There are many aspects to how the human species is going to interface itself with computers, its software, and physical technologies and resources around the planet. What I see is a convergence
between artificial intelligence and physical intelligence.
What do I mean by AI? There are a range of interpretations of what this means in 'reality'. However, the 'reality' is that we are using more and more mathematical algorithms to solve 'real world (physical)' problems. These algorithms are enshrined in software code based on a physical system such as smartphones, laptops, desktops and cloud-based server farms. I was at a Summer solstice party a couple of years ago and I spoke to a bearded computer science student who described AI as basically using software, based on computers, to solve problems. That could be as simple as using a sensor such as a moisture meter to tell an Arduino microcontroller to turn on the water in a wicking bed to water the plants. It could be as complex as modelling the climate for change, mining a cryptocurrency and searching out new exoplanets in the universe for human habitation.
What do I mean by PI? An old film director, known as 'Smokin' Joe' who directed the movie 'Mystery Train' lived in a guesthouse at Nakano in Tokyo. I was staying there in 2006 while I was teaching English as a Foreign Language. We had a number of conversation about physical intelligence. What Joe was trying to get to was the interface/relationship between people and planet. He described how people were losing their ability to think about how they interacted with the physical environment losing their connections to physical resources in the face of globalisation. How is it that we could be so connected to everyone else yet many so dimly aware of our own impacts on the physical resources of the planet? At that time, Japan was importing 90% of its soya beans and starting the smartphone revolution. I was teaching many students at that time who were coding apps for smartphones. A few years later I went and studied a Diploma of Permaculture and realised then that scarcity of resources was manufactured and that design science embedded in human/physical systems was the main driver of future sustainable societies.
So, the question on my mind is interface. I've been playing with the hardware and software interface in my music studio for 20 years. I have seen a steady trend in integration between hardware and software over that time. It's at a point now where a company called 'Native Instruments' have achieved such tight software-hardware integration that one doesn't even need to look at a computer screen while producing electronic music. Access to all the sounds is at your fingertips. Smartphones are no different - apps are getting smarter than we are and information, or intelligence, is available in an instant. Big data is collected by most software companies and more and more sophisticated algorithms are being coded to create increasingly efficient ways to mine data and get the results the user might be looking for.
But, is efficiency a substitute for sustainable technology? I would argue that efficiency can be more sustainable in certain applications that might save energy usage, such as smart grids and variable controlled greenhouses/warehouses eg. 'Plenty' and shipping containers eg. 'Terrafarms'. However, if the designs of those systems are creating an increased demand in the physical resources based in those systems, are we creating an overall larger ecological (physical) footprint? As we see a growing middle class around the world with more sophisticated consumer demands, AI applications may float more boats and make life more convenient with less physical resources due to efficiency increases. More importantly resources need to be used more than once and have multiple functions. I have found that most aspects to biochar technology cannot be substituted with software algorithms telling me what to do or even doing it for me. A software program can't harvest the biomass, the raw product for biochar, could integrate with a laser cutting machine with additional hardware, can automate expensive and complicated kilns, can't operate simple kilns such as the 'Carbon' to produce the biochar and can't physically distribute the biochar to its various cascades such as animal feed and bedding, construction (eg.hempcharcrete), water filtration and soil fertility. But I can write a physical algorithm aka operating/usage instructions to use the resource within a designed ecosystem.
I imagine that there will be greater convergence with AI and biochar in the future but ultimately automation and efficiency algorithms can't solve many of the physical problems posed by managing physical resources such as biochar. Arguably, it is only a matter of time for AI and big data to catch up with PI, but will probably never completely take it over - just move closer to a converged state of mind eg. Mapping. There's plenty of ways people can collaborate with mapping on the internet and it seems to be the ultimate way to communicate between the mind(s) and machine(s). Mapstory.org is one example though it's still in beta and contains many incomplete datasets but houses some pretty stunning maps. Google 'MyMaps' (also shareable) seems to be an easy way to collaborate in mapping something basic like georeferenced points eg. Biochar kilns, as long as you've got a Google account. These can probably be embedded in a website too. Google Maps 'Mashups' can also be easily created with many tools freely available on the internet. Call me biased, but I love a good map though as a wise man once told me 'The map is not the territory'. Enough said.
