Thursday, December 20, 2007


I'm traveling Friday night from the high plateau of the cerrado back to the forests of Acre, along path of Santo Daime and I'll be leaving the Internet zones for a few weeks. But first, here's a little Solstice image -- not a Daime vision -- just playing in the computer...


In this season of many spiritual ceremonies and many festivals in Brazil it's common to say boas festas (happy parties) along with Happy Solstice, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and Seasons Greetings because there is so much joy.

Perhaps, the energy can be shared through some videos (past and present).

From Ceu do Planato in Brasilia

From the dining hall at Vila Fortaleza, Acre

And from the family church in Bujari, Acre.

From these places and people of the family of Juramidam everywhere I send vibes of joy, many good wishes and a prayer that you may see your highest aspirations realized wherever you are.

Encounter for the New Horizon 2008

Pics and stories from the 2007 Encounter

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Save the Urubu. In Portuguese urubu means vulture but in this case it refers to a lovely stream and watershed running through a suburban-style subdivision north of the Brazilian capital of Brasilia.

It's a beautiful place to photograph, especially in early morning light.


In September the neighborhood began to organize, along with several environmental and social organizations, for its permanent protection.

Their motto, painted on a rock near a favorite swimming hole,


said "The Heart of Nature Beats With Your Help."


Recently everyone came together again to discuss...


to plant trees...


to share food...


to have fun...


and to be entertained by a marvelous performance group called Seu Estrelo that presents the music and myths of the popular cultures of the cerrado.

With spirit...



With people...






And with a place like this...


All we can say is...


More photos:

Gathering (Sept 07)

Gathering (Dec 07)

Seu Estrelo

Corrego Urubu

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


The previous post really got me thinking about why we seem to be so stuck and I began writing about it over at the terra preta bio-energy forum. I turned a few email messages into a mental meander. Here goes....

Politics has its ways to distort both logic and market forces. For example, the most recent US energy bill avoided two opportunities to guide business as usual into new directions. One would have required utilities to generate an increasing share of their power from renewable sources like wind. The other would have rolled back about $12 billion in tax breaks granted to the oil companies in the last energy bill and used the proceeds to help develop cleaner fuels and new energy technologies.

That's politics as usual. But, I believe there's an even deeper "logic" at work: the industrial age paradigm generates both profits and progress from resource extraction and disregard for waste. It approaches limits through depletions and pollutions. It generates a zero-sum politics of scarcity. Viewed from the perspective of the earth, the human race is a vast collection of "haves" and "have-nots" in a process of taking and wasting and fighting for the spoils. This is the field on which business-as-usual plays. The rich get richer, and so on....

I keep thinking that there is another logic deeply embedded in the terra preta model. Rather than a one-way taking from the earth by the human race, it presents the possibility of reciprocities that have not been part of the previous industrial paradigm. In essence, it shows a view from the earth which says that by capturing and converting waste into soil, we the human race may enter a process of giving and using. This, in turn, presents a potential for moving us from exhaustion toward abundance and generates a new playing field for business-as-usual. It suggests the possibility of truly sustainable abundance and a system in which all get richer.

Kevin Chisholm responded, saying "Politics is the Art of having Benefits diverted to one sector of Society, and Costs diverted to another."

Which got me thinking...

A long time ago when I used to teach political science in the university it was popular to say that politics was about "who gets what, when and how" or that it was about "whose ox gets gored." Looking at Bali, for example, it seems like these definitions still have reasonable descriptive power. Looking at the US Congress, these views of politics have extraordinary descriptive power. Put together a coalition of Midwest farmers, oil and auto companies and you get E85. There's just no other way to explain a huge subsidy for corn ethanol.

And when we consider that the top 20 or so developed economies collectively subsidize their agricultures at the level of $1 Billion PER DAY we can see the magnitude of the challenge of changing a complex institutionalized system. I say all this not to condemn politics per se. Replacing politics with either the market or a benevolent dictator or the IPCC scientists also will bring forth distortions from the ideal outcome.

Why is this, why are the distortions so predictable? I have a suspicion that it's because there is usually a hidden assumption buried in the good intentions of the problem-solvers and reformers -- namely, that human nature must and can change. I think you know the drill -- we must become more compassionate, less competitive, more altruistic, less greedy, less consuming, less wasteful, etc, etc. And then the inevitable happens... we turn out to still be human. Thus, I have often wondered if it might be possible to devise a system that honored our humanness and somehow worked.

One example that has always intrigued me is the
the Potlatch or Giveaway ceremonies practiced among the tribal peoples of the North American Pacific Northwest. Although it is easy to romanticize the Potlatch as an example of altruism, it really is not. Rather, it is a very complex system for determining and maintaining the status and prestige of different families within the tribe. Usually, it is performed under notions of reciprocity but among some tribes it has also been known to be very competitive, where a family will "insult" another family by demonstrating its ability to give way or waste more than the competition.

Just imagine a young type A aggressive male wanting recognition, power and the attentions of the lovely maiden. He displays his worth, not through accumulation of stored stuff but through his ability to give it away. Thus, a very human trait gets channeled into something that is, in consequence, a collective benefit. It works, I believe, in no small part because it honors human nature rather than seeking to change it.

And what is the human nature that forms our present global predicament? We multiply. We consume. We waste. And the reformers' programs sound like... Multiply less. Consume less. Waste less. These ARE important goals but we often find much to our chagrin that for every 'enlightened soul' who 'evolves' there are 10 waiting in line anxious to acquire the bad habits. Even where reproduction is decreased, the motive is often that fewer children to provide for means that more stuff can be acquired. Markets receive the message and are quick to respond. And it is all buttressed by politics and business and human nature.

I believe there are two ways out, harder and softer.

The harder way is that we continue to deplete the earth's resources and deposit our wastes into the wrong places up until the point where a stressed planet strikes back with a crash that imposes fewer numbers, survival behaviors and a new evolutionary path forged out of much conflict and suffering.

The softer way is to become more fully human by learning how to cycle our humanness no longer into ecosystem depletion but into renewal and restoration for both people and nature. The beautiful possibility is that terra preta may hold the secret of turning our wastefulness into a resource that allows for a better outcome from a business and a politics and a human nature as usual.

The old saw that "it matters not so much what you do but how you do it" may hold the deeper truth. The secret of abundance may lie in the giveaway. Google is proving this daily within the info-sphere. Terra Preta may prove it within the eco-sphere. Really, it isn't so much about giving or taking but more about where and how we leave the residues.

Respectfully, I would like to suggest that this is a revolutionary shift -- a sea change -- that requires a leap of faith. It may turn out that consciousness-as-usual is what needs to be changed -- from faith in taking to faith in giving and from faith in scarcity to faith in abundance.

We have quite a song to sing. Let's do it.

OK, that's my-your-our dream.


In the US:

NY Times, December 18, 2007

Shopping at a Whole Foods Market in suburban Chicago, Meredith Estes said food prices have jumped so much she has resorted to coupons. Charles T. Rodgers Jr., an Arkansas cattle rancher, said normal feed rations are so expensive and scarce he is scrambling for alternatives. In Oregon, Jack Joyce, the owner of Rogue Ales, said the cost of barley malt has soared 88 percent this year. Read full article.

