Global Futures Praxis

Work In Progress Report on the relevance of Biochar Action Learning Circles as a means to address several of the Millennium Project’s Global Challenges

Paul Wildman

In order to look and act forward to a solution to today’s problems we must first look back to its origins.

Paul Taylor (2010:3)

The goal of futures is not to predict the future but to improve it.

Edward Cornish (2004:65) quoted in Dick and Wildman (2011:9)


This “action research work in progress” report involves drawing insights from my field notes and learning circle experience made over a four year period. During this time, I worked along several bush mechanics involved in Biochar development, and trialed a Hydroponics/Biochar experiment.

By Biochar I mean the production, distribution and application of ‘agricultural charcoal’ primarily made with low temperature pyrolysis, in and for the domestic (household or Oikonomia) sector.

Work In Progress

Now to detail some aspects of the Works In Progress within this overall Biochar Action Research Project:

A) Working alongside the originator of the initiative, now called Australian Biochar Industries a not for profit social venture, Dolph Cooke and getting before, during and after views.

B) An ongoing Exemplar Project is the Biochar Project site at Kunghur in Northern New South Wales, Australia which seeks to synergise Bush mechanicing and Biochar in the Hill Of Abundance1. To my knowledge, this is an Australian first.

C) In terms of the learning circles I have developed the Action Learning Circles referred to in this report, in co-operation with Learning Circles Australia. This involved applying my experience in developing Action Learning Circles for Community Economic Development (Wildman and Schwencke, 2003) to this current project (Wildman, 2011). As of November, there have been a full cycle of six action learning circle meetings with action and reading in the fortnight between each meeting. All up this comes to about 50hrs per participant.2

Final field results from this WIP should be known in early 2012. Early field results are hopeful, practical and most reassuring; some are presented in the brief below. Such outcomes are possible because the period between circle meetings permitted experiments in kiln and retort fabrication and field trial plantings to occur, as indeed they have. For instance, the following picture is of a plot of one of the ALC participants, taken one month after planting. The three rows nearer the camera are those with Biochar. The remaining four rows away from the camera are the control group with normal local soil without Biochar3.


Location: Border Ranges - inland Northern NSW @ 09-2011.  Photo: P. Wildman

Location: Border Ranges - inland Northern NSW @ 09-2011. Photo: P. Wildman

D) The overall project has detailed the links between the Biochar Action Learning Circles and the Millennium Project’s 15 Global Challenges (see Appendix A4 where they are listed GC1 to GC15). Particular Global Challenges of relevance are sustainability (GC1) whereby Biochar can act as a coral reef in one’s garden attracting all the ‘best bugs’ to its billions of microspores for nutrition of surrounding micro-organisms; clean water (GC2), whereby Biochar has been used as a grey water filter that can then be used in the garden; and sustainable energy (GC13) whereby the gases from the burn off can provide heat and even the capability to drive motors. For example, this was the case in the Great Depression when cars and even tractors were powered by Biochar-gas. The last Global challenge of relevance is ethical markets (GC7) whereby Biochar can be used in a pilot sense to help provide part of the ‘green’ economic base for several ‘right livelihood’ small businesses/social ventures. Here ‘black’ is the new ‘green’.

E) My intent, early in 2011, Brisbane Australia, was to see if it would be possible to set up a gardening system that could feed a couple that was: No dig, No weeds, No Watering, No bugs, No bending, No electricity, No pumps, No room and most importantly No weeds. Sound impossible? Would this be possible and would it work? Yes and here are the results to prove it.

Basically it’s an Autopot system with gravity feed nutrients (Ionic Grow) set up outside under shadecloth (32% up to 40% will work, 30% absolute minimum) on Bunning’s tables hung over the railing on my deck in Northside suburban Brisbane (30mts north from the City Centre).

These are the results5 from the 3 month field trial: What I have found is that the:

  1. Overall Hydrochar experiment results were very positive.
  2. Growth was about twice the control pots + of course hydroponics growth rates, with this system, are about twice in ground growth rates so we are looking at a growth rate four times that for ground plants.
  3. Root system in the Hydrochar pots was 3-4 times more substantial than that in the control pots (first picture below cp. the second picture)
  4. Root system as closely matted and had retained all the smaller granulated Biochar almost as if it was feeding off, and with, the Bio-char rather than as per normal, and feeding exclusively off the Hydroponic nutrient.
  5. Hydrochar lettuce were still producing feed leaves, at the completion of the test period whereas those in the hydroponic control pots had all run to seed.

Root system with hydrochar

Root system with hydrochar

Root system without hydrochar

Root system without hydrochar

NB: Dear Readers: I in no way claim to be an agronomist. Rather I am, at best, a hobby hydroponicist – this experiment is more by way of exploring the issue – can Biochar be used efficaciously in Hydroponics? Further field trials are needed.

F) Key further outcomes of the past decade spent in the Action Research project have been the focusing through the revamping of the Biochar and Bush Mechanic websites as well as the development of this eZine to reflect the transition from text to screen, with the inclusion of social networking technologies (see icons on the top right hand side of our Adult Learning website), the completion of eBook2 on Chiro-learning, and as Work In Progress a small migration to Social Networking Technology with a uTube channel and a Weebly Blog as the locus of authenticity in our post textual age shifts from text to screen. See .

