Saturday, May 31, 2014

Biomass carbon issues

Another old one...

Hi all,

I am glad that Robin brought this discussion up.

[Last week I had to restrain myself from replying as I was writing an essay until Friday so until then I had to keep my mouth shut.]

The fact that Charles Keeling's curve of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is a saw tooth shape, varying for Summer and Winter according to the vegetative biomass in the Northern Hemisphere sequestering a greater amount of CO2 emissions over the Summer, shows how intimately connected Land-based Carbon sinks are with atmospheric Carbon levels.


The Australian Forests and Climate Alliance is holding a conference in Canberra on Aug 13- see the draft flyer attached.

Studies by Brendan Mackey et al (2008) from the ANU have shown that the stock of carbon for intact natural forests in south-eastern Australia was about 640 t C ha-1 of total carbon (biomass plus soil, with a standard deviation of 383), with 360 t C ha-1 of biomass carbon (living plus dead biomass, with a standard deviation of 277). – far more that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) default values for temperate forests of 60 tonnes of carbon. The average net primary productivity (NPP) of these natural forests was 12 t C ha-1 yr-1 (with a standard deviation of 1.8). Here is one link for an ANU summary of Mackey's 2008 work:

A later 2009 Mackey et al study measured 132 forest around the planet in a five year period and identified that the temperate forests of central Victoria, and in particular the O'Shannassy catchment around the headwaters of the Yarra River, stores twice the amount of carbon as tropical rainforests. The giant mountain ash eucalypts and lush understorey vegetation stores just under 2000 tonnes of carbon a hectare. The study identified that as the trees age, the figure rises, with trees more than 250 years old boosting the carbon sink capacity to just over 2800 tonnes a hectare.

A motion was passed on 12 June by Bega Valley Council to burn NSW's forests for power. It is very important to support the campaign against this.


Similar rates of sequestration are being achieved by innovative highly productive farming systems. Christine Jones' work has shown that at the property Winona, 33 tonnes carbon per Hectare per annum was sequestered using organic farming methods over ten years. If such soil management practices were extended over just 20% of the 500 million ha to regenerate the health of our variably degraded rural landscape Australia could readily draw down 1 billion tonnes of carbon per annum; or 500% of our direct current emissions. Christine is working closely with farmers groups as well as Healthy Soils Australia. This was reported in the March edition of the Organic Federation of Australia newsletter (thanks to Jill Redwood and Keri James for info) According to this newsletter, Sequestering 1.1 tonnes of CO2 per hectare of agricultural soil per year would make Australia GHG neutral. (See here for figures) . This has also been covered by Reuters/WBCSD here

Walter, from Climate Action Canberra, and from Healthy Soils Australia, has taught me a lot about soils, forests and carbon sequestration. He has also taught me about atmospheric microbiology, broadleaf forests and their role in mitigation of the powerful greenhouse gas of water vapour, which may cause half of global warming (Dessler and Sherwood 2009) -but that's another story. He has argued that farmers should receive a reward for sequestering carbon, which he sees as a climate justice issue. When the farmer Peter Spencer did his hunger strike (quite soon after Paul and Michael did theirs), the media framed it mainly as about 'property rights', but Walter argued it's not that simple- it's about supporting good land management. Now the Carbon Farming Initiative claims to do this... I would need to see how robust the regulatory regimes are for this $, to prove to me it's not easily corruptible. Walter says we dont need impossible ineffective bureaucracies such as that proposed via the CFI that dangerously undermine the international agreed Kyoto standards for credible carbon offsets. We must and can easily meet the highest standards, anything less is defrauding the future. Some of the risks are discussed in a recent edition of Ecos Magazine, and the CSIRO has done a study on Carbon farming and rural land use.

Walter says that in 1839, Count Paul de Strzelecki compiled a very detailed record of Australian soils along the Eastern Seaboard, in Physical Description of New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land [resource list] finding an average organic carbon content of over 20 per cent, and West of the great Divide, the land was full of large clumping grasses with deep root systems, that stored Carbon. Now the organic carbon content is around 2 per cent, and often less than 0.5 per cent- due to bad land management including excessively intensive cattle grazing (animals should be rotated- with land grazed intensively once a year to mimic seasonal herd migration). With oxidation and erosion, carbon is washed away into river systems. Not just the carbon cycle but also the water cycle is affected: the sponginess/ porousness of the soils is lost, and so water cannot stay in the soil- leaving compacted soil or hard clay pans that do not absorb water: a flood/drought cycle. He has said that around 1 metre of topsoil has been lost through erosion over the last 220 years or so. He also believes that the management of the Murray Darling Basin should not focus on the 1% of the water that is actually in the rivers and streams but rather the 99% of water that is held in the soils.


