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Archive Environmental News April 2021

Celebrating Earth Day 2021: Restoring Our Earth

Why do we need to restore our earth?

Our universal abuse of natural resources has created an imbalance in nature, contributing to the beginning of extinction. Over the last 100 years over 500 species have already gone extinct. If we do not act now many more animals face extinction over the next 30 years including Orangutans, Rhinos, Polar Bears, Gorillas, Gibbons, Chimpanzees to name a few. 

Humans will follow, as there is a circle of life that has been broken, one we all depend on for survival, Each species make their own contribution to the health of the circle. Restoring our earth will help bring back the balance that is needed for survival.

There is hope. But we need to act now. We can begin by addressing two very critical areas – our forests and our soils.

Forests

Forests provide us clean air and water. They regulate the climate, store carbon and are home to a wide array of the world’s plants and animals.

Deforestation refers to the decrease in forest areas across the world that are lost for other uses such as agricultural croplands, urbanization, or mining activities. Greatly accelerated by human activities since 1960, deforestation has been negatively affecting natural ecosystems, biodiversity, and the climate.

“Deforestation is changing our climate, harming people and the natural world. We must, and can, reverse this trend.” – Jane Goodall

When forests are cut down, not only does carbon absorption cease, but also the carbon stored in the trees is released into the atmosphere as CO2 if the wood is burned or even if it is left to rot after the deforestation process.

Rampant and uncontrolled deforestation is driving climate change. The only consideration is how much money clear-cutting a forest will bring in. No one bothers to look at what expense that profit will cost.

The Amazon Rainforest is the world’s largest repository of biodiversity and produces about 20 per cent of the world’s flow of freshwater into the oceans. The rainforest is currently under threat from deforestation and burning.

In 1962 Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring warned of the dangers to all natural systems from the misuse of chemical pesticides such as DDT, and questioned the scope and direction of modern science. Her book opened eyes across the world and initiated the contemporary environmental movement.

We need a similar movement to make people aware of how deforestation is destroying our natural world order. We need to come up with an international agreement to not only control deforestation, but a plan to begin a stronger movement towards reforestation.

But what can 1 person do?

In Indonesia Sadiman looked at the barren land surrounding his village and decided to do something about it. He began planting trees. He spent 20 years planting Banyon tree seeds.

When he first began planting the seeds “People ridiculed me for bringing banyan tree seeds to the village because they felt uneasy as they believed there are spirits in these trees,” Sadiman said

The long and wide-spreading roots of at least 11,000 banyans and ficus trees Sadiman has planted over 250 hectares (617 acres) help to retain groundwater and prevent land erosion.

Today the area is lush and green and supplies fresh water for the local farmers.

“Ancient trees are precious. There is little else on Earth that plays host to such a rich community of life within a single living organism.”

— Sir David Attenborough

Derek Markham’s recent article titled Trees Talk to Each Other and Recognize Their Offspring” was a real eyeopener, and will probably change your view on trees.

The gist of the story is a scientific experiment by Suzanne Simard:

“Now, we know we all favor our own children, and I wondered, could Douglas fir recognize its own kin, like mama grizzly and her cub?

So we set about an experiment, and we grew mother trees with kin and stranger’s seedlings.

And it turns out they do recognize their kin.

Mother trees colonize their kin with bigger mycorrhizal networks.

They send them more carbon below ground.

They even reduce their own root competition to make elbow room for their kids.

When mother trees are injured or dying, they also send messages of wisdom on to the next generation of seedlings.

So we’ve used isotope tracing to trace carbon moving from an injured mother tree down her trunk into the mycorrhizal network and into her neighboring seedlings, not only carbon but also defense signals.

And these two compounds have increased the resistance of those seedlings to future stresses. So trees talk.” – Simard


Sadiman overlooking the lush valley he planted

Soil

Our soils are as important as our forests. Mismanagement has caused our soils to degrade. Part of the problem can be directly related to deforestation. When forests are cut down water is no longer able to to be retained by the land, causing flooding from the water runoff. Topsoils are washed away.

