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The metaphors in that statement really hit home for me: most of us living in wealthy nations know, somewhere deep-down, that if something bad happens to us that there'll be something and/or someone to take care of us---not just a long-term safety net, though there's that to a greater or lesser extent in various nations, but a short-term safety net.  An emergency room is the most fundamental of these.  (The title is a quote from Rep. Ed Markey, who I'd never heard of before, speaking today about the need for political action on climate change.)

I of course have my preferred policy (the clean energy dividend), but almost any action is good at this point.  But what action, and by whom?  Large-scale political action is ultimately needed, but there's a certain paralysis that's taken over as a result of national and international dysfunction on climate action.

So that brings me back to what I remember reading about as a kid in the 1980s---how someday soon we'd have space expeditions to visit and then to terraform Mars and other planets for human settlement.  Not knowing better, I thought it'd happen, but it seems pretty unlikely at this point.

But the thing I've never understood is why there hasn't been a similar sentiment about terraforming Earth.  Maybe it's that it's literally too grounded and prosaic.  It's not one big dream for humankind.  It's a thousand thousand thousand little dreams for individual humans and the animals and plants and fungi that surround them.

terraform |ˈterəˌfôrm| verb [ trans. ]
(esp. in science fiction) transform (a planet) so as to resemble the earth, esp. so that it can support human life.
Wouldn't it be strange if now that we live on Eaarth, as Bill McKibben aptly puts it, we need to terraform our new planet so as to resemble Earth?

My dream is for each of us, and our friends and family and local communities, to restore some little patch of Earth that is dear to us, and if not dear to us, then at least near to us.  That restoration might look like trying to help return it to the state it was in before it was razed for paving or construction or mining a (few) hundred years ago.  But since it's hard to know what it was like once, and since we have to accept that at this point we're changing the planet in massive ways, improving the biodiversity and true sustainability of the local ecosystem is more important in my mind than returning it to some past state that can't ever be recovered.

What such restoration will look like will vary depending on the local climate, the local ecosystem, the local community, and of course the people doing the restoration.  I'm not even sure restoration is the right term for it.  But what I do know is that not only is it gratifying work, but also that it provides an opportunity to build a connection with the land where one lives.

Recently I've been trying to do this in small ways.  There's quite a bit of dead, compact soil filled with construction debris and trash between the sidewalk and the curb next to the apartment where I live.  Getting a shovel to go into it more than a centimeter required chiseling at it like it was rock.  So my first goal was to restore the soil, and to do that I dug several small holes and planted comfrey (roots) in them a few months ago.  Along with the comfrey I scattered local wildflower seeds and clover seeds (to eventually help fix nitrogen).  It's been a bit of a challenge getting the seeds to grow, though they are now, but the comfrey really took to it and has been doing well.  The next step, probably in the Spring, will be to plant oak saplings I'm going to be growing over the Winter.  And maybe some fruit trees as well, though I'm not sure which yet.

What's the difference between massive geoengineering efforts, such as the recent effort to seed the ocean in an attempt to trigger a plankton bloom and sequester carbon, and smaller-scale efforts?  And what's the right thing to do when restoring our little patches of Earth?  Should only natives be planted?  Food-bearing trees?  Some mix?  Should more diversity of plants be introduced than naturally exist in the region?  I'm not sure that there's a good answer to these questions, but that's no barrier to doing something anyway.

Originally posted to barath on Thu Nov 01, 2012 at 05:46 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  hi barath;-) good ideas, and a contagious paradigm (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    barath, PaloAltoPixie, citisven, WithHoney

    (Long time, bro', good to see you again.)

    If I understand what you've just said, it's the juxtaposition of terraforming Mars to terraforming Eaarth, and the juxtaposition of doing it on a grassroots micro scale, with doing it on a planetary scale.

    What's powerful about that is, it brings the whole idea of making a planet habitable, down to the level of personal action.  What's implicit in that, is the idea that millions of people doing this will not only have direct beneficial effects, but that their efforts will filter through natural selection to create the most habitable and diverse ecosystems possible in this new world of ours.


    So where you ask "what's the right thing to do?", what I see in that is the idea that if each person uses whatever information they have, and makes their own best judgement about how to restore whatever tiny patch of Eaarth they inhabit, the totality of those actions will add up to an adaptation at the macro scale.

    This could go viral in a major way, all the more so because it leaves certain judgements up to each person, as their own exercise in discovery and creativity.  This is something we really need right now, not only for the overt ecological reasons, but for movement-building reasons as well.  

