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Transforming life on our home planet, perennially

book coverEd. note: This piece is the first contribution in the new book The Perennial Turn: Contemporary Essays from the Field, ed. by Bill Vitek and published as a free ebook by New Perennials Publishing. 

For those who are willing to face the multiple, cascading crises that humans have created, one task is analysis: How did we get here? In the 200,000 years of Homo sapiens, what have been key thresholds of systemic change?

A good case can be made for agriculture, which the polymath scientist Jared Diamond (1987) called “the worst mistake in the history of the human race.” Three decades later, historian Yuval Noah Harari (2015, p. 77) called the Agricultural Revolution “history’s biggest fraud.” When we started taking control of animals’ lives and breaking the soil to produce energy-rich grain, we intervened in ecosystems in ways we could not predict or control, to the detriment of many organisms, including humans.

With nearly eight billion people on the planet, we aren’t going back to hunting and gathering. But around the world, often under the banner of agroecology, people are using modern science and traditional knowledge to develop ways of farming that are less ecologically and socially destructive.

Over the past four decades, one of the most promising projects in sustainable agriculture has been Natural Systems Agriculture (perennial grains grown in mixtures rather than annuals grown in monocultures) at The Land Institute. The institute’s Ecosphere Studies program nurtures and explores this perennial thinking through research and education based in an ecological worldview that challenges the dominant industrial model defining contemporary ways of feeding bodies and minds. This essay outlines our approach, including a diagnosis of our agricultural past and present in a broader ecospheric context, which resonates with other ecocentric projects while building on the lessons learned on the Kansas prairie that is home to The Land Institute.

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Dear David Attenborough, beautiful Netflix documentary. But your ‘solutions’ destroy nature even more

I recently saw your new film, A Life on Our Planet – a beautiful, harrowing documentary about the global decline of our natural ecosystems. It’s a bitter pill with a sweet dessert: a possible way out of this mess. I couldn’t help but choke on that dessert – because you suddenly mention the Netherlands as a leading example for the rest of the world.

As a Dutch person, this would be a great honour, if it weren’t for the fact that you are gravely mistaken.

Your reasoning is as follows. We humans are cultivating more and more land for agriculture to support our growing global population, thereby destroying natural ecosystems. The most important example is a seemingly endless succession of palm oil plantations in Borneo, built at the expense of the richest nature on Earth, including orangutans, our siblings in the canopy.

So, you say, we need to focus all our energies on cultivating more food on less land. “The Dutch have become experts at getting the most out of every hectare,” we hear you say with your familiar eloquent tone. “Despite its size, the Netherlands is now the world’s second largest exporter of food.”

According to you, the Netherlands has increased its production tenfold, while using fewer pesticides and artificial fertilisers, with lower CO2 emissions. We see tomatoes growing in futuristic greenhouses, and even vertical farming: heads of lettuce growing one above the other, 10 storeys high, illuminated by purple LED lighting.

But the fact that we are champion exporters is not because we pile heads of lettuce on top of each other or because we grow sustainable sci-fi tomatoes.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Coming Financial Crisis of 2021

Economist Steve Keen predicts that even if the covid-19 health crisis subsides next year, a brewing financial crisis on par with the 2008 Great Recession is in the making.

He sees the pandemic as having delivered an “unprecedented shock” to the global economy, and the response from authorities as nothing less than a “catastrophe”.

With tens of millions of households having lost their income this year, personal savings becoming exhausted, government support programs on their way to drying up, and lots more company layoffs/bankruptcies/closures ahead — Steve expects a punishing recession to arrive in full force in 2021.

And on a larger scale, he sees modern neoclassical economics — which ignores the importance of natural resources and the health of our ecosystems — as completely unsuited for the reality in which we live today. He warns that if we don’t adapt a more informed approach to managing the global economy, we will only continue to make the mess we’re in worse:

Scientists’ warning to humanity on insect extinctions

Scientists’ warning to humanity on insect extinctions

Preface. Below are excerpts from Cardoso, P., et al. 2020. Scientists’ warning to humanity on insect extinctions. Biological Conservation.

