Archive Environmental Progress Newsletter May 2020

Is there a silver lining?

The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted our normal lives, to put it mildly. 

Is there any silver lining to this dark cloud?

We think so. We think that the pandemic’s silver lining is the life raft Covid has thrown the world by stopping those normal lives long enough for the environment to take a deep, healing breath.

Where do you see Covid’s beneficial touch?

The most notable change is air quality. Just look at David Spake’s before and after photo series of Los Angeles. The Covid quarantine cleared the air! Truly amazing. 

Which future do you prefer?

What if the majority of people emerge from quarantine to see clear skies and enjoy fresh breezes? Imagine that they decide that they like living in a clean world. Imagine that they want to live in a world that has fresh air, clean water, and healthy food.

Imagine that they decide to make a cleaner world the new normal?

We are still in the midst of the pandemic, quarantined and socially distanced. People are angry and impatient – but these collective measures are working, however irritating they may be to each of us individually.

We must open up soon, because we cannot survive all locked away, but how we open up, the new normal we create, is critical. Yes, it matters because it will determine whether the pandemic kills and kills or we can contain it. What really matters, however, is what the new normal means for life as we know it – and enjoy it – on earth.

Have we learned from the pandemic?

We hope so.

We know that if everyone goes their own way, Covid spreads fast and that if we all act together we can slow it to a near stop. 

And the climate?

Well, in the old normal, we had a free-for-all – and the result is obvious in the first of the photos above of LA. But if we can build a new normal, a normal in which we all cooperate to ensure that our skies remain blue, our breezes fresh, and our water clean then we could live in a world that looks like the glorious, final photo of L.A. above

If Covid has a lasting silver lining, this will be it – a new awareness that if we want a healthy world to live in, we all have to pull together.


New Research Links Air Pollution to Higher Coronavirus Death Rates

Atlanta on Saturday evening. The area is likely to suffer more deaths than the adjacent Douglas County, Ga.Credit…Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Coronavirus patients in areas that had high levels of air pollution before the pandemic are more likely to die from the infection than patients in cleaner parts of the country, according to a new nationwide study that offers the first clear link between long-term exposure to pollution and Covid-19 death rates.

In an analysis of 3,080 counties in the United States, researchers at the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that higher levels of the tiny, dangerous particles in air known as PM 2.5 were associated with higher death rates from the disease. Read full story by New York Times Journalist Lisa Friedman

In a nutshell:

Stop the Smoke

Agricultural burning generates tonnes of killer PM 2.5 (smoke) and green house gases (GHG) that fuel climate change.

Our “Stop the Smoke” is all about replacing agricultural burning with a method that stops the PM2.5 and GHG emissions, and provides a beneficial by-product (biochar) that can revitalize soil, and provide poor farmers a sustainable source of new income.

This is a worldwide problem, and can only be addressed at the local level.

Warm Heart helps organize communities to set up projects to teach farmers a new method of removing crop waste, and we show them how to build a sustainable business for their community.

We are making progress, the Climate Activist Fund will allow us to continue to broaden our reach.

Stop the Smoke is good for farmers, communities,  the environment, and every breathing species.

Stuck at home? Make the best of it!

Here are a few articles to read while you have the time to indulge!

Why is climate change so unfair? by Teresa Chin

How Climate Change is influencing choices of U.S. Youth – New Research

On April 22nd is Earth Day 2020 – Celebrating its 50th Anniversary by Jeff Tucker

New Zealand Has Eliminated New COVID-19 Cases, Prime Minister Says: ‘We Have Won That Battle’ – by Sarah Bregel

After the Dinosaur-Killing Impact, Soot Played a Remarkable Role in Extinction by Nola Taylor Redd


A Personal Message from the Editor

by Carol Culver De Leo

Besides editing the newsletter, and managing the Warm Heart website, I am responsible for fundraising.

But I hate asking for money!

This past month we were involved in a Global Giving campaign vying for a seat on the year long Climate Action Fund.

