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I actually debated Rachael at a NOFA event the summer of 2011 - pro and cons of biochar. I do not believe she can be convinced because she is not basing her position on facts and reasoning, but rather fear-mongering and hanging untenable requirements on the opposition as appropriate obligations. She and BFW have well-rehearsed party lines that attract funding from dark money and seem to get them traction with some audiences.
I remember the debate as a verbal version of "Whack a mole". She would make some outrageous claim, I would refute it by putting it in perspective, she would say "That's fine for you to claim, but what about the Spanish giving the New World peoples smallpox - when are you going to correct that."
Put your energy into something or someone that might respond to facts and reasoning. I recommend ignoring Rachael and her lot - they just want to muddy the water and waste your time.
- Hugh McLaughlin
There is a old piece of advice that applies here: Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig.
On Sunday, July 18, 2021, 12:41:48 PM EDT, Deborah Cook <debbiecook281@...> wrote:
I agree it is tilting at windmills to engage with Rachel’s entrenched position. However, since it seems she has laid out all or most of her objections, I think it would behoove iBI or someone to take each objection and refute with one or several valid studies so we are prepared with talking points and references when we encounter People who are unsure about biochar. We would be prepared to answer the objections more for the undecided than the firmly entrenched..
Case in point, I had a discussion with someone on the call who was on the fence. He could be convinced to support biochar if we had a clear, intelligent and rational response. Meanwhile he was leaning toward her position.
On Sun, Jul 18, 2021 at 7:55 AM Nando Breiter <nando@...
It is hard to counter disinformation. Defensiveness seems to be a natural reaction, but I don't think it is worth engaging with Rachel.
Back in 2011 or so, I spent a lot of time refuting Rachel's arguments, corresponding with her directly. One of the core objections she raised was that biochar was going to drive deforestation. George Moinbot picked this up from BFW and repeated it in a Guardian article, saying it was an absolutely daft idea to cut all the trees down and convert them to biochar.
Rachel lives in Vermont in a rural area adjacent to a number of farms. I corresponded with her directly, providing very compelling data that it was financially completely out of the question for farmers, or companies supplying them with soil amendments, to go to the expense of cutting down trees to convert them to biochar. I told her to go ask her neighbors if they thought it would be financially worthwhile to hire loggers to clear cut the forests in her region, build a large scale pyrolysis plant, make biochar, and spread it across their land. I gave her realistic numbers to demonstrate that this feedstock scenario is the most expensive in an industry where it is already very difficult to identify financially viable ways forward. On top of that, farming is a risky, competitive business.
I also wrote George Moinbot with the same information. While he didn't retract the article, he seemed to moderate his position on biochar after he got a lot of pushback from the biochar community.
The real story seems to be more complex. Deforestation to make char as a cooking fuel is prevalent in developing countries. This is real, rather than an imagined issue. And in this case pyrolysis technology can help immensely, which is completely contrary to Rachel's position. I'm aware of a project in Malawi where kontiki kilns are used to make cooking char from a species of rapidly growing, large bamboo, and we're looking to see if we can improve the financials in this scenario to help it expand. This can prevent the harvesting of virgin forest to make charcoal with inefficient primitive earthen kilns.
I feel a very defensive strain running through this group. We have an incredible body of scientific corroboration on the benefits of biochar, with more coming every day to defend our position.
As I remember Rachel spoke only in generalities and did not cite any specific studies. Well that's easy enough to do. She only used the word reference in parentheses when she mentioned a study. I didn't hear a fact either.
My take is that Biofuelwatch started as being against burning biomass for fuel, and couldn't change the paradigm to accept biochar, fearing a slippery slope.
Maybe someone should get her presentation and refute every point with an actual referenced study or two or three, so we are prepared with talking points and not let her get the upper hand.
On Fri, Jul 16, 2021 at 9:27 AM Benoit Lambert <biocharben@...
Ron and list,
Some people, sometimes, a bit oddly well trained, made a speciality of being ‘naysayer' as they call them in Switzerland--referring to people that always answer no to 'votations' no matter the question.
Journalist of the Guardian George Monbiot is one of them. He believes strongly everyone should become vegetarian to solve the climate crisis. While the argument makes sense when referring to industrial CAFO, it is false for regenerative ranching that jump
starts trophic chains—animals eat grass avoiding their oxydation and desertification, theirs dropping feeds grasses that eventually increases organic matter in soils, humus gets thicker and carbon get stored,
a circular economy gets in place. Paleo botanist tell us that is how soils organic matter was created over 65 million years and ppm went from 560 to 270.
Here is an answer to Monbiot by L Hunter Lovins:
George Monbiot also went against biochar in 2008 just after the Newcastle. Just like Ms Smolker, he did not attend the IBI meeting, and, obviously knew very little about biochar. I was in Newcastle, and,
we already knew quite a bit about biochar at the time.
Dr. Benoit Lambert
Membre: Fondation Stratégie énergétique, biosphère et société, Genève
Reviewer/réviseur IPCC/GIEC, Working Group I (WGI), Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), in particular Chap. 5 Carbon dioxide removal methods/biochar.
