I just received Eric Toensmeier’s Carbon Farming Solution, A Global Toolkit of Perennial Crops and Regenerative Agriculture Practices for Climate Change Mitigation and Food Security (Chelsea Green, 2016). Reading this, along with Peter McCoy’s mind-blowing Radical Mycology, as well as the third US Department of Energy Billion Ton Report (just released today), and also listening to presentations such as the one in Concord last week, on carbon sequestration by a group called Biodiversity for a Livable Planet, I realize I feel optimistic again.
Cautiously optimistic, of course. And not hopeful.
I love it that none of the writers of the blurbs and reviews on the back of Toensmeier’s book use the word “hope”. They use instead “opportunity”. This is so very important to me.
Early on, in all these years of doing to work – educating myself and others and practicing it – I did away with hope. I am one of those people who, in Transition Inner Work and Work That Reconnects gatherings, has an almost visceral reaction to the word. The concept (we call it a feeling – “I feel hopeful” – but I doubt it is one, I think it is instead a cultural construct) is useless to me and, I fear, destructive to what needs to be done. In most cases, hopeful people just don’t allow themselves to be upset enough to get off their asses and start doing the work. Their hope that “it will work out” (notice the expectation in this expression that the speaker doesn’t have to do anything) is based on fear – fear of work, fear of failure, fear of having to give up entitlements, fear of guilt. To combat this fear, they use more hope, the third in the trinity of cope and dope. That’s the thing with hopium: when the buzz wears off, it makes you believe that all you can do to make it better is to take another hit. It is not based on scientific data, on a real community and fellow-feeling or, most importantly, on actual work. And it is only by work, now, that we build the future, but “I hope” keeps putting it off. This made, and makes me, angry, and obviously I stopped going to these workshops which inevitably end on the hopeful note.
Not that I advocate hopelessness. Hopelessness too leads to despair and paralysis. No, I reject the false choice between hope and hopelessness. What I have instead is work, because it has to be done, because it is the right thing to do, regardless of the outcome. I opt for now, put all my eggs in the basket of now, not some hoped-for (or despaired-of) future. I don’t count on hope, but on joy. Hence the subtitle of this blog, the quote from Wendell Berry: “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts”.
That joy is now growing, because some of those facts have changed. Namely, it is increasingly becoming clear that, if we work with her, the earth can sequester the excess carbon that we already put in the atmosphere. This was the missing piece, the missing fact. Previously we feared that, even if we stopped putting carbon in the atmosphere, we’d still be dangerously overheating because of our past emissions, which are called, powerfully, “legacy carbon.” I am awed and convinced that the earth, the soil, the soil bacteria and fungi and plants can do it. In fact, it doesn’t surprise me at all, but here now we have scientifically convincing proof.
Can this realization, which effectively wipes away the “it’s too late anyway” argument, silence those who are against quitting fossil fuels? Can we now do both, stop putting new carbon in the atmosphere and sequester the legacy carbon? Toensmeier, p. 36:
So can carbon farming alone solve our climate change problem? Not even close. Carbon farming doesn’t work without dramatic emissions reductions (including clean energy an reduced consumption in wealthy countries), as even a small fraction of the remaining 5 to 10 trillion tons of carbon in the fossil pool would far overwhelm the theoretical maximum sequestration capacity of soils and biomass, estimated at 320 billion tons. (note) Emissions reduction also doesn’t work without carbon farming since even if emissions stop today, we’re already over the tipping point with no way to return without sequestration.
This isn’t hope, this is opportunity. And what Toensmeier gives us in this book is also not hope, but a toolkit. The opportunity and the toolkit are here: you grab it now and get to work. Or not. I know what I’m going to do. You?
(note) Rattan Lal, “Managing Soils and Ecosystems for Mitigating Anthropogenic Carbon Emissions and Advancing Global Food Security,” BioScience, 2010, 60, 9, pp.708-721. (You can read this fascinating paper here).
Today the doorbell rang and the box the mailman handed to me was heavier than I expected. It was:
I hope it will get my creative juices flowing again, for this blog, among other places. I certainly am fully convinced that any art I make or text I write needs to be made and written “as if the world mattered.” It doesn’t need to matter to the world, as in, it doesn’t need to change the world. But it needs to be in the service of the world. As for the “as if,” I take that in the sense of: I make it so, I make it the story. I take that in the same vein as the subtitle of the blog: Be joyful though you have considered all the facts. It is not (only) about how things are (however that is) but about my strong intention of offering beauty and story.
I’d been struggling to reconcile two insights: One, that whatever I do I would do not to change the world, but to change myself. And Two, that I would choose not what I want to do, but what the world needs doing. Those two seem to me very admirable plans, but it wasn’t until I added something to the first that they became compatible: Act not to change the world but to change yourself in the world. Ah, there’s the connection, the hand shake, the hug that gets the blood flowing!
Dear readers (all three of you),
I’ve been an admirer of Ken Rose and his radio program *What Now* for years now. It was through Ken’s first interview with Stephen Jenkinson that eventually I came to be in the Orphan Wisdom School. Stephen could not have talked in such a way as to touch my life so deeply without Ken being on the other end of the line and, of course, sharing the interview. You can hear that first interview here, and I encourage you to explore the other interviews with Stephen and with countless others.
