

ATTRA – National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (logo image)


Objectives in Biodynamic and Conventional Farming

- table showing contrasts


Yield and Quality Under the Influence of Polar Opposite Growth Factors

- table showing earth vs. cosmic

The Biodynamic Agricultural Association – U.K.

Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association (BDA) – USA

Biodynamic Agriculture Australia

The Anthroposophic Press – USA

Biodynamic Growing – Australia

Private Institutions offering long-term courses in biodynamic agriculture and anthroposophy in Europe:

Emerson College, United Kingdom

Skillebyholm, Sweden

Landbauschule Dottenfelderhof, Germany

Warmonderhof, Netherlands

Formation en Agriculture Bio-Dynamique, France

Institute for Biodynamic Research – Germany

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Posted in Animals, Birds, Buildings, Chemicals, Composting, Education, Ideas, Humanities, & Education, Nature & Ecosystems, Other, People, Philosophy, Solar0 Comments

Growing & Refining Biofuel

Stream in African Farmland
Access to year-round water can greatly
increase yields of biodiesel feedstock

Editor’s Note: Growing biofuel, whether it’s biodiesel or bioethanol, whether it’s jatropha or sugar cane, is not easy. Like many emerging clean technologies, biofuel production is a challenging, knowledge-intensive enterprise in an emerging industry. There are no guarantees of success.

This article by biodiesel entrepreneur Louis Strydom, who is endeavoring to establish a biodiesel plantation and refinery on a massive scale in Kenya, serves as a sobering reminder of how many factors have to be aligned before biodiesel fuel moves from dream to reality. Ultimately, biodiesel plantations have to be profitable, and the requirements for success are myriad.

It’s important to distinguish between large-scale commercial biofuel growing and refining, versus biofuel as a supplemental crop, pursued profitably on a small scale by farmers around the world, who see this crop as a means for themselves and others in their locale to become energy independent. Subsistence biofuel growing and refining is a viable economic model – and a very interesting one – but very different from the one examined here.

For biodiesel to become a measurable supplement to petrodiesel on the world markets, then sceptical analysis of its financial and operational viability will have to be performed on every large-scale undertaking – and from that perspective, this article is required reading.

Ed “Redwood” Ring

My experience on projects concerning biodiesel perennial crops and subsequent refineries began a few years ago when I was approached to raise funds for a biodiesel project.

It turned out that particular project was poorly planned and it was therefore not viable for me to proceed on it. In 2005 a client of mine was investigating the initial viability of promoting a Biodiesel project in Kenya, East Africa. The initial advisors he had never focused on the fundamentals of the project and thus it never got off the ground. I was then approached to develop this project into a bankable undertaking. This has required much research and in the process we have been in discussions with a variety of parties and consultants (including from India, Australia, Africa, Europe, UK and the USA) on this and other biodiesel projects. What has become clear over this period was that:

Green Rolling Hillside
Abundant land and willing investors are only part of the
successful equation to create a viable biodiesel enterprise

Not all entities have considered their undertakings in detail, although most portray themselves as experts, which has resulted in some cases in a serious lack of sound business approaches to make their existing or intended projects viable;

Some of these parties have actually managed to raise millions of dollars on their projects without having a sound business plan and viable business structure to make their projects successful, and yet investors seemed willing to provide funds to these undertakings.

This article looks at a specific segment of the biodiesel market and based on our experiences investigates some of the basic requirements to promote a successful project within this market segment. The article does however not cover issues pertaining to crops and other input alternatives (such as recycled oils) in first world countries, which have significantly different market dynamics.

For the purposes of this article the market segment in question is the development of a biodiesel project that covers both the agricultural input for biodiesel production (crops) as well as the refining thereof.

General Criteria for a Viable Biofuel Operation:

Not Dependent on Subsidies: The project should be sufficiently viable not to require any kind of subsidies, thus not requiring government support to keep the projects afloat. All subsidies come from the consumer at the end of the day and thus the more viable the project can be without subsidies the more the benefit to governments and their citizens. There is however one caveat, “Carbon Credits” as provided under the Kyoto protocol can initially enhance the viability and provide a sufficient return on investment on the project so as to attract investors.