And In Brazil:


U.S. corn subsidies for ethanol production are contributing to deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, reports a tropical forest scientist writing in this week's issue of the journal Science. Read full article.


Sunday, December 16, 2007


Andrew Rivkin has a great idea of building an archive of many voices from Bali. I was glad to see him include Newman's letter from Bali which is titled "The Mask Maker" and is comment #3 at today's DOT EARTH. Thanks Newm for the on-the-spot insights and thanks Andrew for running a different kind of view.

The general drift of reactions have expressed disillusionment with the way the European Union caved in on setting firm targets for reducing CO2 emissions and almost everyone focused on the obstructionist role played by the US.

There was general agreement that the moment of highest drama came as Kevin Conrad, Papua New Guinea's ambassador for climate change, confronted the US.

Peter Riggs of the Forum on Democracy and Trade, gave the following account:

And then it was the turn of the United States. Assistant Secretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky, with only the absolute bare minimum of diplomatic language, stated flatly that the United States rejected the changes. It was not prepared to accept the G-77 text.

Then occurred one of the most remarkable sounds that has perhaps ever been heard in the annals of international diplomacy—like a collective global groan—descending then to a murmer, then increasing in volume to a full-throated expression of rage and anger and booing and jeering, lasting for a full minute, so that finally the Minister had to call the meeting back to order.

Then the backlash began. South Africa’s representative, with great eloquence, noted that the U.S. statement was ‘most unwelcome’ and ‘without basis.’ ... Referring to redrafts from earlier in the week, Brazil noted that the EU and China and the G77 had gone along with most of the amendments offered by the U.S.—they had not blocked progress. ... Tanzania stated the situation flatly: “the United States has the power, and that is the power to wreck the progress made thus far.”

Casting all diplomatic niceties to the winds, the representative from Papua New Guinea stood up and said: “if you’re not willing to lead, please get out of the way.”

A pause. A lull. ...

Dobriansky signals she wishes to speak, and Witoelar calls on the United States.

”We are heartened by the strong commitments made by the major developing countries here at Bali,”

And then: “The United States will join the consensus” regarding the proposed compromise text.

A surge of emotion through the hall, and then a collective sigh of relief. No standing ovation, no cheering—but a sustained, respectful applause.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


Now, after Bali, come the pundits and lots opinions. Next come the proposed plans. Then (hopefully) action. It's mind boggling to see what it takes to change habits but this is truly a huge undertaking. Our energy hungry industrial world is presently 80% dependent on fossil fuels. So there's going to be much more talk and lots of politics.

Andrew Revkin gives a good running account at DOT EARTH and he is being a true blogger, inviting a global conversation: "... on Sunday I’ll post a series of “Letters from Bali” from people who attended the meeting in various guises — activists, politicians, scientists. Were you there? What impression did the gathering leave? Hopeful? Disgusted? Drained? Energized?"

The big question is whether talk and politics and the slow machinery of the democratic process can meet the challenge in time or if Nature will have to teach us in harsher ways. Personally, I dunno, but it seems that we're all going to get pulled into the conversation. Perhaps, if we tire of our differences, we will be able to see our common plight -- that's the dream. Like the Hopi elder said, this could be a very good time.

(UPDATE) There are already signs. As the US played bad guy obstructionist, the developing countries let go of their own past resistance against being judged on their own (often dismal) problems and stepped forward into a new leadership role. According to Washington Post writer Juliet Eilperin:

"It has never happened before," [Marthinus] van Schalkwyk [of South Africa] said of his and other developing countries' willingness to be judged on their climate efforts. "A year ago it would have been unthinkable."

In rapid succession, other developing nations also chastised the U.S. for blocking a global agreement.

"If you cannot lead, leave it to the rest of us. Get out of the way," said Kevin Conrad, Papua New Guinea's ambassador for climate change.

Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the standoff between American and other nations helped inspire the developing world to "pull together to keep the process alive before it sunk.

"I've been in this business for twenty years, and I've never seen a drama like that in the U.N. process," he added.

Friday, December 14, 2007


Rainforest protection plan takes shape

By Peter Gelling

NUSA DUA, Indonesia: Governments at the United Nations meeting on climate change agreed in principle Friday to a system that would compensate developing countries for protecting their rain forests, a deal that officials described as a nascent but innovative effort to mitigate deforestation and global warming.

The cutting down of forests across the globe contributes a startling 20 percent of the world's annual greenhouse pollution through burning, gases released from deforested soil and smoldering peat, scientists say. By comparison, the U.S. share of greenhouse emissions is 24 percent of the world total.

"It's a landmark in bringing a large group of developing countries into active participation in reducing emissions," said Philip Clapp, deputy managing director of the Pew Environment Group, the conservation arm of the Pew charitable trusts in the United States. "It has the potential for first time to generate the kind of investment in forest protection that has been unavailable until now."

The precise ways that countries with large rain forests, like Indonesia and Brazil, will be compensated have not been fully worked out.

UN officials said that part of the financing would come from developed countries in the form of aid and that other funds will come from carbon credits - part of the system of incentives for reducing greenhouse gases mandated by the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

The agreement on deforestation, formally known as the Reduced Emissions from Deforestation in Developing Countries, is part of the wider discussions here on reaching a global agreement on addressing climate change.

The World Bank, together with the Nature Conservancy, another U.S.-based environmental group, announced this week the establishment of several pilot projects to further the aims of the UN plan.

A $100 million Readiness Fund would provide developing countries with technical and financial assistance to measure carbon stored in its forests and devise strategies to reduce deforestation. It would also finance research on measuring reductions in emissions though sustaining forests.

A $200 million Carbon Fund will test the financial mechanisms in the UN plan, such as the trade of carbon credits, that could lead to less deforestation.
Click for full article.

UPDATE: Daphne Wysham writing in The Nation has presented a highly critical dissenting view that "carbon trading is not some innocuous attempt at climate stability. It is the neoliberal agenda writ large." Hoodwinked in Bali on Carbon Credits

Good to know of the pitfalls at the git-go. Obviously, there's going to be a LOT to work out. I and a lot of Brazilians I know hope that we (left, right and middle) will be able to put a forest protection plan in place that looks as good on the ground as on paper.

Friday, December 07, 2007


My good friend and maskmaker
extraordinaire Newman winters in
Bali where he lives and works with
local carvers and mask makers. He
is quite close to Nusa Dua, the
peninsula where the big UN-IPCC
conference is now being held.

I asked him to "file a report".

Dear Lou,

I can tell from your blog that this conference is
very important to you and the work you are doing
in Brazil, indeed on the planet. By comparison I
feel a little sheepish about my own connection with
world affairs. I do not have a clue of what is going
on in this most important of arenas; since as part of
my meditation here I refrain from paying any attention
at all to current affairs/media news.

So although I am only a few kilometers from the
conference; I have no idea what is going on there.
Indeed, you for sure know much more than I do.
My reflections then are coming from a different space.
I realize this might not be what you had in mind from
your "man on the spot" but perhaps another view from
Bali can also be part of the global picture.

