Heal the Planet

Heal the Planet: A new (but ancient) approach to the Climate Crisis

Molly Melhuish, melhuish@xtra.co.nz, 027 230 5911
22 July 2020

The science:

The sun’s energy that warms the planet also builds biomass – trees and shrubs, grazing, soils, oceanic and fresh water plankton that drive food chains, animals and fish

Trees in the Amazon put more water into the atmosphere than the Amazon puts into the ocean. Everywhere trees are critical to water and soils

Soil moisture contains more water than the atmosphere, living plants and rivers combined. 

Trees cool the land because their leaves, which have 10 times the area of the land they grow on, actively transpire far more moisture into the air than evaporates from oceans

The biomass of humans is 36% of all mammal biomass on earth, their livestock accounts for 60%; wild animals amount to a mere 4% of all mammal biomass

The necessary response:

Heal the planet! By using the sun’s energy to rebuild the plant and animal systems we have destroyed

Near to human settlements, aim to get all our useful energy from sun, wind and biomass

That means “trees on streets”, also in town surroundings especially hills

That requires technologies to collect and burn biomass efficiently for heat, some electricity, and biochar

Use wood burning for the woody biomass, use biogas from appropriate waste products

It means walking and cycling for transport on mostly-car-free shady streets – health benefits!

It means choosing the species to rebuild planet health according to the soil and climate of each location – choose the climax and secondary succession species

Our economic system must recognise the need for local provision for human needs, and the value of local activities which provide for the entire ecology of our particular locations


Biodiversity is the key to healing the planet and restoring our living communities.

Each species, each life type, is required, starting with the fungi and bacteria, which are fostered by particular species within the macro-flora and fauna.

Each contributes to building soils, absorbing and generating rain, and providing food for the ecological communities and for humans.


Researching the science of our local ecologies is the first critical step.

Determine yields of useful biomass products especially energy, and designing management to improve soil permeability and nutrient content, also need to be researched.

Using the energy

To gain useful energy from the woody biomass grown on street trees, urban parks, and adjacent hillsides and riverbanks requires systems for collecting and aggregating the branches, and appliances designed to burn them.

Small-scale clean biomass burners have been designed for underdeveloped countries for cooking. They use local branchwood – a comprehensive report on these is at

A new profession of urban forestry is contemplated, knowledgeable about which NZ plants promote biodiversity including birds, lizards and insects, bacteria and fungi. Skills are needed to harvest the trees, especially to aggregate the branchwood. Recycling centres in towns and suburbs process the raw wood into saleable products:

  • Wood fuel designed for the wood burners in the area
  • Growth-promoting woodchip (ramial) for local gardens
  • Compost and mulches and biochar

Modern New Zealand wood burners come in three basic types. (Most “approved” wood burners are more likely to give smoky fires.)

  • Simple insulated firebox (Pyroclassic) – requires seasoned wood
  • downdraft (designed by Roger Best) – can accept poorly seasoned and some green wood, when up to temperature
  • Pyrolyzing (designed by Ian Cave) – creates a bed of charcoal which when hot can accept green wood; tricky to stat from cold

Each of these types can be manufactured:

  • for household use (~10 kW- ~15 kW, turns down to 2 kW). Each has a stovetop which enables hot water to be always available (e.g. a 6 litre pot or kettle). Or plumbed in as a wetback. Working appliances – two pyrolyzers near Motueka, a 10 kW Pyroclassic using bush wood, in York Bay near Wellington
  • For community halls and maraes, ~ 100 kW Working models – e.g. an 80W in Timaru (?) with a long horizontal flue as a heater, a 60 kW in a very large house …
  • For schools, hospitals and especially rest homes – 100 kW to >1 MW.

Integrating local biomass energy with commercial energy, especially electricity

The electricity market must be changed to make proper use of local biomass energy. The promise of “100% renewable electricity” is simply untrue, as it requires gas-fired peaking power stations for the highest winter peaks and in dry years.

Instead, the market must be designed to make flexible local energy competitive with purchased bulk electricity (through electricity retailers).

This requires: The system operator (run now by Transpower) to forecast electricity demand at all time scales from seconds to months ahead. A well-functioning forward electricity market now forecasts price from months ahead to three years.

Gentailers must be split up so they can’t manipulate the market, as Meridian and Contact did last November and December, making consumers pay an extra $80 million, and making Huntly run on coal emitting 6000 tonnes CO2.

New houses need to install very substantial highly insulated hot water storage – ideally about 2 cubic metres, but for retrofits 500 -1000litres is useful. This enables space heating at peak morning and evening hours, and water heat always available.

All houses with decent sun resource to install solar PV; batteries not necessarily needed if the electricity market makes full use of biomass flexibility.


Most urgent is to further develop the downdraft and pyrolyzing wood burners, and put trial appliances into houses, schools, and rural areas which now burn stuff (orchard wastes…)

Roger Best’s downdraft burner can be manufactured now; still needs funding to commercialise

Town planning should be enabling new subdivisions to provide “shady streets” for walking/ cycling transport and biodiversity and fuel supply. Check “forest bathing” …

Shady streets to be trialled in existing locations; Nelson-Tasman an ideal and supportive local council and community