Vertical Integration of Farms and Refinery: The project must have primary control over the crop feedstock. This results in a more controllable cost scenario for the feedstock and thus the project can be competitive against petro diesel at lower petro diesel prices.

Location in Developing Nation: The reason for this is that land and labor are significantly cheaper which reduces both capital and working costs.

Map of Greenery in Africa
More than 50% of the vast continent
of Africa may support biofuel crops
But success depends on many factors

Large Scale: The project must be done on an economy of scale in order to attract appropriate investors. Given the scale of the project and the commercial objectives, mechanization of the project is required as far as cost-benefit analysis allows. Out-grower schemes can however be added as a secondary production feedstock and to enhance corporate responsibility and job creation. Further, even with mechanization, a significant number of employment opportunities will be created.

Perennial Crop: The project must have a perennial crop. This increases the initial input cost, but thereafter the annual costs significantly decrease as the crop does not have to be replanted annually and therefore only maintenance costs are incurred.

Local Market for Biofuel Sales: The primary output – Biodiesel – must be sold in the country it is produced. The reason for this is because the project business model is based on becoming a low-cost leader, thus the main objective is to keep operational costs as low as possible. This is done to enhance the shareholders return and also aims to deliver a substitute to petro diesel that can be competitive at the same prices as petro diesel world market prices. Given the typical location of such projects in rural areas, logistics are often difficult in terms of land and sea transport to get the product to an alternative end market.

In order to cover some of the basic requirements necessary for the evaluation of a biodiesel project within this framework, let us consider the particular project we are working on in Kenya. Although this project is still in the due diligence phase, we believe that some of our experiences may be of benefit to promoters of similar project, financiers and investors.

Our project is located along a perennial river on land currently not being used for commercial purposes. The project size is 150,000 acres (~60,000 hectares), with land being leased from a state owned enterprise. The crop we have selected is Jatropha Curcas and the refinery will be onsite. It is interesting to note that there are quite a few international companies that intend to use this crop as their main feedstock. It is particularly in this regard that we have encountered some companies that do not fully consider all the requirements to make a project work using this feedstock.

Our approach has been that a viable biodiesel operation will require a number of areas of expertise, and we have sought to secure the partnership and or services of some of the leading international experts in each particular field of specialization with appropriate management structures to support the successful development of the project. Apparently, there are companies that do not consider it pertinent to follow such a “best-of-breed” philosophy to provide a suitable turnkey solution to their projects.

It should be further noted that although Jatropha Curcas is a crop touted by many parties as the solution to biodiesel feedstock, there is not a significant amount of reliable scientific data on the crop in terms of commercial application.

Most of the current reliable data covers the use of the crop on marginal land and preliminary research into long term commercial viability. A lot of research is of course being done in terms of commercial use but from a scientific perspective we have not yet encountered proven data for commercial application on issues such as crop yields, optimal phenotype selection, etc. This of course does not mean that Jatropha Curcas is not a viable crop, it does however mean that one should be diligent when evaluating the crop’s potential in a specific area for commercial cultivation. It also means that although it is very reasonable to expect significant crop yields from Jatropha Curcas per hectare, it is imperative to ensure that the botanical and agricultural assumptions surrounding the projected crop yield are sound.

Commercial Viability of a Jatropha Plantation

Detailed Checklist:

Farmland Aerial View
Potential biodiesel plantations can’t just look good
from the air – they also have to be close to markets

Site Accessibility: In terms of being readily accessible for all input and logistics factors required for production as well as getting the end products to market at the lowest cost. We have encountered a number of projects where the promoters focus on the land that is available and yet do not consider the cost of accessing the site as well as getting the end products to market. If the logistic costs are not minimized over the long term then there is a material risk that the biodiesel output will not be competitive against petro diesel. We have found some projects which seek to produce and market the biodiesel in the production country as well as certain refineries who seek to purchase either crude Jatropha Curcas oil or refined oil to sometimes not analyze the issue of logistics to market sufficiently. Particularly, from the perspective that in-country the transport costs to a credible market can affect the return on investment and that for export the logistics of transporting the product from site to harbor and then off-shore can adversely affect a project.