***

Highlights:

  • We are pushing many ecosystems beyond recovery, resulting in insect extinctions.
  • Causes are habitat loss, pollution, invasives, climate change, and over exploitation.
  • We lose biomass, diversity, unique histories, functions, and interaction networks.
  • Insect declines lead to loss of essential, irreplaceable services to humanity.
  • Action to save insect species is urgent, for both ecosystems and human survival.

Abstract

Here we build on the manifesto ‘World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity, issued by the Alliance of World Scientists. As a group of conservation biologists deeply concerned about the decline of insect populations, we here review what we know about the drivers of insect extinctions, their consequences, and how extinctions can negatively impact humanity.

We are causing insect extinctions by driving habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation, use of polluting and harmful substances, the spread of invasive species, global climate change, direct over-exploitation, and co-extinction of species dependent on other species.

With insect extinctions, we lose much more than species. We lose abundance and biomass of insects, diversity across space and time with consequent homogenization, large parts of the tree of life, unique ecological functions and traits, and fundamental parts of extensive networks of biotic interactions. Such losses lead to the decline of key ecosystem services on which humanity depends. From pollination and decomposition, to being resources for new medicines, habitat quality indication and many others, insects provide essential and irreplaceable services.

1. Introduction

Insect extinctions, their drivers, and consequences have received increasing public attention in recent years. Media releases have caught the interest of the general public, and until recently, we were largely unaware that insects could be imperiled to such an extent, and that their loss would have consequences for our own well-being. Fueled by declining numbers from specific regions, concern over the fate of insects has gained traction in the non-scientific realm.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

How Low Flows Due to Irrigation are Destroying Oregon’s Deschutes River

How Low Flows Due to Irrigation are Destroying Oregon’s Deschutes River

The majority of water removed from the Deschutes is used to grow irrigated pasture and hay for livestock not crops consumed directly by humans.  Photo by George Wuerthner

The recent article “Low Flows On Deschutes” highlights why irrigation is a significant threat to our river’s ecological integrity.

According to the report, flows on a portion of the Deschutes dropped to 60 CFS leaving many parts of the river channel dry. To put this into perspective, historically, before irrigators took our water from us,  the river ran at 1000-1200 CFS year-round.  As a spring-fed river, the Deschutes supported outstanding fisheries.

Huge trout caught out of the Deschutes near the turn of the century before irrigation destroyed the river.

This tragedy continues because the public is not standing up for its rights. We, the people, own the water in the river, not the irrigators. We allow the irrigators to take water from the river without any compensation to the public, and regardless of the damage done to aquatic ecosystems. This system was devised by irrigators to serve irrigators a century ago.

Isn’t it time for us to enter the modern age? Using water in the desert to grow hay for livestock is just a crazy waste of a valuable resource. Keeping water in the river would provide for greater recreational use. And maintaining viable flows would protect aquatic life like spotted frogs, trout, and salmon, not to mention all the other water-dependent species like eagles, mink, otter, and the rest.

Despite the claims to “water rights” the actual water in all state rivers belongs to  Oregon citizens as affirmed by the Oregon Supreme Court.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Nurturing vital diversity & resilience: Scaling out, rather than scaling-up!

Photo: NASA

Nurturing vital diversity & resilience: Scaling out, rather than scaling-up!

There is an unfortunate knee-jerk response programmed into many people in leadership positions to want to ask: “How do we scale it up?” every time they hear a seemingly good idea. To a larger or lesser extent, many of the people who have this response have contracted the virus of neoliberal economic indoctrination. Once infected you do not question the economic growth imperative, its hidden subsidies and externalities, the inadequacy of GDP as a measure of positive progress, nor the implied assumption that bigger is better or more efficient and effective. Very often it is not!

