Balance of Nature
A case in Borneo illustrates the delicate balance of nature and the unintended consequences of human intervention.Back in the early 50s an outbreak of malaria in Borneo led the World Health Organization (WHO) to bring in massive amounts of DDT to kill the malaria carrying mosquitoes.
They were successful in killing the mosquitoes, but the DDT also virtually wiped out a particular species of parasitic wasp. This particular wasp fed on thatch-eating caterpillars. With the wasps gone, the caterpillars ate the villagers roofs! To make matters worse the geckos ate the poisoned insects, and were in turn eaten by native cats. The native cats died from DDT poisoning, and therefore the rat population flourished.
The increase in the rat population led to an outbreak of typhus and plague among humans. To assuage the damage, WHO arranged for a supply drop that included a couple dozen healthy cats! This supply drop was dubbed Operation Cat Drop. The cats were able to reduce the rodent population to controllable levels, and DDT was eventually outlawed.
Mother Nature compensates for imbalances. Unfortunately for us, the current solution to the imbalance we have created is a radical change in climate.
Normal amounts of CO2 are healthy, in fact our survival is dependent on it. Plants and trees soak up CO2, they are the air-purifiers for planet earth. They clean it, and in doing so produce the oxygen we, and all animals need to survive. Trees have a limited life span, when they die and decay or are burned in a fire they release CO2, providing the CO2 we need to keep the cycle of life on planet earth churning.
Our infatuation with the overuse of dirty fuels (oil and coal) has caused so much pollution that we have created a greenhouse effect, warming our planet, disrupting the natural balance, creating an excess of CO2 that the plants and trees can not absorb and process.
Adding to the problem is the loss of trees through clear cutting of our forests. Our soils are suffering from degradation, which leads to loss of farmable land, which leads to more forest lands being destroyed to make room for more farming land.
Focus on Balance
Global warming is a complex issue, but we can start by focusing on how we can bring a balance back to nature to start the healing process. The first obvious step is reducing the amount of pollution we create.
In Latin America, a report developed by 90 authors and led by experts from the region was released recently by UN Environment and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition. It found poor air quality and climate change is already affecting vulnerable populations and environment in the region resulting in premature deaths, crop yield losses, and ecosystem damage. They found efforts to reduce air and climate pollutants in Latin America could reap immediate health benefits.
The report shows how black carbon emissions can be reduced by over 80% by 2050 in most countries by focusing on initiatives that modernize cooking and heating stoves, improve diesel vehicle standards to Euro VI equivalent, put diesel particulate filters on vehicles, eliminate high emitting vehicles, and enforce bans on open field agricultural burning.
In a recent article published by the New York Times “Can Dirt Save the Earth?” author Moises Velqsquez-Manoff points out:
“The world is warming not only because fossil fuels are being burned, but also because soils, forests and wetlands are being ravaged.
In recent years, some scientists have begun to ask whether we can put some of that carbon back into the soil and into living ecosystems, like grasslands and forests. This notion, known as carbon farming, has gained traction as it becomes clear that simply reducing emissions will not sufficiently limit global warming.”
Turning to alternative and sustainable green energy sources helps. But we need to do much more than that. We need to reduce the amount of CO2 already in the atmosphere to help cool the earth.
The two main areas that can accomplish this goal are in our control: forest and soil management.
There are positive steps being taken around the world to help undo the damage we have done to our forests. Here are a few highlights of what is happening:
Planting Trees To Save The Planet Is Turning Into Big Business
Financial gain is always a good incentive to get things done. Creative Startup companies are finding new ways to efficiently plant trees on a massive scale, part of an emerging “restoration economy” focused on reforestation and otherwise restoring degraded land.
The Largest Ever Tropical Reforestation Is Planting 73 Million Trees
Over the past 40 years, about 20% of the Amazon has been cut down or destroyed. This project is using an innovative way to reforest the area. “With plant-by-plant reforestation techniques, you get a typical density of about 160 plants per hectare,” says Medeiros. “With muvuca, the initial outcome is 2,500 species per hectare. And after 10 years, you can reach 5,000 trees per hectare. It’s much more diverse, much more dense, and less expensive than traditional techniques.”
“Already a couple million trees have been planted, and it’s a win-win situation for all involved parties, says Medeiros. The coalition gets labor at a fair price. Indigenous communities can maintain their livelihoods and get recognition as the rightful owners of rainforest land. And farmers sign partnership agreements to fast-track recovery on their own land with logistical support. “Springs, rivers, and streams that were suffering from the lack of water are already beginning to show signs of recovery in the region,” says Medeiros, which has led to more productive soil and better yields for farmers, too.”
Reforestation projects like these:
- Improve wildlife habitat for the thousands of wildlife species that call our forests home.
- Restore watershed health, which benefits the millions of people who depend on our forests for water.
- Improve forest health to ensure our forests are resilient in the face of climate change.
- Enhance the beauty of our forests and people’s ability to enjoy them.
Replenishing our Soil
Forests, the “lungs” of our planet “breathe” in carbon dioxide. The role they play in locking in carbon dioxide is essential to offset greenhouse gas emissions.
Soils hold 70 percent of the planet’s land-based carbon — four times as much as all the world’s biomass and three times the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.
Nature designed a symbiotic relationship between trees and soil. And we have managed to come along and damage both.
When we clear cut forests, and convert natural vegetation to farmland we increase the degradation process of the soil. More than 38% of the world’s natural habitat has already been converted to farming fields and pastures. Another unintentional consequence is the loose soil pollutes the streams and rivers, which leads to a decrease in fish and other species. The degraded soil can no longer hold onto water, which allows for increased likelihood of flooding.
Poor soil management leads to dead soils. What we need to focus on is building back healthy soils, which supplies us with food, filters our air and water, and helps to decompose biological waste into nutrients for new plant life.
A key to saving our soils and enriching our land is through biochar.
Farmers can use biochar to make highly effective fertilizer to increase their yields without purchased chemical fertilizers, saving money and protecting the environment.
Applied to fields, biochar increases soil porosity and water retention, raises pH, encourages soil life, and improves soil fertility. It also protects crops against disease, fungi, and insects.
Our intentions were not to destroy the ecological balance that keeps our planet healthy, our people thriving. But that is what we have done. And nature is responding to the increasing heat we are generating through our continuing excess pollution.
Glaciers are melting, oceans are heating up, expanding, and rising. Ocean life is dying, our weather is changing from an altered climate system, causing extreme storms, flooding, droughts. Just for starters.
We need to reduce our CO2 emissions, NOW, and we also need to take a lesson from nature and bring back a balance to our ecosystem, which means caring for our trees and soils, and let them do their job.