It’s no secret that biofuels, when scaled to a large level, have the potential to be unsustainable. However, this is true of many things. The secret here is simple: one size does not fit all. Large-scale, sweeping solutions almost never work. It’s the reason the Montreal Protocol failed (expected all countries to meet a universal target), why slash-and-burn should not be implemented at anything other than a very small level (massive deforestation and resulting carbon emissions), and why our clothing ranges from XXXS to XXXL.
The basic idea here is that human communities are all different. This isn’t just at a country-to-country scale, but even at a city-to-city or village-to-village one. Walk a few meters, and the needs of a community — even one as small as a city block — will be different.
**As a side-note, this is exceptionally true in the case of Papua New Guinea, our neighbor! Did you know: Papua New Guinea, despite being only the 54th largest country (about the same size as the island of Sumatra, Indonesia), with a tiny population of seven million, has the most amount of recorded languages in the world!! This is due to its hilly geography dense with a thick rainforest canopy, which formed barriers that separated different tribes and villages. Although maybe only a few kilometers apart, they never crossed paths, and so their languages developed separately. Amazing!**
The future of climate change adaptation and mitigation, and the guiding principle for all future development and policymaking, is this: think locally.
That is why a lot of new scientific literature focuses on perhaps the most promising strategy to improve our environmental conditions: community-based management. This strategy would put local and indigenous communities in charge of the care, protection, and monitoring of their surrounding biomes. However, this could also be further applied to other environmental issues, such as agriculture (community gardens), water (sustainable and communal water systems), and, of course, energy (e.g. small-scale biogas!).
su-re.co embodies this truth in our small-scale, community-focused solutions. Each biogas digester has a size suitable to support one family and one agricultural field. We install them after discussions with cacao or coffee farmers that seem interested, invested, and ready to take on the responsibility. More than that, we would have previously assessed the area they are located in, their community, and their farm, in order to ensure that our solution is suitable there. Our entire project was developed with rural Indonesian farming communities in mind; and thus it has been perfectly tailored to suit these areas and people. Even so, not every area and farmer is a match, which we take into account.
The power of the biogas installation project is its local focus. By examining problems local to the region in question (rural Indonesian farming communities), we could begin to develop solution. Bad fuel sources, which pose health risks as a result of indoor air pollution and cast environmental harm due to logging and burning of wood (as firewood is often used), were the key issues here. Related were the free-flowing emissions from cow dung, which include methane, a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Looking at all of these, we saw not problems, but opportunities: areas in need of new, safer, more sustainable fuel sources, and an untapped potential for biogas production.
More than that, we have adopted a closed-loop cycle that has allowed us to fully integrate solutions into our one program. That’s a whole other blog — probably what I’ll write next!
Another huge benefit of locally-focused solutions is that many have the potential for upscaling. Upscaling doesn’t necessarily mean: Implement this on a huge scale, now! Upscaling can mean expanding the size of a project by initiating similar things in related regions. For example, our success with implementing biogas digesters in one region gave us the experience and knowledge to understand that we could do the same for farmers in other similar regions. We’re not expanding the size of our digesters or demanding our farmers pump out more fuel, but just growing our project by implementing it in new areas where we know our solution is suited. Thus, the scale of each solution is the same, but the scope of the entire project has grown. Such is a way to preserve a local focus when expanding.
A way we have allowed for upscaling is by teaching farmers how to install the biogas digesters themselves. This gives them the power and ability to assist with training other farmers in the region in the same skills, making expansion that much easier and much more frugal.
Community-based solutions are noted as perhaps the most “promising option to align global agendas for climate mitigation, conservation, environmental justice and sustainable development,” [Nature Research].
The most effective solutions are small-scale ones that consider the local areas they are in. These can be tailored to the needs of the region and the living things within them. Thus they will be intrinsically better at addressing their issues!