G) This Chiro-learning path of Low Tech – High Ingenuity is a form of Critical Futures Praxis and represents a third path of Learning that may also contribute to the potential for braiding Action Learning, Learning Circles and Sustainability and possibly the emergence of KALGROVE as a functioning pedagogical institute. A path that is not ‘top down education’ as in schools and universities, nor is it ‘competency conditioning training’ as in TAFES and Vocational Education, rather it is ‘bottom up learning’ through informal structured methods such as ‘learning circles’.

Such that, in conjunction with the Dick and Wildman (2011) article, to appear in a later issue, this short piece has sought to present a concrete work in progress report demonstrating a particular interpretation of CRAFT. It is hoped that even to some small extent that this Work In Progress Report may elicit replication studies, which can in time become intrinsic to, and practically demonstrate the benefit of, the field(s) of Action Learning, Action Research, Bush Mechanics and perhaps most importantly Biochar.

Some broader reflections

I call this overall approach ‘chiro’, or hand oriented, Action Learning which, I argue offers the opportunity of developing a body of expertise that can stand us in good stead in any future emergency as we head to what many see as an onrushing post-apocalyptic world. I submit that in such a world, if we are to survive, will have to be in large part ‘made by hand’. Kunstler (2008), McCarthy (2006). Today we see movements in response to this all around us such as Transition Towns, Permaculture, Powerdown, Zero Emissions, Sharehood, Bush Mechanic and so forth.6

Present indications are that our grandchildren will face this post-apocalyptic world. Even Wikipedia and US, UK and Aus. TV have programs on: Apocalypse Man, Burning Man, Garbage Warrior, Escape from Experiment Island and Junkyard Wars. Indeed few of these above future threatening issues and NGO responses were in the public domain when this research project was commenced four years ago. And for an extended period the public saw little, if any, relevance was seen in this ‘off grid’ work however now, if I may say, the world is rapidly ‘warming’ to the concept. The grid is the darling of history – however this is about to change and Biochar is part of the reason why.

In Australia there is a term for someone who links thinking and doing, and uses their hands to act forward wisely by crafting projects that solve problems with what is available while developing innovations in the field that respond to broader needs ~ a Bush mechanic. Wildman (2005:1).

So by ‘bush mechanic’ I mean ‘chiro’ by which I mean ‘handmade’ by which I mean the ‘domestic sector’ (as counterpointed with the ‘corporate-industrial complex’), by which I mean Aristotles ‘Oikonomia’ or Home Economics from 2500BP (again as counterpointed with the financial economy or ‘love of money’ Chrematistics). The Bushy is often seen pejoratively, especially those bush mechanics in Indigenous Communities. I strongly submit that the Aussie Bush mechanic, though a dying breed, has not only a deep and ancient heritage but also a lot to offer our children’s children. If our children can ever grab hold of their ‘dignity of risk’ and be permitted to leave their cotton wool cocoons and light a match, or pick up a spanner, fork or needle, and act. Batty (2001), WMA (2002).

This interface between Action Learning, Biochar and the Bushy I submit can now be part of our ‘practical hope’ for our children’s positive future.

Paul Wildman is collecting exemplar projects. CRAFT’ers who would like their projects included and recognised through CRAFT are invited to contact him at and view progress in the research project on and in particular as well as below.7

Appendix A: Explaining the Millennium Project

The MP, the only global futures watch project, was founded in 1996 in the US after a three-year feasibility study. Originally it was sponsored jointly by the United Nations University, Smithsonian Institution, UNDP, EPA, Futures Group International and the American Council for the UNU. It is now an independent non-profit global participatory futures research think tank of futurists, scholars, business planners, & policy makers who work for international organizations, governments, corporations, NGOs, & universities. The Millennium Project manages a methodical and cumulative process, participated in by over 3000 futurists and scholars and organisations from about 50 countries around the world. The Project then collects and assesses judgments from over these people and organisations since the beginning of the project selected by its 50 Nodes around the world. The work is distilled in its annual ‘State of the Future’, ‘Futures Research Methodology’ series, as well as special and sponsored studies and methodologies.

Phase 1 of the feasibility study began in 1992 with funding from U.S. EPA to identify and link futurists and scholars around the world to create the initial design of the Project and conduct a first test on population and environmental issues. In 1993/94 during Phase II, a series of reports were created on futures research methodology and long-range issues important to Africa, funded by UNDP. Phase III, conducted in 1994/95 under the auspices of the UNU/WIDER and funded by UNESCO concluded with the final feasibility study report. Today, the Project accomplishes its mandate by connecting individuals and institutions around the world to collaborate on research to address important global challenges (also please see the list below). Since 1996, about 3,000 futurists, scholars, decision makers, and business planners from over 50 countries contributed with their views to the Millennium Project research through a Delphi technique and indicate a non-prioritised list of critical some 15 Global Challenges that need to be addressed by 2045

The project is not a one-time study of the future, but provides an annual review through its on-going capacity as a geographically and institutionally dispersed think tank. It was selected among the 100 Best Practices by UN Habitat, among best 7 foresight organizations by US Office of Energy, eleven of the thirteen annual State of the Future reports were selected by Future Survey as among the year’s best books on the future, and the international journal Technological Forecasting & Social Change dedicates several entire issues to the annual State of the Future Report. Glenn and Gordon (2010).