One of the most spectacular examples in recent times of entire-landscape transformations is the regeneration of the Loess Plateau in China, which was so severely degraded and eroded that it was in many parts a semi-desert... and became a lush bioproductive valley. Here is the short version of Hope in a Changing Climate. I recommend the longer version- screen it in public-, it is pretty inspiring.


On 13 June 2011 22:10, Robin Harrison wrote:

Hi David,
you're right, there has been little new content. There has been a lot of effort put in to defending the major focus on co2 emissions by you and Ben with no acknowledgement that others share my concerns. My concerns stand and if you don't share them, as clearly you don't, you have the option of hitting delete. My desire is for a rational discussion, not an argument.


> To:
> From:
> Date: Mon, 13 Jun 2011 21:15:59 +1000

> Subject: Re: [GRCO] Concerns about the major focus on Co2 emissions
> can this discussion go off-list, please?
> There have been 12+ emails, many with little or no new content.
> david
> On 13/06/2011, at 8:42 PM, Robin Harrison wrote:
> > Hi Jane,
> > there is no intention for conflict or tearing anyone down. My desire
> > is for a discussion amongst people with the same aim, a sustainable
> > future for our species, that can take us forward. My concern is that
> > if deforestation is as significant in climate change as I think it
> > is, the response envisaged by the major focus on co2 emissions is
> > nowhere near enough, even without the serious corruption we're
> > seeing in implementation.
> > Robin
> >
> >
> > From:
> > To:
> > CC:
> > Subject: RE: [GRCO] Concerns about the major focus on Co2 emissions
> > Date: Mon, 13 Jun 2011 19:53:28 +1000
> >
> > Hi Robin
> >
> >
> > I find it hard to understand what the conflict is about here.
> >
> >
> > I assume you agree that we have to do a lot of re-afforestation just
> > to draw down the excess GHGs in that have accumulated in the
> > atmosphere? I assume you don’t think that we should just keep
> > building more coal and gas infrastructure, drilling for oil in
> > sensitive deep ocean locations, and devastating our farmland, our
> > wilderness and our priceless fossil water stores with more coal and
> > gas mines? Nor pumping more CO2 into the atmosphere when this is
> > acidifying the oceans and certainly contributing the ocean
> > extinction event?
> >
> >
> > I think probably the vast majority of the climate movement supports
> > action on deforestation too and there are lots of groups working on
> > Forests and Climate. Here and overseas.
> >
> >
> > There is plenty to do and we can all work in the areas that we choose.
> >
> >
> > Let’s collaborate and build on each others’ efforts not try to tear
> > each other down.
> >
> >
> > It’s not either/or it’s both/and …
> >
> >
> > Jane
> >
> >
> > From: [
> > ] On Behalf Of Robin Harrison
> > Sent: Monday, 13 June 2011 6:03 PM
> > To:;
> > Subject: RE: [GRCO] Concerns about the major focus on Co2 emissions
> >
> >
> >
> > Hi Ben,
> > The phrase 'if deforestation is the major cause of climate change'
> > came after considerable evidence to suggest that's the case. The
> > major species extinction event is proven, as is the concurrent
> > deforestation and the effects of deforestation.
> >
> > I don't know if there is scientific proof of a connection but maybe
> > you can help here? Do you know of any scientific proof that there's
> > no connection? If not, that suggests the scenario hasn't been
> > scientifically examined yet and there's precedent for this. 40 years
> > ago, the largely artist led environment movement was dismissed out
> > of hand. Emminent scientists declared publicly there was no
> > scientific evidence our actions were radically changing our
> > environment. That's because they hadn't yet looked. Of course when
> > they looked they found the evidence.
> >
> > You and I have something else in common Ben; I haven't heard anyone
> > else saying this either and i feel a bit like a voice in the
> > wilderness. But then, that's how a lot of us felt 40 years ago so
> > nothing new. I have huge concerns the focus on co2 emissions will
> > not, cannot, address the problem because there's a large possibility
> > they are not the prime cause. This is a question that has to be
> > examined. An interesting research project perhaps?
> > Cheers
> > Robin
> >
> > To:
> > From:
> > Date: Mon, 13 Jun 2011 10:59:31 +1000
> > Subject: Re: [GRCO] Concerns about the major focus on Co2 emissions
> >
> >
> >
> > On 12/06/2011 9:22 PM, Robin Harrison wrote:
> >
> >
> >
> > If deforestation is the major cause of climate change
> >
> > You need to provide some evidence to back up this assumption, as I
> > don't think it's currently shared by others on this list - you're
> > the only person I've heard saying this.
> >
> >
> > Whereas the response to deforestation can resolve any atmospheric
> > co2 imbalance.
> >
> > And you need to support this assertion too. I'm all in favour of
> > reforestation to draw down CO2 and protect biodiversity and prevent
> > desertification etc etc (and most if not all climate activists too)
> > but these sweeping assertions need to be backed up with verifiable,
> > quantitative data if you want people to act on them.
> >
> >
> > Cutting back on co2 emissions is probably crucial. Giving control of
> > that to an economy run by the major polluters is probably not a good
> > idea. Is anyone else worried about the virtually exclusive focus on
> > co2 emissions?
> >
> > I agree with the first two sentences, but as per my above comments,
> > I am yet to be convinced on the third point.
> >
> > cheers
> >
> > Ben Courtice

