Monday, September 29, 2008

The Oil Drum | Terra Preta: Biochar And The MEGO Effect

A substantial review of popular and scholarly literature on terra preta.

The Oil Drum | Terra Preta: Biochar And The MEGO Effect: "Terra Preta ('black earth') was discovered by Dutch soil scientist Wim Sombroek in the 1950's, when he discovered pockets of rich, fertile soil amidst the Amazon rainforest (otherwise known for its poor, thin soils), which he documented in a 1966 book 'Amazon Soils'. Similar pockets have since been found in other sites in Ecuador and Peru, and also in Western Africa (Benin and Liberia) and the Savannas of South Africa. Carbon dating has shown them to date back between 1,780 and 2,260 years."

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

IDB Biofuels Sustainability Scorecard - IDB

IDB Biofuels Sustainability Scorecard - IDB: "�
IDB Biofuels Sustainability Scorecard

The Sustainable Energy and Climate Change Initiative (SECCI) and the Structured and Corporate Finance Department (SCF) of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) have created a Biofuels Sustainability Scorecard based on the sustainability criteria of the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels. The primary objective of the Scorecard is to encourage higher levels of sustainability in biofuels projects by providing a tool to think through the range of complex issues associated with biofuels. Since the scientific debate around these complex issues continues to evolve, the Scorecard should be seen as a work-in-process and will continue to be updated and revised as needed. Comments can be submitted at the end of filling out the Scorecard."

Monday, September 22, 2008

Op-Ed Columnist - The Establishment Lives! - Op-Ed -

Op-Ed Columnist - The Establishment Lives! - Op-Ed - "Once, there was a financial elite in this country. During the first two-thirds of the 20th century, middle-aged men with names like Mellon and McCloy led Wall Street firms, corporate boards and white-shoe law firms and occasionally emerged to serve in government."

Op-Ed Columnist - The Establishment Lives! - Op-Ed -

Op-Ed Columnist - The Establishment Lives! - Op-Ed - "Once, there was a financial elite in this country. During the first two-thirds of the 20th century, middle-aged men with names like Mellon and McCloy led Wall Street firms, corporate boards and white-shoe law firms and occasionally emerged to serve in government."

Newswise Science News | Cornell Gets $10 Million NSF Grant to Establish New Institute That Applies Computer Power to Sustainability

Newswise Science News | Cornell Gets $10 Million NSF Grant to Establish New Institute That Applies Computer Power to Sustainability: "Could a computer model help stabilize the tuna population? Can we compute how to transition to ethanol fuel without jeopardizing food production?

Those and other questions will be tackled by computer scientists, applied mathematicians, economists, biologists and environmental scientists affiliated with Cornell University’s new Institute for Computational Sustainability, being launched with a $10 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

This program is designed to pursue “far-reaching research agendas that promise significant advances in the computing frontier and great benefit to society.”

Directed by Carla Gomes, Cornell professor of computing and information science, the institute will involve 14 Cornell faculty members along with scientists at Oregon State University, Howard University, Bowdoin College, the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Conservation Fund.
“Our vision is that computing and information science can – and should – play a key role in increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the way we manage and allocate our natural resources,” Gomes said."

Carbon News and Info > Climate change news > Energy & biofuels > EU, US diverging on biofuel policy?

Carbon News and Info > Climate change news > Energy & biofuels > EU, US diverging on biofuel policy?: "U, US diverging on biofuel policy?
Carbon News and Info > Climate change news > Energy & biofuels
Monday, 22 September 2008
The EU is set to ease biofuels targets in the face of global concerns over their inflationary impact on food prices, but there appears less chance of similar action in the US, no matter who’s in the White House.

The push to substitute green fuels for fossil fuels following the spike in oil prices in recent years and the imperatives of greenhouse emissions reduction for global warming have led to alarm over food prices. A jump in global food prices this year, has in part been attributed to competition for grain produce from biofuel makers. Question marks over the true environmental impacts of biofuel production and use have also arisen."

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Food prices threaten famed Argentine beef

Food prices threaten famed Argentine beef: "Food prices threaten famed Argentine beef
Nicholas Kusnetz, Associated Press
Sunday, September 14, 2008"

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

blog post: Is Corn Ethanol Lowering Gas Prices at the Pump?
THURSDAY, MAY 15, 2008

Is Corn Ethanol Lowering Gas Prices at the Pump?
Despite providing the largest portion of alternative fuel in the US,
corn ethanol gets a lot of flack in the circles Cleantech Blog runs
in. The usual culprits go something like this: Corn ethanol is heavily
subsidized (yes it is). Corn ethanol does not reduce greenhouse gas
emissions (sort of, it really, really depends on your assumptions).
Corn ethanol contributes to the fertilizer driven "deadzone" in the
Gulf of Mexico (maybe, another complicated topic). Corn ethanol drives
up the price of food (a topic for another day).