Multiple Harvests per Year: In terms of producing high crop yields per hectare, and besides the soil requirements, it is necessary to get three harvests per year. This allows for a reasonable estimate – subject to soil quality, nutrient and fertilizer application, water application and macro and micro-environmental variables – of 10 tons per hectare. In order to achieve this a relatively low rainfall area is required (~500 mm) with a limited and relatively short rainy season, which allows for irrigation as the main source of nutrient and water provision and thus sufficient crop control to enable three controlled harvests per year. We have found hugely varying estimates of crop yield, and often with very little scientific basis therefore.

Phenotype Selection: Although there is relatively limited supply of scientific data in this field for Jatropha Curcas, it is still crucial to select the best available phenotype given the data available. Furthermore, research and development facilities for the project is critical to ensure the best possible phenotype can be developed. Jatropha Curcas provides a major advantage in that it can be grafted and thus as optimal phenotypes are developed these can be brought into production in a relative short space of time.

Land Preparation, Nursery and Planting: On smaller scale projects this of course does not have such a major impact but on large scale plantations this area plays a significant role. The main driver being that the quicker the crop can be planted and growing the quicker a return can be realized to the investors. A detailed cost-benefit analysis therefore needs to be done with the main focus being on cultivating and planting the seedlings in as short as possible time. Mechanization of the process as far as possible greatly enhances the success of this component. During the analysis we found some companies do not consider this factor adequately. Furthermore, there appears to only be a limited amount of companies/projects that include detailed forestry assessment of the soil preparation (including ripping to ensure better root establishment) and fire risk management.

Dry Land in Kenya
The dry season in Kenya, near the site of the
author’s proposed biodiesel plantation and refinery

Irrigation: In our analysis we found that drip irrigation is the most optimal solution. Without controlled water application some of the projections on crop yield published in the media should be considered very critically as it is uncertain if there is proven a scientific basis for these projections. Drip irrigation does significantly increase project capital costs initially, but it addressed a number of areas required for a successful feedstock production. Scientific application of drip irrigation allows for short harvest production periods. This is very pertinent to the harvesting process which is discussed later on, without a controlled harvesting period where the seeds ripen in a short time the cost of harvesting and mechanization of this process is adversely affected.

Climate: Given a relatively low rainfall with a short rainy season it enables the harvests to be controlled, allowing for 3 harvests per year. If the water application for the crops is not controlled, it is not possible to control the harvest production pattern and thus the crop yield will be materially affected.

Application of Nutrients and Insecticides: Some nutrients and insecticides can be applied through the drip irrigation system thus reducing amount of labor required and the logistics surrounding the management of labor to apply these manually.

Plantation Management: It is important to appreciate that on a large scale Jatropha Curcas a plantation is effectively created. It is therefore necessary to bring to the project plantation management expertise. We have to date found only few projects that have considered this issue, or have credible expertise in-house in this area.

Harvesting: This is a critical element to the project. First, if an effective harvesting process is not in place the quality of the crop will deteriorate. Jatropha Curcas seeds build up Free Fatty Acids (FFA) once they have ripened and lie on the ground. Fortunately refining technology has improved to handle high amounts of FFA but nevertheless the better the quality of the harvested crop the better and more efficient the refining process. Second, if grown on a commercial scale the labor requirements without mechanized harvesting can be very large and the time to complete the harvesting process ineffective. It is therefore necessary to mechanize the process as far as possible – subject of course to cost-benefit analysis. We have found projects to cover this component insufficiently to the extent that we have seen some very large plantations underway without due consideration of the harvesting factor. Our approach has been to look to expertise in other harvesting industries where expertise is available that can deal with the mechanized harvesting of the Jatropha Curcas crop.

Jatropha Seedlings
Jatropha seedlings ready to plant

Processing of Crop/Refining: There are a number of excellent companies who have developed suitable processes to deal with the turn-key refining process of Jatropha Curcas seeds. Two excellent companies who can supply equipment for large-scale refining are Lurgi AG and Energia. From the Jatropha Curcas perspective however two areas that do require a specific focus are fertilizer and biogas. On fertilizer it is necessary to do a detailed cost-benefit analysis to determine if the conversion of the expelled residue from the refining process can be viably sold as fertilizer. Of particular note is considering the transportation costs of the fertilizer and the determination of a suitable market given these costs. This is of particular importance given that the specific fertilizer requirements, in terms of composition and volume, of the country in which the crop is produced may not suit the type of fertilizer being produced and export and transport costs of the fertilizer do not make sales to off-shore markets viable. In our case we found it more productive to focus efforts on the development of biogas processing capabilities to generate electricity from the expelled Jatropha Curcas residue. There does not however appear to be an established industry norm and these factors are project specific.