The challenges are aimed at Governmental and organisational decision makers so relevant actions are also included. 8

GC 1: How can sustainable development be achieved for all?

GC 2: How can everyone have sufficient fresh water without conflict?

GC 3: How can global population and resources be brought into balance?

GC 4: How can genuine democracy emerge from authoritarian regimes?

GC 5: How can policy making be made more sensitive to global long-term perspectives?

GC 6: How can the global convergence of information and communications technologies work for everyone?

GC 7: How can ethical market economies be encouraged to help reduce the gap between rich and poor?

GC 8: How can the threat of new and re-emerging diseases and immune micro-organisms be reduced?

GC 9: How can the capacity to decide be improved as the nature of work and institutions change

GC 10: How can shared values and new security strategies reduce ethnic conflicts, terrorism, and the use of weapons of mass destruction

GC 11: How can the changing status of women help improve the human condition?

GC 12: How can trans-national organised crime networks be stopped from becoming more powerful and sophisticated global enterprises?

GC 13: How can energy demands be met safely and efficiently?

GC 14: How can scientific and technological breakthroughs be accelerated to improve the human condition?

GC 15: How can ethical considerations become more routinely incorporated into global decisions?

To cite this document:

Wildman, P. (2011). Global Futures Praxis: Work In Progress Report on the relevance of Biochar Action Learning Circles as a means to address several of the Millennium Project’s Global Challenges. CRAFT. Brisbane. 7pgs.

Key Words: Millennium Project, Biochar, Artificer Learning, Action Learning Circle, Hydroponics


Web (all web addresses accessed 10-2011)

Pedagogical Institutes/Learning Enrichment Foundations that embrace ‘chiro oriented pedagogy’ seen in Kids and Adults Learning: Canada; India, and possibly eventually Australia click on ‘Adult Learning’ or go direct . bioneers – practical biomimicry. Warlpiri Media Association media site [WMA. (2002)].


Batty, D. (2001). Motorcar Ngutju, The Chase, Payback, the Rainmakers. Bush mechanics ~ the Series. Australia: ABC Video. DVD 2hrs approx.

Dick, B. and P. Wildman. (2011). Critical Futures Praxis: futures, action research and change. Unpublished. 28pgs. Available from the authors.

Glenn, J. and T. Gordon (2010). 2010 State of the Future. Washington, DC, World Federation of UN Associations (WFUNA). 100pgs with DVD.

Kunstler, H. (2008). World Made by Hand. New York: Grove Press. 320pgs.

McCarthy, C. (2006). The Road. New York: Picador. 300pgs.

Taylor, P., Ed. (2010). The Biochar Revolution: Transforming Agriculture and Environment. Victoria – Australia: Global Publishing Group. 364pgs.

Wildman, P. (2011). BioChar Action Learning Circles: toward a future Nature can live with. Action Learning Circles based on Paul Taylor’s The BioChar Revolution book (2010). P. Wildman. Brisbane: The Kalgrove Institute. with Topic Guides – 40pgs. With six topics each of 5 pages.

Wildman, P. and H. Schwencke (2003). Your Community Learning – action learning circles for learning and earning through community economic development. Brisbane, Community Learning Initiatives and Prosperity Press: Multi Media CD Rom with explanatory booklet explaining action learning and including cross walk between community economy development questions and ALC topics integrated through Community Economy Development Actions. Brisbane: Prosperity Press and Life Long Learning Council of Qld. (then Community Learning Initiatives).

WMA. (2002), see Web section.

1 See for more information.

2 (Dr. Mark Brophy ), industry expert and author; Dr Paul Taylor (2010) ( ), Biochar entrepreneur; and CharMaster Dolph Cooke ( ).

3 For further information on these Action Learning Circles please see and . Most encouragingly in October, on the basis of these results and the way the Learning Circles sought to address several of the Millennium Project Global Challenges the group received a Millennium Project Node Award, see .

4 Backgrounding The Millennium Project: .

5 I used an Australian Autopot system of six pots. Two of these had a 50/50mix of perlite and activated Bio-char – the Bio-char was itself a 50/50 mix of small chunks mixed with a granulated powered type + two were control pots with 100% Perlite and the same plants at the same time as the Hydrochar experiment – using principles from Paul Taylor’s 2010 book The Biochar Revolution.

6 Transition Towns ( ), Permaculture ( ), Powerdown, Zero Emissions ( ), Sharehood ( ), Bush Mechanic ( ) and so forth.

7 ; and

8 See and

Discuss - No Comments

No comments yet. Why not add one below?

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Note marked required (*) fields.