Ken suffered a stroke in February, and he needs our help. I donated to his fund (you can do that through Paypal here) but there are other ways you can help, just by spreading the word about his program so that he knows people need him to return to it, by leaving a comment for him, etc.
Ken Rose needs us because we need him. It comes around, and around again.
A lot of things are happening with “Inner Work” (after much debate and discussion in our wonderful facilitator’s group this term is now entirely up for grabs, but we’ve yet to find a better one), and with the related, but in-its-own-league “All Things Mortal,” a program to bring a conversation about death and dying to our community.
I hope to write about those soon. In the meantime, even more snow falls.
Over the weekend we visited our dear friends in NYC. They and more friends joined us at 81 Street and Fifth Avenue West at the Climate March on Sunday. We walked out of the subway station to find what turned out to be 400,000 people! That is over four times what the organizers had expected.
This meant that everything happened a little behind schedule. We stood, waiting, for two hours before our section (the second last one) of the march started moving. (So first we stood for Climate Change Action, and then we marched for it.) Our three girls, ages 9 and 10, bravely stuck with it in the often jostling crowd and the Indian Summer hot, humid weather that at one point threatened with a couple of rain drops.
I think they were impressed and I hope they will remember this experience for their lives: the day they too stood up and marched for action on climate change, with people from all over the world, all ages, all colors. Lots of youth, lots of little kids.
The moment of silence – 400,000 people, all quiet together – was very touching, and then when the cheering rolled down the Avenue, that gave me the chills.
As we stood, danced and sat waiting, I listened to the conversations around me. Many were well-informed, others not at all, and there was a lot of talking. What fracking is all about. What is divestment. There was a man who told the story of the lobster boat like we were sitting around a campfire, hearing stories of heroism.
We felt safe throughout and there was fun for the kids too. Mostly we danced, as we attached ourselves to Berkshire 350MA Node drummers, who were just fantastic.
I kept looking for people I knew and had planned to hook up with, but in that crowd? No dice. We couldn’t even hear our cell phones ring.
I took lots more pictures, which you can see here.
Today, I wore my Green Team cap and handed out kale chips in my local elementary school’s lunchroom. I had mixed the kale with lots of olive oil and salt and pepper and dehydrated the leaves at 110F overnight (10 hours). They were cri-ispy! A big bunch of kale shrank to just about enough to give every kid a taste.
I like taking the kids out to the gardens, and even helping them with recycling at lunch, but serving them the food that grew in their school garden is the best. Interesting too. At the school they sit at round tables, about eight kids a table. I visited each, offered, and maybe one kid would raise their hand. You know that kale, no matter how crispy and oily, is *green*. The horror! And some don’t know what kale is. But the one kid would take it and eat it and say it’s good and want more, and – hop – all the hands would shoot up.
Each table also got a ball jar with marigolds from the garden, and my fellow parent volunteer distributed the other veggies from the garden – rainbow carrots, tomatoes, broccoli, and herbs harvested by the first and second graders. Two hours and five grades later, all this was gone!
Made 25 pints of blueberry jam from Farmers Market berries and another batch from 5 quarts of berries Amie and I picked at a very locally IPM place with friends one thunderstormy afternoon. We came out of the field drenched but happy and surprised we had been picking for three hours. Our tribe will be co-purchasing and canning peaches again.
Blanched and froze 4 lbs of green beans, half of these from our garden, half donated by a friend whose community garden plots are going wild. We’ve been sharing a lot of produce, one garden producing more of this than the other.
Put together two 3-gallon carboys of sweet mead with the winterkill honey, which I pasteurized. They’re bubbling away in the basement and should be done in few weeks – but that won’t stop me from going down there and thieving some for a taste.
We’ve been consistently harvesting onions, green beans, cherry tomatoes (the bigger ones are almost there), kale, chard, squash, zucchini, cucumber and tons of herbs from the garden. That plus our farm share is more than sufficient for our needs, and when I walk into the supermarket nowadays I skip the produce section altogether. I only (and rarely) mushrooms, but then I just spotted an enormous chicken-of-the-woods in the neighborhood, beckoning. Come to think of it, all I buy at the supermarket is the very occasional fish or meat and butter, and predominantly milk.
With our town’s Green Team had a booth at the Farmers Market yesterday. We displayed all the harvests from the school gardens – all of which went to the Food Pantry this morning – photos of our school composting systems, and talked to people. We also sold some of my Spring honey as a fundraiser, as well as purslane harvested (weeded) from all our gardens. We ended up giving lots of it away and having lots left over too. No worries: I brought it home and made it into potato-purslane soup, most of it for freezing. Yum!
The chickens have been consistent layers and we’re looking forward to the pullets starting to lay (in September or thereabouts)m at which point our bartering power will increase significantly. The two flocks are “together” – well, in the same shared space, namely the chicken yard – during the day, but at night they still retire to their own coops.