Tel: 450 775 7444
Through my work with Biofuelwatch, I have researched and published about most aspects of bioenergy, including biofuels for road transport and aviation, biochar,
Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage, and wood-based bioenergy.
I have written about wider environmental justice concerns, including the interconnections between climate, biodiversity and social justice, about geoengineering proposals, renewable energy in general, and about the dangers of techno-optimism. I have had articles
published by magazines and weblogs including Truth Out, The Ecologist, Common Dreams, New Internationalist, Red Pepper, Corporate
I have acquired a high level of experience in relation to UK planning policies regarding energy proposals, and in relation to UK and EU air quality legislation.
In my spare time, I volunteer as an ESOL tutor.
Almuth Ernsting helped to found Biofuelwatch in
2006. She has researched and published about a wide range of issues related to bioenergy, including the climate, social and biodiversity impacts of biofuels and wood-based
biomass; public health impacts of biomass and biofuel power stations; and the science and policy debate related to proposed use of biomass for geoengineering, especially biochar and Bioenergy with
Carbon Capture and Storage.
Claudia and list:
I agree with most below. See inserts
thank you so much, Benoit and Ron, for your enduring this BFW unpleasantness and sharing your thoughts with us.
In the last year it became more and more clear to me that it’s so easy to “be against something” and to try and appear smart by blocking, by saying why something doesn’t work. And endlessly hard to seek solutions
and change, to try and fail, to take action. You’re vulnerable when you do, you can be hurt or hit by failure. Good to have a supportive group (like this one) when you do. But falling and getting up is how we learn, how we grow and invent things. It’s the
essence of being human.
We’ve had this “blocking solutions” behaviour in Germany by the older Generation for far too long, meanwhile it really endangers my kid’s generations’ future.
We’ve had these “I know better than you and boost my alpha-person ego with it” blockers for far too long, and this is why we are in this global warming mess in the first place.
Often, these were “white old men” guys but here, we seem to have the evidence that this behaviour is definitely not gender-driven:
[RWL1: This below is to mostly comment on your noting that that there may be some sort of unusual “gender-driven" aspect to biochar opposition. This webinar would (unfortunately)
a. Dr. Smoker is a relatively late addition
to BFW - in biochar terms. BFW was founded by an equally anti-biomass (but unmentioned) Brit; Almuth Ernsting).
As an example, Rachel erred in saying BFW became aware of biochar in 2009. I remember hearing Ms Ernsting's opposition prior to the 2008 IBI meeting in
Newcastle UK. Then being surprised she was not in attendance - as i thought she would be there with more biochar background. Newcastle and London are not that far apart.
b. I was in a CBD meeting later
in London with Almuth, and a very supportive German woman, where they again were strongly anti-biochar - and fairly successful. So i have viewed BFW as a small, wrong but effective female-dominated small "environmental” NGO. This week's audience [78 sounds
OK - not 10) seemed about 95% female. From the evidence this week one could easily conclude that biochar opposition is female dominated
2. So, its great that you (a
very effective female IBI board member) have joined this BFW vs. biochar discussion.
Fortunately, biochar is well represented gender
wise - on both the USBI board (5 females out of 11) and IBI boards (Kathleen Draper being on both and the IBI chair). This being another pretty good proof that there is not much biochar gender divide on biochar at this upper level. Anyone listening to this
week’s talk would have gained the opposite opinion.
I checked Google on biochar technical publications.
Conservatively you are ahead by a ratio of about 100 to 1. Dr. Smolker has done some good scientific work - just. not on biochar.
3. I consider pretty good proof also of no
gender divide in the first US state legislation on biochar (https://leg.colorado.gov/bills/sjr17-002) passed with a 98-0 vote. But more importantly,
most of the unanimous vote credit should go to a then senior Colorado state senator - Ellen Roberts.(R). The state of Washington has also recently unanimously.passed similar biochar legislation. Both bills predominantly based on forestry - not agriculture,
energy, water, waste, or climate. By no means is BFW a leading voice on the harm biochar can do to forests (forestry harm and preservation being the almost sole webinar topic.)
She seems to be such a “white old male” type of person in my eyes, drawing ego from blocking, not from developing, inventing, helping. Just my 2 cents.
[RWL2: I have been told (accurately) that I
qualify aa a “white old male” - and I confess to taking some pleasure in blocking BFW. It’s possibly or even probably true as "drawing ego from blocking”. But hopefully also
at least partially balanced by my "developing, inventing, helping” biochar (I have helped with this list since before biochar got its present name in 2007).
Sorry for my sentimental thoughts, maybe I’m too sleep-deprived ;)
[RWL4: I’m not sorry. Thanks. And for doing such leading and
exciting biochar research.
hope someone has a way to get your and these thoughts back to the webinar sponsors and audience. Won’t be me.
Most in that audience are in danger of considerable
future embarrassment for not understanding biochar’s huge potential role in the webinar’s subject matter - improving, not destroying, today’s often unhealthy forests.
I see little chance of changing the Smolker stance.
And I’m sure we agree gender is a non-issue as
it relates to either biochar or forestry.