But the main argument for supporting corn ethanol production has
always been about energy independence and fuel switching. Enabling a
new source of supply into our gasoline supply chain should in theory,
put some some downward pressure on gasoline prices at the pump, and
keep those energy dollars at home rather than send them overseas.

So the real question is, does it?

A very interesting paper was published at Iowa State
last month says yes, US ethanol production (almost all from corn) has
reduced gasoline prices at the pump $0.29-$0.40 per gallon, depending
on the region. Further, that the reduction came largely at the expense
of profits the refining industry would otherwise have made (indicating
perhaps that our ethanol production helped US consumers at the pump,
but did not impact world oil prices).

In their paper entitled The Impact of Ethanol Production on US and
Regional Gasoline Prices and on the Profitability of the US Oil
Refinery Industry, authors Xiaodong Xu and Dermot Hayes analyzed the
impact on price at the pump and refining profits of adding ethanol to
the US gasoline fleets by separating the impact of ethanol from the
major variables like gasoline imports, refining capacity, refining
utilization rates, hurricanes, market concentration in refining,
stocks, and seasonality, that generally affect gasoline price.

I find their $0.29 to $0.40 per gallon results a surprisingly large
number, indicating that ethanol production, while providing on average
well less than 5% of our gasoline supplies over their study period,
could have affected prices at the pump downward to the tune of greater
than 2 to 3 times that percentage level. That result is a huge win for
ethanol proponents, as it suggests that adding ethanol to the US fleet
has significantly benefited consumers (as one would expect), and also
suggests that the ethanol subsidy program (at about $0.40 per gallon
for 5% of the US gasoline production works out to around a 1 to 2 cent
effective tax on gasoline at current levels) may well have paid for
itself up to 20x over or more. The studies authors are careful not
extrapolate too much from the results, but they are certainly
interesting enough to warrant significant further research, and argue
a strong case for further corn ethanol support.

Neal Dikeman is a founding partner at Jane Capital Partners LLC, a
boutique merchant bank advising strategic investors and startups in
cleantech. He is founding contributor of Cleantech Blog, a
Contributing Editor to Alt Energy Stocks, Chairman of,
and a blogger for CNET's Greentech blog.
Labels: cleantech, ethanol, gasoline prices, greentech

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Florida Deal for Everglades May Help Big Sugar -

Florida Deal for Everglades May Help Big Sugar - "IN June, Gov. Charlie Crist announced that Florida would buy one of the state’s two big sugar enterprises, the United States Sugar Corporation. He billed the purchase as a “jump-start” in the environmental restoration of the Everglades, which cane growers are accused of polluting with fertilizer runoff."

Thursday, September 11, 2008

ONU propõe regras para a produção de etanol, Brasil contesta


Quarta-Feira, 10 de Setembro de 2008

ONU propõe regras para a produção de etanol

Entidade poupou Brasil, mas disse que biocombustível afetou preços
l Chade, GENEBRA,0.php

Para tentar dar um ponto final à polêmica do etanol e seu impacto nos preços de alimentos, a ONU propõe a criação de uma série de critérios para que os biocombustíveis sejam produzidos, uma entidade para monitorar a questão e a revisão dos subsídios que existem para o setor nos países ricos. Hoje, o relator das Nações Unidas para a Alimentação, Olivier de Schutter, apresentará sua proposta aos países da entidade. Ele poupa o etanol do Brasil de críticas e garante que a alta de preços dos alimentos no mundo não foi gerada pelo País. Mas confirma que o biocombustível em outros mercados teve um impacto direto nos preços dos alimentos.

"A produção atual de etanol não é sustentável", afirmou. A proposta de Schutter é que a comunidade internacional chegue a um consenso sobre as regras para a produção do etanol e para o estabelecimento de políticas públicas. Os critérios propostos devem incluir não apenas questões de preços de alimentos, mas aspectos relacionados ao meio ambiente e condições de trabalho. Para ele, a exploração é "freqüente" nas grandes plantações da indústria de biocombustíveis.

"Se o modelo de produção do etanol continuar, violações aos direitos à alimentação se proliferarão." Sua proposta é que cada novo investimento passe por uma avaliação sobre o impacto ambiental que terá, sobre o efeito na concentração de terras, as condições de trabalho e o preço dos alimentos na região.

