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Preventing deforested moonscapes (part 3)

In Part I, we established that peak oil, peak natural gas and the financial crisis (increasing poverty / utility cutoffs) will pressure Americans to use wood for heating and cooking fuel. Increased harvesting of trees and subsequent burning of the wood fuel will cause harmful particulate pollution, as well as deforestation of urban areas and forests.

Source: www.earth-cool.com

In Part II, we discussed small-scale, distributed technologies and techniques to decrease the use of wood fuel and increase the sustainability of urban tree and forest management. On the demand side, we should reduce the need for heating through insulation and weatherization, use solar heating and cooking, and use the most efficient wood-burning technologies/techniques. On the supply side, we should use pruning, selective harvesting and coppicing, we should start reforesting our cities and forests, and investigate alternative fuel crops.

In Part III, let's talk about how to actually prevent serious harmful pollution from burning wood, and deforestation from cutting down trees. How can we get the ideas, information, and technologies out to the public? How can we persuade governments to be ready to deal with this issue? As before, we won't be discussing how to roll out massive wind and PV farms. We'll still be focusing on smaller-scale, distributed options.

Insert caveat: This is not some "7-step Plan" that is going to solve all our problems. I hope that these ideas can help us mitigate the pollution, help our communities survive, and preserve our trees - at least in our corner of the world. I also hope to inspire your creativity and get you thinking about what would work best in your community.

1. Promote efficiency.

Older woodstoves waste up to 60% of the wood they burn, and fireplaces are much worse - up to 90% of the wood they burn is wasted. Fireplaces actually make a house colder by sucking warm air from the house up through the chimney, while only warming the area about 6 feet around the fire. Yet, newer wood stoves emit only 2 - 4 grams of smoke per hour, compared to 40 - 60 grams emitted by older stoves. Now, which kind of stove would you rather have your neighbors using?

 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency periodically sponsors a "Great Wood Stove Change Out" where rebates are offered for buying new EPA-certified stoves, if you trade in your old one to be destroyed. If you live in an area already polluted with particulates, you might be able to convince the EPA to promote a Change-Out in your area. Here's a How-to Guide for implementing a Change-Out program.

You could also ask your local environmental, air quality, or health organizations to sponsor some kind of similar initiative. You might also try to get a public health campaign discussing the dangers of particulate pollution from old wood stoves and fireplaces. There are also techniques to decrease pollution generated by the stove - such as burning only well-seasoned (at least 6 months dry) wood, and not "banking" a fire to burn overnight.

Other ways to decrease the need for heating include energy conservation measures, such as weatherizing and insulating buildings. You could encourage your city or state to sponsor programs to insulate and weatherize homes, or you could simply start and market your own business weatherizing buildings in your area. There are state and federal tax incentives to encourage insulating and making homes more efficient.

2. Design and create your own cooking and heating system.

What will you be using for cooking and heating after peak oil, or in the case of electricity disruptions? As one of the people in your area currently preparing for peak oil, your friends and neighbors may (eventually) use your preparations as a model for their own. Take a look at the way you cook and heat - would it be good or bad for your area if everyone cooked/heated the way you plan to?

Each climate will have different options that make sense for the inhabitants. The heating requirements of Zone 3 are very different from Zone 8. The most renewable options for heating are Passive Solar homes, passive solar panels, Masonry (aka Finnish or Russian) stoves, and woodstoves. The most renewable options for cooking are a combination of Sun Ovens, Hay Box cookers, Kelly Kettles, EPA-certified woodstoves, rocket stoves, and Earth Ovens.

Many homes in sunny areas would be able to depend almost fully on solar means of heating and cooking. In other areas, residents could reduce their wood burning by super-insulating their house, and using solar methods to the fullest extent possible. Of course, solar photovoltaics are also an option, albeit a more expensive one.

Whatever you choose, it will be an example and a model for others who will, eventually, look to you for guidance and information. Try to choose a method of heating and cooking that you would want everyone to follow.

Once you complete your plan, invite everyone over! Seriously. It is much more "real" and believable to see and feel and touch a solar heating panel, or a sun oven, and know that it is working. Your home can become a showplace for energy efficiency (insulation and weatherizing) and renewable technologies. Invite over the local green, sustainability, climate management, peak oil, energy efficiency and emergency management groups. Give tours to anyone who is interested. Put up a website of your home. Explain how it was done, and keep track of the costs (you have to anyway, to get the state and federal tax credits that are available.)

3. Help your community prepare for the long emergencies.

In a fast-crash scenario, when overwhelming change happens quickly, city, state and federal officials are likely to be unprepared. In a long-emergency scenario, the government will be overwhelmed by one crisis after another, with decreasing amounts of energy and resources year after year available to deal with them. Either way, the true scope of the peak oil problem is way beyond conventional wisdom, and most people will not recognize the massive upheavals that are coming.

A Resilient Communities task force can help your community by preparing an energy descent plan in advance. How would your city meet basic needs, such as transportation, water, food, cooking and heating, and health care, in a future where oil and electricity are becoming more scarce and expensive every year? At a critical time, when government and community groups are looking for guidance, and need help the most, the task force can step in and start making recommendations.

A Resilient Communities initiative could work with already existing sustainability, Transition Towns , Post Carbon Cities, and Relocalization efforts, as a component of their larger plan. The task force would look for other groups that have skills and abilities needed in a post-peak future, would point out how valuable they will be in the future, and ask them to prepare a Community Resilience plan, which the task force will then incorporate into the larger Plan.

