Biodiesel, Biochar & Biodiversity in Costa Rica -- An Example of Small-Scale, Locally-Appropriate Action

This is a guest post by Ryan King. Ryan is a biologist, independent journalist, and community “eco-preneur” in Costa Rica. Below, he provides a brief introduction to decentralized biodiesel and biochar production in Costa Rica. His story will interest readers for at least two reasons: (1) he outlines specific and repeatable measures to address peak oil and climate change through the synergy of local energy production and carbon sequestration; and (2) he provides a working example of the benefits of increasing localized self-sufficiency. Ryan is expanding biodiesel, biochar, environmental projects through eco-hotels and sustainability projects, as well as looking for funding and experienced and non-experienced participants to contribute. He can be reached via email at, or for further information visit, and .

As global change related to resource depletion and climate change becomes increasingly severe, the ineffectiveness of world governments as well as mainstream environmental organizations and movements is obvious. It appears that there are few immediate alternatives to relying on large, centralized initiatives in the realms of environment and energy. Instead of relying on these approaches, it seems the safest and most secure adaptive route is the introduction of decentralized, local alternative energy and environmental solutions. Below the fold, I discuss one such set of projects currently underway in Costa Rica. While some aspects of these solutions in Costa Rica may not be directly applicable to non-tropical climates, I think this example of locally-appropriate, small-scale but scalable action can be of value everywhere.

Though Costa Rica markets itself as a pioneer in environmental protection, its national oil refinery, ‘RECOPE’ is still failing after more than two years since its pledge to introduce biodiesel, and the country has not been able to provide legitimate carbon negative programs. While some reforestation programs have received significant funding under the assumption that planting trees in tropical forests sequesters carbon in a way that is easily quantifiable, research indicates that tropical forests may increasingly become sources and not sinks of carbon as drought and climate change events worsen.

Costa Rica’s economy depends primarily on “eco-tourism,” and within areas dependent on fragile biodiversity and rapidly changing ecosystems decentralized energy and environmental solutions are desperately needed. My interest has been to begin exploring the means to introduce emerging non-hierarchical social organizational theory in environmental and alternative energy applications by spreading biodiesel and biochar programs through existing environmental education and eco-tourist projects.

While simple, local-scale projects such as the biodiesel and biochar projects discussed below individually make minute contributions to global change threats, their ease of application and potential to spread rapidly through networking, the internet, and community programs as well as ability to provide immediate economic and environmental benefits make them especially appealing. The last detail is crucial: solutions that are economically viable without reliance on outside subsidy or centralized control are urgently needed to directly benefit local biodiversity in threatened areas and to build community-scale self-sufficiency through improved soils and local energy and food production. Previous top-down approaches have been unable to distribute the technology or the awareness to adjust in the wake of the overwhelming failures of mainstream organizations and governments. As a result, and especially as the current economic downturn continues, alternative, networked distribution models will find increasing popularity and success.


Several years ago I began producing biodiesel at home by converting waste vegetable oil (WVO) collected from local restaurants in Monteverde, Costa Rica. A friend and science teacher working at a local environmentally-themed primary/secondary school invited me to teach the process and produce biodiesel for use in school vehicles. After relocating the used hot water heater I had converted into a simple biodiesel processor and churning out a few batches of fuel, the project attracted the attention of philanthropists. After generous donations from locals, the Cottonwood Foundation, and the Atmosphere Conservancy we constructed a biodiesel system capable of easily producing over 100 gallons of high quality biodiesel from converted WVO per week, providing a significant degree of self-sufficiency to the local school vehicle fleet.

[Image 1] A local scale biodiesel processing set-up in Costa Rica.

We have run 3 of the school‘s buses as well as several diesel SUVs on biodiesel mixtures ranging from 10% biodiesel/90% diesel (B10) to 100% biodiesel (B100). The 55 gallon barrel design with welded-on metal cone was easy to use, though the insulation and thicker sidewalls of the used water heater design are preferred for safety and energy conservation.

[Image 2] The “greasercycle” – a hand pump welded to the crank of an exercise bike, connected to a converted water heater makes a cheap, safe, and reliable human powered biodiesel processor.