Carbon Credits: There are a number of consultancies who will advise and structure application for all carbon credit application covering Carbon Emission reductions, Clean Device Mechanisms, Carbon Sinks, etc. Areas for consideration regarding Jatropha Curcas with our project context include that in some cases there are not established protocols for the applications under the Kyoto protocol such as Carbon Sink applications. It is therefore better to separate the various areas where application can be made for Carbon Credits into separate submissions thus increasing the overall possibility of some of the applications being successful and not possibly being held up by an overall approval under one submission. Further, at this stage it is uncertain for how long the Carbon Credit markets will continue to be in existence and in what form and to this extent caution should be applied to the extent to which these potential cash flows are included in the financial projections.

Strategy Implementation & Monitoring: Various expert companies are required to bring sufficient expertise to the project as described in this article to ensure reaching commercial viability. Most of these companies will at least be required to enter into technical support agreements if not into turn-key management contracts for certain components. This will inadvertently result in varying labor and management practices for certain components of the project. It is therefore necessary to ensure that sufficient overall strategy implementation and monitoring expertise is available in-house, or brought in externally. From my interaction with a number of companies seeking to participate in this particular market sector it seems that a number of future projects seem to neglect this component. A number of future projects and established companies involved in similar projects appear not to have applied the process at all. This typically results in declining investor confidence and lower return for investors due to either the changing of objectives due to an inappropriate initial business model or to due to poor communication and remedial action resultant from non or poor achievement of initial strategic objectives.

This article is not intended to cover all issues relating to a Jatropha Curcas or similar crop plantation and refinery project. It does however seek to share some of the experiences we have encountered on our project and some of the weaknesses we have detected in other similar projects. To this extent, the article seeks to provide a basic checklist of some of the key areas to address when considering such a project either from a development or a financial perspective.

Louis Strydom Portrait

About the Author: Louis Strydom is an expert in new venture creation and project finance with wide experience on projects in the developing world. One of Louis’ main projects for the last year has been conducting a pre-feasibility study and promotion of a 230,000 acre site for a Jatropha plantation and biodiesel refinery in Kenya. Previously he was Senior Vice President of Project Finance at Decillion – a company listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. Other positions included Senior Economist managing the Credit Policy and Risk Management division of the Export Credit Insurance Corporation of South Africa. Prior to that he was a Director with Triumvirate responsible for Marketing and Consulting on Crisis Management. Louis also has extensive experience in short term insurance with American Insurance Group on fire/casualty risks, niche products and political risks in Africa, Europe, the Middle East, UK and USA.

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The Radical Center

American Ranch
Ranchers & environmentalists work together
to restore rangeland & save a way of life

Editor’s Note: The New Ranch can be anywhere. The radical center can be anywhere.

Where is the radical center in this debate over how we live, build, and interact? Where is the recognition that to stay off the extremes takes extreme courage? Where are those who stand up with reasoned voices, yet have the passion and vision to attract the uncommitted, and soften the edges of the zealous ones?

Over-sustainable range management and over-sustainable forest management cause eventual larger harvests because overall forest or forage mass is greater. Over-sustainable means storage of the renewable resource is increased. More rangeland. Healthier rangeland.

Over-sustainable resource management, whether in the form of livestock, farming, forestry, energy or cash, increases the asset base, thus allowing a higher sustainable discharge, in the form of animal calories of livestock or any other growth of assets. More renewable stock equals more renewable output. So continuously underdrawing on renewable output not only increases the storage of forage or forest, it also means ongoing increasing forest output.

The new ranch manager is an environmentalist and a rancher – or farmer or forester – who both have been fighting an uphill battle to save the land, often because they were wasting time arguing instead of working together to steward the land.