4. Lay the groundwork.

Now that your Resilient Communities task force has created a Community Resilience plan, what are some ways you can prepare your city ahead of time to meet the heating and cooking needs of the citizens?

 

  • Emergency planning outreach. Get information out to as many groups, organizations, and people about the wisdom of storing 2 weeks or more of food and water (FEMA recommendations) and having non-electric ways to cook and heat. A good time to do this is within a month of a local or national emergency or publicized power outage.
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  • Purchasing / making example technology. There's probably no way to purchase enough appropriate technologies (such as Sun Ovens and solar heating panels) to meet the needs of a city. However, it would be a good idea to purchase or make some of the technologies in advance, to serve as models and examples.
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  • Manufacturing plan. Plan for large scale, local manufacture of helpful technologies that would provide heat or cooking energy. Which ones are best suited for your area? How many could you build? What would it take to manufacture these locally? What skills, tools, and materials would be needed? Who could make them? Where would you get the materials? What would it cost? How long would it take? How would you get the technology out to the people and explain how to use them?
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  • Establish Safe Havens around the city. These locations would be available to house large numbers of people in the event that temperatures fell below a certain level. During a long emergency, they could also serve as central distribution points for information, technology (such as solar heaters), services (such as medical care) and food. These can be prepared in advance. They would have the efficient and solar technologies we've discussed incorporated into their buildings to operate in case of a long emergency, and as a model for experimentation and copying.
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  • Prepare Community Kitchens, where people could bake or preserve their food with the most efficient technologies. Neighbors could share Sun Ovens, solar food dryers, Earth Ovens, and Rocket stoves, the most efficient EPA-certified woodstoves, or just regular cookstoves powered by photovoltaics, as well as the information and training to use these tools.
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  • Develop easy to understand informational pamphlets explaining how to cook and heat without electricity. Focus on the benefits to the family, as well as their health and safety. The pamphlets could also explain how to create their own solar heating panels and solar cookers. These should be ready to mass produce and distribute. Here are some examples.
  • Create a tree preservation action plan. Proactively identify areas in your city that are likely to be targets for firewood harvesting. Create a plan that will protect these areas, while still providing sustainably harvested wood for the people. An action plan might include legal and physical protection for these areas, pruning, coppicing and selective harvesting methods, and re-planting efforts.

5. Start a Tree Planting Program.

Trees are valuable for so many reasons - but they will be even more valuable in the future. Best choices for a mass-tree planting program might be fruit and nut trees, trees that can take heavy pruning for firewood, large trees that will efficiently absorb pollution, and trees that can be coppiced. A food forest could be established as part of an urban community garden or to support your local food bank.

These programs don't have to necessarily cost a lot of money. You can rely on mostly volunteer work, donated seedlings, and encourage homeowners to plant on their own property. Start a million tree program like Los Angeles!

 

6. Start a peak oil preparation / energy descent business

In the next few years, interest will build in preparing for peak oil. Who is going to be there to help your neighbors prepare? Many people feel overwhelmed at the scale, number and complexity of skills that need to be learned. Many people don't have Do-It-Yourself skills, tools, energy or time. You would be doing them a big favor if you could pick up the slack by providing your expertise - even on a part time basis.

What types of business could help reduce pollution and prevent deforested moonscapes as the energy descent begins?

  • Woodstove installation (EPA-certified only, of course)
  • Providing educational programs - teaching people how to coppice and harvest wood sustainably, how to build appropriate solar tools, how to weatherize their homes
  • Local manufacture or re-sale of solar heating panels and sun ovens
  • Weatherization and insulation
  • Energy Auditor
  • Retrofitting homes to take advantage of passive solar principles
  • Installer of renewable energy systems - PV, solar heating, solar hot water
  • Food forest consultation (planning and planting fruit and nut trees, shrubs, vines, herbs)
  • Peak Oil preparation consultant (services ranging from food storage plans, gardening, food preservation, and how to cook and heat with less energy)
  • Tree pruning service/ Sustainable tree harvester / Firewood provider (using pruning, coppicing and selective harvesting methods)
  • Firewood Cooperative - managing forests sustainably and providing firewood to members

7. Join or start a Transition Town or Post-Carbon City movement

 

Rob Hopkins, a permaculture teacher, began the Transition Towns movement in Ireland to prepare communities for a much lower energy future. The TT movement has now spread around the world and into the United States. Rob believes in working towards solutions for Peak Oil and Climate Change as one problem, by decreasing our energy use as well as increasing resiliency in our local communities. Rob emphasizes envisioning and creating a hopeful future of energy descent - one which people can connect to and work towards, rather than shut down in denial from fear. Transition Towns are an inclusive, grass-roots movement, but they are targeted towards smaller "towns". The Transition Handbook is available to guide people interested in starting a Transition movement.

The Post-Carbon Cities movement focuses on raising awareness in local governments, gaining consensus on the need for action, and providing the tools to local government to create plans for a lower energy future. It is more government-oriented than the Transition Towns movement. The Post Carbon Cities Guidebook is available as a free abridged download, or as a book.

These two movements are currently the most accepted and comprehensive approaches for community energy descent. They provide one of our best current hopes for proactive preparation and awareness raising. If you join or start one of these groups, you can raise concerns about the move to wood fuel - the increased particulate pollution and problems caused by deforestation. You can spearhead efforts to mitigate these problems while still meeting the needs of your fellow citizens.

So, these are some ideas, but it is by no means a comprehensive list. What would you make a priority in your community? What would work best in your area? Do you have additional ideas?

Editorial Notes: Others in the series: Preventing deforested moonscapes - Pt I Part II Part III

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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