Regeneration 101

I’m about to tell you about a miraculous process you can “boost” without a whole lot of effort. AND the activity I’m suggesting has the potential to pull massive amounts of CO2 out of the sky! Removing CO2 from our atmosphere is, of course, one of the four pillars of mitigation I talked about in my Basics of Climate Change post. What is this wonderful Earth-aiding activity I’m speaking of?

That would be the care and feeding, one could even say regeneration, of our soils. Any soil you have around your living space. And what and how do you feed your hungry “plot”?

You feed it table scraps! Yes, any bits of food you don’t eat or that goes bad… you can bury. It doesn’t have to be buried particularly deep either. If you can dig a hole 2 foot by 2 foot, a foot and a half deep, toss your food scraps in it, then throw the dirt back over them, you can compost.

Most people think of composting as something serious gardeners do in a big bin in a big back yard, and for an actual vegetable plot that the gardeners spend a lot of time tending. But this is not the only way to compost. And, truthfully, the planet gave up resources growing all that food we buy in grocery stores, and yet she doesn’t get to reclaim the bits of it that we don’t want. Instead, they’re picked up by trucks and transported to the ‘landfill’ where they’re buried with all the other junk we throw away. But in the landfill, food scraps don’t break down properly. That’s because there’s no oxygen involved in the decomposition process- the scraps are buried too deeply, and with poor quality soil that doesn’t allow oxygen exchange. This “anaerobic” (without oxygen) process emits the most potent of all greenhouse gases, methane. Methane holds at least 30 times more heat in our atmosphere than CO2.

But when you bury scraps in the soil surrounding your home, they break down “aerobically” (with oxygen). This process does produce CO2, but given the choice between creating CO2 vs creating methane, CO2 wins hands down. It’s simply unavoidable.

However, in putting those scraps into your soil, you’re feeding the critters that live in that dirt! They are legion: there’s macrofauna (bigger creatures like centipedes, mites, and those vital earthworms), mesofauna (medium-sized, like nematodes and mites), and microfauna (microscopic organisms like bacteria, fungi, algae, and protozoa). In terms of soil health, the microorganisms are particularly important. They perform vital jobs in our environment, including decomposition of organic material, which is the process that makes nutrients available to plants. If these critters couldn’t carry out this duty, we’d be drowning in dead animals and plants, and new life would be unable to grow. They’re the unsung heroes of the planet!

Other vital jobs soil microorganisms do include making nitrogen- a critical plant nutrient- available to plants, and, amazingly, miraculously, and mysteriously, allowing plants to communicate, to fight off disease, and to attract the kinds of bacteria they particularly benefit from. These processes remain one of the big areas of scientific study; we just don’t understand this mystical-seeming underground connection. But strings of fungi interlace with each other, and with plant roots, forming vast webs of mutual benefit under the soil surface. Your food scraps are their fuel.

So how does feeding all of this soil life mitigate climate change? Well, when this life can flourish because it’s well-fed, it multiplies, and every new critter incorporates carbon into its body structure. Likewise, each plant that is enabled to grow because of healthy soils pulls carbon from the air and uses it to grow bigger and stronger.

And who knows? After feeding your soil for awhile, you might be tempted to place some vegetables in it. Or some beautiful flowers that can feed pollinators and make life more enjoyable. Every plant you grow pulls carbon out of the air. And can be buried to make more compost after its season.

Regenerating soils is thought to be one of the best climate change fighters available to us: a mitigation strategy with massive potential. There’s tons of soil we can feed our food scraps to. Tons of soil to plant in.

And it’s so do-able. I really hope you’ll give it a go!

Climate change: why should I care?

Hi everyone. This is the post that for many will be the hardest to read, so I’m putting a “TRIGGER WARNING” right here at the top. If you’re having a hard time for any reason right now, don’t read this. It is, of course, important info, but if you’re not feeling resilient, or strong, or connected to caring people you can talk to at this moment, put off reading this post until you are.

Why should we care about climate change? What are the bad things that climate change will cause if people don’t get a grip on reality and start mitigation and adaptation? Let’s begin with the more obvious:

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1- Catastrophic weather-related events- this includes forest and bush fires (caused by drought and high temperatures) such as those in Australia not long ago. There were human deaths, and an estimated one billion- God help us- animal deaths. And of course, air quality was severely harmful due to smoke for weeks.

This was written 2/15/20 (I updated this post): “a few fires are still being contained, but most Australians can finally abandon the grim rituals of the last half-year — morning checks of smog monitors and ‘Fires Near Me’ apps, deciding whether the kids can play outside, whether to flee or defend their homes.”

Hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, and “rain bombs” are another danger. See my effects of climate change post for why more brutal storms, with raging winds and a tendency to last for days, occur as a result of climate change.

2- Food shortages- drought, changes in precipitation patterns and severity, unexpected frosts and snowfall, and intensely high and low temperatures are all possibilities with climate change. All of these are factors that can result in crop failures.