Our biodiesel batches are produced utilizing the 2 stage base-base catalyzed transesterification reaction with methoxide as a catalyst, though I am investigating ethanol-catalyzed reactions. One of the benefits of processing with ethyl instead of methyl alcohol is independence from reliance on industrially-produced methanol. Ethanol may be fermented and distilled from local, renewable sources then “dried” further to ensure the correct purity for biodiesel production. I am presently fermenting locally-obtained fruits to produce ethyl alcohol for experimentation but its likelihood of reaching beyond the mango/pineapple wine stage is rather dubious.

Biodiesel production amounts in both the “appleseed”/”greasercycle” designs (used hot water heaters with about 30 – 50 gallon capacity, as well as the larger barrel design (the 55 gallon drum with welded cone bottom) typically averages about 100 gallons per week. The greatest limiting factors to production in these designs tend to be collection, transport, and storage of initial WVO volumes, as well as immediate post-processing storage. A small biodiesel processor such as the greasercycle is easily capable of producing multiple batches (processing is about 1 ½ hours per batch) per day, but processed biodiesel must be allowed to settle and separate 12 hours. Larger volume settling containers yield higher daily production amounts. After total processing costs (including excess methanol recovery from glycerin byproduct) biodiesel created from WVO in Costa Rica averages about 30% cheaper in cost than petroleum diesel purchased at the pump. Additionally, glycerin created as a byproduct during the reaction can be made into soap or other valuable items.

Safe, quality biodiesel production requires, in my opinion, a knowledge of chemistry and the scientific method that cannot be fully shared within online DIY texts, unless the practitioner has some experience handling potentially dangerous and reactive chemicals such as methoxide. While I have summarized some of the basics of DIY biodiesel, if you are going to do it on your own its best to consult with someone experienced at least for your first few batches in order to learn the ins and outs of the properties of the chemicals and equipment – at the very least in an open internet forum. Biochar, on the other hand is incredible easy, safe, and able to be learned with a short amount of time reading and practicing.


In addition to biodiesel, I have been producing and promoting biochar (see from decomposing plant litter for use as a carbon-negative soil amendment. Biochar refers to charcoal produced from leaves, grasses, agricultural waste, wood and other plant material. Production of biochar requires as little investment as a metal container (coffee tin, 55 gallon barrel), and results in the carbon-negative production of a wonderful soil amendment.

While we have experimented with a variety of biomass: woods, twigs, old lumber, leaves, cut bamboo, etc, we require much more investigation to determine the efficiency and benefits of different types of biomass. We are currently adopting the methods for DIY biochar found at woodstovewizard ( ), and considering creating test plots to determine the effects of biochar sorption on agricultural runoff (“cleaning” rivers filled with excess N, P, and K fertilizers and comparing these to non-amended plots).

For a very first-timer biochar processing, follow these simple steps and info from:,, or .

[Image 3] An example of rich, fertile biochar soil at an organic garden in Costa Rica.

[Image 4] The Flutterby House eco-hostel in Uvita has incorporated biochar production and use into their existing gardening and sustainability projects. See for additional details.

Biochar has a wide variety of benefits to soils, including:

• Enhanced plant growth
• Suppressed methane emission
• Reduced nitrous oxide emission (estimate 50%) (see 5.10 below)
• Reduced fertilizer requirement (estimate 10%)
• Reduced leaching of nutrients
• Stored carbon in a long term stable sink
• Reduces soil acidity: raises soil pH (see 5.01 below)
• Reduces aluminum toxicity
• Increased soil aggregation due to increased fungal hyphae
• Improved soil water handling characteristics
• Increased soil levels of available Ca, Mg, P, and K
• Increased soil microbial respiration
• Increased soil microbial biomass
• Stimulated symbiotic nitrogen fixation in legumes
• Increased arbuscular mycorrhyzal fungi
• Increased cation exchange capacity

Sources: Assessment of Biochar's Benefits for the USA, Steiner, ed.; Biochar Application to Soils, Verheijen, et al.; Sustainable Biochar to Mitigate Global Climate Change, Woolfe, et al.; Biochar Soil Management, Lehmann

[Image 5] Biochar production, from left to right - a 55 gal drum biochar processor, a wheelbarrow with char and compost amended soil, and a small biodiesel sample in a glass jar sits near a new batch of vegetables.

