We strive to ensure our future by living, growing, and building sustainably. I’ve written about “Sustainability” since the 1970’s, starting with my prize-winning essay on forming a local Sustainability Council which I did here in Ventura County. I became a true believer in its promise to reduce our impacts on the planet through its very tough tri-fold requirements: use renewable energy, no toxics, cause no loss of biodiversity.
I later saw its promise fade as it became lost first in the fraudulent use of the term to “green-wash” all sorts of products and processes–lying about their sustainability. The FTC issued “Green Guides” in 2012 to push back on unsubstantiated claims about so-called green products, but corporations ballyhoo the term even more now. We hear boasts about the eco-friendly products of Clean Coal Energy, ExxonMobil, Monsanto, Dow Chemical, Malaysian Palm Oil and the Fur Council of Canada. Short-term ugly profit is more like it.
Even more disturbing are current reports about our failures to shift off our carbon-hungry diet. Through our human-caused, “anthropogenic” actions, we cloak the globe in a heat shroud, intensifying droughts, wildfires, floods and sea level rise. Nothing sustainable here.
Teenage phenom Greta Thunberg spent almost a year investigating how well we are meeting our environmental challenges. The documentary, “I Am Greta,” follows her through various countries and climates in search of sustainability successes, but she’s mainly discouraged and defeated. She even confronts the dean of environmental programs, David Attenborough about his gorgeous nature films in the time of climate systems collapse. He half-concedes he needs to change his pitch. His new series “A Life on the Planet” tries to atone for glossing over our very un-gorgeous damage to the earth.
Ecologists have come up with new concepts we need in order to save the planet. Some say we need to adapt to the new climate realities, which implies accepting the damage we have done and adjusting to it. But neither adaptation nor adjustment get defined clearly.
Biological adaption requires a random reshuffle of DNA that results in a living plant or animal better suited to changed conditions. This is evolution from happy gene mutation. Tibetans, we learn, have evolved lung and oxygen capacities that enable them to live at high altitudes. This kind of adaptation results from many genetic accidents over long periods of time that favor survival. Not all such accidents do. Three cheers for the Tibetans.
Some people try to accommodate sea level rise by raising their beach homes on stilts. This is a temporary solution of course, and it’s not adaptation: nothing genetic has changed. This should rightly be called adjustment. Our efforts to deal with climate change are really adjustments, not adaptations. Shifting to renewable energy is an adjustment. We might adapt to burning fossil fuels if we could evolve lungs to process carbon dioxide and methane and other green-house gasses–folly of course, unless we can re-engineer our genome to adapt to breathing toxic “air.” This would be an anthropogenic adaptation to an anthropogenic disaster.
We also learn about environmental “resilience,” an ecosystem’s ability to recover from damage, often with the help of human interventions. A university I helped launch, after teaching literature there for twenty years before it became Cal State Channel Islands, actively practices resilience. It restores nearby habitats and a local creek, plants native species, and limits light pollution. It also takes on the large task of studying, protecting and managing the flora and fauna of off-shore Santa Rosa Island.
This focused effort at resiliency gets greatly magnified and transformed when it expands into regenerative practices in agriculture. This most promising human interaction with our planet restores the health of the soil used to grow our food. It brings back biodiversity, draws carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into the soil and restores what we have turned into dry, inert dirt that needs fertilizers and pesticides into living soil, full of microbes and living critters that foster huge crop yields of diverse grains, fruits and vegetables.
In the amazing documentary “Kiss the Ground” (https://kisstheground.com), we learn not only does regenerative farming make for higher ag profits and healthier foods, but enables us to restore diverse natural plants to cropland, and also re-introduce cattle into fields on a rotational basis. Why? because they actually help carbon sequestration by trodding on vegetation and adding manure to top soil to make better humus. Destructive monocultures to feed cattle and fatten them in feed lots both disappear. Beef raised this way can be on the eco-menu.
Woody Harrelson narrates this quality documentary streaming on Netflik. Its radical innovation is to promote a “new, old approach” to farming. We learn details about bio-sequestration, carbon drawdown, non-tillage, humus-building, food waste composting, toilet to tap water reclamation and many other practices, some with fancy names such as agroecology, but that are actually easy and economical to implement. (Some criticize the film for using some celebrity presenters and pop eco-slogans such as “heal the planet” and “save the soil,” but that’s useful phrasing for folks new to the ecology of agriculture. However, it does need ethnically diverse presenters.)
We learn that regenerative food production and farming on a wide scale are keys to saving the planet. This film got me optimistic again about our ability fix our environmental damage and live sustainably on the planet. It’s practical, real, and focused– dare I say down to earth. Three cheers for savvy food producers everywhere. They can heal the planet and reverse global warming as they grow healthy food for the world. We can all help shift to these “old new” methods by learning about and supporting the many programs conducted by the Kiss the Ground organization. I’m on board to do that–as a new Member.