The ANSWER . . . is DIRT (the question is irrelevant)

One of the challenges of inspiring people to care about transforming land to better grow food is making the lifestyle appealing. So far, no go! The aesthetic is monotone: white people playing folk music. This is seriously problematic! Forging alliances is not easy work, but it is meaningful labor.

   Life Affirming & Life Enhancing

cows save the planet

It is the stuff of Douglas Adams-style science fiction, but what if it were true? That cows could save the planet? Not by themselves, but with a little help from their biped friends–especially everyone who has ever harbored a herding fantasy or wants their children and grandchildren to enjoy special elements of the natural world.

Large-scale rotational grazing would require a massive leap of imagination and concerted effort of collective will.  Humans–lots of us–would have to decide to choose to salvage a living planet rather than continue to pretend catastrophic climate change isn’t happening. While most people delay, many people all around the world—alone and in groups—are already acting on the decision to try.

Coaching for Life: Considerations in accord with permaculture principles

Growing good food requires growing good soil! (Note: not Eggleton)
Growing good food requires growing good soil. (Note: not Eggleton)

David Eggleton is presenting at the Northeast Permaculture Convergence (watch the video!) on the under-emphasized permaculture principle, “care of people.” One of the challenges of inspiring people to care about transforming land to better grow food is making the lifestyle appealing. So far, no go! The aesthetic is monotone: white people playing folk music. This is seriously problematic! As a white lesbian, I have listened to and enjoyed plenty of this style of music, but there is a lot of music I enjoy more, and most of my friends wouldn’t dare be caught with acoustic fook guitar on their iPod! There is an intersection of identities around food, food production and art that permaculturists must begin to take very seriously.

Poop and complementary solutions

It is not a joke that cows and other grazing animals are needed to save the planet. Allan Savory was the first to figure out that desertification is occurring in part simply because vast herds of beasts are no longer trampling their poop into the earth. In a 22 minute TED Talk , Savory shows some remarkable turnarounds of dry arid land into lush green prairie just by moving cows in a systematic way through the ecosystem.

These grass-fed cows near Lake Champlain, VT are generating several inches of soil per decade.
These grass-fed cows near Lake Champlain, VT are generating several inches of nutrient-rich soil per decade.

In addition to generating nutrient rich soil (for growing better food), cattle fed on this grass (no grain at all!) have the healthiest omega levels for human beef consumption, and the soil created by rotational grazing also traps carbon. This carbon capture is significant enough, per square foot, to absorb the current carbon overage if humans all over the planet start using Savory’s holistic management principles now. (The urgency is real, delay increases the odds against success and the truth is that the odds are already long.) Jim Laurie has done the math.

Poop-free local solutions

Herding pilgrimage could become an honorable rite of passage, but if the call of the cow doesn’t moove you (hehe), maybe improving the yield of your own garden does? Make-your-own charcoal is coming back in style for single families and small communities across the globe. (There’s a glimpse of biochar in use at the 42nd second of the Permaculture video linked above-and here too.) Also called ‘horticultural charcoal’ and ‘vegetable charcoal,’ the original technique—called Terra Preta, for ‘black earth’—was invented in the Amazon rainforest a couple of thousand years ago.

No matter where you live (urban or rural), anyone can begin to grow good soil & good food.
No matter where you live (urban or rural), anyone can begin to grow good soil & good food.

The production and soil effects of biochar have a lengthy historical precedent as well as a remarkable ease of global distribution. These factors, combined with collaborative biochar databases, online forums, and outreach projects provide the foundation for what may rapidly become a breakthrough trend in ecological investigation and environmental restoration: do-it-yourself adaptation to 21st century global change issues.
~ Ryan King, Biochar: a brief history and developing future

 KISS: Keep it Sustainably Simple

Soil is the answer that matters most because dirt exists everywhere and is the material substance that allows food to grow. Coincidentally, carbon capture as a side benefit of healthy soil can go a very long way to correcting the increasing hazards of atmospheric imbalance. Engaging in debate about which questions to ask is a dwindling luxury. If unusual, extreme weather has not caught your attention yet, it probably will soon. Weather is the most obvious feature of earth’s climate. Ignoring, excusing or minimizing the trend in storm severity and natural disasters is  a short-term palliative fraught with peril.

There are solutions!
There are solutions!

Can science get us out?