    Get a call from GOP GOTV? Talk their ear off! Keep 'em busy! Plus one long call to a progressive = minus two or three calls to undecideds!

    by G2geek on Thu Nov 01, 2012 at 06:00:53 AM PDT

    •  I like the sound of that... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      G2geek, citisven

      It would be nice to see it start to happen.  What we need is more visible examples of individual actions to this end, and hopefully people taking such action will reach a tipping point.

      The thing I do wonder about is what's the stop some well-intentioned but ill-conceived billionaire-funded effort to do what's usually considered geoengineering---large scale potentially dangerous changes.  Perhaps the line is in letting nature do the work rather than doing the work ourselves? - thoughts on energy, the environment, and society.

      by barath on Thu Nov 01, 2012 at 06:18:19 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  nature always does the work. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Sometimes we help it, and sometimes we hinder it.

        What's to stop some billionaire from an ill-conceived effort at macro-scale geo-engineering, is the social pressure from all the other billionaires who are afraid of finding lynch mobs at their doors if the experiment backfires and causes a catastrophe.  Count on it.  

        Meanwhile it seems to me that the best way to spread the meme of micro-geoengineering is by making it part of the praxis for all members of ecology organizations and progressive religious and similar groups.  Make it an initiation ritual.  "If you want to be part of our group, this is something you are expected to do."  

        It's hardly as controversial as expecting members to get themselves surgically sterilized after having one child, or reduce their overall resource consumption to Eastern European levels, which are two other forms of mass activism that will reduce our impact significantly.

        But the quaint notion that one can become a "member" of anything merely by writing a yearly check and letting "someone else" do the work, has got to go.  

        If we can't make membership in our society itself, contingent upon acting in a certain way, we can make membership in numerous voluntary organizations contingent upon doing so.  Or at least we can set up social expectations that motivate people to do so.  

        Get a call from GOP GOTV? Talk their ear off! Keep 'em busy! Plus one long call to a progressive = minus two or three calls to undecideds!

        by G2geek on Thu Nov 01, 2012 at 07:17:45 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Some of our greatest (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        ecological disasters are a result of "terraforming" . . . meddling with systems that we don't understand, and introducing "changes" that have unexpected, and sometimes devastating, "unintended consequences".

        It only takes one misguided individual, however well intentioned, to give us kudzu or asian carp . . .

        Fake Left, Drive Right . . . not my idea of a Democrat . . .

        by Deward Hastings on Thu Nov 01, 2012 at 10:02:39 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  We humans have had thousands (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Roger Otip

    of wars with each other over issues much less threatening. I am generally anti-war, but I think that a war between those of us who want to live on Earth and those of us who promote coal would be worthwhile fighting. I'd like to see coal ended, globally, and anybody who doesn't like it has a short period of time to change their mind.

  •  Earth will terraform itself (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Desert Scientist

    by extinguishing us, should we fail to act.

    Rick Perry - the greatest scientist since Galileo!

    by Bobs Telecaster on Thu Nov 01, 2012 at 09:09:01 AM PDT

  •  "If I knew the world would end tomorrow, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I would plant a tree today."

      --attributed to Martin Luther

    Thank you for doing that.

  •  What's sad is that we won't be around to see it (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tacet, FinchJ, Valatius

    A Vision  (Wendell Berry)

    If we will have the wisdom to survive,
    to stand like slow-growing trees
    on a ruined place, renewing, enriching it,
    if we will make our seasons welcome here,
    asking not too much of earth or heaven,
    then a long time after we are dead
    the lives our lives prepare will live
    there, their houses strongly placed
    upon the valley sides, fields and gardens
    rich in the windows. The river will run
    clear, as we will never know it,
    and over it, birdsong like a canopy.
    On the levels of the hills will be
    green meadows, stock bells in noon shade.
    On the steeps where greed and ignorance cut down
    the old forest, an old forest will stand,
    its rich leaf-fall drifting on its roots.
    The veins of forgotten springs will have opened.
    Families will be singing in the fields.
    In their voices they will hear a music
    risen out of the ground. They will take
    nothing from the ground they will not return,
    whatever the grief at parting. Memory,
    native to this valley, will spread over it
    like a grove, and memory will grow
    into legend, legend into song, song
    into sacrament. The abundance of this place,
    the songs of its people and its birds,
    will be health and wisdom and indwelling
    light. This is no paradisal dream.
    Its hardship is its possibility

    muddy water can best be cleared by leaving it alone

    by veritas curat on Thu Nov 01, 2012 at 10:28:13 AM PDT

  •  Barath, you'll love Green Gold by John D Liu. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    It is a documentary about large scale damaged ecosystems and the work being done to restore some of them. Here is the link on YouTube.