The conference is being held on a sandy peninsula
at the south of the island. This area was scooped up
a few decades ago by mega corporations since it boasts
perhaps the finest beaches in Bali. It is now home to
the likes of the Hyatt regency and Club Med. It is without
doubt the most energy greedy part of the Island; air
conditioning, electrically generated endless hot water
(solar hot water heaters are amazingly absent from this
sunny place), huge swimming pools and more cars per
person than the rest of Bali, or the rest of Indonesia for
that matter.

The Balinese themselves see little financial gain from
the millions of dollars that pass through this place except
for very low pay for mostly menial jobs. I'm talking US$50
per month for working ten hours a day seven days a week,
cleaning rooms that rent for hundreds of dollars a day.
The land itself was bought from the Balinese either by
wealthy Javanese or foreigners. No doubt the delegates
will think they are in paradise and they are; but it is rather
a walled off conclave for the wealthy at the edge of that

The Balinese themselves live in quite densely populated
villages surrounded by unbelievably beautiful terraced
rice padis, sculpted into the volcanic slopes that comprise
this place. They have very highly developed community
structures that govern all aspects of life and are woven into
their spiritual life. I have never come across a people who
spend so much time praying to ensure the balance of the

So far the contributions of western culture to this mix have
been the introduction of pesticides and chemical fertilizers
for agriculture, motorized vehicles, and that consumer itch
that is generated and fueled by the hypnosis of television
and advertising. The results of western tourism to Bali have been....well very western. More jobs, more pollution of the
air, water and land and epidemic physical illness. Diabetes,
heart attacks and cancer are rife now, where they were
virtually unknown before the 1970's.

Amazingly the Balinese have not given up on praying;
indeed for them, more income often means more
elaborate ceremonies. The people wear the beauty of
their spiritual dedication in their open hearted gaze and
their happy demeanor. If you can get away from the tourist
ghettos, Bali is a beautiful place. It must seem somewhat
ironic then to these people, that the very "advanced"
westerners who brought all this trash and sickness to Bali,
are now gathering at the edge of the Island to try to figure
out how to get out of this mess.

I'm pretty sure the consensus among the Hindus of Bali
is that the rest of the world just doesn't pray enough.
Their solution?.... Pray more to make up for it and
trust that a balance will be achieved in this way.

I have been wintering in the hills around Ubud for
20 years. I've never been to Nusa Dua, the peninsula
where the conference is being held. I'm not drawn
to go there.

Love to you my friend.




Newm -- tooth ceremony
Elaborate offerings to the gods for a tooth filing ceremony
where young Balinese have their pointed canine teeth filed
flat to symbolize their journey into higher consciousness.

Newman's assistant on her wedding day.

Newm -- Bali NexGen
Next generation of Balinese

Newman in Bali
Newman in Bali.

There are some fine examples of Newm's work at
Newman's Commedia Mask Company.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007



This is important, so I'm posting it as reported at Mongabay. Follow the link to their treasure trove of vitally important rainforest information.

Amazon deforestation could be reduced to zero at $3 carbon price
Rhett Butler,
December 4, 2007

The Amazon rainforest could play a major part in reducing greenhouse gas emissions that result from deforestation, reports a new study published by scientists at the Woods Hole Research Center, the Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazônia, and the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais. At a carbon price of $3 per ton, protecting the Amazon for its carbon value could outweigh the opportunity costs of forgoing logging, cattle ranching, and soy expansion in the region. 2008 certified emission-reduction credits for carbon currently trade at more than $90 per ton ($25 per ton of CO2).

The report, published as more than 10,000 policymakers and scientists meet for UN climate talks on the Indonesian island of Bali, presents a conceptual framework for estimating the costs to tropical nations of implementing programs to reduce emissions by reducing deforestation (REDD). During the 1990s, tropical deforestation and forest degradation contributed 7 to 28% of global, human-induced carbon emissions to the atmosphere. Cutting deforestation would reduce these emissions as well as provide other ecosystem services.

The report, titled "The Costs and Benefits of Reducing Carbon Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in the Brazilian Amazon," uses Brazil as a case study for REDD. Brazil is home to the bulk of the world's remaining tropical forest cover but has had the world's highest average annual loss of forest for more than three decades. Nevertheless, Brazil's forests contain more carbon (38-56 billion tons in the Amazon alone) in tropical forest trees than any other country.

The study argues that reducing deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon to zero over a ten year period from a current average of 20,000 square kilometers per year is not only acheivable at a low cost ($8 in direct government outlays and $18 billion in forgone opportunity costs over 30 years), but would bring benefits to a wide range of Brazilians, including some of the country's poorest people--forest dwellers--who would see their income double. The initiative would also reduce fire-based costs to society (respiratory illness, deaths, agricultural and forestry damages) of $10 to $80 million per year, protect the rainfall system that fuels the Brazilian grain belt and hydroelectric energy generation, and conserve the Amazon's unmatched biodiversity. Importantly the effort would reduce carbon emissions 6 billion tons below the historical baseline and 13 billion tons below projected levels.

Daniel Nepstad (2007). The Costs and Benefits of Reducing Carbon Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in the Brazilian Amazon [PDF]. The Woods Hole Research Center. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP), Thirteenth session. 3-14 December 2007

Monday, December 03, 2007


The widely read NY Times columist Tom Friedman has a very interesting op-ed in yesterday's edition, entitled "The People We Have Been Waiting For." In it he talks about visting the young student generation of engineers at MIT and witnessing their decision stop waiting for the elder generation to solve the world's problems.

"... I got together with three engineering undergrads who helped launch the Vehicle Design Summit — a global, open-source, collaborative effort, managed by M.I.T. students, that has 25 college teams around the world, including in India and China, working together to build a plug-in electric hybrid within three years. Each team contributes a different set of parts or designs. I thought writing for my college newspaper was cool. These kids are building a hyper-efficient car, which, they hope, “will demonstrate a 95 percent reduction in embodied energy, materials and toxicity from cradle to cradle to grave” and provide “200 m.p.g. energy equivalency or better.” The Linux of cars!

They’re not waiting for G.M. Their goal, they explain on their Web site — — is “to identify the key characteristics of events like the race to the moon and then transpose this energy, passion, focus and urgency” on catalyzing a global team to build a clean car. I just love their tag line. It’s what gives me hope:

“We are the people we have been waiting for.”
Read it all here.

There are lots of ways to express our need for individual initiative and collective responsibility. I've always loved to say, "WE are the ONE we've been waiting for." But how it is said is not very important compared with the sensibility that informs the words. For this, I always turn to the words of the un-named Hopi Elder.

A Hopi Elder Speaks

"You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour. Now you must go back and tell the people that this is the Hour, and there are things to be considered:

Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?
Where is your water?
Know your garden.
It is time to speak your Truth.
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for the leader."

"The Elder then clasped his hands together and said, This could be a good time!"

"There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart and they will suffer greatly.

"Know the river has its destination. The Elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water. See who is in there with you and celebrate.

"At this time in history we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt. The time of the lone wolf is over.

"Gather yourselves! Banish the word struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.

