Climate change is really happening. We’ve had “500 year” storms every couple months lately. People are having to relocate whole communities because of rising water and erosion. An old, radioactive military base is melting right out of the ice. Even mainstream outlets like Rolling Stone are talking about climate change. Sure, there are deniers, but the manufactured controversy is likely to be more about the deniers not wanting to lose money or make hard choices than it is about not believing the evidence of what’s happening before our eyes. But what can we do about it? The Internet is chock full of articles with titles like “25 Effortless Things You Can Do to Feel Like You’re Doing Something For the Planet Without Having to Make Any Real Sacrifices,” but those tips and tricks aren’t going to save us. The actions that might allow us to have some effect on the changes we’ve already set in motion are at once much simpler, and far more complex, than you might think.
Some of the actions we could personally undertake are actually pretty tasty. Since most people, especially in the industrialized world, eat several times a day (sometimes too much), changing what we eat can have an outsized effect on our environment. Diet choices are deeply personal, and no one diet is right for everybody (either nutritionally or ethically). The way our farm subsidies and other economic incentives sort themselves out, it’s also often more expensive to eat in a way that is better for both us and the environment. However, radical change can produce radical results, and honey, it’s about time for some radical results. Did you hear what Cuba did when the Apocalypse happened for them, in the form of the United States embargo and the collapse of the Soviet Union? With very little opportunity to obtain food, oil, and other necessary goods from the rest of the world, they dug up their yards and common areas to make nearly their whole island into a garden. They may be cash-poor, but they can still eat good, local food. Here’s their story:
Another way to combat climate change is to eat more pastured and ethically raised meat. This may be surprising to some folks, but like I said, not everything is simple. As far as climate change is concerned, it’s CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) that are the problem, not raising animals per se. Methane from bovine flatulence is increased when the animals are eating a diet of grains that they didn’t evolve to eat. When they’re fed on pasture instead, not only is that problem reduced, but when properly managed, cattle can restore land and help build soil, by fertilizing it with their (shall we say) biological outputs, by grazing in a way that encourages grasses to grow and sequester more carbon in the soil, and by working the soil with their hooves.
Rangeland can actually help us fight climate change directly. A one-time application of compost can create a long term, persistent change in land that enables grasses to grab and sequester carbon in the soil, where it can enhance fertility, create conditions for better plant growth, and sequester more carbon, in a positive feedback loop. This is the fertility that is lost when broken by the plow and eroded away for monocrop agriculture, the same “fertility” that is supposedly replaced with petrochemical-based fertilizer inputs even as we spew more carbon into the air. Similarly, an ancient technique from both the Amazon and West Africa sequesters carbon and builds seemingly permanent fertility by burying charcoal. Called terra preta, this black earth holds carbon directly and provides living space for the beneficial micro-organisms that feed lush plant life.
However, not all the changes we are called upon to make are as tasty or as easy as these. In Part 2, I’ll explore some of the harder choices at hand, as we try to make changes in order to preserve living space for our children and grandchildren.