Friday, November 19, 2010

Fredome symposium on global reafforestation

I went up to London yesterday. London was OK in its way, still an awful lot of people there with little means of support, still chaos in moving around the Underground, but with a bit of KEEP LEFT signage at Paddington, so some progress.

It was for a symposium on reforestation hosted by the Parliamentary All-Party Group on Climate Change, convened by Greg Peachey of Fredome. There were about 60 there, with a convened independent panel of professors in the relevant disciplines, chaired by Katy Clark MP (Lab, North Ayrshire and Arran) who was very pleasant but let some speakers overrun.

Nick Griffin was there, which was a bit weird, but invites had been sent to all MPs and MEPs. He didn't say anything out loud.

The meeting was opened and closed by school students, who spoke about their hopes that something should be done to restore the planet and reduce the global problems that they did not create, but are set to inherit.

In his introduction Greg took a positive line, preferring to look at solutions rather than frightening people with problems. He points out that trees not only take CO2 out of the atmosphere, (the carbon cycle, which is the elephant in the climate change discussion salon) but also alter the microclimate, and offer food resources through agroforestry. He reviewed the effect mankind has had in deforesting and creating deserts, and detailed the manifold advantages of reforestation.

Forests create their own microclimate, generate their own clouds. One thing I had not been aware of was that Ascension Island was reforested in the 1880s, and the small area originally planted has extended itself naturally.

We need to work with Nature, helping to complete the carbon cycle in order to transform CO2 from a harmful atmospheric gas to beneficial vegetation.

The unique aspect of Greg's plan is OASIS, the idea of using British sewage to supply water and nutrients to pump-prime the new forests. (My idea is to use solar desalination to achieve this end) The idea is that oil supertankers should fill up with sewage rather than seawater as ballast on their way back to the oilfields. The sewage would be anaerobically digested on its way, and would be transferred to a scrap tanker on site, to deliver the water.

This aspect proved rather contentious in the discussion, as we shall see.

Greg offered evidence of plausibility for the idea by showing letters from Governments and experts supporting the idea. Sewage irrigation of desert areas has been tried in been successfully implemented in Egypt and a number of other countries. More here.

Experts spoke. Tim Evans, retired from Thames Water, claimed that most UK sewage (did he say 80%?) is already recycled to land as fertiliser. If true, it is welcome, because I was involved in the Campaign Against Sea Dumping in the 1980's, and we were pressing for exactly this, but I very much doubt that there is no sewage to spare in the UK.

Pano Krako from the Environmental Parliament said that when 5% of Irish farmland was given over to trees, as a kind of extended hedge, productivity went up by 50%. Sounds too good to be true. He said that Green Bonds could finance the project. He spoke in favour of REDD.

Implicit in the discussion was the assumption that reforestation should be ecologically sensitive, with the consent of and to the advantage of local communities. There was no discussion of the corporate distortion and corruption that is taking place within REDD and carbon trading schemes.

William Matthews from the International Tree Foundation spoke of the life and work of Richard St Barbe Baker, who founded the Men of the Trees. I didn't realise he did most of his work in Africa.

Professor Achterburg warned about the danger of transferring pathogens and heavy metal contamination in sewage. Professor Stephen Nortcliff said that metal contamination of sewage is much less nowadays, but estimates still rely on old data. He pointed out that anaerobic digestion needs heat. Nobody mentioned that anaerobic digestion kills off pathogens, but it does.

Professor Frank Chambers questioned the soundess of long distance transport of resources, would prefer it to be processed locally. Greg said that we are importing nutrients from countries, and need to complete that cycle. Prof Stephen Northcliff, a soil scientist, felt that our own soil could scarcely spare any sewage, it was all needed here to replace organic matter in our own soils.

Frank noted that biogas could be converted to hydrogen, retaining the carbon part.

Prof John Wainright calculated that one supertanker could support 5 hectares of juvenile forest for a year, calculated from a practical instance 1 VLCC tanker load will supply 76 hectares with nutrients and water to support forestry in the first year.

Andrew Fletcher, the originator of the OASIS (tanked sewage) solution, spoke up for his idea. He is a natural inventor, an observer and thinker who makes connections where professors and experts see only difficulties and distinctions. He observed in Torbay how the hot tarmac road would hold sea mist back, but that a small patch of trees and vegetation would allow the mist inland, creating its own moist micro-climate.

In the general floor discussion, someone spoke of the huge value of hemp and flax. I tried to divert  discussion from doubts about the OASIS concept to the greater vision of reclothing our planet with its green cloak of forest. It is such an obvious, win-win concept and it was great that the all party Parliamentary Group on Climate Change was taking it up, but sad that we are at such an early stage in the concept. The OASIS concept should be evaluated, and trialled, but even if it were found to be impractical, reforestation is still a valid project.

Afterwards I spoke with some of the young ones. I think they will see in their lifetime a huge explosion of inventive schemes like this. There will be major reforestation, in diverse, ecologically sensitive and community supported projects. Their generation will try things out, not just talk about them. It is just very sad that it takes such a stupidly long time to do anything positive, compared, say, with starting a war, which can be done at the drop of a dodgy dossier.

A student, Toby Charles, made an immensely powerful speech at the end, summed up as "Just Do It!" He stressed that is is not a case of wondering whether to keep our sewage resources to ourselves or give it to "other people" - we are all the same people, we here in the UK are the same species as those over in Africa. Then he went and sat down. Right next to Nick Griffin, who, to my eye, looked a bit pained.

Overall, a valuable step towards one important and positive component of humanity's life or death struggle against climate change and resource depletion. There is debate to be had about how it is done, and how we can stop the corporations from diverting the process for their own ends, but there is every reason to get the reafforestation show on the road.


Andrew K Fletcher said...

Dear Richard

Thank you for attending the APPCCG and thank you more so for your positive blog post. It is great to read how someone who attended the meeting viewed the way it was delivered and the possibilities of bringing the Oasis Solution to it's ultimate goals and objectives.

DocRichard said...

Hi Andrew

Thank you for your work on this project. I look forward to participating in the Sci and Tech group.