Of course we need to find a way that regenerative practice and careful restoration of healthy ecosystems functions spreads from community to community and bioregion to bioregion to reach global impact as quickly as possible. We need to reach scale, but not by scaling-up!

Many regenerative solutions will no longer be regenerative if they are simply scaled up into a mega-project or replicated in a cut & paste (cookie cutter) fashion. Such expansionist approaches tends to loose touch with the necessity for solutions to be born out of the cultural and ecological uniqueness of a place — its people and its bioregion. We can learn from the patterns of natural system how to design as nature, create place-sourced solutions and create conditions conducive to life.

In general natural systems do not keep growing exponentially in quantity and size. They tend to follow a logistic curve of growing to a certain point and then changing and maturing in qualities, relationships and interconnections without continuing to grow quantitatively in size or numbers. Just reflect on your own development from childhood to adulthood, if you want an example for that pattern. Our species has long passed the point where we should have switched from quantitative growth to qualitative growth, from more and bigger, to better and more appropriate.

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Bold New Campaign Highlights How ‘Nature Can Save Us’ From Climate and Ecological Breakdown

Bold New Campaign Highlights How ‘Nature Can Save Us’ From Climate and Ecological Breakdown

“The protection and restoration of these ecosystems can help to minimize a sixth great extinction, while enhancing local people’s resilience against climate disaster.”

Erie National Wildlife Refuge

A new campaign launched Wednesday calls for “drawing carbon dioxide out of the air by protecting and restoring ecosystems.” (Photo: Nicholas Tonelli/Flickr/cc)

A group of activists, experts, and writers on Wednesday launched a bold new campaign calling for the “thrilling but neglected approach” of embracing nature’s awesome restorative powers to battle the existential crises of climate and ecological breakdown.

Averting catastrophic global warming and devastating declines in biodiversity, scientists warn, requires not only overhauling human activities that generate planet-heating emissions—like phasing out fossil fuels—but also cutting down on the carbon that is already in the atmosphere.

In a letter to governments, NGOs, the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity, and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Natural Climate Solutionscampaign calls for tackling these crises by not only rapidly decarbonizing economies, but also by “drawing carbon dioxide out of the air by protecting and restoring ecosystems.”

Along with stopping fossil fuel emissions, we badly need to restore natural systems. Important new effort spearheaded by @GeorgeMonbiot https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/apr/03/let-nature-heal-climate-and-biodiversity-crises-say-campaigners …4708:58 AM – Apr 3, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacyLet nature heal climate and biodiversity crises, say campaignersRestoration of forests and coasts can tackle ‘existential crises’ but is being overlookedtheguardian.com

“By defending, restoring and re-establishing forests, peatlands, mangroves, salt marshes, natural seabeds, and other crucial ecosystems, very large amounts of carbon can be removed from the air and stored,” the letter says. “At the same time, the protection and restoration of these ecosystems can help to minimize a sixth great extinction, while enhancing local people’s resilience against climate disaster.”

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Of Insects and Men

Of Insects and Men

Photo by John Severns – Source Wikimedia Commons

Invisible denizens — everywhere

Insects are all over the world – in and over the waters at the edge of the seas, in and over the waters of lakes, rivers and creeks and swamps and irrigation ditches. They thrive in the forests, mountains, deserts, land, cities, villages, in the tropics and in the homes of the poor and the powerful. Their populations are the largest of all other species. They have been occupying the Earth for 400 million years.

However, insects are tiny, short-lived organisms, hiding for the most part under the surface of the land, crawling in the floor, among rocks, and on everything that has roots, trunk or leaves. So, unless they are beautiful like the Monarch butterflies and obviously very useful like honeybees, insects are invisible.