For me, this was really bad timing with everything going on in the world dealing with the impact of the pandemic. Knowing how important winning would be for Warm Heart I launched our campaign and tried my best.

My goal was to earn votes for our project through as many $10 donations as we could gather.

We ended up in the top 10 in the competition, and our peers will be voting in 3 groups from the top 10 to join the Climate Action Fund. Results will be announced in May.

After the campaign ended, and the pressure was over, I started thinking about it, and realized even though the campaign is done, we can still use those $10 donations.

Not only because it helps fund our project, but it helps spread an awareness of the need for global change on how farmers handle their crop waste.

Our solution is a win-win-win, and when someone makes a $10 donation they are invested in the solution. And that is what we need. Global recognition that there is a better way to do it and help make that change.

Change is usually slow, but we are running out of time, we need to speed up the needed change to help clean our air and remove agricultural pollution as one of the contributors to global warming. Join our movement with a $10 donation today! Donate Now

Facebook post

During our campaign I posted to Facebook zealously. One post in particular drew quite a few responses. One claiming global climate was not real, another stating locally farmers were not burning their crops, the smoke was from fires set by people harvesting mushrooms. Another saying “farangs” (foreigners) could not come in to Thailand and make changes, only Thai’s could make changes.

Dr. Michael Shafer responded to the comments in an attempt to clarify and educate. This was his response:

Hi, my name is Michael Shafer. I am the co-director of Warm Heart, a Thai organization (CM273) and the partner of Khun Aom, the Thai project manager for the Warm Heart Biochar Project who runs ‘Stop the Smoke.’ I would like to correct a number of misconceptions that mark this exchange.

First, Warm Heart is not a farang organization and ‘Stop the Smoke’ is not a farang invention or intervention. ‘Stop the Smoke’ uses technology, techniques and training materials vetted by poor Thai farmers and taught to Thai farmers by other Thai farmers. This program teaches Thai villagers in A.Mae Chaem how to convert feed corn field waste into biochar, a smokeless process that also reduces CO2E emissions and provides villagers new income during the dry season when there is no work.

Second, ‘Stop the Smoke’ addresses not rice straw burning, but feed corn waste burning. Yes, today in areas close to good roads, rice straw is baled and sold, not burned. (Most bales are used as poor animal feed, and so contributes to methane releases as bovine burps, or as barn bedding that ends up rotting anaerobically, giving up methane and NOx.) With rising demand and prices, baling will spread. What baling will not do, however, is stop the burning of rice stubble, a practice unseen from Chiang Mai, which is surrounded by high class farms. but is common in rural areas.

Warm Heart is not interested in rice straw, because it is a declining problem with a commercial solution. We are interested in corn waste, a rising problem that so far has appeared not to have a commercial solution. (‘Stop the Smoke’ is about testing the small-scale solution that we have developed.)

In the past decade, corn has become the North’s crop of choice for lots of reasons. Today, corn crop waste is the largest agricultural source of smoke in Thailand, having recently outstripped sugarcane.

The residents of Chiang Mai, in particular the vocal, local farang, are focused on forest fires and lurid tales of fire starting gangs of mushroom hunters. Few know that just beyond mountains lie tens of thousands of hectares of small farmers’ corn fields that are burned annually generating millions of tonnes of CO2, CO2e and smog precursors, and thousands of tonnes of PM 2,5.

These people and their crop waste burning are what concern Warm Heart and are the focus of ‘Stop the Smoke.’


Why focus on small farmers?

We focus on small farmers because they grow feed corn on the worst land in the North. Their fields are steep and small; their waste is widely dispersed. It cannot be collected economically.

Result?

No baling solution or its equivalent. This corn waste will burn and burn into the future because farmers cannot plant the next crop in fields cluttered with the previous one’s waste and weeds. Fire is the only good alternative poor farmers have.

So ‘Stop the Smoke’ pays, poor farmers to make biochar, pays them practically as much as they get for their corn. (We pay 5 THB per kg; the normal price of corn is 5-7 THB per kg.) Farmers are happy to work to make biochar at value and we figure that at the price, it is a bargain compared to the billions spent on healthcare for those sickened by PM2.5.

