How To Green Deserts & Address Climate Change At The Same Time

Two thirds of the globe is turning into desert, at the same time that our population is heading towards ten billion, and we are disturbing weather patterns by pouring heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Fossil fuels are behind the “greenhouse effect” that is warming our atmosphere, but our land use habits, especially those of industrial agriculture, play a much bigger part in our changing climate than is usually acknowledged. It’s TED Talk Tuesday on 350orbust, and in today’s talk by biologist Allan Savory he addresses this issue, and offers a surprisingly hopeful vision for the future:

“Desertification is a fancy word for land that is turning to desert,” begins Allan Savory in this quietly powerful talk. And terrifyingly, it’s happening to about two-thirds of the world’s grasslands, accelerating climate change and causing traditional grazing societies to descend into social chaos. Savory has devoted his life to stopping it. He now believes — and his work so far shows — that a surprising factor can protect grasslands and even reclaim degraded land that was once desert.


We Could Have Stopped Climate Chaos But We Were Too Damned Cheap

What a beautiful Friday morning in my part of the world. The sky is blue and clear on a minus 16 degree C March 1st day.  I’m watching two pileated woodpeckers enjoy the suet in the bird feeder just outside the window. They certainly are impressive birds, especially close up! I took this picture earlier in the year:

pileated woodpeckers

Meanwhile, this week in climate news, thirty eight leading U.S. national security experts released a letter urging action on international climate change initiatives. Their press release reads:

Today, Partnership for a Secure America (PSA) launched their newest open letter, signed by 38 Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, on the national security threats of climate change at a bipartisan panel event on Capitol Hill.

In the midst of sequestration’s looming budget cuts and White House promises of Executive Action on climate change, should Congress fail to act, the letter’s signatories stress the urgent need for action to prevent disastrous impacts on U.S. national security interests. Mobilizing public and private support for international mitigation and adaptation projects in vulnerable communities must be a priority, the letter states.

R. James Woolsey, former Director of Central Intelligence, and Wayne Gilchrest, former Congressman (R-MD) and Co-founder of the Congressional Climate Change Caucus, spoke at the event to highlight the critical threats that climate change presents.

“If we have difficulty figuring out how to deal with immigration today, look at the prospects for the glacial retreats in the Andes. The glaciers are not doing well… If that starts to go away, we will have millions upon millions of southern neighbors hungry, thirsty, with crops failing and looking for some place in the world they can go,” Woolsey said.

Gilchrest said, “As we saw the military in Sandy, we saw the military in Katrina… we’ll see them in Pakistan – one of those countries that may be more hard-hit by climate change than almost any other country in the immediate term.”

The signatories to PSA’s letter join the State Department, Defense Department, National Intelligence Council, and many other security voices in emphasizing the serious national security implications of climate change.

Signatories including seventeen former Senators and Congress members, nine retired generals and admirals, both the Chair and Vice Chair of the 9/11 Commission, and Cabinet and Cabinet-level officials from the Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush (41), Clinton, and Bush (43) administrations.

This initiative builds upon PSA’s 2009 statement “Climate Change Threatens All Americans” ( ), which served to publicly identify climate change as an issue of bipartisan concern among national security experts.

According to their website:

PSA is a nonprofit founded by former U.S. Representative Lee Hamilton (D-IN) and former U.S. Senator Warren Rudman (R-NH) to advance bipartisanship on today’s critical national security and foreign policy challenges. Leveraging the leadership of its distinguished  Advisory Board , PSA has unique credibility and access to forge common ground and fashion thoughtful, fact-based policy that promotes America’s national interests

Click here to read the full letter, The Cost of Inaction.


This week as well, the Climate Reality Project released a catchy video about the price we are all paying for carbon pollution:



In other climate news, a report was released that was written by NERA for the U.S. National Association of Manufacturers. It purports to provide “a quantitative estimate of how much [the Boxer/Sanders] scheme would hurt the U.S. economy.” However, like many papers from free-market ideologues and think tanks, the report ignores the costs of climate change as well as the benefits of clean energy, and thus leads to the wrong conclusion. Interestingly, a previous report written by NERA admits that a carbon tax could be efficient in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

As a fellow Citizen Climate Lobby volunteer wrote in response to the NAM report:

A comparison of the costs of damages from emissions in a continued fossil fuel economy versus the cost of ramping up clean energy, efficiency and conservation to create a clean energy economy was done by DARA Climate Vulnerability Monitor, finding that “Economic losses dwarf the modest costs of tackling climate change.”