Reports and their observations and predictions are generally getting gloomier all the time -from Arctic Summer sea ice extent shrinking to Greenland/Alaska/Antarctica/Himalayas etc melting of icebergs, glaciers, snow caps; ocean/sea level rise, deforestation, biodiversity loss (the world's '6th great extinction event'), superstorms, abrupt weather changes, extreme flood events, mudslides, clathrates already melting nearby the Arctic tundra etc etc
A 6-8 degree increase or more by the end of the century if business as usual doesn't change. Taking into account the heat latency effect in the climate system, even a 2 degree warming event compared to pre-industrial global atmospheric temperatures would be catastrophic for the South Pacific and many other places, not to mention an acceleration of all of the events mentioned above.
Apply to most countries (even the US might still get on board) and legally binding.
As mentioned before, 2 degrees average global temperature increase from pre-industrial levels is 'too high'.
Needs new Carbon-based sustainable industries to accelerate progress towards meeting Paris accords goals and obligations.
Worked for a while but involved ecological destruction such as destroying native forests, displacing entire villages, high water consumption, arsenic leaching into groundwater and rivers, often corrupt business relationships. Quality control was it's advantage - you could test the purity, weigh it, transport it, trade it but it needed to be secured which was probably problematic for many countries - Carbon doesn't face that problem.
Now relies on trust with Federal/Government reserves at a time when trust in quasi-Government and Government institutions are falling.
Becoming redundant - checks and balances for inflation no longer as effective as it used to be...can be abused by printing more money which has happened in many countries such as Bolivia (they used wheelbarrows to cart the money to do their groceries) during it's financial and political collapse and more recently in Venezuela, where more trust is now placed in cryptocurrency than in national fiat currency. There's been a huge uptake of individuals mining cryptocurrencies since their inflation rate is currently 1600% and rising and their national currency is good for starting fires.
Why is it banks print more money when growth slows down and inflates?? Is it to increase cash flow?
In this scenario the value of money depreciates and ultimately goods and services become even more expensive. Between controlling currency value and changing interest rates, the growth rate is at the mercy of global influences/globalisation. What if degrowth, which is the only sustainable option, could be accelerated without changing amounts of currency in circulation and manipulating interest rates?
In an ethical degrowth world, job growth and sustainability can occur simultaneously aka green collar jobs. I call this transition 'Contraction and Emergence' i.e. 'Contraction' of the fossil fuel based economies and an 'emergence' of Carbon-backed technologies and economies.
In a CBNDC, the amount of currency in 'circulation' would be fixed, in line with other cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. The main lever left then to control inflation would be interest rates - which might also become increasingly insignificant, though inter-related, as we move into a renter economy. As the value of Carbon-backed industry increases, so will the value of the CBNDC as happened with the Gold standard, though Gold was probably more prone to fluctuate with international prices (unless there became a global market for CBNDC's). Using the 'Precautionary Principle', I would suggest doing a trial of the CBNDC first, decoupled from the national fiat currency. Down the track, if a trial was successful and Carbon-backed industry 'emerged' (with digging up coal as an exclusion), the CBNDC could be traded with other CBNDC's and possibly other cryptocurrencies like fiat currency can be traded with other fiat currencies - though Australian citizens might want to hang on to their CBNDC for a while! Furthermore, non-Australian citizens would be likely to buy our CBNDC if we go first, which would add value to both the currency and the Australian economy including the transition to Carbon-backed technologies and industries.
'Proof of work' (POW) eg. Bitcoin
Increasingly massive computer energy usage solving maths problems for encrypting the decentralised ledger and therefore increasingly high Carbon footprint.
By 2030 blockchain mining will consume the equivalent of all the power consumed in Denmark (or so they say). High Carbon footprint, has initiated a technology arms race in cryptocurrency mining. This will result in the undermining of the democratic and decentralised peer to peer principles upon which it is based eg. first generation of quantum computers will take over using artificial intelligence (AI) in the form of neural processing units (NPUs) in large server farms then eventually personal quantum miners with AI and NPUs will begin to catch up on the game. This all assumes engineers will find a way for quantum computers to efficiently 'hash' the blockchain - which they probably will.
'Proof of Stake' (POS)
eg. IOTA and next gen of Ethereum - requires much less computing power and Carbon footprint. Security of the decentralised ledger will increase as more people get on the network. In other words, as more and more Australians use the CBDNC, the security of the currency would be increased. Though not ideal, moderators can be used (provided by the Federal Government), such as the IOTA example, until there are enough users/consumers to secure the network.