Os critérios de produção e investimento devem incluir garantias de acesso a alimentos, de que pequenos agricultores não serão expulsos de suas terras e casas, de remuneração justa aos trabalhadores e de proteção dos direitos de indígenas e mulheres. Segundo a proposta, "países devem ser encorajados a não permitir investimentos se esses critérios não forem seguidos".

O acesso aos mercados internacionais só poderia ocorrer se o etanol fosse produzido nessas bases. A ONU sugere até mesmo uma reforma nas leis da Organização Mundial do Comércio (OMC) para permitir que a discriminação seja feita. Para monitorar o cumprimento dos critérios, a ONU sugere a criação de um fórum permanente.

Outra proposta é dar fim a todos os esquemas de subsídios e incentivos fiscais nos países ricos para a produção de etanol, o que estaria gerando uma distorção nos mercados e um comércio artificial.


U não nega que o avanço do etanol contribuiu para o aumento dos preços das commodities, "ameaçando o direito à alimentação". Um aumento de 1 ponto percentual no preço de alimentos provoca um aumento de 16 milhões de pessoas que sofrem de subnutrição.

De acordo com Schutter, o Fundo Monetário Internacional (FMI) concluiu que o etanol foi responsável por 70% da alta no preço do milho e 40% no da soja. Outro estudo aponta que o etanol americano teria sido o principal responsável pela alta dessas commodities em 2007 e 2008, que foi superior até ao aumento do preço do petróleo. Diante dessa constatação, o relator da ONU pede que metas de expansão do etanol nos Estados Unidos e Europa sejam abandonadas.


Schutter, porém, seria "irresponsável condenar" todas as políticas de etanol no mundo. A produção para o consume local reduzir a dependência de petróleo não é a mesma da produção em grande escala para a exportação. Para ele, não se pode avaliar da mesma forma o etanol produzido de milho e o de cana. Cada um teria feito diferente para o meio ambiente e para a criação de empregos. No Brasil, 1 milhão de pessoas estariam empregada no setor. Mas a ONU alerta que a mesma situação pode não ocorrer em outros países.

"A produção de etanol do Brasil a partir da cana não contribuiu para a recente alta nos preços das commodities", afirmou. O motivo é que a produção de cana no País aumentou de forma significativa e as exportações de açúcar triplicaram desde 2000. O Brasil ainda passou a dominar 40% do mercado mundial de açúcar, ante o peso de 20% em 2000. Segundo os estudos, as exportações nacionais de açúcar foram suficientes para manter a alta na commodity relativamente modesta, salvo em 2005 e 2006, quando uma seca afetou a produção.


Um t
emor da ONU é que haja uma corrida por terras para a produção do etanol, deixando um espaço menor para a produção de alimentos e encarecendo o preço das commodities. O etanol não seria o único problema. A compra de terras por estrangeiros para garantir seu abastecimento seria outro problema crítico.

O etanol, segundo a ONU, provoca uma concentração de terras e ameaça o acesso de indígenas e pequenos produtores às áreas agricultáveis. No total, 60 milhões de indígenas e povos autóctones seriam afetados diretamente pela produção do etanol no mundo.

O relatório ainda alerta que a produção de etanol em um país em desenvolvimento para abastecer um mercado rico não vai ajudar na geração de desenvolvimento e combate à pobreza. O Brasil, ao lado dos Estados Unidos, está promovendo projetos nesse estilo na América Central.


Olivier Schutter
or da ONU para a Alimentação

"Se o modelo de produção do etanol continuar, violações
aos direitos à alimentação se proliferarão"

"Países devem ser encorajados a não permitir investimentos se os critérios não forem seguidos"

"A produção de etanol do Brasil a partir da cana não contribuiu para a recente alta nos preços das commodities"

Quinta-Feira, 11 de Setembro de 2008

Brasil contesta proposta da ONU
Itamaraty discorda de sugestão de regras para etanol

l Chade,0.php

O Brasil questiona a proposta da ONU de criar diferentes categorias de etanol e critérios para que os biocombustíveis sejam exportados. O Estado informou ontem que a ONU iria sugerir a criação de requisitos para a produção de etanol e que as regras da Organização Mundial do Comércio (OMC) fossem modificadas para permitir que apenas biocombustíveis produzidos conforme esses critérios pudessem ser exportados.