Overuse of chemicals to treat soils is also to blame, along with overgrazing, and poor farming practices.

Today’s solution? Clear cut forests to make way for new grazing and farming land! This is not a solution, it is a perpetuation of the problem!

Soil is a mixture of organic matter, minerals, gases, liquids, and organisms that together support life. Earth’s body of soil has four important functions: as a medium for plant growth. as a means of water storage, supply and purification. and as a modifier of Earth’s atmosphere.

Dirt, on the other hand, has none of the minerals, nutrients, or living organisms found in soil. It is not an organized ecosystem. There is no topsoil or humus, no worms or fungi. 

Replenishment of our food supply depends on rich soil, plants need the nutrients that make up soil to thrive, and produce healthy crops for our food.

The impacts of global warming on our soil causes different problems around the globe. In Kenya, for example, what was once soil has become lifeless dirt, unable to provide nourishment to plants.

Our soils is impacted several ways by the changing climate. Droughts are causing soils to dry out and die, leaving hard packed dirt, which can not retain water. When the drought is over and the rains do come, the water can not seep into the ground so it rushes uncontrolled and causes flooding, causing further damage by washing away any remaining top soil in its path.

This is a broken ecosystem, one that we can repair.

What we need to be doing is identifying the problem, finding a solution, and putting that solution into action. A team from the Netherlands brought this desert back to farmable soil in Kenya. These are solutions that can be adapted anywhere in the world that has a similar problem with dead soils in a drought condition.

In Northern Thailand

Here in Northern Thailand where we live, we have an environmental problem with smoke. Not only is it very unhealthy for the residents of our community, it is a contributor to global warming. We set out to find a solution.

Biochar

The smoke comes from two sources – agricultural waste and forest fires. Corn is the major crop that creates waste that is burned – 80% of the plant is waste.  Corn is one of the largest crops in the region and demand is growing as more people eat meat and dairy products.  It is grown for animal feed,  so when it is harvested it is brought to a site where it is processed for the kernels. Once the corn kernels are stripped off, what remains is a huge mountain of corn cob and husk waste. These mountains of waste are set on fire, creating smoke that fills our skies and lungs every harvest season.

Our first solution was to teach farmers how to turn all of this waste into profit by making biochar and compost for fertilizer.. Farmers are really happy to work with us, putting extra money in their pockets, and discovering how powerful biochar is at restoring their dead soil.

But there is more and more corn being grown. Because corn grows so easily in even the worst soil conditions, mountain sides continue to be  clear cut to grow corn. The corn requires intensive labor on steep hillsides while it depletes the water retention of the soil.  Once the corn is harvested the hillsides are burned and the smoke gets worse and worse. 

Our next project addresses this environmental destruction.

Agroforestry

This year we are launching a new part to our Stop the Smoke campaign. Our goal is to reforest the mountain sides, adding biochar to the soil to bring it back to life. As the forest grows and the soil regenerates, the land can grow more profitable perennial crops, and move away from corn.

We do not intend to completely eliminate corn as a local crop. With good planning though, corn can be grown in areas where the crop waste can easily be turned into biochar. It definitely needs to come off the mountain slopes.

Reforesting the mountains will bring back the ecological balance that is needed to create a healthier environment for the community. The forests will retain water, eliminating the current problem we have with flooding. It is a road map we are laying out for the next generation of farmers, a sustainable approach to improving our community. You can learn more about his project at our Agroforestry site.

Warm Heart and our Community

Warm Heart is a small nonprofit located in Northern Thailand. Our belief is that “Strong Communities Make a Better World”.

We work with our local communities to help solve the particular problem that we face – agricultural smoke and deforestation.