Julian Assange's attitude to women: Old fashioned or creepy; an outlier or representative; an individual or a cultural issue?

Going through old draft blog posts- this one is from several years ago...

Posting Julian Assange's blog onto Facebook prompted some interesting discussion and reflection, thanks to Mark Bahnisch for initially drawing my attention to it. I kind of moved from ambivalence about the 'woman' question to quite a lot of interest in it- and I think the most fascinating dimensions are those that raise questions for us all as a culture.

After Leah and Mark commented on his 'creepy' attitude to women, I responded:

"I like the poetry and the stuff on gifted children. And the ethical stuff. I think he missed some assumptions on carbon offsetting. it seems like he does put women on a pedestal, as foreign, seeing them as 'lovely' or whatever. For me that sounds more old fashioned. I wouldn't say it's creepy. Maybe I didn't notice something.

My personal experience also in some way validates his views on women and mathematics. After studying the highest level maths at an all-girls school, and seeing myself as a 'maths' person, I spectacularly failed at university mathematics, and I put it down to being unable to relate to the way that my mostly male classmates conceptualised it all. I actually believe that there should be autonomous women's maths classes at university to alleviate this problem.

But in terms of Assange's attitude towards women in general, I wrote,
"For me, his attitude towards women is familiar- i remember a lot of nerdy engineers i used to study with were similar- in that they were often lost for words talking with women, idealised them etc. I have an affection for that kind of social ineptitude, but not for the sexism, which is partly why I left engineering."

I still feel undecided about this. I think he is awkward, rather than creepy. My bro says "I wouldn't say he's creepy- maybe his hair is creepy- why does it have to be white? I saw him in interviews before he was famous- He seems to be a nice guy- he is someone who strives to be a hero- I think he enjoys impressing people."

My mum- when I read her the post about women and thunderstorms said "I like it how he is aware of the body language going on between them. I think it's quite beautiful". For me his wistful description of the woman in the thunderstorm reminded me of Cathy in Wuthering Heights (well in the 1939 film adaptation with Merle Oberon as Cathy and Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff) It definitely belongs to high Romantic views of women, seeing women as more emotional and wild, closer to untamed Nature, emotional manipulative temptresses to enmesh men in their complex psychological plans.

but then I looked further in the blog, and conceded a little:

"well the coffee thing is weird- he covered himself in coffee when he was dating some coffee addict woman, and also yes he objectifies women quite a bit, and he seems to imply that women like decisiveness and brutality: "This conversational brutality took her breath away and she swooned."

hahaha now that sounds like really bad sexist erotic fiction.

This is the context of that line. He was being a typical shitstirring self righteous dogmatic atheist in a Canberra youth hostel:

One of the devout was the lovely daughter of a New Castle (sic) minister. At some point in my unintended wooing of her, she looked up, fluttered her eyelids and said 'Oh, you know so much! I hardly know anything!'. 'That is why you believe in God," I explained. This conversational brutality took her breath away and she swooned. I was exactly what she secretly longed for; a man willing to openly disagree with her father. All along she had needed a man to devote herself to. All along she had failed to find a man worthy of being called a man, failed to find a man who would not bow to gods, so she had chosen a god unworthy of being called a god, but who would not bow to a man.

To which Leah replies "Tres, tres, creepy....must write 'bodice rippers' in his spare time...."