We call scientists who study insects entomologists from the Greek word for insect, entomon, something that is divided in parts. Aristotle gave this name to insects, saying these parts or notches are on the bellies or the backs and bellies of insects. He studied honeybees and mayflies and some other five-hundred animals in his pioneering zoological research. He founded science and biology as we know them.He urged us to study and love animals because we live in their midst. They make up the natural world, which is absolutely essential for human survival and happiness.

Entomologists are confirming the science and wisdom of Aristotle. They have been saying insects hold ecosystems together. By ecosystems they mean large parts of the natural world: mountains, lakes, rivers, creeks, swamps, seas, deserts, and land. Insects work hard to survive and, in that process, they keep the natural world healthy.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

What will it feel like to be left behind?

What will it feel like to be left behind?

Chris Martenson’s recent article about collapse and the plummeting of biodiversity made me think about what it feels like to be left behind.  Few people living in affluent countries or communities understand what this means. 

Americans closed their eyes to the plight of people in underdeveloped countries whose soil, water, and air were exploited by US corporations seeking profits at the expense of people.  Instead we touted our booming economic growth as American exceptionalism.  We deserved a better lifestyle because we earned it, right?  But today as billionaires are capturing more and more of the world’s wealth and most of the rest are being left behind, we no longer think the situation is fair.  We don’t enjoy it when we are the ones left behind. “The 12% increase in the wealth of the very richest contrasted with a fall of 11% in the wealth of the poorest half of the world’s population.”

Human exploitation of the environment is competing for the resources other species of life need to survive.  Climate change and the use of pesticides toxic to most species is causing a severe decline in species of insects, amphibians, birds, butterflies, bats, etc.  It is also causing a decline in human health.  Species are going extinct at rates unprecedented except by catastrophic natural events such as a meteorite impact.  Our decision to protect or conserve nature has evolved from ideas in the 1960’s that we should protect “nature for nature itself” to the idea in the 1990’s that we should preserve “nature for people”.     Economic policy dictated that the needs of people mattered first and foremost.  It is only more recently that people are slowly realizing the importance of natural ecosystems, and that it is “humans and nature” we need to understand and protect.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Human and Planetary Health [Part II: Going Upstream]

Human and Planetary Health [Part II: Going Upstream]

Transcript of Daniel Wahl’s ‘Findhorn Talk’ on Human and Planetary Health: Ecosystems Restoration at the dawn of the Century of Regeneration; October 13th, 2018

[…Part I] We need to go upstream and look at this ‘crisis of perception’. We need to start rethinking the story of who we are and why we are here. We need to start thinking about what we could do if we actually lived in a way that is: “creating conditions conducive to life.”

[…], Janine Benyus, the founder of the biomimicry work, says “Life creates conditions conducive to life.” This is in nutshell what we should be doing. I would also say that life is a regenerative community (1). We need to rejoin that community.

To do that we need to change the stories we tell about ourselves and we need to change the ‘organizing ideas’ that shape our perception. What do I mean by that? Have a look at that [the image below].

Some of you are seeing the head of an animal, others are seeing only a black and white circle with black dots in it. — If I give you the organizing idea ‘head-of-a-giraffe’. Ahh — some people go ‘ohh, I can see it now’. This is the neck, these are the horn, these are the eyes, this is the snout. She is looking down this way [from center line to bottom right of the circle].

This is just to show that organizing ideas are incredibly powerful. We don’t see things because they are out-there and they just come-in. We see things because we have ideas about what is out-there and we make the world. We bring forth a world together in conversation. That is the power of reshaping the world for us as well.

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Diet, Ignorance and the Environmental Catastrophe

Diet, Ignorance and the Environmental Catastrophe

Climate Change sounds vast and impersonal, but it’s really a very personal matter; a global crisis caused by the individual actions humanity has collectively taken. All too often such actions proceed from a position of ignorance selfishness and habit, and are undertaken with little or no understanding of the effects on the natural environment.