-Carbon-backed national digital currency
National digital currency would still have some centralised control by relying on IT security experts to partly secure it though becoming increasingly redundant but what if secured by a decentralised commodity that will create new industry and new jobs aka Carbon-sequestration that will meet or exceed Paris accords obligations? Throw in POS and we may have hit the best of all currency models - minimal Federal Government regulation, minimal Carbon footprint, empowerment of consumers/users, quantum-proofing of network attacks.
Problem will be standardising Carbon technology eg. biochar production units/kilns/ovens/stoves etc., reforestation, Carbon-negative construction etc etc and its resultant sequestration amounts but much work has already been done with Carbon accounting instruments (eg. http://americancarbonregistry.org/) when the Carbon tax was being considered and prior to that with Carbon accounting work done on Carbon credits, both in Australia and around the world. Taxes, especially new ones, are unpopular anywhere - not just Australia.
Carbon rationing would be unpalatable to the (Australian) public though can be scientifically modelled with increasing accuracy using supercomputers that are rapidly getting faster and more powerful and are now moving into the quantum domain i.e. Planetary modelling can make predictions about how much Carbon is 'safe' from one year to the next in the climate system - this would translate into rations for each country and allocated on a per capita basis but would struggle taking into account historical responsibility of Carbon pollution. 'Cap and trade' is gamed and hasn't drastically cut down Carbon pollution and probably never will. Carbon credits don't go far enough and can be traded on the stockmarket and also gamed. Could the CBNDC be gamed? Maybe make more acacia/bamboo/hemp biochar? Graphene storage for the renewable energy systems already in place and coming online in the future? Implement more holistic models such as 'Carbon farming' (well described by Eric Toensmeier)? Could all of this be the 'Tragedy of the Commons' in that if one nation doesn't go first to create a CBNDC no nation will? Carbon utilitarianism? When it comes to currency, isn't that utilitarian anyway?
If a CBNDC used the blockchain, then the Carbon-backing could offset the Carbon footprint of the blockchain encryption and then some but would face an ever-increasing Carbon footprint.
If a POS approach was taken for the CBNDC, it would be Carbon-negative permanently (assuming it never crashes but if it did at least the Carbon-backed economy would be kickstarted) - a 'positive' positive climate feedback loop for a change - much needed. There's always good ol' fashioned bartering if all else fails!
For an aperitif, refer to George Monbiot's article called 'The Zombie Doctrine' at 'monbiot.com' and Liam McLoughlin's article "Turnbull’s ‘Jobs And Growth’ Mantra Is A Faith, Not A Plan" at
'newmatilda.com' and degrowth.org, Naomi Klein's 'This changes everything' novel and documentary and the Australian Green's Party 'Renew Australia' plan. Can't go wrong with a Diploma of
Why is it that 'jobs and growth' seem to be inextricably linked by most industrialised economies? I think to myself while the Australian election is coming to a close, why the major parties aren't basing our environmental economic policies in lockstep with the international momentum being built by a variety of environmental and social movements around the world who want a 'just transition'? How difficult is it for central bankers to realise that there is dollar and green credentials abound for a 'just transition' for the world economy towards achieving positive, and broadly speaking, environmental outcomes which will benefit current and future generations? Sounds familiar...like the 1987 Brundtand report which defines sustainability in it's essential mission. Are we waiting for Godzilla with an army of silly monkeys to take over the planet or is it a space invasion, like Mars Attacks where the aliens mantra 'We come in peace' right before you get zapped? Could this be another hippie rant or is there merit in decoupling jobs and growth and starting to look at how everything, apart from the super-rich (who still could benefit with devestment portfolios), will benefit from degrowth job strategies?
Take carbon sequestration for example. We need a lot more of it in order to stabilise the climate system et al. The options on the table for geoengineering are abound - they seem to get sillier, more expensive and more dangerous by the year (refer to 'Snowpiercer' film for an extreme case). The only safe and democratic option, and it's a degrowth one, is clean renewable energy. Of those options, I believe the best one is to harvest biological material (solar-powered via photosynthesis at approximately 3-6% efficiency of total solar radiation but low-tech and almost ubiquitous), usually called biomass, burn it in a controlled environment like a Kon-Tiki or Pyramid kiln, produce extremely stable carbon (biochar, for up to 35,000 years or more - refer to research by Dr Jeffrey Parr for phytoliths) and lock it into a cascade of needs (at least 55 uses and growing) whose byproducts (including biochar) eventually gets added to soil as an amendment to increase it's fertility, increase water holding capacity, adsorb heavy metals, water filtration, reduce plant disease, reduce fertiliser and pesticides and store nutrients and micronutrients as well as minerals and micro-organisms needed for a beneficial and stable soil ecology. When has any Civilisation survived without producing fertile soil? (Try 'Soil not oil' by Vandana Shiva) Biochar can even be integrated into land-based aquaponics systems and wicking beds (once again involves soil, but uses biochar for water filtration in the bottom layer and growing plants in the top layer - no fish protein though, which is produced in aquaponics systems that are more expensive and tricky to manage - but probably more efficient than wicking beds over the long-term).