In addition to the $1.2 trillion loss in forgone prosperity by our failure to act on climate change, there is also the risk of unimaginable catastrophe.

A recent report for the World Bank details the costs and risks of continuing climate disruption.  The carbon fuel economy is propelling us toward : “shock to agricultural production…and pressure on water resources which would cascade into effects on economic development by reducing a population’s work capacity …and risk crossing critical social system thresholds..[where] adaptation actions would likely become much less effective or even collapse.”

Even though I’ve been immersed in the climate conversation for years, it is still hard for me to comprehend that the current reality is that some individuals and groups argue (and apparently believe) that climate inaction is an option because we are worried about how taking action on climate change might impact the economy. That’s pure insanity! To rephrase the great American author Kurt Vonnegut (I  know, it’s pretty nervy of me), who was referring to saving the earth,  “We could have stopped climate chaos but we were too damned cheap.”



I’m going to unplug from the computer now, and spend some time outside on this gorgeous March day. I also plan to find some to read Food Not Lawns by Heather Jo Flores, which arrived in my mailbox yesterday. Hope you enjoy your Friday, too – let’s not let the crazies stop the rest of us from enjoying this amazing world we’re so privileged to be a part of!


Real Food Friday


In recognition of American Thanksgiving yesterday, and National Buy Nothing Day today, here’s some food for thought on eating sustainably. Second generation food activist Anna Lappé has worked with a coalition of groups working for a more sustainable approach to agriculture to launch a new website, Food MythBusters. It aims to produce “creative videos, online resources, and grassroots events that tell the real story about the food we eat.” Here’s its first video, which asks the question, “Do we really need industrial agriculture to feed the world?”



More links:

Food Mythbusters

Buy Nothing Day 2012: An Opportunity for Protest

It’s All About Food – and Zombies

from Canning, Preserving, and Dehydrating Food

Okay, maybe we don’t need to worry about zombies but we should certainly consider future food shortages, not to mention the pesticide-laced food and genetically modified food (GMO) we are already exposed to on every trip to the grocery store. Today is World Food Day, and while I write this I’ve got a batch of Green Tomato Pasta Sauce bubbling away on my stove. It was a bumper tomato harvest this year, and we’ve already put away jars of salsa, both mild and medium, as well as more conventional red tomato spaghetti sauce. Also preserved in our pantry are: canned carrots (processed using our new pressure canner), pickles, dozens of jam and jelly jars, yellow and green beans, and chicken broth.  Our freezer contains some swiss chard (see below), which was a bit fussy to process but I’m sure will be delicious in January, as well as rhubarb, and strawberries waiting to be made into delicious fruit crisps in the dead of winter. Here’s some photos that show the chard’s transformation from garden to freezer (I followed the great instructions found on The Art of Doing Stuff blog).

Some of our swiss chard harvest earlier this week, waiting to be processed
All of those chard leaves after processing! Now they’re ready for the freezer

If you haven’t started to preserve your own food, or food that you’ve picked up at a local farmer’s market, I would encourage you to start – and if you can join forces with a friend, so much the better! Some community organizations and churches have started to offer help with preserving – check around to see if this is available in your community. As George Monbiot wrote yesterday about the impacts of climate-change-related extreme weather events and food:

...This summer the UK and the US seem to have found themselves on opposite sides of stuck meanders, and harvests in both countries were savaged by opposing extremes of weather.

This is where we stand with just 0.8 degrees of global warming and a 30% loss of summer sea ice. Picture a world with 2, 4 or 6 degrees of warming and a pole without ice, and you get some idea of what could be coming.

Farmers in the rich nations can adapt to a change in averaged conditions. It is hard to see how they can adapt to extreme events, especially if those events are different every year. Last winter, for example, I spent days drought-proofing my apple trees, as the previous spring had been so dry that – a few weeks after pollination – most of the fruit shrivelled up and died. This spring was so wet that the pollinators scarcely emerged at all: it was the unfertilised blossom that withered and died. I thanked my stars that I don’t make my living this way.

Perhaps there is no normal any more. Perhaps the smooth average warming trends the climate models predict – simultaneously terrifying and oddly reassuring – mask wild extremes for which no farmer can plan and to which no farmer can respond. Where does that leave a world which must either keep raising production or starve?