"We are the ones we've been waiting for. "

This statement began to appear on the eve of the Millenium and it has been attributed at times to an individual and at times to a council. Or,
maybe it arrived somehow in lots of people's minds. But figuring out the source is not as important as acting on the message. What a blessing it is to know that this is exactly what people are starting to do.

Saturday, December 01, 2007


Here is a mavelous TED Talk presentation by master storyteller
and ethnobotanist Wade Davis whose mutileveled book on the
Amazon, called One River, is one of my favorites.

In the video Wade is describing the present threat of losing cultural
diversity and, along with it, the role of storytelling. His virtuoso
presentation is an example of the power of story.

(There's no more to read)

Friday, November 30, 2007


Ed Ring at EcoWorld and I seem to have a major difference of view regarding GM's recent media blitz.

and please comment.

It seems to have gotten triggered by yesterday's post about

Here is my response to Ed:

Hi Ed,

It looks like we are going to have a good discussion. I welcome the opportunity for us to learn from each other and I invite others to chime in. That's why I am going to cross-post this comment at my own blog, VISIONSHARE.

I want to thank you
Ed for the really fine post about terra preta. It was a gem and that's why I chose to make a lengthy and totally supportive comment. Perhaps, you can imagine my surprise at discovering, a few days later, that the terra preta post and my comments are by surrounded four large General Motors "LiveGreenGoYellow" advertisements?

I objected. Your follow-up response was "I'm more worried about tropical rainforest destruction than whether or not Americans subsidize their own midwestern farmers instead of sending the money to OPEC". This sounds nice but, sorry, it simply doesn't hold up.

The current subsidies of US corn ethanol have triggered massive deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. When US farmers, pulled by the new subsidies, shifted from planting soybeans to corn the economic slump that has limited soybean expansion in places like Matto Grosso, Brazil took off -- and so did the fires and deforestation which have now returned to record levels. I posted about it under the title, "US Ethanol Subsidies Help Fuel Range Wars and Fires in the Amazon" here.

The fact is that we are living in a globalized world where just about everything impacts everything else. We no longer can afford the old assumptions of separation. Nowadays we are all connected.

My specific concerns about the GM advertising campaign are:

1) it promotes one of the most inefficient and highly subsidized form of biofuel -- corn ethanol --
which competes with much more efficient forms such as sugarcane ethanol;

2) it places some of the largest and most fuel guzzling vehicles (Chevy Suburbans and GMC trucks) in the class of new green-ness;

3) it targets and promotes the "American dream" of big materialism and big agri-business in developing countries such as Brazil; see my in-depth report here.

4) the alliance of auto manufacturers and agri-business and oil companies has been a powerful lobby in the US Congress against sensible vehicle emissions standards and they are now green-washing through ad campaigns like this;

One might respond with, "what's wrong with incremental involvement from the BIG GUYS? Aren't they necessary in the task of changing the world?" Yes, of course they are. But the emphasis of this group is energy and not earth. They are not promoting earth-restoring technologies like terra preta and agri-char which includes a reciprocity of giving some back to the earth. At this point they are focused still on maximizing the flow of fuel in support of out-of-control energy consumption. The Chinese saying points out that crisis is a combination of danger and opportunity. For GM the danger is the end of cheap fossil fuels and the opportunity is biofuel. It's all an energy trip.

That's the bad news. And, YES, I'm saddened that EcoWorld is serving as a vehicle to advertise it. Perhaps you might reconsider it?

But there really is good news -- we can can save rainforests and save the world through the emerging carbon market and a few intelligent decisions as we revise the Kyoto Protocols. To protect the rainforests we must have carbon credits for avoided or reduced deforestion. To renew the earth and draw massive amounts CO2 down from the sky we need carbon credits for carbon sequestration in the soil.

And, yes, biofuels are part of the equation. My take on the issue is here.

All best,


Thursday, November 29, 2007

Click on the title above to see the latest GM ad campaign promoting E85 and its corn ethanol guzzling flexfuel vehicles.

There's a targeted Internet media blitz placing this ad on many eco websites like EcoWorld where it appears (can you believe it) FOUR times on the page of the terra preta post. Does this mean that EcoWorld isn't aware that corn ethanol is an incredibly inefficient and controversial approach based primarily on huge subsidies and protective tariffs?

(Yes, there's more)

The corn ethanol emphasis in the GM ad was obviously chosen for the US market. And so is the clever "live green go yellow" slogan.

But the colors are also a great pitch for Brazil. Green and yellow are the dominant Brazilian national colors. The 4-door GM model shown is pick-up style most favored across across Brazil.

Brazil - Green and Yellow

GM wants to compete with the likes of this non-flexfuel Mitsubishi pickup (a "candidate wagon" from the last election).


The overwhelming emphasis so far is agri-business as usual, but with cleaner and greener energy and fuel. Almost nothing is mentioned in the mainstream media about the new agrichar technologies which would also renew soils and grow more food. There's hope in the form of Ken Salazar's bill that was recently introduced in the US Senate.

We really need to spread the word about terra preta and biochar.

Here's a clever little start from GREENJACKS...

Monday, November 26, 2007


(click play button to view)

Somehow, I lost the valid embed link for this video. That's
why I've never posted it. But today my friend Jose Murilo
found it for me, so here it is. If you've got the time and
a decent Internet connection, I assure you that it's worth
viewing every second of its 49 minutes.

Earth Wisdom and Political Activism

(click the play button to view)

This video is from 1991 when I was traveling the US
as an advocate for protecting the Ancient Forests. Sadly, it
is still relevant -- old trees are still being cut in the
world and in my favorite Oregon forest.

In the video, I am speaking in Minneapolis, Minnesota to a congress of beauty salon people organized by the AVEDA corporation. They were a very responsive audience and the salons subsequently offered material on the issue and helped build a forest protection network across the country. They really demonstrated that environmentalism is not just for the experts. Everyone needs to get involved. That's what makes a difference.

Today, the United States has less than 10% of its original forests left. Its economic development was based in part on deforestation. Indeed, that's been the pattern in the whole industrial world where "progress" has always destroyed forests. How fortunate is Brazil to have more than 80% of the Amazon forest still standing! But Brazilians will need help to avoid the destructive path that was taken everywhere else. The industrialized nations will have to offer financial support for avoiding deforestation and building a sustainable economy that serves both people and the forest.

Deforestation is a major source of greenhouse gases and global warming. Saving forests is no longer just about bears and owls. Now, it's about everyones' way of life.

Sunday, November 25, 2007



The current craze for using trees and plants for energy misses the target. The fundamental question that we now face is not about energy. It is about how we USE energy. It's about feedback loops. There can be much much good — what we view as progress. And there can be problems — terrible ones. Global warming means there will be more food grown in Canada and its thawing permafrost also will release even more greenhouse gases. And as Brazilian agri-business revves up a biofuel boom, ranchers are driven toward claiming more primary forest.

In the past we used cheap and available fossil fuels for a binge of consuming that left the atmosphere polluted and the earth depleted. Now, as oil prices soar, we must ask, "are we going to focus on energy or earth, on fuel or fruitfulness?" The question is not really about having development or technology or profits or progress — or not — but whether a particular techno-economic approach gives us new and larger problems or new and larger solutions?