[Image 6] A row of pineapples growing in front of banana plants and a large mango tree. Rancho DiAndrew was initially purchased about 20 years ago when the area was almost entirely cattle pasture. The land has naturally reforested remarkably well, and now supports a wide variety of native plants and animals. Massive reforestation of tropical ecosystems is crucial for stabilization of biodiversity and nutrient cycling. Recent research, however, indicates that with drought and rising temperatures due to climate change many of these forests may become carbon sources and not sinks. Converting desiccating plant matter into biochar to be used in tropical soils has the potential to capture carbon that would be released into the atmosphere as well as amend soils by maintaining nutrients and prevent additional greenhouse gas release.

Biochar been proven to greatly increase plant growth, and is promoted by Dr. James Lovelock as one of the few legitimate approaches to sequestering carbon dioxide. As shown in my illustration above, biochar lends itself well to decentralized production and distribution . Creating the structural framework to provide rapid, efficient, decentralized biochar production coupled with organic farming, soil and forest restoration efforts could become extremely beneficial in addressing local and global scale environmental issues. Of particular importance, biochar has the potential to be economically valuable even without assuming any income from global carbon markets.

By connecting both the biodiesel and biochar projects with eco-tourist/volunteer projects here in Costa Rica we are able to connect with a wide range of travelers and introduce and involve visitors in environmental education and restoration. The simplicity and immediate benefits of the biochar process have helped it spread rather quickly, and we are currently re-building networked internet applications to estimate biochar production rates as well as provide information and resources for participants.

Biodiesel production chemistry and processor design can be found at .
Biochar information can be found at, or .

A waterfall in beautiful Costa Rica...

Thanks Ryan, for writing this piece. I think it's a great example of how local communities, regardless of whether they're in Costa Rica or Pakistan or Akron, Ohio, can create a synergy of positive effects by building local energy self-sufficiency, local environmental preservation, and community networks. And, as you point out, if these systems are local, if they are economically viable without outside subsidy, they aren't waiting for centralized governments or captains of industry to voluntarily get their act together--something I'm certainly not holding my breath waiting for.

thanks a ton jeff - it was actually your book - "a theory of power" that really helped me figure out how to approach spreading these projects.

And while I'm busy taking a 50 lbs propane tank and combining it with 2 hot water heaters to make a natural gas/biochar/waterheater configuration ....

(and if I was ambitious I'd use ideas as the heat source - right now I'll just use the natural gas along with a weight sensor and call the char char'ed based on delta weight over time)

Does anyone know if Dr. Inghram has changed her position on Biochar?

Dr. Ingham has, she has added editorial content to Albert Bates new book. Check out my bullet point Review;

I have reviewed this Book
New Genetic / demographic data, Archeological / Paleoclimate data that leaves your jaw on the floor.
The missing pieces of Anthropogenic Climate Change fall into perfect order.
Albert puts you in the canoes, fearing the next woman warrior attack or wondrous visions
of plenty.
Cutting edge Satellite research
Big, medium & small scale, here there and everywhere.
The Mantria Story; Inside out and Outside In

Want more?, The Foreword is by Vandana Shiva, and Dr. Elain Engham is a contributor, I've just tipped this Iceberg.
Can't say enough,

From Albert:
New Society is offering 20% off on The Biochar Solution for pre-pub orders (before Sep 15). They also have an Affiliate Program.

Any orders clicked through get a 15% commission for the business, and after those commissions reach $25, NSP will mail the business a check. This works well for the business and works well for the author (higher royalties.) If you are interested, please contact our webmaster Paul O'Sullivan at and he will set it up for you.


PS: Here is a short promo blurb if it would be helpful:

The Biochar Solution: Carbon Farming and Climate Change
Albert Bates
Civilization as we know it is at a crossroads. For the past 10,000 years, we have turned a growing understanding of physics, chemistry and biology to our advantage in producing more energy and more food and as a consequence have produced exponential population surges, resource depletion, ocean acidification, desertification and climate change.

The path we are following began with long-ago discoveries in agriculture, but it divided into two branches, about 8,000 years ago. The branch we have been following for the most part is conventional farming - irrigation, tilling the soil, and removing weeds and pests. That branch has degraded soil carbon levels by as much as 80 percent in most of the world's breadbaskets, sending all that carbon skyward with each pass of the plow.