My response is that even the phrasing sounds like Emily Bronte. It's typical Romantic melodrama. For example here is a monologue from Heathliff in Wuthering Heights:

She abandoned them under a delusion, picturing in me a hero of romance, and expecting unlimited indulgences from my chivalrous devotion. I can hardly regard her in the light of a rational creature, so obstinately has she persisted in forming a fabulous notion of my character and acting on the false impressions she cherished. But, at last, I think she begins to know me: I don't perceive the silly smiles and grimaces that provoked me at first; and the senseless incapability of discerning that I was in earnest when I gave her my opinion of her infatuation and herself. It was a marvellous effort of perspicacity to discover that I did not love her. I believed, at one time, no lessons could teach her that! And yet it is poorly learnt; for this morning she announced, as a piece of appalling intelligence, that I had actually succeeded in making her hate me! A positive labour of Hercules, I assure you!

Here we see Heathcliff coolly denigrating Isabella Linton's character as superficial and unintelligent, laughing at her naivety in believing the chivalric narrative that she saw him as part of. Very similar tone to that of Julian's. I think that Julian has read a lot of Gothic and Romantic literature, and sees women in an old fashioned, distant, stylised way. However I believe Assange is a far more principled person than Heathcliff, less individualistic and less driven by revenge.

In the context of the rape case, and all the discussion this has prompted, including Meg's great op ed, I thought more about the grey areas of consent in sex, the difficulties of verbal communication and the gendered role-playing of violence:

Consent, communication, sexual role-playing and violence.

I wrote,
"he believes that's what women want. A lot of men are like that, and actually some women DO claim to want the male to be dominant and even bad to them.
(A lot of people even think that violence is sexy, or play around with that cultural association that we have. A lot of porn also makes violence and sex one and the same. Also S&M is based on the enactment, dramatisation, exaggeration and inversion of these gendered positions of power/powerlessness in sex).

I think Julian's main problem is making assumptions, and not verifying them verbally. In other words, consent. Sounds like a lot of his decision making with women is based on non-verbal cues- as most peoples is- especially for shy, non-verbal people. He is highly imaginative and driven by grand symbolism and normative roles, so I am guessing he projects fantasies on to people, and thus is unlikely to be in the present moment, responding to the particularities of this situation.

I think the problem here is not that he is 'creepy' or a 'rapist' or whatever. I don't think it's helpful to dehumanise him because in this respect he is representative of our culture: this is something that we all need to take responsibility for. Julian has presumably taken a cue from these cultural representations of sex that being overpowered is the secret desire, and the default position of women. From that assumption, it is not hard to see how he would rationalise pinning a woman down in the course of otherwise consensual sex.

Part of the problem is that sexuality is very much inscribed with role playing and even dramatisation of those roles. Those things that we MOST need clarity on between sexual partners -for consent to be properly given- are taboo or effectively taboo for the seamless unfolding of the drama to take place!! Where in our culture- in films etc, has consent been explicitly given? ;) We don't have the cultural resources at our disposal - the role plays in our mind etc- to allow clear decision making within the escalation of desire in a way that 'makes sense' or 'feels right'.

Instead, as many people point out, asking for consent feels clumsy, like an interruption, an intrusion of the mind into matters of the body.

I am sure there have been lots of people working on making consent part of our culture of sex. I would be interested to hear about any of their work.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Knowing your language so you can better create change

I had a great discussion today with a fellow campaigner about writing.

She expressed frustration at how her fluency would fluctuate: her ability was highest when she was passionate about the topic in question. She was perplexed about the mysterious factors that enable good writing. I sympathised.

This conversation affirmed in me an intuition I have had for a long time: how important a conscious use of the tools of our language is, especially for those who seek to create social change the importance of using our language tools consciously, especially when seeking to create social change. Conscious understanding of language allows us to critically analyse texts that litter our daily lives, and discern the strategies that motivate the writing/framing of these texts. Critical analysis also allows one to recognise persuasive techniques, so that he/she is less easily manipulated.

The first step in conscious use and understanding of language is being able to recognise the use of rhetorical devices. It's like knowing your tool box: a screwdriver would just be an oddly shaped stick if you didn't recognise it and be able to visualise its use (the rhetorical techniques I am using here are 2nd person to create immediacy and analogy to use a familiar example to illustrate the importance of a point). Likewise with language. Explaining the function of rhetorical devices has been done very well elsewhere, such as the top 20 figures of speech at