And – while you are preparing for the new normal, which includes rising food prices and less reliable global food production (and frankly, what system which takes 10 calories of energy to produce 1 calorie of food could be sustained indefinitely?) – how about calling or writing to your local and federal political representative and telling them you want them to take decisive action on climate change now.  While zombies may be difficult to prepare for, we know that if we take action on climate change we can avoid the worst effects that will be visited on our children and grandchildren. If you want to learn more about how to do this effectively, go to Citizens Climate Lobby, a grassroots group focused on creating the political will for a sustainable climate.

A few of my pantry shelves


jams and jellies. 2012


I’ll let this short video prepared as part of the Proposition 37 campaign in California, requiring that GMO foods be labelled, have the last word today:



Thanks to Jeanette M for sharing the canning and zombies photo.

McKibben On Maher: Climate Denial Smack-Down

Two of my favourite Bills talk climate change, along with the Republicans at the table. It is, as posted, a seriously awesome “smack-down” – climate science and reality versus climate nonsense. With infinite patience, Bill McKibben responds yet again to the same tired old Republican/conservative talking points:



If this link stops working, go to this Huffington Post link to view the video.

*Thanks Jen P for sending this my way*

Really Cool Old Squash and Writing Festivals

I still haven’t had a chance to catch my breath since returning home from our trip to Newfoundland last week, having jumped with both feet into the Turtle Island Writing Festival the afternoon of our arrival, including hosting one of the distinguished authors. Today I once again hit the road, this time to deliver our eldest daughter to Winnipeg where she is catching a flight to Europe, to spend much of the next two months walking the Camino de Santiago trail in Spain.

Here’s a glimpse of the Turtle Island Writing Festival, where Anishinaabe author and activist Winona LaDuke presented, as well as Calgary journalist, editor, and author of “All Our Sisters: Stories of Homeless Women in Canada” Susan Scott. Local author Kathy Tetlock and arts educator Lila Cano also shared insights and spurred our creativity. This is my favourite picture, of me handing Winona LaDuke the “really cool old squash” she brought up to share with us. The squash is grown from 800 year old seeds found at an archeological dig in Minnesota several years ago, inside a clay ball.


Gotta run!

Our Broken Food System And Our Poor Health

Everyone on the planet requires regular meals every single day of our lives. Despite the incredible importance of food, our North American food system, like much of the rest of the world’s, is dominated by a handful of agricorps that have a very cozy relationship with the U.S. and Canadian governments. This means that decisions are often made that benefit the corporations but not the public. The result is that our food system is very very very broken – and it is affecting our bodies and the health of our planet.

In this 2011 TEDx talk, former food industry analyst Robyn O’Brien discusses her food “wakeup” call and what she is currently doing to alert the rest of us about the sick state of our food.


More links:


We Are The Solution As Well As The Problem

This podcast features Joel Salatin,  interviewed by Chris Martenson from Peak Salatin rejects the idea that all human involvement in shaping the landscape is bad; in this interview he discusses how humans can improve the environment through “ecological participation”. I always feel better, and more optimistic, after listening to/reading America’s foremost “philosopher-farmer”, so I’m happy to share this conversation with you in the hope that your day is improved, too. I’m going to listen to it again while I sort through the 6 litres of wild blueberries I picked yesterday (I think Mr. Salatin would approve!).



photo: wikipedia commons

Change Is Coming: This Dinosaur Economy Is Going Extinct

With over half of the U.S. in a drought, concerns about what this will mean for food prices. Farmers are starting to feel the impact, and consumers will soon, too. Out of KTVQ news in Billings, Montana, a state affected by the drought, comes this report:

“For sure, the full effect of this drought will not be until 2013. It’ll be 2013 when we see it and its in the whole supermarket,” he said. “But if the price of corn shoots up, we’d see this effect within about two to three months. That doesn’t mean we’ll see a complete jump into food prices. It’s just that we should start to see the effects.”

On July 25 the USDA will provide their monthly estimates of food prices, which would factor in drought conditions, Volpe said. Click here to read the full story.

While my heart goes out to individual farmers who are going to suffer when their corn crops fail, in the bigger picture is it really a bad thing that this fossil-fuel intensive crop that is all-pervasive in our food supply (to the detriment of our health) is going to be in shorter supply in the near future?

Seems like a good time for the Story of Stuff folk to come out with a new video, The Story of Change. It was released this week. As the saying goes, if you don’t create change, change will create you. Are you ready to make change?



The Story of Stuff: The Story of Change

The New Normal: Kazakhstan’s Alarming Drought, Global Grain Prices Rising,

I’m going to be canoeing in beautiful Canadian Shield country here in northern Ontario for the next few days. So be well, I’ll catch up with you – and 350orbust – when I get back.