The other branch disappeared from our view some 500 years ago, although archaeologists are starting to pick up its trail now. At one time it achieved success as great as the agriculture that we know, producing exponential population surges and great cities, but all that was lost in a fluke historical event borne of a single genetic quirk.

It vanished when European and Asian diseases arrived in the Americas.

From excavations on the banks of the Amazon river, clearings of the savanna/gallery forests in the Upper Xingu, and ethnographic studies of Mesoamerican milpas, science has now re-traced the path of the second great agriculture, and, to its astonishment, found it more sustainable and productive that what we are currently pursuing.
While conventional agriculture leads to deserts, blowing parched dirt across the globe and melting ice caps, this other, older style, brings fertile soils, plant and animal diversity and birdsong. While the agriculture we use has been shifting Earth's carbon balance from soil and living vegetation to atmosphere and ocean, the agriculture that was nearly lost moves carbon from sky to soil and crops. The needed shift, once embarked upon, can be profound and immediate. We could once more become a garden planet, with deep black earths and forests of fruit and nuts where deserts now stand. We can heal our atmosphere and oceans.

Come along on this journey of rediscovery with The Biochar Solution: Carbon Farming and Climate Change.

Albert Bates teaches permaculture and appropriate technology and has written several books on energy and the environment including The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook.

6x9"/208 pp
Technology & Engineering /
Agriculture/Sustainable Agriculture
PB ISBN:978-0-86571-677-3
Price: US/Can $17.95

Other Biochar News;
From ISU US Biochar 2010 conference,For those looking for an overview of biochar and its benefits, These authors have done a very nice job of distilling a great deal of information about biochar and applying it to the US context:

US-Focused Biochar report:
Assessment of Biochar's Benefits for the USA

NASA’s Space Archaeology; $364K Terra Preta Program


Not only methanol but waste vegetable oil really requires the fossil fuel economy to maintain a cheap supply. The WVO could be a byproduct from crops like corn, soy or canola some grown in cool climates and transported great distances. Petrodiesel machines were most likely also needed to harvest the crops which were crushed with coal fired electricity and grown with fertiliser made from natural gas. I doubt if biodiesel is viable without the fossil fuel economy.

With biochar I'd guess you are depleting several square metres of forest floor for every square metre of garden that gets the benefit. In the charring process you produce a sudden CO2 surge that might have taken decades just left alone. You are also removing phosphorus and potassium from the forest nutrient cycle. Hopefully no petro powered vehicles were used in the harvesting of the leaf litter and taking charcoal to the garden. All this needs to be tested with careful life cycle analysis.

I've come to these conclusions after years of making biodiesel and putting wood charcoal on the garden. I'll keep doing it though because I have free WVO and firewood. In my opinion they will always be cottage industries. Our energy future lies in nuclear and unsubsidised renewables.

With biochar I'd guess you are depleting several square metres of forest floor for every square metre of garden that gets the benefit.

1) not much different than the standard 'let livestock graze and we use the nightly barn dung on the crop garden' method.
2) What if the forest floor is pine needles?
3) The trees of the forest are 'robbing' from the subsoil. Same with the roots of Alfalha (75 feet deep) or the deeper roots of comfery or stinging nettles.
4) you could always top-feed ground up rocks ALA the 'remineralize the earth' people.
(another CS Bell product the #60 or the La Milpa for all your rock and other grinding needs. Handpowered rock crusher Works on a simple teardroped shaped cam on one side of the shaft and a flywheel on the other. The homemade from scrap version might wish to consider the tear shaped parts of a engine crankshaft.)

In the "1st word" - rock dust can be had at asphalt settling ponds. It'll be oil-ly but heat and a bio-filter like a compost pile or worm bin will help convert hydrocarbons into biological energy. Worms are a fine heavy metal biofilter - just be sure to rid yourself of 'em over time.

¨With biochar I'd guess you are depleting several square metres of forest floor for every square metre of garden that gets the benefit.

1) not much different than the standard 'let livestock graze and we use the nightly barn dung on the crop garden' method.¨

Actually I think it is quite a bit different especially in the rate at which organic carbon gets degraded. The biochar has a huge surface area capable of being inhabited by a wide variety of soil microbes. This would act as a microbial, carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus reserve. Normal soil microbe grazers would not be able to access the chars internal pore space only the outer most surface.