"O Brasil acredita que qualquer iniciativa relacionada com o comércio internacional de biocombustíveis seja não discriminatória, transparente e compatível com as regras da OMC", afirmou o Itamaraty em uma declaração lida diante do Conselho de Direitos Humanos da ONU, ontem.

O relator das Nações Unidas para a Alimentação, Olivier de Schutter, que apresentou a proposta, disse em uma coletiva de imprensa que ficou "surpreso" com a resposta do Brasil. "Não senti que o Brasil insistiu de forma suficiente no fato de que existem diferentes tipos de etanol no mundo", afirmou.

Para ele, a expansão dos biocombustíveis gerou parte da alta mundial dos preços de alimentos. Mas Schutter poupou o etanol brasileiro, alegando que sua produção não afetou o mercado da mesma forma que o etanol de milho americano.

O relator da ONU sugere a criação de um sistema para permitir que o etanol que não respeite o meio ambiente, os direitos trabalhistas e o acesso a alimentos seja banido do comércio internacional. Sua idéia é que o etanol que não cumprir esses requisitos em sua produção seja impedido de ser exportado. Para isso, sugere até uma mudança nas leis da OMC para permitir a discriminação. "O mundo precisa criar um código para essa expansão do etanol", defendeu ontem novamente.

Tanto ele como o governo brasileiro, porém, concordam que os subsídios americanos e europeus ao etanol estão distorcendo os mercados e agravando a fome. O Brasil, porém, alega que seria "injusto" colocar o etanol nacional no mesmo patamar de avaliação que o biocombustível dos demais países.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Far more land use in Brazil than is allowed by forest reserve law

A new study by the Brazilian Agricultural Corporation (EMBRAPA) has tallied all land legally available for all rural and urban land uses in Brazil. The findings sharply diverge from observed land use and suggest the impracticalities of enforcing environmental laws requiring legal reserves. The article's headline says that by environmental law only 7% of the Amazonian biome is available for any land use.  The most surprising finding is that just 33% of the country as a whole is available for land use by law, approximately the area now occupied by cattle ranching.  "What about already occupied agricultural areas, cities, mines, industry, and infrastructure,"asks the study's author Evarista de Miranda.

MNP - Movimento Nacional de Produtores: "03/09/2008
Fonte: Tribuna da Imprensa Online
Embrapa: 7% do Bioma Amaz�nia s�o pass�veis de ocupa�o
Um estudo da unidade de monitoramento por sat�lite da Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecu�ria (Embrapa), de Campinas (SP), mostra que o aumento significativo das �reas destinadas �prote�o ambiental e ao uso exclusivo de algumas popula�es reduziu de forma significativa as �reas pass�veis de ocupa�o econ�mica urbana, industrial e agr�cola. De acordo com o estudo, em termos legais, apenas 7% do bioma Amaz�nia e 33% do pa�s seriam pass�veis de ocupa�o."

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

"conservativeness"in response to scientific uncertainty and incompleteness: REDD vs. LUC

I recently read a new article from the journal Environmental Research Letters called "Applying the Conservativeness Principle to REDD..." 

The authors argue for a "conservativeness principle" to construct and monitor schemes to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD).  They argue that it's best to make conservative estimates of the emissions reduced by interventions to avoid deforestation because data on the subject are frequently incomplete and/or uncertain.  That way: 

-it's unlikely that the payments will be wasted
-there is incentive for tropically forested countries to prove that the default estimates are conservative
-such programs will then engage tropically forested countries in international climate change governance

I think one can conceptualize REDD emissions reductions as a function of carbon pool*intervention*persistence of intervention.  Therefore, by the conservativeness principle, argue the authors, it is best to conservatively estimate all three of these values.  They note, moreover that, "it is likely that the most typical and important example of incomplete estimates will arise from the lack of reliable data for a carbon pool." As a result, they argue that conservativeness in estimating the size of the carbon pool is the most prudent approach to REDD monitoring.

 It's worth noting, however,that with respect to broader LUC governance this is the opposite of conservative.  With respect to numerous other LUC issues (like say calculating the biofuels ILUC adder) overestimating the carbon stocks more closely falls under the "conservativeness principle".  An overestimate of forest carbon stocks increases the cost of deforestation and puts the burden of proof on industry to advance the carbon accounting science.  Such carbon footprint overestimates are used as default values in the Renewable Transportation Fuels Obligation (RTFO).  

I think I like the premise of the conservativeness principle, but maybe it is best applied to measuring and monitoring the influences of the policies themselves, not the environmental systems/stocks/flows on which they are intended to act.  Otherwise, there is a risk of some strange compartmentalization in the regulatory science.  Thoughts?