The Quivira Coalition has brought together ranchers and ecologists in the southwest USA. There are coalitions everywhere, open forums and concerted efforts, mobilizing the political middle where common grounds meet and conflicted ideological fanaticism is simply irrelevant. Properly managed, running range cattle can actually improve ecosystem quality. Sustainability is perpetual profit and perpetual preservation combined, and Quivira is one of the pioneers who show the way. – Ed “Redwood” Ring

Quivira is a Spanish word that is not easy to translate:,

“an elusive golden dream… fabulous realm just beyond the horizon… unknown territory beyond the frontier.”

The Quivira Coalition, based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, began as an alliance between two environmentalists and a rancher; in the last eight years, it has snowballed into an environmental force to be reckoned with, and is as difficult to squeeze into easy definitions and categories as its name.

The basic philosophy of the group is that the best thing for environmentalists, ranchers, and the environment itself is to stop fighting long enough to see the ranching issue in a new way. Hard-core environmentalists want to stop ranching altogether; hard-core ranchers want to keep on ranching the way their forefathers have done it for a century. This we know destroys the ecosystem, and eventually their own profits; but putting ranchers out of business often results in the land being resold to developers and turned into condominiums, parking lots or shopping malls, which is the last thing either side wants.

The Quivira Coalition Logo
The Quivira Coalition

Quivira’s task is to try to get both parties to see what they have in common, and work together. Observation and an ever-deepening understanding of grazeland ecosystems can and has led to new ranching methods that are less and less harmful, and that even help heal the environment from the ranching wounds of the past. In their own words, “It is a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing ranchers, environmentalists, public land managers, and other members of the public together and demonstrating to them that ecologically healthy rangeland and economically robust ranches can be compatible.”

Our mission is to define the core issues of the grazing conflict and to articulate a new position based on common interests and common sense. We call this position the New Ranch.

Jim Winder, who owns the Beck Land and Cattle Company, is one of the co-founders. He points out the radical reality that we humans have doubled since 1950 and will reach the mark again near 2050. The question is how to keep our lands healthy enough to provide that food to enormous number of fellow humans we will have by this time.

Enlightened mystic Osho said, “if you are violent and your food is vegetarian, then your violence will have to find some other way of expression. It is natural, because eating non-vegetarian food gives release to your violence.” Humanity has now plenty of violence seeking release– as well as the habit and fondness for the taste of meat.

The land needed to produce a one-year food supply for a person who has to support a meat-eating habit is 3.25 acres. For a pure vegetarian, 1/6 acre. Not to mention the fact that producing one pound of meat requires about 2,500 gallons of water, which is 12 times more than the requirements of a pure vegetarian.

Lester Brown of the Overseas Development Council has estimated that if Americans would reduce their consumption of meat by only 10%, the amount of grain wasted on animal feed that could be diverted for direct human consumption would be sufficient to adequately feed every one of the 60 million people who die from hunger each year.

To consume more primary foods and less secondary foods, i.e., more vegetation than animals, is healthier for our bodies as well as our planet; but this is another issue, and as long as there are customers for meat, ranching will be of concern to the environment.

Courtney White
Courtney White – CoFounder & Exec.
Director of The Quivira Coalition

Courtney White is the executive director and one of the co-founders of the Quivira Coalition. A realization at age 16 changed his life, and in turn, his influence and that of the Coalition has changed many lives now. In his words, after taking a backpacking tour of Yellowstone and other National Parks with his math teacher and some chums, “it was not just environment that turned my head, but the whole idea of the American West — its beauty, space, people, and diversity. I more or less decided right then and there to devote my life to exploring the region, understanding it, and assisting it in some way.”

When the Quivira Coalition was formed in 1997, the environment in New Mexico was in desperate need of assistance. 400 years of ranching with the techniques acquired from more temperate regions had led this semi-arid region to a state of disappearing grasslands with excessive trees and shrubs. Recurrent drought and the rancher’s suppression of natural fires further disturbed the ecosystem. As soon as cattle crowded into the remaining meadows, savannas and riparian areas, the problem rose to its peak.

The quick and impulsive response to the situation by Federal land managers was to cut down the number of cattle, at a time when beef prices were low enough to lead many ranches out of business.

Further, the pressure of environmental groups and the public pushed ranchers to find new and improved ways to preserve the wildlife habitats and clean water. Environmentalists flooded the courts with lawsuits against ranchers.