Why is biochar an optimal degrowth technology? It's all about the democratisation described by Dr Paul Taylor and Hans-Peter Schmidt - refer to Ithaka-institut.org for that one. It's primarily driven by grassroots 'biochar activists' - which include small farmers, gardeners and bored under-employed people like me trying to commercialise it in the growing green capitalism economic sector. The efficient and sustainable harvesting of biomass, the drying of biomass, the tools to process the biomass, the technology used to produce the biochar, the logistics of getting it to where you want it, and the specific application are all limiting factors however achievable within a local economy. Considering all the actual and potential applications for biochar, I would predict that it will be a major plank of future carbohydrate-based economies - it's nanotech so will probably include future electronic circuits and battery storage, supercapacitors etc. Surplus biochar produced can be traded/bartered for other goods and services and there are already platforms to do this such as ripenear.me
Sounds like a 'biochar revolution' (refer to Dr Paul Taylor's book)to me!! Jobs and degrowth anyone...?
It's hard to know where to start. There may be no beginning and there may be no ending. I've been researching biochar for 6 years off and on. Sometimes I feel that I want to help save the planet
and other times it all seems too hard. It depends on what I am reading and how bad things seem to be getting regarding the imminent climate chaos/change/disruption and what is being done by other
people to address it. I know I can always do more with less but how that benefits the greater good is difficult to say. One thing is certain - I am an appropriate tech-head and proud of it.
My initial interest in biochar was stimulated by the late Geoff Moxham who showed me a top-lit updraft (TLUD) stove in 2009. It completely bamboozled me. How was it possible that such a clean burning flame could be produced from such a small amount of biomass aka virtually any organic material known. I decided that I would design and build a biomass-biochar stove for my main project for the Diploma of Permaculture at the previously running course at the Permaforest Trust. This was co-managed by Tim Winton best known for his Pattern Dynamics (TM) systems ecology approach to permaculture and general understanding of living systems.
My final design for the TLUD stove retrofitted a stainless steel birko and innovated with its use of insulation in a third concentric chamber. Otherwise it was yet another proof of concept that many others had achieved with their modified designs. Probably my favourite TLUD design is the '1G Toucan' developed by Dr Hugh McLaughlin.
I wanted to make more biochar and in order to do this I scaled up my TLUD design for an oil barrel called the 'Don't worry, be happy' biochar kiln. The problem with the design was observation and probably safety too given the pressurised nature of the combustion chamber. I never built it and waited for a few years for something better to come along. Things needed to be simplified and cheaper. Then came along Charmaster Dolph's 'Moxham' tubular kiln. I couldn't believe how simple yet how effective the design seemed to be. The output was clean, efficient and could produced quite a lot of char for the effort required (a recent engineering report produced by 'Black is Green' is available at backyardbiochar.net). This pioneered a new breed of biochar kiln known as the 'top-fed open draught' (TFOD) kiln. Then came along Dr Paul Taylor's modification of the Japanese 'Moki' kiln. He scaled up the size and gave it a bottom with legs, drain, handles and heat shield at the Ithaka Institute known as the 'Kon-Tiki' kiln named after the Kon-Tiki expedition in 1947 which was a journey by raft across the Pacific Ocean from South America to the Polynesian islands, led by Norwegian explorer and writer Thor Heyerdahl.