The basic problem with the biofuel approach is that it gives over-emphasis to supplying energy, albeit in more "sustainable" and "cleaner" forms. I don't believe that biofuel production from sugarcane and other crops is wrong as much as it can get way out of balance. There is a lot of political spin involved -- spin to hide or rationalize enormous (and wasteful) agricultural subsidies that continue to damage the earth. The critics of biofuels are already pointing to lost food production and more deforestation as immediate problems.

Some are now offering counter proposals of tree-planting to draw CO2 out of the air and to supply fuel. I'm a tree hugger with years of experience trying to save ancient forests. Let me say, unequivocally, the whole tree-planting commericial forestry schema is about monocultural "cropping" for short-term profits and not about restoring our out-of-whack ecological balance. As I write this, the labs are genetically manipulating trees for better ethanol production and fast growing ecalyptus plantations are being planted massively in Brazil for "green charcoal" to fire the steel mills.

Yes, tree-farming holds the promise of being more "carbon neutral" than coal and petrol but it's neither "carbon negative" in the atmosphere nor healing on the earth. It is a greener way to mitigate some of the really bad habits that have polluted the skies and depleted the earth in the past. But this mitigation -- this greening of fuel -- should not divert us from the more fundamental challenge of preserving what we have and repairing what we have done.

We can address this challenge. How? I believe that the answer lies now in Bali where the Kyoto protocols will soon be revised to include new definitions of carbon sequestration. This will trigger a multi-billion dollar exchange of carbon credits -- a system whereby those who cannot stop polluting can pay others to capture and store carbon.

First and foremost, there needs to be carbon credit given for reduced or avoided deforestation of EXISTING natural forests. We must protect what we have. Today, due to burning and deforestation, Brazil is the #4 greenhouse gas polluter in the world. The government is well-intentioned but there is NO reward or payment for efforts to protect forests that can offset soaring demand. Illegal logging is the predictable response to the market because all the economic incentives push for deforestation. Carbon credits can change this by channeling billions of bucks into rainforest presevation and by generating local economies invested in conservation. Forests are local, and so are the people who protect or destroy them. But the economic incentives for preservation are global!

Second, even more critical but far less understood, is the need to offer credits for carbon sequestration in the earth -- NOT as CO2 pumped into deep underground caverns but as agrichar amendments to the soil. YES, agrichar put into the soil increases its fertility, stores more nutrients (think less fertilizer), holds more water and filters what is released, pulls more CO2 out of the atmosphere and provides greater production of both fuel and food -- and the char can be made out of agricultural waste. How's that for a win/win/win/etc?

But there's a hitch -- the energy market is demanding charcoal as fuel not as a soil amendment. What will cause farmers to make the longer-term investment in soil restoration rather than reap immediate profits from selling agrichar as charcoal?


Bali is critical for creating a new tipping point that can lead us from disaster toward healing and abundance. Those who have no immediate choice about polluting ways -- airline companies for example -- can fund those who have a choice but incur lost opportunities for short-term profits if they do the right thing. It all has to do what is recognized as true carbon sequestration.

The first right thing is to reward reduced or avoided deforestation. The other right thing is to repair the soil so that it can sustainably provide an abundance for all. These are the ways we can leave the blame-game and help each other. We can jump-start a new no-fault relationship between ecology and economy — a healing one — by focusing attention on existing forests and on the soil.

It's all based on recent discoveries of an ancient Amazon Indian technique called terra preta de indio that was able to create a living soil -- up to 800% more productive than nearby nutrient-poor tropical soil. It was so successful that it is thought that prior to the Conquest there may have been millions of people living in great cities in the central Amazon without deforesting ALL the forests around them. There actually might have been an El Dorado of people living in harmony with nature. But its history is lost to us. It was devastated when the European explorers carried in diseases for which there was no immunity. The only hints that we have are buried in the soils.

A 2002 BBC documentary put the first media spotlight on terra preta and concluded with these words: "So there is a true irony to the story of the hunt for El Dorado. There was once a great civilisation in the Amazon, one the Europeans destroyed even as they discovered it, but the Amazonians may have left us a legacy far more precious than the gold the Conquistadors were seeking. That black earth, the terra preta, may mean a better future for us all."

Recently there has been research and development aimed at creating a modern version of terra preta called called Agrichar. But funding is nowhere near the amount of research monies going into genetic modification of trees and cellulostic ethanol production. We desperately need a crash program of R&D. Again, this will be likely if the carbon market provides the serious incentives for carbon sequestration in the soil.

Here are some links about what we should be thinking about "on the way to Bali".

The ABC 11 minute video about "Agrichar".

A lay person's introduction to terra preta.

Research confirms that char added to soil boosts crop productivity.

The BBC documentary, "The Secret of El Dorado"tells the story of rediscovering terra preta soils.

Ken Salazar has introduced a bill in the US Senate that would fund research on agrichar.

Friday, November 23, 2007

, Brazilian President
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said on Tuesday in response to his
government's announcement earlier this month that massive
new oil reserves had been discovered offshore.

And, the discovery of TERRA PRETA
may prove that She is Black.


This image is of the much-revered Black Madonna of Brazil, Nossa Senhora de Conceição Aparecida -- Our Lady of Conception Who Appeared.

The story is that a statue of the Virgin made around 1650 was somehow lost. Then, in 1717, some government people were traveling north to the gold mining region of Minas Gerais where the precious metal was called Ouro Preto due to a dark coating on the nuggets. Along the way fishermen cast their nets in a river hoping to catch fish for a big banquet. Instead of fish, they found the statue -- all darkened by years in the river bed. The travelers went on but the statue was kept in a little family shrine.

Soon the statue appeared to have healing and wish-granting powers -- at least for some faithful ones -- and a cult began to grow around it. As time passed, it had to be housed in larger and larger quarters and came to be venerated throughout Brazil. In 1929, the Virgin was proclaimed Queen of Brazil and its official Patron Saint. Today its Basilica, in the city of Aparecida near São Paulo, receives about 7 million visitors yearly and is the largest Marian shrine in the world.

From the first time I saw this great Black Madonna, the symbol appeared as an icon of the power of the earth. And, nowadays, there is a possible parallel with the story of 200 hundred years ago. As the Brazilian state oil firm Petrobras looks for and discovers another kind of Ouro Preto in the form of oil extracted from the ocean depths, Terra Preta soil from deep in Amazônia may be emerging as the healing force of the earth.

It would be Brazil's great good fortune to receive both.

Thursday, November 22, 2007



Andrew Revkin has a great post over at DOT EARTH.
It's full of links to cool anti-affluenza links including the
trailer to the new documentary, "What Would Jesus Buy?"

And here's Jerry Mander's classic about buying green.

Be sure to check out Andrew's "oldie but goodie"
report from Bhutan where the tiny Kingdom is
switching from the standard growth measurement
of Gross National Product (GNP) to a new measure
of Gross National Happiness (GNH).

The King could have a pretty good idea.

So maybe on this one special day we might just
hang out with a loved one and ...