Lastly, how lovely, really, to get books delivered that you had forgotten you’d ordered. A big batch for me today: Pioneer Women by Stratton, Pioneer Women by Peavy and Smith, The Klamath Knot by Wallace, The Way to Rainy Mountain and In the Bear’s House, both by Momaday.
My last blogpost worth that name is from March 14, and I haven’t figured our Riot since December last year. One of the reasons for my silence was overall business (explained below), but the main culprit was that all the sites I maintain were hacked (same server). We had to shut down the Green Team site completely, saved most of the Transition Wayland site, and the blog, well, as you can see, most of the sidebar features have disappeared and, as you can’t see, the editor is a right mess, but here’s an update anyway.
Here’s a roller coaster run-down of events.
On April 21, my parents-in-law arrived from Chennai, India. On Tuesday, my friend and fellow blogger, Katharina, dropped off the 15 chicks that remained in her care – she was on her way to DC and the Reject and Protect Rally. On Wednesday, add to this menagerie my friend R’s 16-year-old, mostly deaf dog for dog-sitting. And me and R saying our goodbyes and leaving all this to them, not to mention the care of the garden and chickens, and the hundreds of seedlings in the basement.
Where was I off to, that was so important that I could leave all of them, especially Amie (for the first time for so long)? It was Stephen Jenkinson’s Orphan Wisdom School, and I will have to write more about that later. R and I were there, all wrapped-up in the goodness and sorrow of words, till Sunday, when we drove back in one non-stop haul (11 hours). R extracted her dog from the sleeping house, and I crashed, exhausted. The house returned a little more to somewhat normal when Katharina took all but our four chicks back a couple of days later.
That Sunday Earth Day happened (more on that later too), along with Amie’s orchestra concert at Jordan Hall, and her grandparents’ surprise 40th anniversary present(s) and surprises(s).
Amie named the chicks and started “training” them. Always a joy to watch.
Our days warmed, with some summery days thrown in, especially Mother’s Day, which we spent out side working in the garden, planting, among other things, lots of strawberries and blueberries. I also finished the drip irrigation in 90% of the garden, all of it running smoothly off the top IBC tote, simply by gravity. The chicks too enjoyed their first outing into the big world.
I picked up new bees too: two packages. What a joy it is to see them fly again. In other bee-related news, Katharina, who is also a fellow beekeeper, roped me into helping her out with helping the young artist Jarrett Mellenbruch set up and maintain his Haven project at the deCordova museum. More about that soon, too!
My parents-in-law went back to Chennai, and the house is emptier. I like a crowd of animals, so I am glad for the bird song in the house: the chicks, though they now look more dinosaur-like, still squeak quite sweetly. And there is one more bird…
We finally got a friend for Amie’s parakeet, Kiwi, who lost his mate a few months ago. Kiwi had spent some time at Katharina’s (we’ve a veritable animal exchange going here) where he received a mirror, and he had fallen deeply in love with the bird in that mirror. That is why Amie decided to get a green parakeet, female though (hopefully), who looks like that mirror bird. Introducing a new bird is always tricky, so we had them in separate cages at first – having bought a huge new cage. But after some hours Kiwi was trying to push his heard through the bars, and they were singing to each other, so the next day we let Kiwi into the new cage and all was well.
That’s my quick run-down of events. Lots to flesh out. I will do so, soon, promise! Now let me click the “publish” button and see how this looks!
It’s Winter on the homestead and aside from plodding through two feet of snow to feed the chickens there’s not much to do on that level. There are many other levels to work on, however. I’ve written about some personal inner work in the previous blog posts. Our tribe of friends meets often for cooking and eating together, and walking. Transition Wayland has started up an Inner Work group – after our first meeting we agreed: “What took us so long!” But most of my efforts have gone wider. Last year I helped 350MA start up a Metrowest regional node, and I’ve become very involved in the work, mostly on statewide divestment and the Governor’s climate legacy. I do a lot of outreach and media work for them and am finding my stride. We also pitched in on the national fight against the Keystone XL Pipeline with a local vigil. Then a friend also put me on to organizing a local action in the Friends of the Earth campaign to ask Home Depot and Lowe’s to stop selling neonicotinoids and neonicotinoid-laced plants, which are killing the bees.
A lot of this work goes on indoors, but I wanted to show you some images of the outdoor events: there is lots of snow in all of them! Like good New Englanders, we don’t let that deter us.
Showing Bees Some Love with Friends of the Earth on February 15:
Protesting the Salem Gas Plant on February 8:
Almost 400 came to this rally:
Vigil against the Keystone Pipeline on February 4:
That vigil elicited two letters to the editor in our local newspaper. In the print edition the first one, a pro-letter by my friend on the left in the picture, was immediately followed by the counter-letter. The contrast between the two can’t be starker! I will add links here as the paper releases them online. They’re definitely worth your reading.
Coming round full circle, in all of this I do not forget:
Our planet is not fragile at its own time scale, and we,
pitiful latecomers in the last microsecond of our planetary year,
are stewards of nothing in the long run.
— Stephen Jay Gould