The 'Kon-Tiki' is an advanced design. It is virtually clean-burning, can be quenched from below and scaled up to about 1000l capacity (or larger) and can pump out large amounts of biochar for a good day's work. The latest 'Kon-Tiki' kilns also use A-Frames to allow convenient cone emptying. I built a 1.2m 'Kon-Tiki' with legs, drain, handles and heat shield using youtube specs and modified it to Paul's sheet design for a 1.2m diameter. It seemed to work perfectly the first time. But then I thought what if I want to produce smaller batches of biochar in less time? I downloaded Kelpie Wilson's 'Pyramid' kiln design (backyardbiochar.net) and had a couple built with rim edge folding for safety. It worked efficiently but couldn't really take larger feedstock (which she has addressed via a design of a larger 'Pyramid' kiln used to process forestry waste). At the time however this design was not available and I wanted to do more with less. That's when I started researching Hawaiian Luau pits and then came across a hybrid pit kiln designed by Hans-Peter Schmidt also working at the Ithaka Institute. I was impressed with the design for application in less industrialised countries with less access to advanced metal fabrication technologies.
At this point I thought to myself why couldn't I design something that tried to take the best of all these designs and make it flatpackable, mobile and light with a batch volume suitable for large gardens and small farms? Not only that, I wanted to design something that could use state of the art tech in the West (Oz) with the flexibility to be built using traditional fabricating technology without a roller. Enter the 'Flat-Tiki'.
What, I thought, could be the design compromises required? I initially went with 3mm 300 grade mild steel on the 'Kon-Tiki' 1.2m but this was heavy and rusted easily. My offsider from the Philippines, Julio, suggested I go with 350 grade weathering (Corten) steel at the 1.6mm guage. Great, I thought, light and weather resistant. I then whipped up a design for a standard 1200 x 2400 sheet using a similar approach to the early 'Pyramid' kiln design but went hexagonal instead of pyramidal which would bridge the geometric gap between a rolled truncated cone and pyramid (assuming that a truncated cone is more efficient and a pyramid is less efficient). Furthermore, a hexagonal structure is probably the most stable one mimicking the Carbon 6 molecule not to mention other hexagonal patterns found in nature such as bee hives and basalt columns. I also took the hybrid approach which would allow a small pit to be dug at the bottom therefore extending the volume of the hexagonal cone and would allow construction without welding.
I used laser cutting for the pieces, hand holes, logo and screw holes. I used galvanised wing nuts and side flaps on three of the sections in order to create easy assembly from flat-packable pieces. The volume is estimated to be similar to the 'Kon-Tiki' 1.2m kiln. I then tested the 'Flat-Tiki' with a tubular heat shield built for the 'Kon-Tiki' 1.2m and realised that this improved the performance of the burn so I went all the way and built a hexagonal heat shield to go around the hexagonal kiln, using a similar approach with airflow going up the side of the kiln from the bottom of the heat shield which could then feed flames at the rim of the kiln in hope of torroidal convection loops. The heat shield also extends 300mm vertically from the rim of the kiln as recommended by Dr Paul Taylor and can be shifted up and down. Julio cleverly alternated hinges (2 per join) in the heat shield which allows it to concertina and flat pack. From my prototyping it appears that flame turbulence is greater with only half-formed torroidal convection loops occurring. This was an improvement over the 'Pyramid' but not as pronounced as the 'Kon-Tiki' 1.2m.
This all says to me that I have hit the design middle ground for efficiency between the 'Kon-Tiki' and 'Pyramid' designs, as hypothesised.
The weight of the 'Flat-Tiki' kiln is about 21 kg and the 'Flat-Tiki' Heat Shield is about 30kg, placing the whole unit at 51kg. I am happy with that as I wanted to get below 50kg. Close enough for now. The kiln and heat shield can be easily moved once in place, can be moved around from place to place (mobile) and can be operated by one person if need be. This could be the world's first flat-packable hexagonal hybrid 'Flat-Tiki' biochar kiln!
Other innovations include hand holes that double as observation holes from the side, a cooking plate off the same sheet (a standard 1200x2400) and a chapati plate. Given that the side flaps on the kiln needed to be rolled, if rolling isn't available then the flaps can be omitted from the design. In this scenario the kiln pieces would need to be welded together - not ideal but still manageable by one person and could be transported in a stackable fashion similar to that used for the 'Kon-Tiki' cones - just not flat-packable for convenience and ease of transport.
Now that its' fire ban season, prototyping is off the table until May 1 2016. I want to get emissions testing done for the design at the University of Adelaide late next year using vineyard waste and start to sell the kiln in Oz. I would like to donate 10% of the cost of production to the Nepali Climate Farming Fund. If successful then I hope to assist fabricators to produce them in other countries too...
The designs for the 'Flat-Tiki' kiln and 'Flat-Tiki' heat shields, licenced under an International Creative Commons licence, will be available on request after emissions testing has been performed in May 2016. Read on for some photos of my kiln research...