Sign on building in central São Paulo


B&W Cats

In Brazil (click)


In United States (click)


Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Minke whale dies in Amazon forest.

Tue Nov 20, 2007 10:05pm GMT

BRASILIA (Reuters) - A 12-ton whale was found dead in the heart of the Amazon region, after swimming aimlessly along numerous tributaries, local media reported on Tuesday.

The minke whale measuring 5.5 meters (18 feet) was first seen last week on the Tapajos river, a tributary of the Amazon. It swam 1,000 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, was stranded on sandbanks several times, and freed once by biologists and volunteer rescue workers.

Environmentalists and volunteers had been hoping to transport the whale back to sea by ship but local residents spotted its carcass early on Tuesday and alerted authorities.

Images of the dead whale washed up on a river bank near the city of Santarem were shown by TV Liberal in Belem, the Amazon's largest city.

Experts said the whale probably became disoriented among the many river branches that form the broader Amazon.

São Paulo
Black Awareness Day
20 November 2007

Hi Folks,

OK -- I'm still crazy after all these years -- and loving it. I'm well and thriving with the help of many wonderful friends. Brazil has to be the most cordial place in the world. It seems that this is the time and place for me to come out of retirement.

Here's a current pic:


Here is what I used to look like:

I used to tell a story called
Lessons From the Ancient Forest: Earth Wisdom and Political Action (click to view).

Now, I've got the best story ever to tell. Terra preta de indio (Indian Black Earth) can save the world.

The story needs to go viral, spreading through the Internet. To do this we need storytellers and and song writers and networkers and a lot more conversation.

Maybe you can put it out to your email list(s).

Maybe get the kids (young and old) who are in the internet social networks to talk it up.

We can all do it just by spreading the news - by being a storyteller spreading a healing conversation around the globe.

We need to spread not just an awareness of a terra preta techinique but, even more importantly, we need to inspire folks with the knowledge that a lost Amazonian wisdom showed that large numbers of people could live in balance without destroying the earth.

PLEASE do what you can do.

hugs, lou


I shared the story here.

Kelpie Wilson's easy-to-read and inspiring Terra Preta primer is here.

The BBC transcript of "TheSecret of El Dorado" is here .

The ABC video about the the modern version of terra preta called "Agrichar" is here.


Minke Miguel, the small baleen whale who traveled deep into the Amazon, has been located and examined. He is healthy and doing fine, suffering only from a few scratches and bruises. I wasn't sure how to describe a small whale ("little big brother") and I hazarded a gender guess a few days ago in naming him Minke Miguel (would I have to change it to Minke Maria?). And so, crazy guy that I am, I'll continue to speculate (in an incredibly anthropomorphic fashion) that he is on a quest to bring world attention to terra preta.

For the most current media update

Whale in good condition but still far from ocean in Brazil Amazon

The Associated Press
Monday, November 19, 2007

SAO PAULO, Brazil: A whale that swam some 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) up the Amazon may get a ship ride back to the ocean, environmentalists said Monday.

The 5.5-meter (18-foot) minke whale was stranded on sandbars at least twice since first spotted in the Tapajos River, a tributary of the Amazon, on Wednesday.

A group of biologists and veterinarians managed to examine the animal on Sunday along the river near Santarem in the rain forest.

The group was trying to contain the whale in a small area of river while it tries to arrange for a ship to carry it back to the sea, said Milton Marcondes, a veterinarian with the Brazilian Humpback Whale Institute, which is taking part in the efforts to save the whale.

"It is in good condition," he said. "We couldn't do a blood exam, so we don't know how it is doing internally, but we gave it antibiotics as a precaution."

Marcondes said the whale, a male, has a superficial injury and small bruises on its skin, but none of the wounds are serious.

Rescuers, including local residents, trapped the whale on Sunday, but had to let it go before a net was secured around the animal because it became agitated and was at risk of injuring itself.

"We can't forget this animal has been away from its natural habitat for a long time," Marcondes told The Associated Press by telephone from Santarem. "It is stressed and can easily get sick."

The whale has been in the river for at least 15 days, he said, adding that there have been cases of whales surviving more than two months away from the ocean. He said feeding is not a problem because whales can go about six months without food.

The whale was not likely to find its way back to the ocean by itself because the river has "too many tributaries that could confuse" the animal, Marcondes said.

The whale ran aground for the first time on Wednesday and was briefly grounded again a few kilometers (miles) away on Saturday.

The minke whale is the second smallest of the baleen whales after the pygmy right whale. The International Whaling Commission Scientific Committee estimates there are about 184,000 minke whales in the central and northeast Atlantic Ocean.

Read more about terra preta here and here and see the video here.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Minke Miguel
the Baleia Brasileira Baleen
is spotted again near Santarem

Minke Whale
Minke Whale: unaccredited photo from web

SAO PAULO, Brazil - A 5 1/2-metre whale that entered the Amazon River and swam about 1,600 kilometres upstream has been trapped for a second time on a sandbar, Brazilian news media reported Sunday.

Local residents spotted the minke whale just a few kilometres from where it was freed on Friday near Santarem, a city in the Amazon rain forest, the Jornal do Brasil reported.

Brazil's Environmental Protection Agency had called off its search for the whale late Friday after losing track of the mammal in the Tapajos River. Calls to agency officials were not answered on Sunday.

The whale ran aground for the first time on Wednesday. The Globo television network broadcast images of dozens of people gathered along the river splashing water on the animal, whose back and dorsal fin were out of water and exposed to the hot Amazon sun.

The minke whale is the second smallest of the baleen whales after the pygmy right whale. The International Whaling Commission Scientific Committee estimates there are about 184,000 minke whales in the central and northeast Atlantic Ocean. source: The Canadian Press.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

“What we do in the next two to three
years will determine our future. This
is the defining moment.”

-- Rajendra Pachauri,
director of the UN's International Panel on Climate Change

The story that defines what we might do has been
emerging from Brazil.

It's a golden opportunity.

First, the story...

Once upon a time, way back in the sixteenth century, the Spanish Conquistador Francisco de Orellanawas the first European explorer to travel down length of the Amazon River. Starting in Peru and into the Rio Negro, a huge tributary, upriver from present-day Manaus, the exploration traversed the continent to the Atlantic Ocean. For Orellana and his unfortunate companions it was a terrible trip plagued with every kind of adversity which, in the end, left him as the sole survivor to return to the Court of the King of Spain to tell the story.

But what a story it was. We might even speculate that Orellana survived the ordeal in order to complete his mission of telling of having found Eldorado -- fantastic golden cities in the heart of the forest of the New World. Orellana reported something even more unbelievable than gold -- there was an advanced indigenous civilization with many high density human settlements. Huge Indian populations were living along the waterways of Amazônia and, according to Orellana, at one place there was a city of continuous side-by-side houses stretching for twenty miles. His tale was both fantasic and fabulous. I doubt that the Spanish Court could really embrace the thought of a civilization more advanced than their own but they sure could imagine the gold.