    The first diary in my pelagic series on Ecological Gardening(agroecology and permaculture) has links to three other documentaries, one of the projects (the one in Jordan) is featured in Green Gold. I have some more links under Additional Resources at the end of my last diary in the series, link here.

    I don't mean to high jack, just wanted to share some links. Glad to see this diary and I nodded all the way through. Tipped and Recc'd.

    •  In response to some of your questions at the end.. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Basically, we have to be careful with what we choose to plant. You mentioned you planted comfrey- we did too, but we chose to plant a sterile cultivar. Comfrey is notoriously hard to eradicate once established and would spread like wildfire with viable seeds. Therefore we selected Bocking 14 (Symphytum uplandicum).

      We also have water hyacinth growing in our small ponds (really pools in terms of size). This is a highly invasive species, but our ponds are not connected to any water way so there is no chance of vegetative spread (unless a tornado picks them up!). We also have a strict rule to cut any flower head that begins to develop. If birds get a hold of the seed it will spread. We have planted water hyacinth to help clean the turbid water of our new ponds (they are unlined dug from NC clay), provide habitat for insects as well as food for our gold fish (to eat mosquito offspring), and for their fast reproduction. We can harvest quite a lot of biomass for use as mulch from this plant. In a few years as the water clears we will completely replace this plant with other species that are less aggressive.

      I take the stance of Dave Jacke in Edible Forest Gardens vol 1 in regards to natives vs non natives. If I can choose a native species that will fill a required function or niche in our design, I will. But if a native will not meet our needs, we explore other options with full knowledge that every plant needs to be treated with respect in regards to its ability to spread. That said, we will not delude ourselves into attempting to eradicate every species that is not "native."

      Dandelions, clover, chickweed... these are all here to stay. We cannot eradicate them. What we can do is attempt to discover what niche each species is occupying and make a decision on whether or not to try to replace it with a native. In our garden, we work with all of those "weeds" because they are dynamic accumulators, clover fixes nitrogen, and they are all edible to some extent. While much maligned, we would do better to contemplate these issues and do our best to restore fertility to the landscapes we have power over.

    •  Looks great - looking forward to checking it out. (0+ / 0-) - thoughts on energy, the environment, and society.

      by barath on Thu Nov 01, 2012 at 07:27:44 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Markey (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    barath, shpilk

    chaired the House Energy & Climate committee until the Ds lost the house.  He has many strong/eloquent energy/climate statements. Worth paying attention to.

    Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart NOW! for a sustainable energy future.

    by A Siegel on Thu Nov 01, 2012 at 03:19:04 PM PDT

  •  No easy technological fix (0+ / 0-)

    Naomi Kleinpretty much dismantles the scheme to seed the Pacific  that you reference, and you should read it. There will be no quick and easy tehcnological solution to the climate crisis. This will take an unprecedented level of national collaboration here in the US and I can only hope that our faltering political system is up to it.

    International cooperation may be far easier if we only get our act together and lead the way. Under Bush we were the major obstruction to international action at the Kyoto Conference. In 2009 Obama's role in the Copenhagen negotiations was widely criticized and, in my view, was weak and inconclusive. We must do better in his second term.

    If my soldiers were to begin to think, not one would remain in the ranks. -Frederick the Great

    by Valatius on Thu Nov 01, 2012 at 09:42:52 PM PDT

    •  Sure, I mostly agree. (0+ / 0-)

      The reason I link to it is that it's an example of a potentially-misguided large-scale geoengineering effort, and to distinguish it from small-scale efforts that aren't focused on "fixing" anything per se, but restoring some small piece of some local ecosystem.

      But part of my point is that we shouldn't let political action or the lack of it paralyze us and keep us from doing what we can do as individuals.  It's a both / and situation... - thoughts on energy, the environment, and society.

      by barath on Thu Nov 01, 2012 at 09:53:04 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Put earthworms in your dirt (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    And then mix in coffee grounds in the dirt. (they eat the coffee grounds). Once the worms start boring through the hard earth they will open it up, water will flow more easily, the worm poop will fertilize the soil, bacteria, small insects, fungi, etc will thrive on the water and food, the soil will become alive again and your plants will really grow.
    Keep putting in plants, which is nice, but what most people never see is it's a biosystem, not just plants, that produces worthwhile  and sustainable land.

    Ash-sha'b yurid isqat an-nizzam!

    by fourthcornerman on Fri Nov 02, 2012 at 03:05:35 AM PDT

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