In 1997, the Quivira Coalition was formed and began spreading the New Ranch idea.

In the last 8 years they have developed into a powerful organization which is bridging the gaps and bringing awareness among ranchers, environmentalists and others.

Nowadays, funded by private foundations, government grants and individual donations, they spread it through newsletters, workshops, outdoor classrooms, management demonstration projects, videos, publications, site tours, community meetings and other educational forums.

So what exactly is in the curriculum? How does one go about ranching in an ecologically sound way? What is the Quivira vision of ranching and the environment?

Dry Gorge
Overgrazing leaves the land stripped of
vegetation and topsoil vulnerable to erosion

First of all, the group asserts that grazing is not an unnatural process, but “one of several types of natural disturbance to which many range plants are adapted.” Bison and other roving ungulates have always been a natural part of the ecosystem.

There should be a high degree of biodiversity as well- as humans have learned again and again, the web of nature is complex and species that seem to have no “economic value” are almost always related to the rest of the ecosystem in ways we may not be aware of. Biodiversity increases the rangeland’s ability to recover from any single source of disturbance, i.e., grazing.

The Coalition also explains that, if managed properly, grazing can actually strengthen the plants. As Quivira states:

“The application of small stresses and disturbances such as grazing and hoof action exercises the recovery mechanisms making the ecosystem more resilient to large disturbances like drought, fire and flood.”

What it all depends on is how the grazing is done– the three magic words are intensity, timing, and density of grazing. Properly grazed plants are more likely to survive catastrophes than those that have been either overgrazed or have had extended periods of

Intensity is the measurement of how much biomass livestock remove from a plant. It is a function of three variables: the number of animals in a pasture, the size of the pasture, and how long the animals graze there. Traditional ways of measuring intensity have generally left out one or another of these three components; the New Ranch uses Animal-Days per Acre, or ADA’s. After adjusting for the class of livestock being grazed, ADA’s seem to be the best way to accurately measure and manage intensity of grazing.

American Midwest
On the new ranch, the livestock are managed
in a way that actually stimulates vegetation

The principle of timing is that plants should be neither overgrazed nor overrested. A plant that is grazed once or twice and then allowed to rest for the remainder of the growing season, according to the Coalition, is very likely to recover completely. The basic principles of timing are that:

1. Recovery will take longer depending on how much leafy area of the plant has been grazed off;

2. Plants that are overgrazed weaken over time, because the lose the ability to store energy and can’t recover as easily from any catastrophe.

3. In any given pasture, grazing should not happen at the same time of year every year. If it does, this will cause the impact to be worse on the palatable species that are young and green at that time. That species will eventually decline in comparison to those

around it.

Finally, timing is difficult to manage because certain variables are difficult to predict, like when and how much it will rain. This affects all other decisions about the ability of plants to recover from grazing.

Density, the third and last aspect of New Ranch grazing, means how many animals graze in a certain area at once, or in other words, how many animals should be in a herd. This is the most controversial issue in ranching. It’s easier to control a single herd, and saves the overhead cost of labor. Some ranchers and conservationists have tried and preferred to allow animals to move as individuals over large pastures.

Ways of control over grazing have included fencing, mineral blocks, and turning water on and off, and the most ancient technique– herding. Herding is currently considered back as it’s cost-efficient. The Quivira Coalition favors a single or in some cases double herds, as it’s easier to monitor the livestock and they are less vulnerable to predators than if they were alone and spread out.

On the New Ranch, the rancher must be pro-active, in planning, monitoring and adjusting his or her approach in response to the land. He or she must keep records carefully of what works and what doesn’t. The New Ranch should be flexible and able to grow.

Book Cover
The Radical Center

People should share these qualities as well, and if they don’t, they don’t qualify for the New Ranch. In an interview with Grist magazine last year, Courtney White described the “radical center”:

“We work in what is being called ‘the radical center’ with the idea that the extremes are too entrenched in their positions to move.”

“I don’t want to waste a minute of my time prying open closed minds, so I don’t. They don’t come to us either, which is fine.”

“We’re too busy mobilizing the middle to worry about the extremes. We don’t facilitate, mediate, or try to achieve “consensus” on thorny issues. Instead, we grab progressive ideas and plow ahead in trying to implement them and spread the news.”