Gold lust inspired many later adventures across the New World but none could find the fabled Eldorado. It was nearly a century later that missionaries came to the region explored by Orellana, but they reported finding only small nomadic bands of hunter-gathers roaming the forest. The obvious conclusion was that Orellana had fabricated a great tale to mask his own failed expedition. And, much later, a whole generation of modern scientists confirmed the implausibility of an Eldorado in the forest by noting that the nutrient poor Amazon soils could not have supported a large-scale agriculture which is the prerequisite of civilization.

But this "well etablished view" that the Amazon basin could not have contained large human populations has started to crumble. First with new research in Bolivia and, more recently, in central Amazõnia, scientists are discovering tell-tale signs of ancient large-scale populations. The indians appear to have figured out how to transform the nutrient-poor yellowish soils into deep deposits of an extremely fertile dark earth called terra preta de indio. What are these tell-tale signs? Terra preta soils are loaded with pottery sherds and charcoal. The pieces of ceramic are in the contour of large pots and vessels that could have been used only by stationary populations. And the charcoal -- apparently char from cleared forest -- has been ground into small pieces indicating that these soils were "made" by the local residents.

The resulting soils are amazingly fertile -- sometimes producing nearly 800% more plant growth compared with nearby untreated soil -- and clearly capable of supporting a large-scale agriculture. Also anthropologists have found at least one small tribe with an hierarchical cultural structure suggesting a distant past of living among large sedentary populations and not always as nomadic hunter-gathers.

Recent efforts to map the areas of terra preta soils along the Tapajos River have unearthed esquisite 2000 year-old pottery. Carbon dating of soils in some other areas suggest that they may be 2500-4000 years old -- and still fully fertile which is extraordinary in the Amazon where heavy rainfall typically leaches the nutrients out of the soils rather quickly. Interestingly, the mapping efforts are revealing a close correspondence with the Eldorado areas talked about by Orellana.

So what happened to these lost civilizations? No one knows for certain. There's little hard evidence because there is no stone in the area and the wooden structures were quickly reclaimed by the tropical forest. But the best speculation is that the first European expeditions carried in diseases -- smallpox, measels, flu, even the common cold -- to a population that had so harmoniously co-evolved with its niche that it had no disease ... and no need for immunity. After a catastrophic die-off there were only a few survivors who had devolved back into hunter-gathers. The sole legacy of the civilization remained hidden in the soil.

Today, in some areas, terra preta is harvested and sold as potting soils. If a limited amount (about 20 cm deep) is retained and the area then left fallow it will grow back to full depth in about 20 years. Apparently -- get this! -- terra preta soils develop into organic communities that are capable of growing like a biotic culture as in sourdough bread or yogurt, truly a living earth.

Five years ago, England's BBC did a special TV documentary called The Secret of Eldorado that concluded with these words: "So there is a true irony to the story of the hunt for El Dorado. There was once a great civilisation in the Amazon, one the Europeans destroyed even as they discovered it, but the Amazonians may have left us a legacy far more precious than the gold the Conquistadors were seeking. That black earth, the terra preta, may mean a better future for us all."

A golden opportunity.

At the time of the 2002 BBC documentary, a better future was understood as gaining the ability to BOTH save the rainforest and feed more people. But, now, global warming has added an incredibibly important new dimension -- the need to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and sequester it somewhere. This is exactly what terra preta does because 1) plants that grow faster, also remove CO2 from the atmosphere faster and 2) if the agricultural waste (unused portions of the plants) are made into charcoal, it can be used to renew the soil and sequester carbon.

The result of such a system would mean better soil, more food, cleaner fuel, less deforestation and, if Kyoto is revised to include payment for carbon negative sequestration in the soil, developing countries like Brazil and poor farmers everywhere will be paid to save the earth, while growing both food and fuel. This is why terra preta is being called the "new black gold".

Everyone, who thinks of Brazil, knows of its gifts of samba and soccer which are world renown. But Brazil is also the place where the gift of light emerges out of darkness. When gold was discovered in the state of Minas Gerais, it was given the name ouro preto (black gold) because the nuggets had a dark coating. Later, when a statue of the Virgin with dark skin was discovered in a river bed, it was named, Nossa Senhora Conceição de Aparecida (Our Lady of Conception who Appeared) because it appeared to have wish-granting and healing powers. And, for me, this image is one of the great symbols of the fertility and abundance of Mother Earth.

Nossa Senhora Conceição de Aparecida

This Black Madonna became the patroness of Brazil and the center of the largest healing shrine in the world. Perhaps She is also a powerful symbol for the possibility of healing the earth.

Nowadays, we have the rediscovery of an empowering dark earth brew called terra preta, along with speculation of an ancient and highly advanced Indian civilization. Perhaps terra preta will be Brazil's greatest gift yet to the world. Perhaps we can all spread the story about how there once was a time when large numbers of people lived in a bountiful harmony with the earth in a place called Eldorado and that, with love and care and attention, we can repeat the performance.

Here are links to more information:

Australian Broadcasting Company video (11 min) about the global terra preta movement.

GREAT BBC Documentary "The Secret of El Dorado" (49 min video)

Full transcript of BBC El Dorado documentary.

Easy to read primer on Terra Preta.

Expandable Google map of Terra Preta sites.

Pdfs of the best magazine articles.

Continuous updates of all relevant links.

How biofuels can become carbon-negative and save the planet.

US Senator introduces bio-char legislation.

Research confirms bio-char in soil increases yields.

Biopact on the IPCC bio-fuel recommendations.

UPDATE: This post has been linked in a roundup by Global Voices Online, and translated to Portuguese here.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


Residents of Brazil's Amazon basin try to help a minke whale reach deeper water.
Photograph: Reuters

By Tom Phillips reporting in the Guardian.

Biologists and villagers in a remote corner of the Amazon rainforest were searching for a 12-tonne whale yesterday that had reportedly lost its way and become stranded 1,000 miles from the ocean.
The five-metre long (16ft) creature, which biologists said was probably a minke whale, became stranded on a beach on the Tapajos river, 39 miles from the city of Santarem. Environmental experts said the whale had probably become separated from its group in the Atlantic Ocean, off northern Brazil, after falling ill or being hit by a boat.

The whale appeared to have entered the Amazon near the city of Belem before reaching the Tapajos, a tributary of the Amazon. Efforts to rescue the animal began on Tuesday, after local fishermen contacted environmental officials in Santarem by radio. On Thursday biologists arrived at the scene by boat and isolated the sandbank.

Residents of Piquiatuba, an isolated settlement of about 70 families in the Amazon state of Para, also helped to try and free their unexpected visitor, splashing water onto its skin to protect it from the scorching sun. Images broadcast on Brazilian television showed dozens of fishermen and curious locals crowded together in the river around the whale's large grey fin.

On Thursday night after rescuers managed to free the whale it disappeared into the waters. Environmentalists used helicopters and boats to try and find the whale, without success.

"What we can definitely say is that it lost its way," Fabia Luna, a government biologist involved in the rescue, told Globo television. "It entered the river, which on its own is unusual. But then to have travelled around 1,500km is both strange and adverse."

"It is very atypical [to find] a whale in Amazonia," Katia Groch, a whale expert from the Instituto Baleia Jubarte (humpback whale institute), told the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper. "It may have lost its way, perhaps because of illness. We will only know when we can examine it."

