Remarkable, how this speck in the universe is so richly supplied with the beauty and bounty of Nature, and how Nature has been able, for millennia, to balance the systems that literally keep us alive. Perhaps just as remarkable is the fact that humans, with the capacity to analyze, adjust, and improve on their relationship with the natural world have too often done just the opposite. And here we are, faced with fixing past mistakes on a timeline accelerated by our past reticence. However, as dire as many of the predictions are, there are plenty of efforts around the planet that are exploiting the capability of Mother Nature to recover from the mistakes of beings capable of knowing better.
A farm in California, where much of the agriculture is dependent on fresh water irrigation that is on the list of endangered systems, is thriving and producing food on reclaimed water. CoCo San Sustainable Farm of Martinez, California, reclaimed land as well, a project that could certainly be duplicated. CoCo San Sustainable Farm started (and continues) as a project to provide fresh food to schools that chose less healthy fare (like pizza) because it’s cheaper than healthy options.
Apricot Lane Farms was the subject of a delightful and inspiring film, “the Biggest little Farm,” documenting a return to letting Nature do what she does best. The owners, in their words, “bought a bank that had been robbed,” then worked with readily available (if not promoted) information to restore balance and production to what became a 214-acre agricultural success story, rooted in ecosystem diversity.
A historically topsy-turvy story, Wisconsin’s Horicon Marsh was carved out of prairie soil 12,000 years ago. It transitioned from Native American hunting grounds to a water power dam in the late nineteenth century, with the “help” of European settlers, then “restored” for large-scale duck hunting, and then drained for farming. After succumbing to further degradation from peat fires, restoration began with the efforts of the Izaak Walton League in 1934. Fast forward to today, the area is a critical bird migration stop and is the largest freshwater cattail marsh in the United States.
Permaculture is “a multidisciplinary toolbox including agriculture, water harvesting and hydrology, energy, natural building, forestry, waste management, animal systems, aquaculture, appropriate technology, economics and community development.” It is figuratively the “kitchen sink” of design for human existence, and its applications apply to both urban and rural environments. It has transformed desert communities into green oases, a discipline likely to become more and more relevant.
Many, if not most, of the local success stories could be duplicated on a larger scale, but for that to happen we collectively have to recognize that such actions at the macro level will depend on regional and national leadership. A significant part of the population holds stubbornly onto projects and processes that are clearly not working for our ultimate survival, not to mention our immediate well-being. How often have we heard the refrain, “I can’t wait to get back to normal,” after the devastating consequences of a pandemic? Yet, getting back to “normal” is the wrong direction if we intend to give our kids and grandkids (and beyond) a chance to appreciate and enjoy the gifts of Mother Nature. The world needs leaders who recognize their role in [literally] preserving human existence, and We The [Informed] People have the power to direct those efforts.
The Dalai Lama has said that the “purpose of life is to be happy.” At the core of his message of love and compassion is the fundamental law of interdependence (read: everything is connected). That’s not bumper-sticker philosophy; it’s physics. My happiness is inexorably related to the happiness of others in every aspect of life, including the physical environment — the planet — that we all share. As it relates to the Big Blue Marble, we all make up the crew of Spaceship Earth. For you “Trekkies,” if Star Trek’s Sulu or “Bones” or Spock fails to do his part, the Starship Enterprise is in peril. The crew members on the Enterprise could be compared to the nations on Earth, each with a responsibility to maintain a healthy and thriving ecosystem.
Spaceship Enterprise had a distinct advantage over Spaceship Earth. The Enterprise crew could navigate to other worlds, but where, exactly, are we going to go when we mess this place up?