We reach out to the local youth to help get them involved. We visit schools, explain the impacts our local problem has on our health, and how it contributes to global warming. The kids “get it”. We also show them how easy it is to build a biochar oven to turn biomass waste into biochar. Visit to Varee School, Chiang Mai

Photo credit Shayne Rochfort

We encourage our youth to take action. We know the future lies in their hands, and we believe they have the capacity to understand the problems we face today, and work towards solutions.

Guest Article

Food and the Environment

By Petra Nordal

I have been a vegetarian my entire life. Both of my parents became vegetarians when they were young and they felt that it was best to raise us the same way, even though they always say we have the freedom to choose.

Although I am only 16, I have seen the attitudes toward vegetarians change very dramatically in my lifetime already!

Vegetarianism was once seen as something a bit eccentric or even unhealthy (our Norwegian relatives were afraid that we would not grow but my sisters and I are all pretty tall and strong.) Nowadays, people respect this lifestyle a lot more and many are curious about it. 

Vegetarian or vegan diets are becoming more popular in many countries such as the UK, the US and Germany and are also a core part of some major world religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism. In the UK, it is estimated that 14% of the population may be vegetarian and another 31% are trying to eat less meat.

This does not mean that consumption of meat worldwide is declining though, because many people are vegetarians by necessity, not by choice, and as they become wealthier, they eat more meat. Overall, meat consumption worldwide is actually on the rise! However, the more educated people become and the more choices they have, the more likely they will be to consider the environment as they make food choices. 

One of the main reasons for the increased popularity of vegetarian diets in some parts of the world is concern for the environment. Of course, people have other reasons as well, including health and animal welfare, but the environment is a big factor. 

The production of meat does have a very large environmental impact. Raising meat uses a lot of land. An article in Science magazine (2019) found that although meat comprises only 18% of the calories in our diets, it uses 83% of agricultural land. This does not even account for the land that is needed to grow the food to feed the livestock.

Meat production also requires a lot of water too. For every kilogram of beef, 15,400 liters of water are used in production and according to the Unesco Institute for Water Education, a third of freshwater sources are used for animal production  It is also the case that many forests are razed in order to build ranges for cattle. 

Meat production also contributes greatly to air and water pollution. It contributes to high levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, and even higher amounts of methane, ammonia and nitrous oxide, which contribute more warming. One estimate suggests that for every gram of protein in beef, 221.6 kilograms of CO2 equivalents are emitted through production. Furthermore, production of meat leads to water pollution by emitting nitrogen, phosphorus, antibiotics and pesticides into our water supplies. 

The facts and figures around eating meat are very grim. However, it is important to consider the alternatives on balance. In general, our global food system is environmentally damaging and it is important that we find more environmentally friendly ways to produce and transport food, especially as the world’s population is growing. Vegetarians may feel good about eating lots of fruit and vegetables but many of those that we like best are transported thousands of miles, emitting lots of CO2e along the way.

Some trendy foods for vegetarians are also not entirely environmentally friendly. Almonds and avocados, for example, require high amounts of water to produce. One estimate is that it takes about 600-700 litres of water to grow a kilo of avocados, still considerably less than beef but a lot. Some people also question the footprint of a favorite meat substitute worldwide, tofu. However, there seems to still be little evidence that tofu is as environmentally damaging as beef. One person has even measured the footprint of tofu! The Results – Tofu’s Carbon Footprint (weebly.com)

There are some ways of helping the environment by what you eat. Choosing a vegetarian diet or to eat less meat will have an impact. If you can eat locally grown pulses, such as chickpeas and lentils, these are produced with little impact. One of our family’s favorite every day foods is hummus! It is a great dip for some locally grown cucumbers.

Also, try to buy local foods to avoid the damage caused to the environment through shipping. Food chains are very unreasonable so that sometimes we get food from the farthest point away from us rather than the nearest source. Choosing local means that you cannot have every type of fruit and vegetable all year round but locally grown produce always tastes so much better that it is worth the wait!

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