Most of that forest floor material will be carbon dioxide and water in about a year. A significant percentage could be sequestered in the biochar in that period of time. It would keep nutrients from being flooded out during periods of heavy rain and maintain soil moisture during periods of drought.

yeah, methanol costs here are pricey and rely on fossil fuel industry.
that's why i mentioned the ethanol process - so we can ferment our own ethanol, distill it, and then dry it to get the correct purity for processing.

here in costa rica WVO tends to be a pollutant - many restaurants throw out their WVO and contaminate the rivers. some of the places we gather it from now used to have to pay for "proper" disposal of the oil.

"I doubt if biodiesel is viable without the fossil fuel economy."

i don't do these projects with the claim that biodiesel is viable without the fossil fuel economy - i do them because they are fun ways to help raise environmental awareness as well as turn the waste we have right now into a safer, cheaper fuel for people who are intent on driving through what little is left of nature here. i do not own a motor vehicle - i use a small bit of biodiesel as a lubricant on my bicycle and ride around most of the time - you get to see a lot more when you travel by bike here. ...except for when you go over the handlebars and get broke off... which i did about a month and a half ago... and then i just re-injured the broken collar bone today jumping off a cliff into a waterfall on a tour - im on a ton of pain killers and a few beers right now so excuse my rambling.

" i just re-injured the broken collar bone today jumping off a cliff into a waterfall....."

Rub some biodiesel into it and call me in the morning ;-)

I think it's an important distinction that WVO requires the fossil fuel economy to use it as is currently used to make biodiesel. There's no reason why it can't be made from traditional vegetable oil production techniques that have been used for thousands of years, though the cost will certainly change. But I thin the real mistake is thinking that cost won't change anyway when you're relying on fossil inputs. What I'm saying is that, without the fossil fuel economy, the economy isn't viable! But without the fossil fuel economy, biodiesel will certainly be viable, just far more expensive. If gasoline cost $20/gallon, it would still be used. A lot. But also a lot less. Same is true with biodiesel.

I certainly agree that biochar needs careful full-cycle analysis. However, it can certainly "work." Take for example a poplar plantation--grow in 5 years, convert to biochar, amend food producing land with that biochar. There, the CO2 impact will be immediately negative, and will remain significantly negative throughout the process.

I agree that biodiesel and biochar will "always be cottage industries." However, I think the future is one of massively networked "cottage industries" using open-source IP. I think many types of renewables may have a place in this future economy, but I don't think nuclear can be one of them because its inherent centralization and requirement for a hierarchical societal structure. This structurally demands continual growth, and is the real root cause of our problems...

"With biochar I'd guess you are depleting several square metres of forest floor for every square metre of garden that gets the benefit."

no. we collect biomass that has already fallen (sticks, leaves, etc) and would be returned to active carbon cycling. i am also interested in applying biochar to restore urban wastelands in the cities here - the idea is sort of like guerrilla gardening - clean up a trashed, abandoned place in a city like san jose, use biochar and compost to help the soil and then plant native trees and fruits for homeless people to eat. please let me know if there are any technical objections to this - after being robbed (as have many other scientists here in CR) and forced to basically live in the gutters and random sustainable farms as a volunteer for almost a year i have a very strong interest in restoring urban areas and giving homeless/hungry persons food and plants that they can eat. there was this one time when i spent the night on the streets of granada, nicaragua alone and this crackhead tried to bum money off me - so i bought him beer and food and we talked about anastasio somoza and the sandanistas until the sun rose. he kept trying to get me to buy him crack cocaine, which he called "cracks" or "papas" (spanish for potatoes) but i just kept him talking and we drank beer and he didn't smoke any "cracks" that night. i wonder if i offset any emissions from him not smoking crack or if the methane from the beer farts contributed more to climate change.

what do you think?

"In the charring process you produce a sudden CO2 surge that might have taken decades just left alone. You are also removing phosphorus and potassium from the forest nutrient cycle."

if the biochar processor is run correctly, from my understanding based on the science evidence, the overall effect is carbon negative. the effectiveness depends on the design of the processor. i tend to collect biomass that has fallen not in the forests, but on the property of the ecohostels where there are driveways and rocks. i use compost from the restaurant here to help add nutrients back to the biochar and soils, as well as a mixture of human urine in about a 1 to 10 ration with water. the plants love it!