Prensa Libre/Desinformémonos

This is already occurring; the record-setting migration of Guatemalans attempting to reach the U.S. in 2018 and 2019 was a consequence of climate change-related crop failures in their country. Incredibly, the U.S. administration reacted by turning the border into a propaganda tool, and cutting off aid to Guatemala. Those people were economic refugees. There will be many more in future unless we begin climate change mitigation immediately.

Ocean acidification also threatens the food supply. In fact, the health of the oceans is intimately bound up with the health of people: “Humans rely heavily on oceans for food, employment, recreation, weather patterns and transportation.”

3- Massive displacement of people due to sea rise (from Arctic ice melt)- 10% of the Earth’s people live within 30 feet of the ocean. Eleven mega-cities are built on coasts. Thus, up to a billion climate change refugees could result from climate change-induced sea level rise alone.

4- Increased disease- from water-borne killers like cholera, malaria, dengue hemorrhagic fever, and Legionnaire’s pneumonia, and species that benefit from increased heat like tick-borne Lyme disease. Chronic kidney disease occurs in areas where people are experiencing drought and heat waves, due to chronic dehydration.

The negative social (community) and psycho-emotional impacts of climate change are just starting to be recognized and studied. Compromised drinking water due to flooding, drought, and heavy precipitation are yet another climate change effect on people.

There are also less well-known possibilities effecting human health. These include:

1- Ocean-related: warmer seas cause proliferation of anaerobic algae species, that crowd out oxygen-producing algae. This leads to “dead zones” in the water, and less oxygen in our atmosphere. And, when the “bad” algae, which emit toxins, are eaten by sea creatures that humans in turn eat, people can get very sick as a result of those toxins.

Frankemann/wikimedia

2- freshwater shortages- much of the world depends on the freshwater that comes as a result of spring and summer glacial melting. “Earth’s glaciers are expected to melt within the next forty years, greatly decreasing fresh water flow in the hotter times of the year… resulting in large shortages and fluctuations in fresh water availability.” Glacial freshwater is used not only for drinking, but also for irrigation of agriculture and hydro-power generation.

3- Decreasing food nutrition- increased atmospheric CO2 levels results in plants taking up and sequestering more carbon in their structures. This is beneficial to us in that it lowers the CO2 in the air, but the carbon seems to also “crowd out” other elements in plants, including nutrients people need, like nitrogen, phosphorus, zinc, and iodine. It also decreases plant protein levels.

Undoubtedly, more awful effects of climate change will become news and then grimly normalized over the coming months and years. Will we forget what it was like to live without climate change? Will it become as easy to pretend human death and suffering is not climate change-related as it is to deny the reality of climate change now?

For some people, maybe. For me, never. I hope you won’t allow yourself to go there either. Without the majority of humanity demanding mitigation and adaptation, the “monied interests” might just convince enough people that climate change-related effects aren’t related to climate change at all.

I wish I hadn’t felt obliged to mention that. Remember: together, we’re unbeatable. Divided, we fall.

When in doubt, reach out. Let your feelings drive you to action. Then… action into hope. Peace y’all.

Effects of climate change

Since people started burning fossil fuels in earnest, during the Industrial Revolution, the Earth has warmed on average by 0.82 degrees Celsius. This effects of this warming include:

1-melting sea ice- causes higher ocean levels, which threaten infrastructure, including billions of homes. Melting ice also exacerbates warming, because where the Earth has no cover of white snow, the sun’s rays don’t get reflected back into space. Instead they’re absorbed by the land, and the inky-blue sea, adding to over-all temperature rise;

2- melting permafrost- tundra that historically remained frozen all year, permafrost contains massive amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas which traps at least 30 times more heat than carbon dioxide (CO2). When it melts, that methane is released. This means more heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere, thickening the climate change “blanket” around the Earth;

3- forest fires- trees and plants absorb CO2, and use the carbon to grow strong. (Anything that traps carbon is called a “carbon sink.”) So their destruction means a lot less CO2 taken out of the air. In addition, when they burn, forests release the carbon sequestered in their structures. That carbon re-combines with oxygen in the air and becomes CO2 again- yet more blanket thickening;

4- ocean acidification- the upper layer of the ocean absorbs CO2 from the air, forming Carbonic acid. This reaction increases Hydrogen ions in the water, making the sea more acidic. The reaction also reduces Carbonate ions in the water. Carbonate is absorbed by shellfish to make their shells. So CO2 in the air translates into the inability of shellfish to build healthy homes (shells) around themselves. Poorly-protected shellfish are easily consumed by predators. Shellfish is a source of food for billions of people around the globe.

5- changes in wind & sea patterns- this has the potential to drastically alter the climate all over the world, but perhaps especially for northern Europe, the U.S., and Canada on the Atlantic coast. That’s because it is ocean currents and wind streams moving warm water and air to these areas of that makes them temperate, and allows plants and animals to flourish there, providing food. The warming Arctic has weakened the jet stream, a wind pattern that, unbeknownst to most of us, has made western climate stable for thousands of years. And melting sea ice has weakened “a massive system of circulating seawater called the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Current, or AMOC. The Gulf Stream is just one small part of that system.”