The weak link in the technology chain is food. All of the alternative energy solutions are interrelated  with the care of vulnerable people—whether these are the traditionally vulnerable due to historical, economic factors or the suddenly vulnerable due to a devastating natural disaster. The answers to food production are biological, not industrial. How much of what you buy at the grocery store is imported from another country or transported from another state? There is a reason why (since Hurricane Sandy) the State of New Jersey is posting the new recommendations from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that say you need to store enough water (especially), food and medication for every person and pet in your household to last for two weeks!

 It’s time for social resilience

Systemic resilience does not live in individuals, it lives in relationships among us.
Systemic resilience does not live in individuals, it lives in relationships among us.

Worsening storms means that recovery processes will take longer, and more people will suffer negative effects. As if there wasn’t already enough trauma in the world! As frightening as the slow onset realities of climate change are, the opportunities in this challenge are immense. Can humanism triumph over greed and its associated needs for power and control? Can enough of us mobilize, finally and fruitfully, to upend the dominance of speed-driven industrialization and re-frame society’s infrastructure to support what’s best and most beautiful about humans living on earth? New and old networks are finding each other, reaching out across differences and connecting around essential commonalities. It is true that the people in established positions of privilege will not yield easily, but in the end, their literal physical survival is also linked with ours. Forging alliances is not easy work, but it is meaningful labor.

4 thoughts on “The ANSWER . . . is DIRT (the question is irrelevant)”

  1. The link to the math is broken. So, I will simply ask: did the calculation account for the methane production that results from the cattle digestive process?

  2. Hello Joszef.

    We will find out soon enough if you are a troll or interested in actual dialogue. My concept of dialogue involves being willing to be changed by the conversation, to allow the communication to flow not just as words asserting points of argument but as representations and projections of identity: yours as well as mine.

    Your question reads as a microaggression. I imagine that you might (possibly, perhaps) have gotten a rush or thrill at posting such a dig. The insults cast in the direction of anyone trying to pose the possibility of a widespread, humane response to near term human extinction (NTHE) by, say, the readers of Guy McPherson’s blog, are no different than any prejudicial, stereotypical dehumanization of other human beings. If you are promoting any version of hate, then I will not approve your comments. Such primitive behavior will not be welcome here.

    The problem of methane, however, points to the bottom-line, fundamental issue of climate shift. Thank you for raising it.

    I do not have the calculation you requested, although I bet there is someone out there who does. I will venture to say that zeroing in on the methane production of cattle to ridicule the holistic management of livestock as part of a planetary scale solution to climate shift is petty compared with the challenge of figuring out what do with the release of methane forthcoming (actually already underway) from the loss of artic ice. Doomers familiar with that problem have already surrendered to the perceived impossibility of doing anything about it. Frankly, between icemelt and the warming of the oceans, I agree that it appears inevitable that breathable oxygen will vanish within our lifetimes.

    However, what is also apparent to me is that there is still only a small percentage of people who are openly, actively, and consciously engaging with the realities of climate shift. The vast majority of humanity is exercising their capacities in other directions. We can argue (although I will do my best to curtail such tangents) about the extent to which people are duped, stupid, anesthetized, colonized, consumerized, co-opted, selling out, self-centered, narcissitic, power-hungry, inherently driven by instinct, etc., or we can turn our energies to strategies for bringing more people into a global, species-spanning massive dialogue about what to do and how to do it.

  3. Those who focus on methane from cows don’t really understand the science or the process. If a plant grows and then dies, it’s collective bio-energy is released over time through decomposition. Decomposition involves bacteria called methanogens. In terms of the methane released through the decomp of that plant, it makes not one molecule of difference whether that plant decomps in the field where it grew, in the rumen of a cow or in the gut of a termite. The methane release is the same. Cows, in spite of the insistence of (usually) vegetarians or vegans who focus on them, make no difference at all to the annual solar/carbon budget for the planet. It’s all part of the yearly exchange of carbon up and carbon down. If cows didn’t eat grass then that grass would still release that same methane because of the bacterial effect. The real killers in this issue are humans using fossil fuels, the clathrates in the oceans and the methanogens in the permafrost. Those latter two are being triggered to tipping points because of human use of fossil fuels. And there is a flip side to this that no one is talking about either, and that is the massive oxygen consumption of industrial civ. One 747 take-off – the first five minute of flight getting up to altitude – consumes the equivalent of 44,000 acres of rain forest oxygen output for an entire day. Oh, and if that’s not convincing enough, have a look at eHux, now missing from 40 percent of its natural range in the oceans. People can be skeptical about climate change all they want. It doesn’t alter the data or what it tells us one iota…

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