Although the whale's presence was only confirmed this week, Daniel Cohenca, the regional head of Ibama, Brazil's environmental agency, said it may have been in the region for up to two months.

In recent weeks residents near the Tapajos river are said to have become alarmed at the presence of an unidentified animal. Some locals had ordered their children not to swim in the river after rumours spread that a "big cobra" had been spotted.

"There are people who just don't understand how this kind of animal survived in fresh water," said Cohenca.

Rescuers fear that, alone, the whale will have difficulty returning to the Atlantic.

"It is outside of its normal habitat, in a strange situation, under stress and far from the ocean," said Groch. "The probability of survival is low."


Friday, November 16, 2007


Have A Nice day

A friend (thanks Al) sent this unattributed photo to me and I just had to pass it on.
It put a smile on my face. Maybe it will do the same for you.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Ban Ki-Moon - Amazon - AFP
UN Secretary Ban Ki-Moon in Amazônia -- Photo Agence France-Presse

UN Secretary Ban Ki-Moon just spent several days of fact-finding in Brazil. He visited an ethanol installation in Ribeirao Preto and then traveled on to the Amazon.

"Some fear that land currently used to grow food will instead be turned over to fuel," Ban said in a news release issued from New York. "Others worry that forests will be cut down to make way for biomass plantations. Still more worry about the effects on the environment and biodiversity." "Brazil is the quiet green giant. It leads the world in renewable energy," Ban said. UPI

Then he traveled with Brazilian Environment Minister Marina Silva into the Amazon basin near Belem, where he made a strong commitment to helping Brazil in its conservation efforts.

All this is preparation for the fact that the Kyoto treaty will soon be re-negotiated. What is at issue is whether or not carbon credits will be given to rainforest countries to compensate them for reducing deforestation. At present, Brazil receives no economic benefit from its recent massive conservation efforts. Changing the Kyoto formula is essential for making it possible for rainforest countries to choose a better balance between development and conservation.

The need to alter the Kyoto formula is discussed in a depth interview with Dr. Daniel Nepstad located at Mongabay

Under a widely supported international initiative, Brazil and other tropical forest countries may see compensation for measures to reduce deforestation that would otherwise occur. While Brazil has moved slowly on the concept, there is a real possibility that industrialized countries will support what has been termed the "Reducing Emissions from Deforestation" (RED) initiative.

Nepstad believes that if adopted, RED could trigger the largest flow of money into tropical forest conservation that the world has ever seen. Besides climate benefits, the plan would help maintain critical ecosystem services while safeguarding biological diversity.

This is clearly a big part of the solution.

Sunday, November 11, 2007



The lead story in today's São Paulo newspaper states, "Brazil will face another 4 years of shortage of gas." The recent discoveries of huge new oil and gas deposits off the coast of southern Brasil will take years to come on-line.

As Brazil's economy takes off and more and more people are lifted out of poverty the demand for more electric energy (especially in the industrial South) is also soaring. Demand is increasing faster than supply. New electrical energy depends on hydro-electric projects or gas-fired power plants. Natural gas comes primarily from Bolivia which nationalized the holdings of Brazil's Petrobras and has been bargaining for higher prices. So there's talk of more gas prospecting in the Brazilian Amazon and more pipelines, including the possibility of one stretching all the way from Venezuela to Argentina. Additionally several huge new hydro projects have been moving toward a fast track. Thus, electrical energy and natural gas are added to soybeans, biofuels, logging and ranching as pressures on Amazõnia.

Last June, Larry Rohter, writing in the International Herald Tribune saw it this way:

PORTO VELHO, Brazil: The eternal tension between Brazil's need for economic growth and the damage that can cause to the environment are nowhere more visible than here in this corner of the western Amazon.

More than one-quarter of this rugged frontier state, Rondônia, has been deforested, the highest rate in the Amazon. Over the years, ranchers, miners and loggers have routinely invaded nature reserves and Indian reservations.

Now a proposal to build an $11 billion hydroelectric project here on the Madeira River, which may have the world's most diverse fish stocks, has set off a new controversy.

How that dispute is resolved, advocates on both sides say, could determine nothing less than Brazil's vision of its future at a moment when it is simultaneously facing energy and environmental pressures and casting envious glances at faster-growing developing countries like India and China.


The energy generated by the dams is to be transported south more than 1,500 kilometers to Brazil's industrial heartland, with little or no immediate benefit for this state of 1.5 million people, whose own growing demand for energy is supposed to be met by a new gas pipeline to the north.

But it's not just Brazil casting envious glances at the economic growth of China and India. Many investors from the richer parts of the world are casting envious glances at Amazônia and places like Porto Velho, Rondonia. Sean Silcoff, reporting for Canada's Financial Post offered a view from the north entitled, "Bringing Malls To The Amazon: Caisse steps off the beaten path to walk on the frontier of pension fund investment":

Far down one of the main tributaries of the Amazon River lies the city of Porto Velho, population 400,000. It is a place that rates little notice from tourists, and little wonder: The city has been witness to much ugliness. It was the last stop on the notorious Madeira-Mamore "railway of death" that claimed the lives of tens of thousands of workers as it was carved through the jungle to serve the rubber trade -- just before prices collapsed 100 years ago. A gold rush turned bust. In the 1970s and 1980s, the jungle around Porto Velho was deforestated for crops. More recently, this frontier town has served as a conduit for Bolivian cocaine traffickers.

In short, it is one of the last places on Earth you would expect to run into a conservative foreign investor, particularly one that manages Canadian pension fund assets.

But plans are taking shape to radically overhaul the commercial heart of Porto Velho with the construction of its first shopping mall on a 22-acre downtown plot. Canada's largest institutional investor, the Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec, is the main financial backer of the 60-million reais ($34-million) project.


Like Brazil, Porto Velho's dodgy past sits at odds with the vast potential. If the economy continues to improve, tens of millions of Brazilians will be lifted out of poverty and join the middle class, bringing with them enormous new spending power. That will bring new-found prosperity everywhere, including a mid-sized centre like Porto Velho. But the city has two other bright spots. It is a major river port, serving nearby soybean and sugar cane farms -- which stand to play a larger role if demand for biofuels continues to rise. In addition, there is a proposal to dam the river, for a major hydroelectric plant nearby. The US$11-billion project is controversial -- the river is home to the world's most diverse fish stocks --but seen as a vital tool to bring economic prosperity to a country hungry for more. Things are looking up for Porto Velho, and Brazil. For a relatively small risk, the Caisse could make a nice return -- and a huge difference.

While it is clear that change is arriving very quickly, the future of Amazônia is not a done deal. Development will surely happen, lots of it. But we are becoming aware -- dramatically aware -- that it is an illusion to think of humans and nature as separate or that we can serve the needs of one without considering the other. The question before us is: will our development -- material, social, ecological and spiritual -- lead us toward a more harmonious relationship of humans and nature, toward an expanded and more evolved human nature? Or, will it be business as usual? Perhaps our present quest begins by asking the question, "How much is enough?"

Much is at stake, including our own survival.