6- more intense storms & hurricanes- a consequence of rising seas and warmer air, because warmer air can hold more water vapor. That means heavier rainfall, while increased sea level means higher storm surges and flooding. In addition, a warmer ocean transfers more heat to the air, and warmer air creates everything a “super storm” needs: intense winds and tons of water vapor. To add to our problems, the winds steering hurricanes are not as effective in a warmer climate, so storms tend to “park.” This is what happened last year (2019) when Hurricane Dorian pounded the Bahamas for two full days;

7- changes in precipitation causing droughts, heat waves, and weather extremes, including huge snow falls and cold waves in winter- the latter due to increased water vapor in the air and a weakened jet stream that directs and holds arctic vortexes over the U.S. and Canada. Drought and heat waves are a consequence of increased average temperatures that exacerbate evaporation from soil. Hotter days means increased humidity- warm air holds more water vapor- creating a recipe for human deaths in summer.

8- species/biodiversity loss- many plants and animals can’t evolve quickly enough to adapt to the instability- especially erratic precipitation and temperature events- of climate change. They were already declining due to habitat loss, caused by people clearing land for food and housing, as well as the use of chemicals, including pesticides and herbicides, which can bio-accumulate, effecting whole food chains. Adding climate change may prove fatal for many species. Insects, an integral part of Earth ecosystems, are in massive decline. See this post on ways to help them.

In this post, I explain exactly why these effects of climate change spell trouble for us, and for all living things on Earth.

The basics of climate change

The science of climate change is not complicated. You probably first learned about it in grade school, and the basics haven’t changed. People have collected new data, and learned more about the EFFECTS of climate change, but the fundamental components and mechanism of climate change are, and will remain, the same.

The element we call CARBON is one of the basic building blocks of all life forms, including human beings. The carbon on Earth was in perfect balance until we started burning fossil fuels for energy. When I say “in balance,” that means that the carbon that living things incorporated into their structures, then released when they died, was taken up again by other living beings.

But people produced an excess of carbon when we pumped, fracked, and liquefied the remains of plants and animals that died millions of years ago. They had decomposed and become buried, and formed concentrated carbon-containing chemicals (coal, oil, and bitumen) that we excavate. Those chemicals are “refined” into gas and other fuels, including the “feedstock” for plastics manufacture.

When we burn fossil fuels, carbon dioxide (CO2) is produced. That CO2 floats up into the atmosphere, and hangs around for centuries. CO2 acts as a blanket surrounding the Earth, trapping heat against its surface. There are other “greenhouse gases” that contribute to that blanket, including methane (CH4), and nitrogen oxide (NO2). But carbon dioxide makes up the bulk of GHG’s at 82% of the total. NO2, released in some industrial processes, makes up 5%, and methane, emitted by fracking, and by cattle, is 10%.

Image courtesy of NASA

So far the Earth has warmed, on average, by 0.82 degrees Celsius. Different regions of the planet are heating up faster than others. The northern hemisphere is warming faster than the southern hemisphere. Canada is warming on average TWICE AS FAST as the rest of the world. And the Arctic has gotten 2.3 degrees C hotter. This huge increase is melting the ice at the North pole, which is in turn causing sea-level rise around the world.

The scientific consensus is that we need to begin working on climate change ASAP, by which I mean immediately. The most critical things to do are (4 pillars of climate change mitigation and adaptation):

1) reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, thereby slowing the release of more GHG’s into our atmosphere- there are literally thousands of ways to do this, so: good news!

2) build as many carbon sinks as we can, so that some of the GHG’s in the air are “sequestered”- contained where they can’t contribute to the warming of Earth anymore. This includes planting millions of trees & other plants, and building healthy soils that contain trillions of living things that together add up to a lot of carbon stored! See my post on regenerating soil near you, right here.

3) transform our energy sources from fossil fuels to renewables- solar (introductory post here), wind, hydro, geothermal, biological, nuclear;

4) work towards an economy that is sustainable, fair (just), abundant, & that doesn’t pollute the environment. This kind of economy has widely become known as “the green economy,” and I’ll be posting about it very soon.

The GREAT news is that we KNOW how to do all of these things! We can mitigate and adapt to this climate change problem we’ve created. No one says it’ll be a cake-walk, but we already have the tools, the solutions, & the know-how. We just have to get the experts to plan where & how to implement them, & then get to work doing what people do best: building stuff.

To sum up: climate change is warming the Earth, causing some very dangerous effects: bad. Thousands of species, including human beings, are at risk: bad. But, we can fix the problem, and all of this fear of calamity goes away, if we: gradually decrease and then stop burning fossil fuels, a process that pollutes the planet; adopt clean sources of energy that work well, and that THE AVERAGE PERSON WILL GET FREE after initial investments! We also need to restore, care wisely for, and steward for future generations a planet no one owns, a planet abundant enough for all of us… and this Earth rejuvenation project will create kick-butt jobs for everyone… hmmm. I’m torn. What’s the good news again?!

on the way!

Personally, I can’t wait to start. Bring on the journey to health, animals, birdsong, and flowers!! 🙂