Environmentally, The Quivira Coalition has had many successes and some failures too. The most valuable thing about the group is the idea that in order to progress, people must find common ground.

The radical thing about the “radical center” is that this is the first ever mass-consciousness approach to ranching. When a group of people drop their old ideas and open themselves to the new, growth becomes possible.

For more information about the Quivira Coalition contact Courtney White, Executive Director, at 505-820-2544 or send a letter to: The Quivira Coalition, 551 Cordova Rd., Suite #423, Santa Fe, NM 87501. E-mail: FAX: 505-466-4035. Or check online:

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EcoWorld Fall 1995

Futuristic Whale Painting by Tim Cantor
image – Tim Cantor

Issue #4

Fall 1995






By Bruce Yandle

Reprinted from PERC Reports, October 1995

Bruce Yandle, a professor at Clemson and one of the most entertaining and astute speakers I have ever heard, also has editorial skills aplenty. One of the patriarchs of the land rights rebellion in his own right, he has collected a series of essays written by a number of free-market environmentalists. This book is a must for serious students of the environmental dialogue that is reaching new heights in the U.S. A reaction to regulations that have allowed our government to effectively destroy the value of a parcel of land without having to compensate the owner for it. The price we have paid to protect the environment has fallen on our citizens shoulders unequally, and enough of the unlucky ones have rallied together to form what is today a potent national political grassroots movement. Dr. Yandle´ essay printed here was edited from the preface to his book, “Land Rights.”



By Ed “Redwood” Ring

The Boreal regions cover 11% of the earth´ surface, a belt encompassing Alaska, Canada, Scandinavia, and Northern Russia. These vast lands contain stands of Aspen, Birch, Poplar, Alder, and various cold tolerant Conifers. These trees are being logged much faster than they are currently regenerating. Even more than in the tropic and temperate forests, the effect on the soil of clear cutting is hard to reverse. Once the thin layer of topsoil erodes and exposes the permafrost underneath, the earth´ surface degrades into a sterile and virtually unredeemable muck. Moreover, Boreal timber grows at a much slower rate than in warmer parts of the world, even if the soil can be preserved. What can be done? For starters, governments can stop subsidizing this activity. In many cases, the destruction of the Boreal forests do not even make sound business sense without massive government financial assistance. Just as welfare as we know it wreaks its destructive havoc in our inner cities, corporate welfare is destroying the forests of the north.



An Outline by Nancy Marzulla

“Nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.” The fifth amendment to the constitution was meant to safeguard property rights, which are perhaps the prerequisite for all other civil rights. But what happens if a landowner cannot use their land as they see fit, even though they still hold title to the land? Aren´ regulations that restrict use of land to the point where the value of the land to the owner is severely dimished considered “takings?” Senate bill 605 which will be debated early in the next session of congress attempts to provide relief to property owners affected by government regulations. Depending on their perspective, readers should find either sweet irony or stark terror in the provision that agencies attempting to enforce any environmental regulations file a “Takings Impact Statement” on a case by case basis. This bill is going to be a hot potato. Get primed on it now by reading this outline by noted property rights lawyer Nancy Marzulla.



Gaia, the theory that the earth is a single organism with a great soul, is a prevalent belief in many strains of environmentalists. Without discussing the merits of the theory, let’s extend it to the solar system. Why should ecosystems be limited to our planet? Isn’t it the sun that keeps us alive? Aren´ environmentalists afraid of asteroids? Talk about an environmental impact! Let’s get some of those greater ecosystems out in space where they surely would belong. Let´ put some biospheres in solar orbit!



A Message from the World Rainforest Movement

This time we go to South America where Georgia Pacific has inked a deal to log 4.1 million acres in the tiny nation of Guyana. This equates to 6,406 square miles, which is 7.7% of Guyana´ national territory. The insatiable desire of the world for timber makes this phenomenon repeat itself over and over, from Guyana to Papua New Guinea, from the Solomon Islands to Zaire. Let´ establish some nurseries there.