"Hopefully no petro powered vehicles were used in the harvesting of the leaf litter and taking charcoal to the garden. All this needs to be tested with careful life cycle analysis."

i have a bike. its blue. i ride my bike between the flutterby house and rancho diandrew and make biochar and garden. let me know if you would like to help with that "careful life cycle analysis, kay? until then im going to base my info on james lovelock, the international geosphere-biosphere programme and the overall scientific opinion of the effects of biochar.

"This structurally demands continual growth, and is the real root cause of our problems..."

exactly. solving the problem of growth generating societies is of utmost and immediate importance: speaking of which, i have to go take a break from the discussion now - we are going on a short night hike - i could've sworn i heard a bird that sang out "Karuna!"


thanks jeff!

I am involved in a community project as well. After doing 10 years of agricultural / agrotourism / community projects in "developing" countries, I decided to stay at home and help my "own community" (France). Between brackets, cause I still haven't defined what IS exactly my own community :-) Anyway, one of the projects we run here is about another soil ammendment: chipped wood branches. I have written before about it, and sorry to seem a bit pushy about it, but it need to be said that at least in temperate regions this wood chips solution to improve and protect soils is more performative, logical, (CO2)efficient, etc.
The reason why biochar is so performative in tropical countries, is because of its resistence against decomposition. Rapid decomposition ("burning" of organic material in the soil) is a major element of soil management in the tropics. Minerals are made available rapidly, and unprotected soils will loose their fertility in no time. Hence the difficulties of Organic agriculture who is dependent on organic fertilisation. Although less spectacular, in temperate regions there are the same problems, soil organic matter is in decline in practically all agricultural soils. Because of it liginine content, the ramial wood chips (RWC) can only be decomposed by funghi. In forest soils, funghi are the base of the food pyramide. By adding wood to the soils, you are basically giving an enormous energy supply to the soil for life. Biochar gives a good shelter, but no energy.

Have a look to a good english introduction to RWC:

RWC has also been tested in some African countries with good results.
For the moment chips is a by-product of park / woods / orchard maintenance.
But the good news is that it can also be a self-sufficient system, by allowing trees to grow on your agricultural land (agroforestry). But this is again a whole other story :-)

"My" community project:

. Because of it liginine content, the ramial wood chips (RWC) can only be decomposed by funghi. In forest soils, funghi are the base of the food pyramide.

One of the pillars of Dr. Inghram and The soil food web is based on the 'fungi dominated in trees, bacteria dominated in row crops' observation.

The idea of 'compost tea' or even watering with a sugar water are expressions of boosting bacteria levels.

But the good news is that it can also be a self-sufficient system, by allowing trees to grow on your agricultural land (agroforestry). But this is again a whole other story :-)

Conversion of sub-soil material into surface soil.

Interesting. There's a chap doing BRF in Nevers, Bourgogne also (Les Activités Terre d'Humus ).

I've been using wood chips for some time, so its good to know I'm on the right path. I've got a PTO wood chipper that I run off my small Kubota tractor and chip down branches when I get the time. Although I never seem to get a good run at it, making just a cubic meter or so a time, so I tend to use the chips to make compost (I mix them with grass cuttings). Previously, I've used the wood chips as mulch with good results and those beds are now easily workable (ie. clay soil degraded by chemical agriculture before I acquired it).

yes grass cuttings with woodu material works good as composting method!
It makes it accessable for air, and after sifting the compost, you can reuse the non decomposed chips as starter for your new pile. But direct composting (leaving the organic material on your soil) is more energy/CO2 efficient and at the same time protects your soil. I 'll check out your link..

It is advisable to consume ethanol while operating a greasercycle to ward off methanol poisoning from methanol vapors which inevitably escape from such a high-tech piece of equipment. Biochar can be made from fallen debris or from the aftermath of a forest fire.

"It is advisable to consume ethanol while operating a greasercycle to ward off methanol poisoning from methanol vapors which inevitably escape from such a high-tech piece of equipment"

exactly - that is why if you look closely at the picture of the greasercycle you will see a beer holder in the front that mounted on using some serious engineering skillz.

what Dr. Jones is saying is technically correct, though. When methanol gets broken down in by the liver it is the biproducts that are toxic - if you drink ethanol while being it exposed to methanol it serves as a competitive inhibitor so that the methanol isn't changed into toxic forms! as part of the safety equipment for biodiesel production one should always have a fire extinguisher as well as a bottle of single malt scotch (The Talisker is best, imho).

thanks for the feedback everyone! we would really appreciate any visitors and tourists with interests in spreading or learning more about these projects in vivo.