The debate around climate change commonly focuses on transportation, deforestation, and energy – replacing fossil fuels with renewables. This is right and urgent, and some countries are taking steps; however, what is not tackled at all is the devastating impact of a meat/dairy diet, – common to 97% of humanity. According to Reducing Food’s Environmental Impacts Through Producers and Consumers (RFEI), a detailed report published in the journal Science, consumption of animal produce is “degrading terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, depleting water resources, and driving climate change.”

Industrial farming of cows, pigs, sheep and chickens, plus harvesting fish, for human consumption is the single greatest cause of the interconnected environmental catastrophe; unless urgent substantive change takes place this could single-handedly lead to a polluting point beyond redemption. Misinformed, irresponsible lifestyle choices are behind the environmental crisis. The vast majority of people are unaware of the devastating effects of our collective eating habits, and from this position of uninformed ignorance disaster flows; the earth is poisoned, the climate disrupted and all manner of lives are lost.

Animal agriculture is responsible for approximately 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions (GGE), according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). This is more than any other sector, including manufacturing and transportation. The principal climate change contaminate is methane (44%), which comes mainly from rearing cattle – the source of 65% of all livestock GGE’s. While methane’s atmospheric life is only decades compared to centuries/millennia for carbon-dioxide (Co2) Scientific American reports that it “warms the planet by 86 times as much as CO2,” before degrading to become CO2: So it’s a double whammy, an intensely damaging one.

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Three Climatic Monsters with Asteroid Impact

Three Climatic Monsters with Asteroid Impact

Photo by Logan Fulcher | CC BY 2.0

Three monster climatic events are currently shaping up to collide. It’ll be like an asteroid collision. In that regard, this article, in two parts, explores real, already happening, indisputable climate change that is starting to take down ecosystems throughout the biosphere. It’s happening now.

For perspective on asteroids, the last one, 7 ½ miles wide, hit 65 million years ago (dinosaurs wiped-out), vaporizing sulfate rocks, filling the atmosphere with sulfuric particles, blocking out sunlight, temps dropped 18-29F, followed thereafter by vaporized carbonate rocks, emitting CO2 at the rate of 0.2 ppm over 100,000 years as temps increased by 5C.

Today, CO2 increases at the rate of 3.0 ppm after only 200+ years of anthropogenic (human) influence. Ergo, humans are 15xs more powerful than an asteroid! Try that one on for size mister extinction!

The three monsters are: (1) A State Shift in the biosphere; (2) Human-caused greenhouse gases –GHG- alter the planet, disrupting the Holocene Era of 10,000 years of Goldilocks’ climate, not too hot, not too cold, going away fast; (3) Collapsing ecosystems 100% due to human footprint, inclusive of excessive toxic chemicals galore, worldwide.

Monster #1, A State Shift has been detected in a landmark study by twenty-two biologists and ecologists (“Approaching A State Shift In Earth’s Biosphere,” Nature, June 2012), concluding that when more than 50% of ice-free land converts to crops, livestock, highways, schools, towns, bridges, cities or the human footprint in toto, the ecological web collapses. As of today, human impact is fast approaching that milestone, as the Great Acceleration smothers the planet with human footprint.

The crux of monster #1 involves inventory of ecologically productive land. How much and for whom? Estimates are 3-4 acres of ecologically productive land per capita for 7.5B people. The problem is: Twenty-five percent (25%) of the world’s population, i.e., the developed/industrialized countries, requires nearly 100% of ecologically productive land to support sustainability of lifestyles, like razor blades, automobiles, houses, and bread & butter and ice cream, beyond which natural capital goes into deficit.

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Beyond Sustainability? — We are living in the Century of Regeneration.

Re-greening the Forest Planet (Image Source)

Beyond Sustainability? — We are living in the Century of Regeneration.

Valuing Ecosystem Function higher than material things is the paradigm shift that determines whether we understand the meaning of our lives and survive or whether we remain ignorant and selfish and destroy our own habitat trying to gain more wealth or more power. If we reach this level of understanding, not only can everyone live on the Earth but the natural systems on Earth can reach their optimal ability to sustain life.