FYI, the article also features a decent survey of the scientific literature on carbon flux from tropical forest conversion.

Collaborative data visualization

Lines and Bubbles and Bars, Oh My! New Ways to Sift Data

Published: August 30, 2008

PEOPLE share their videos on YouTube and their photos at Flickr. Now they can share more technical types of displays: graphs, charts and other visuals they create to help them analyze data buried in spreadsheets, tables or text.
Skip to next paragraph
Enlarge This Image

Above shows occurrences of names in the New Testament.

At an experimental Web site, Many Eyes, (, users can upload the data they want to visualize, then try sophisticated tools to generate interactive displays. These might range from maps of relationships in the New Testament to a display of the comparative frequency of words used in speeches by Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama.

The site was created by scientists at the Watson Research Center of I.B.M. in Cambridge, Mass., to help people publish and discuss graphics in a group. Those who register at the site can comment on one another's work, perhaps visualizing the same information with different tools and discovering unexpected patterns in the data.

Collaboration like this can be an effective way to spur insight, said Pat Hanrahan, a professor of computer science at Stanford whose research includes scientific visualization. "When analyzing information, no single person knows it all," he said. "When you have a group look at data, you protect against bias. You get more perspectives, and this can lead to more reliable decisions."

The site is the brainchild of Martin Wattenberg and Fernanda B. Viégas, two I.B.M. researchers at the Cambridge lab. Dr. Wattenberg, a computer scientist and mathematician, says sophisticated visualization tools have historically been the province of professionals in academia, business and government. "We want to bring visualization to a whole new audience," he said — to people who have had relatively few ways to create and discuss such use of data.

"The conversation about the data is as important as the flow of data from the database," he said.

The Many Eyes site, begun in January 2007, offers 16 ways to present data, from stack graphs and bar charts to diagrams that let people map relationships. TreeMaps, showing information in colorful rectangles, are among the popular tools.

Initially, the site offered only analytical tools like graphs for visualizing numerical data. "The interesting thing we noticed was that users kept trying to upload blog posts, and entire books," Dr. Viégas said, so the site added techniques for unstructured text. One tool, called an interleaved tag cloud, lets users compare side by side the relative frequencies of the words in two passages — for instance, President Bush's State of the Union addresses in 2002 and 2003.

Almost all the tools are interactive, allowing users to change parameters, zoom in or out or show more information when the mouse moves over an image, Dr. Wattenberg said.

Users can embed images and links to their visualizations in their Web sites or blogs, just as they can embed YouTube videos. "It's great that people can paste in a YouTube video of cats" on their blogs, Dr. Viégas said. "So why not a visual that gives you some insight into the sea of data that surrounds us? I might find one thing; someone else, something completely different, and that's where the conversation starts."

Rich Hoeg, a technology manager who lives in New Hope, Minn., and has a blog at, was so taken with the possibilities for group collaboration that he wrote a tutorial on using Many Eyes as part of his series called "NorthStar Nerd Tutorials."

"Many Eyes is unusual, because it takes advantage of the collective intelligence of a group to get more out of a data set," he said. For the tutorial, Mr. Hoeg exported enrollment data for graduate engineering students to the site, then used one of the tools there to display the information in various ways.

"I wanted people to understand that you can take the same data and have it tell lots of different stories," he said.

Dr. Wattenberg noted an example from the site. In charting a particular topic — deaths resulting from human violence in the 20th century — one user originally presented a bubble graph in which the size of the circles represented the number of casualties tied to an event — for instance, World War I or World War II. After discussion on the site about the substantial growth in population during the 20th century, the originator offered two new time-based visualizations of the data, one a line graph and the other a stack graph — plotting the number of casualties against this growing population.

"You could see a new downward trend emerge," Dr. Wattenberg said. "Violent deaths declined in the latter decades of the century. It's a slightly more optimistic view."

Ben Shneiderman, a professor in the computer science department at the University of Maryland, College Park, and a pioneer in information visualization, says sites like Many Eyes are helping to democratize the tools of visualization. "The gift of the Internet is that everyone can participate, and the tools can be brought to a much wider audience," he said.

Presenting results in a static spreadsheet or table may do the job. "But sometimes it's like driving with your eyes closed," he said. "With visualization, it might be possible to open your eyes and see something that will help you" — for instance, patterns, clusters, gaps or outliers in the data.

"The great fun of information visualization," he said, "is that it gives you answers to questions you didn't know you had."