Jeff - "This structurally demands continual growth, and is the real root cause of our problems..."

the problem of growth is the most fascinating element out all this - regardless of the type of fuels we use a technologically advanced human superorganism would inevitably overextend/pollute/destroy the earth system without a widespread and profound shift in consciousness. solving the seemingly hard-wired behaviors of the majority of humans i think will require exploring the ideas of the mutants and outliers -memetics, conscious evolution, and sociocultural engineering - we will have to sort of a means to transcend civilized consciousness. in his book "on human nature" famed biologist eo wilson suggests that we will require genetic engineering in order to overcome the Pleistocene-wired instincts that lead us into self-destruction... the book was published in the late 70's and since then i think the understanding of memetics has provided much more potential for rapidly reshaping human culture than genetic engineering.

i think the one of the greatest benefits of reflective consciousness is that we can play out (relatively accurate) stories of what will happen to human populations as fossil fuel decline, rapid climate change,increasing population, pollution, etc ("global change") hit the world with increasingly devastating jolts to economy and environment (which are inextricably linked). but if we play out the story of the future based solely on what has happened before in the history of civilizational collapse we become limited and fall into the same patterns that have kept us rebuilding hierarchies after collapses... some of us that are most emotionally receptive to social pressure and the need for cultural change tend to fall into the position of the "revolutionary/prophet" character... when times get tough the social group turns to the revolutionary for an alternative means to provide necessities to the group as well as a new group cohesion - new values, standards, etc. revolutionaries will have to avoid assuming hierarchy and manipulating the desperate masses to follow one leader, or one movement. the process reminds of the lyrics from the song "Eulogy," which mock the revolutionary/prophet character:
"Ranting and pointing his finger
At everything but his heart.
We'll miss him.
We'll miss him.
We're gonna miss him.
We're gonna miss him.

No way to recall
What it was that you had said to me,
Like I care at all.

But you were so loud.
You sure could yell.
You took a stand on every little thing
And so loud.

Standing above the crowd,
He had a voice that was strong and loud and I
Swallowed his facade cuz I'm so
Eager to identify with
Someone above the ground,
Someone who seemed to feel the same,
Someone prepared to lead the way, with
Someone who would die for me."


so how can you pause the desire for growth and material consumption by the developed world?

as Huxley says in Island,

"Don’t look analytically. Don’t look as a scientist or even as a gardener. Liberate yourselves from everything you know and look with complete innocence at this improbable thing before you. Look at it as though you’d never seen anything of the kind before, as though it had no name. Look at it alertly but passively, receptively, without labeling, judging or comparing. And as you look at it, inhale its mystery; breathe in the spirit of sense, the smell of wisdom from the other shore."

science and industrial society have whittled down our receptivity and biophilia so that we can function as cogs in the system. we are now facing the consequences of a world culture driven by an incomplete consciousness...

hey Jeff – I will wager a beer (hopefully something from the Wynkoop’s brewery again) that within the next 0-10 years the combined pressures of global change (peak oil is nothing compared to the economic systems disruptions that will be delivered by global change) will drive a overall shift in power from nation-states to rhizome/resilient communities. Sounds kinda vague and hard to quantify, but basically the environmental destruction caused by runaway climate change (scientists were about 100 years off on the severity due to their inabilities to fully model climate as well as the social cohesion effects of the hierarchy (groups like the IPCC and IGBP are unable to articulate how bad things are because the leap in conscious evolution has not yet occurred – we still act like the majority of Milgram’s test subjects or the subjects of Solomon Asch’s conformity tests – we dismiss the radical views even if they are by our most revered and pocket-protected scientists (James Lovelock, Jim Hansen…).