— John D. Liu (2016)

There are some practitioners who work on sustainability with a regenerative development mindset. The reason why I would say it is time to move beyond sustainability is twofold. On the one hand the term itself has been coopted and some people now call their company sustainable because it has sustained growth and profits for a number o years in a row. The term sustainability begs us to explain what it is we are trying to sustain.

The term regenerative development, on the other hand, carries within it a clear aim of regenerating the health and vitality of the nested, scale-linking systems we participate in. At a basic level regeneration also communicates not to use resources that cannot be regenerated, nor to use any resources faster than they can be regenerated. Development in this context is “co-evolving mutuality” (Regenesis Group) — so biological and cultural evolutionary development, not in the sense of economic development (only).

The second reason is that I believe we need a reframe that honours the importance of getting to ‘sustainable’ while opening the possibility to deepen our practice and go beyond merely being sustainable to actually regenerating the damage humanity has wrecked on the planet since the dawn of agriculture, city states and empires.

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Climate Science Part 9 – Jet Stream

Climate Science Part 9 – Jet Stream

In this ninth part of our mini-series on climate science, we turn to one of the key suspects in extreme weather events we have experienced in recent years—the shifting shape of the North Atlantic jet stream. And the fingerprints of the changing jet stream can be found in tree ring data. The guest in this episode has studied three centuries of European tree rings and found that the shape of the jet stream, along with clear deviations from historical weather, began in the 1960s, pointing to a connection to the changing climate. Other researchers have come to similar conclusions by studying things like the difference between Arctic and mid-latitude temperatures over time. And they conclude that increases in greenhouse gas emissions will make the jet stream increasingly wavy in the future, exacerbating such extreme weather events.

Geek rating: 3

Guest: Valerie Trouet received her PhD in Bioscience Engineering at the KULeuven (Belgium) in 2004. After a post-doctoral research position in the Geography Department at the Pennsylvania State University (2005-2006), she worked as a research scientist at the Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL (2007-2010).  She now is an Associate Professor at the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research at the University of Arizona and leads the Spatiotemporal Interactions between Climate and Ecosystems research group.  She is currently writing a broad audience book about tree rings, climate history, and human history under the working title “Treestory.”

 

The Menacing Insect Omen 

The Menacing Insect Omen 

The world is experiencing a massive loss of insects. In turn, this threatens ecosystems with utter total collapse, and, by way of direct association, loss of human civilization. Zap, it’s over! Insectageddon!

Insect populations around the world are under massive attack and dropping like… well… like flies. The negative implications run very deep, indeed, especially for the foundation of ecosystems, and thus for the survival of all life. Ironically, insect death equivalence becomes human extermination as ecosystems crumble. It’s already happening, and the evidence is compelling, in fact, overwhelming. What can be done has no ready answers, although begrudged solutions are out there, like stop pesticides and industrial-scale monoculture crop practices.

“Scientists cite many factors in the fall-off of the world’s insect populations, but chief among them are the ubiquitous use of pesticides, the spread of monoculture crops such as corn and soybeans, urbanization, and habitat destruction. A significant drop in insect populations could have far-reaching consequences for the natural world and for humans.” (Source: Christian Schwagerl, What’s Causing the Sharp Decline in Insects, and Why It Matters, Yale Environment360, July 6, 2016)

Many, many studies of insect loss are extant; nevertheless, the issue is seldom, if ever, mentioned by mainstream journals or press.
Therefore, in toto, society is at risk uninformed of inherent dangers behind anthropogenically driven biodiversity loss. It is unimaginable that this escapes far-flung public focus, as well as a strong universal mandate to fix the problem.

In contrast to and dissimilar to global warming COPs (Conference of Parties), which have already captured the world’s attention; there are no conferences of parties to fix this most immediate threat of insect loss and ecosystem collapse, which spells the death knell of society, as it stands.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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