Fall 1995

This issue features the Boreal Forests of the world, which currently are being converted into pulp and chopsticks as fast as money and capital can get in and get out. The ecosystems of the Boreal regions of the world at large are threatened, the whole cold but alive mass of sea and land that circles the arctic pole. They are not only threatened by rapacious and completely non-sustainable (and government subsidized!) timber cutting, but by fuel and mineral extraction as well, and even by a proposal to commericalize a shipping lane from Asia to Europe over the top of Siberia. This sounds just like another leftist environmentalist tract, doesn´ it? Is Ed “Redwood” Ring selling out?

The only thing that separates an environmentalist capitalist from a non-environmentalist capitalist is the time frame they keep. If you don´ have to deal with confiscatory taxes and regulations, you can pass your land on to your progeny. If you believe in families and tradition, then you have progeny to care about. Hardly a leftist notion. Just a narrower set of priorities. But how much narrower, ultimately? Won´ a landowner want to protect his land from despoilation? Isn´ land and it´ yield the only truly inflation hedged asset? But if you have to turn your land over to the government instead of to your heirs, why take care of it? If your profits are ground to dust by taxes, if your initiative is diminished if not squelched by regulations, why think in the long term? Why protect the living forest? Why protect anything?

If socialism destroys the spirit and the standard of living of those persons unfortunate enough to live under its iron hand, how on earth can we turn to socialist philosophy to save the earth!

Long term capitalist thinking will save the Boreal Forests, and the rest of the forests, for that matter. If Charles Hurwitz, the owner of the Headwaters Forest, were a long-term capitalist thinker, he would log one tree per year from his precious forest, perhaps after 100 have been set aside to be forever spared. This one yearly tree would be priceless. Bidding could start at $1,000,000. So the millworkers could still have jobs, Mr. Hurwitz could open a theme park in the forest, erecting non-invasive Bed & Breakfasts (and the infrastructure to support them) amongst the giant trees. Tourists would flock to the exclusive cabins, everyone would work, and the forest would be saved.

How can such a solution even be considered, in our present over-regulated, over-taxed United States of America? Erecting a Bed & Breakfast isn´ expensive, it´ the fees and taxes associated with starting up and operating the enterprise. Imagine all the permits Charles Hurwitz would need if he decided to save his forest in this way! And make no mistake about it, it is his forest. He bought it and paid for it. Now admittedly, by all appearances, Charles Hurwitz is not long-term capitalist thinker. But neither is he a criminal. And if Charles Hurwitz lived in a land of fewer taxes and regulations, perhaps he would be more inclined to think long-term.

This issue deplores the havoc wreaked on the Boreal Regions of the world. The Boreal forests (along with the forests of the Pacific; Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands), are being quickly and quietly ground to dust as we eat rainforest crunch and put “save the rainforest” bumper stickers on our cars. Deforestation is really just beginning in these unheralded, un”chic” regions. But forget about speculating as to how governments are going to increase the world´ timber mass. We´ try to figure out more creative solutions, such as game parks, adventure tourism, sustainable forestry, limited and safe mineral/fuel extraction. Perhaps not every environmental problem can be solved this way, but it is time to start trying. Environmental solutions that are being proposed need to be expressed in terms of their capitalist merit. Most if not all of them can be so expressed, and they will, right here.

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Issue #4, Fall 1995

Nature and Technology in Harmony…

This issue examines the grassroots property rights rebellion in the U.S. and particularly in the context of the upcoming property rights legislation in the U.S. Congress. “Land Rights, Why Do They Matter?” discusses the origins of property rights protection in the Magna Carta, the protections afforded property owners by the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and the forces behind the current resurgence of interest in property rights protection. “Flagships of the Forest” this month takes a look at the Boreal Forests of the world, which deserve at least as much attention as the Tropical Forests. We try to quantify some of the forest areas in the world in this article, but are mostly thwarted by inaccuracies from surprising sources! “Compensation for Takings” is an outline of the current bill before the U.S. Senate which attempts to strengthen 5th Amendment protection of private property. “A Conversation with the Sun” features the visionary artwork of Tim Cantor, along with musings on Gaia, solar energy, and interplanetary civilization, “Rainforest Update” this month goes to Guyana, South America, where another forest is biting the dust as we speak. These things are happening now. More trees would take pressure off these ancient forests. Let’s get planting.

Reactions and rebuttals to these articles are encouraged.

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