More than just CO2?

I was looking through the Clean Coal website today, and ran across an in-house blog post that annoyed me.

Clean coal — it's more than just CO2

So, I posted the comment below. We'll see if it gets past the moderator.


I think the title to this post sums up the main problem with "Clean Coal." The fact is, CO2 and other greenhouse gases are the main environmental problem of our time. Without addressing CO2, you don't get special points for simply complying to relatively weak environmental standards. Those standards address the problems of the past without addressing the problem of the present. Coal is the biggest point source emitter of greenhouse gases, so its up to you to step up to the plate.

Until you (the coal industry) have demonstrated that you can actually build a plant that will reliably sequester CO2, we can't afford to build a single conventional coal plant. Any coal plant that is built should have something to prove, a solid commercial demonstration of a carbon sequestration technology. We had a plant out here in Virginia that tried to claim it was "clean coal compatible" by setting aside a piece of land where they would place a sequestration plant when it became available. The claim was shot down because it was patently ridiculous.

Until you can demonstrate sequestration technology works, you cant build any new plants and truthfully claim that they are "Clean." Building plants now on the hope that this unproven technology works is a risk we simply can't afford to take.

The Plan

Allow me to explain my dream to you. I want to make ecological restoration pay for itself by building an organization that grows as it restores more forests. The organization would be focused on a replicable and self-replicating model which could adapt to any type of social and ecological environment. The model would work something like this:
  • We buy or are granted a piece of land, preferably with some forested and some degraded habitat.
  • We establish a small business* that uses the resources of the forested land sustainably.
  • We use revenues from that small business, donations, and grants to plant more forest, thereby increasing the potential and future size of the enterprise.
  • 10% of "profits"* from the small business go into a fund to get another piece of land and start the cycle over.
I believe the biggest obstacles to this plan are land acquisition and profitability. Another concern is that we would become so focused on profit that we lose sight of reforestation. Let me know if you'd be interested in helping with this effort.

*See my previous post, The Question, for a list of ideas for such businesses.
*In the non-profit world, what is normally known as "profits" are called "net-positive revenue." The difference is that this revenue cannot leave the organization.

Abingdon, VA

I've been in Abingdon for a little over two weeks now, staying with the executive director of Appalachian Sustainable Development, Anthony, and his wife Laurel. It's probably been the most sustainable time of my life. Almost all of the food I've eaten has been either organic, locally produced, or even grown right here on the farm. I've planted strawberries, split logs for firewood, even driven a Prius! For Thanksgiving, the highlight of our meal was a pasture-fed turkey that had been raised and slaughtered by our host, Kirsty.

Since I arrived the week of Thanksgiving, I've only done three days of actual work on my internship. The rest of my time has been spent doing farmwork, other household chores, and having amazing conversations with Anthony about the ins and outs of running a non-profit. Among these was the time I asked him about the origins of ASD. My paraphrased version of what he said, in quotes as always:
"Well it was the early '90s, and everyone was talking about 'jobs versus the environment.' Unemployment in the area was extraordinarily high, and a lot of people saw environmentalists as people who were trying to take their jobs. A group of us got together and started talking about, well, maybe we can create jobs and protect the environment at the same time. And that's all it was, at the beggining, a group of people meeting informally to talk about how to create a local, sustainable economy here in this area."
This is the stuff that dreams are made of. Appalachian Sustainable Development now has an office in Abingdon, a packing house (for organic local foods) in Duffield, and a sustainable wood processing center in Castlewood. It has created jobs, opened farmer's markets, and even begun creating "outdoor classrooms" at elementary schools. What I'm saying is, if they can do it, so can I, and so can you!

- Lets get to work

120 Acres?!?!?

I spent much of Today at the Appalachian Sustainable Development office in downtown Abingdon. I was researching carbon markets and sustainable forestry certifications. This is the main research component of my internship, with the ultimate goal of getting the forestry operations certified so we can get carbon credits for them.

There are two main certification systems that allow a firm to claim that their wood is "sustainable." The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) was designed by the wood and paper products industry, is the most popular system in the U.S. and seems to be only marginally better than nothing. For example, there's this little quote:
"Average size of clearcut harvest areas does not exceed 120 acres, except when necessary to respond to forest health emergencies or other natural catastrophes."
120 Acres?!!? Average?!! Except??

I took a few minutes to compose myself after reading this amazing example of greenwashing, and then took heart that although SFI is the most popular standard in the US, it is not generally accepted as "green" by anyone reputable. From "LEED," the green building standard that stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, to environmental groups like the National Wildlife Federation, most legitimate environmental organizations do not consider SFI to be a true standard for sustainability.

Instead, these organizations and many others use the Forest Stewardship Council, or FSC, standard. FSC was designed by environmental organizations and is generally considered to be the greener of the two standards. However, not everyone agrees with FSC. When I mentioned to Chad the Horse Logger the other day that part of my internship was to get FSC certification, for Sustainable Woods, he told me that he didn't think it went far enough because it allowed for some clearcutting.

I've just started my research, so I don't know the extent to which FSC allows for clearcutting. I only hope its less than 120 acres...

-Peace and Plants


Sustainable Forestry Initiative:
SFI vs FSC (pdf):

Quality Control

We've been having some quality problems as of late*, so I spent all day today going through every piece of flooring in an order to look for defects. Thankfully I did not do this alone. Allow me to introduce a couple of my co-workers:

Kathlyn's job is to make the business operations of this non-profit more, well, profitable. This includes both Sustainable Woods and ASD's agricultural operations. My main boss, she is a bright-eyed, energetic woman whose attempts to avoid cursing can be extremely amusing.

Nick takes care of sales for sustainable woods, and seems like he might be more at home on a college campus than a sales seminar. He knows a lot about sustainable wood products, and he has to: his job is to convince people to buy our products rather than, say, bamboo flooring. From the fact that bamboo is invasive in the US to the fact that its disappearing in China, the reasons to go with a local, sustainably harvested floor are many, and Nick's job is to explain them all.

-Peace and (Native) Plants

*This post was written in December 2008. Sustainable Woods has since switched their milling contract and resolved the quality issues described here.