This is what we need your support for: to buy biochar and to train more farmers.

Someday we will create a Thai market for biochar so that we will not have to depend on donors willing to pay to stop the smoke.

Someday, for example, we will create a market for waste biochar-based fertilizer, a superior alternative to synthetics that actually outperforms NPK in field tests. Or perhaps we will create a market for biochar briquettes to replace cooking charcoal because they do not smoke or smell, and burn longer and hotter than traditional charcoal – and do not require cutting forests to make.

All this is in the future, but even today, biochar briquettes sell for 15 THB to 30 THB per kg in Bangkok to foreign buyers. (Before Covid, Four Seasons Resort converted their kitchen to biochar to the delight of their chef.) Right now, no one cares about anything but mushrooms.

In this regard, we think that people need to see Chiang Mai’s smoke not as “special,” as we so often do, but understand that it is just like the smoke that cloaks most developing world cities after harvest season.

When the rice fields of eastern China burn, 50% of Beijing’s haze is rice fire smoke, when Teheran goes dark, when Lahore stops, when India is forced to close Delhi schools and even the government, the villain is wheat crop waste burning.

Everyone here complains that our government isn’t doing enough. What are these other governments doing? I know of no significant government interventions is any of these countries specifically targeting crop waste burning that go beyond our own “no-no’s.”.

All the other governments demand is the strict enforcement of existing laws and the passage of legislation that taxes emissions. I have yet to hear that any of them have succeeded where we have failed.

That said, these two, simple courses of action offer huge potential benefits for us. In Thailand, for example, lump wood charcoal is supposed to be banned. In practice, no effort is made to enforce this law – and thus there is no demand for biochar briquettes. Enforcement of this law would create a huge demand for biochar briquettes (65% of the population of the North cooks with charcoal), would result in a huge reduction in waste burning and in smoke from millions of charcoal cookfires.

By the same token, many factories in Chiang Mai still burn wood and other raw biomass fuels or charcoal. They spew air pollution year around, while requiring the destruction of forests, habitat, biodiversity and watershed. And, of course, use of these dirty fuels kills demand for for clean biochar. Here, passage of tax legislation that phased in taxes on smoke stack emissions that exceed set limits would, again, drive demand for biochar, reduce burning and reduce industrial air pollution.

Why make so much of demand?

Demand is critical because the supply of corn crop waste is huge and growing.

Today there is enough corn waste alone to provide 200 kg of biochar briquettes annually to all 65% of the Northern Region’s population that cooks with charcoal. Unless there is a big and steady demand, all this will burn.

Second, demand is critical because farmers will not make biochar without an incentive and for biochar to clear the air, that incentive must be provided by demand.

Third, governments do not play in this game; this is about private enterprise and entrepreneurship. The government can and should help to create the conditions to energize entrepreneurs – for example by enforcing existing laws or passing new ones. If, however, we want every corn growing village in the North to biochar, not burn, then we need thousands of small businesses out there buying biochar and selling value-added products.

Or, to put this differently, we need thousands of copy cats out there using Warm Heart’s open source technology, training materials and business model to give villagers the opportunity, means and motive to biochar, not burn.

I apologize for this lengthy response, but there is so much misinformation floating about and so many people who really would like to be part of the solution, but have no idea who or what to believe, I figured longer was better than “Facebook.”

If you continue to have questions, start by referring to our website (www.warmheartworldwide.org/environment). If that does not suffice, please feel free to contact me at info.warmheartworldwide.org. If you are uncomfortable writing in English, Thai is fine. Unfortunately, my Thai is poor, so you will probably get an answer from Khun Aom (Biochar Project Manager) or Khun Dang (Biochar Production Manager and Warm Heart Chief of Staff).


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Donate to help Warm Heart’s “Stop the Smoke” biochar project.

Warm Heart Worldwide is a registered 501.c.3 non-profit organization in the United States, our tax exemption number is 26-2059241. All donations are tax-deductible for U.S. Taxpayers.

 

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