Due to the interconnectedness of global society/economy, however, increasing global change disasters of the coming decade will delegitimize states much faster than global “terrorism”. The climate events will be, of course, coupled to an increasingly organizing and unifying global social/environmental justice movement seeking to live in autonomously and locally beneath failing states. The ideological connectivity shared by these nodes will create incredible global networks, uniting everyone from hackers to organic gardeners, from international science organizations to grassroots environmental movements, and even perhaps from “radical” environmentalists to former US military intelligence officers. ;)

Oh, and a new level of warfare (5th Gen war) will eclipse the power structures created by 4th Gen conflicts – think of it like this – those who are “enlightened” as to the biological and sociocultural forces that control mass perception (see Bloom’s Lucifer Principle…) will learn to use the media for sort of “Tool” of memetic apoptosis – the programmed cell death of maladaptive units of the human social superorganism. The effectiveness of this sort of warfare would, of course, depend on consciousness of the agents in the complex adaptive systems and environmental feedbacks. At the same time as the understanding/acceptance of conscious evolutionary theory is used a “Tool” of warfare, it will also be restorative: think back to some of our discussion on emergence on your blog – suicide is enabled by subjective consciousness and disabled by pure enlightenment beyond the ego – how, after all, could a "self" that perceives "itself" as within part of an eternal system kill "itself"?

Lind has it wrong on his conception of 5th GW, but as he says, “One simple test for whether or not something constitutes a generational shift is that, absent a vast disparity in size, an army from a previous generation cannot beat a force from the new generation.”

...I sure hope you come down to CR sometime and check out the army ants - from the right distance they look just like anarchists…

Si vis pacem parabellum

nods :)

you are a fascinating fellow, thank you very much for your report.


Rebel farmer –
“I decided to stay at home and help my "own community" (France). Between brackets, cause I still haven't defined what IS exactly my own community :-)” yeah, I know exactly how you feel. It was so strange and difficult to present the initial biodiesel project in Monteverde, which had been my “community” for many years before I began trying to get people off fossil fuel. Most people are so accustomed to having their resources – food, energy, so on… - provided by a big company, all packaged with impressive and shiny logos – they aren’t generally receptive to a random person offering to put alternative fuel in their precious automobiles. I will have to spend some time checking onto the RMC info – thanks for the links. From my research biochar seems most appropriate here in the tropics. The soils tend to be highly weathered and acidic – biochar amended with compost tea has been working great for our plants when we amend even the crummy clay oxisols. What I am really excited about is an extension of the biochar and gardens we have started at the Flutterby house and Rancho DiAndrew with a system using biochar to absorb agricultural pollution runoff from big farms and test it in plots compared to non amended biochar soils. None of what we have done so far has gone widespread by any means, but it feels like it really catches the attention of visitors and travelers to see that the business owners here are working with weird, ranting science geeks like on environmental projects. It is crucial to have that sense of community of like-minded folks – even if they are not in your immediate locale – the internet gives us the connectivity to share and discuss all our efforts.
Oh…. I guess I should’ve mentioned “I” am “ryan”– I chose the login w farnaby as a reference to a story I once read…
Reb farmer and others who may be interested – I have also written for, (search the site for Ryan king) and write environmental news for the Costa Rican journal “Dominical Days.” I am focusing much of my reading and writing on ant-civilization and post-industrial philosophy… im not a primitivist, though, I am convinced that the theory of conscious evolution proposed by Julian Jaynes in his “Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind” indicates that we will (or already are!) to experience a profound, rapid, and emergent sort of level of socialization which will allow for rhizome/anarchist/resilient communities/autonomous groups to become empowered and independent of all states and corporations in a sort of desperate last-minute (and successful, of course!) attempt to adapt to what industrial civilization has done to the planet.

regarding the humans, EO Wilson explains:

"The first dilemma, in a word is that we have no particular place to go. The species lacks any goal external to its own biological nature. It could be that in the next hundred years humankind will thread the needles of technology and politics, solve the energy and material crises, avert nuclear war, and control reproduction. The world can at least hope for a stable ecosystem and a well-nourished population. But then what? Educated people everywhere believe that beyond material needs lie fulfillment and realization of human potential. But what is fulfillment, and to what ends may potential be realized?"

any thoughts?

some folks are fascinated with the idea of humankind "going into outer space." from my understanding we already are in outer space living on a materially-limited and sensitive planetary system we tend to call "earth." perhaps the next frontier will be for us to go back into the places "we" the "civilized" world "developed" and restore them with education and environmental/social aid...