The Buckminster Fuller Institute has awarded Dr. John Todd the first-annual Buckminster Fuller Challenge Award for his submission entitled “Comprehensive Design for a Carbon Neutral World: The Challenge of Appalachia.”
There are over one and a half million acres of strip-mined lands in Appalachia. Coal mining practices have removed mountaintops and filled valleys with the resulting overburden. Landscapes and communities have been devastated. The primary rationale for this is that the nation needs the coal for electricity. Fifty percent of the USA’s electricity comes from burning coal. However, coal combustion is creating increasing levels of carbon dioxide, triggering climate change and threatening the ecological integrity of the planet.
There is an alternative future for Appalachia. It is the antithesis of the current economy of the region. This is a future in which carbon is no longer an atmospheric pollutant but is sequestered in soils and biota. Mining toxins are remediated, coal lands restored, and a new economy is based upon renewable energy, natural resources, enterprise diversification and an ownership society.—from the project proposal
Dr. Todd proposes a four-stage replicable process:
Healing. The first stage in the transformation of the region will involve the detoxifying the trillions of gallons of coal slurry that is held in reservoirs throughout the region. This involves eco-machines designed to render the material harmless to the environment and local inhabitants as well as to create beneficial products from the treated slurry solids.
We have evidence that both of these objectives are possible. The scale of the project is so big that the region could incubate a whole new industry around the conversion of slurry to clean water and new products.
Carbon Sequestration and the Creation of a Working Landscape. Once deep soils and ground cover are established, the next stage will involve creating a working landscape through a series of successional stages. This will include a regional reforestation initiative, which has already been researched and is in the planning phase.
It involves new forests, agro-forests and planting short rotation, fast growing woody crops for biomass production for subsequent conversion into fuels and other energy sources. The agro-forests will be models of succession with each stage having unique products and materials of economic value...Carbon sequestration will take place in the soils and in long-lived orchard and forest trees.
Creating a Renewable Energy Future. Suitable Appalachian wind sites already have been discovered that can provide competitive sources of energy.
The drawback to wind energy is that it must be backed up by alternative standing stocks of energy. However, if it is paired with another renewable energy source like woody biomass from willows and poplars, a viable energy system can be developed. Land to support the woody biomass production is available. Woody biomass can be used for generating electricity, for refining into fuels, and for manufacturing a wide range of products ranging from plastics to polymers and adhesives.
Institutions and a Shared Ownership Culture. A multi-phase institutional model can cover operations at scales ranging from a watershed to an entire region. There are three broad steps: philanthropic, capitalized corporations, and cooperatives for divesting the land and expanding services.
Dr. Todd, invented the Eco-Machine for the treatment of sanitary and industrial wastewater with a focus on water reuse and energy efficiency. John Todd Ecological Design (JTED) has designed and installed ecological wastewater treatment systems throughout the world for the past 20 years.
Established to catalyze the vanguard of a global design revolution, the Buckminster Fuller Challenge awards a single $100,000 prize annually to support the development and implementation of a solution with significant potential to solve the world’s most pressing problems in the shortest possible time while enhancing the Earth’s ecological integrity.