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Edible Forests

David Foley, WorldChanging

“Wenn ich wusste, dass die Welt morgen untergeht, würde ich dennoch heute einen Apfelbaum pflanzen”

(Translation: “Even if I should learn that the world would end tomorrow, I would still plant this apple tree today.”)
— Martin Luther

If we’re to win the the Great Wager , we’ll need an elegant economy of effort. Our most daunting problems are linked and planetary, but many of the solutions will be crafted, piecemeal and patiently, in our households, neighborhoods, watersheds and bioregions.

…Here’s one piece of the puzzle, something almost anyone can do: plant trees which provide food. For better or worse, we all have to learn tend the Earth like a garden now. “Food Forests ” are one important way to do that.

The idea is simple in theory, rich and complex in practice: mimic a successional forest, using trees, shrubs, ground covers, herbs, fungi and roots that reinforce one another, enhance ecological health, and yield food, fiber, fuel, medicine and habitat for people.

Crops now cover an area about the size of South America . We’re becoming increasingly aware of the damage our agriculture causes, and the benefits of more enlightened practices. Although we’ve obtained food from trees for millennia, our main practice has been to farm surfaces – now we need to farm in three dimensions, stacking crops in layers, from canopy to root zone.

Forest gardens and forest farms can be made at many scales, from urban backyard to whole countries, and in many climates, from tropical to arid to temperate.
(20 April 2006)

Environmentalism can help economy, professor says
SOU lecturer defends profitability of society’s heath and wellness

Alan Panebaker, Ashland Daily Tidings (Oregon)
Environmental sustainability and economic growth may not be polar opposites as some economists previously thought according to one Southern Oregon University professor.

In a lecture called “Investment and Innovation for Sustainable Development,” Richard Holt explained the economic benefits of things like biodiversity to a macroeconomic system to about 30 people in Stevenson Union Wednesday.

“With better environmental quality you end up with a healthier workforce,” Holt said. “And with increased biodiversity natural capital becomes more abundant.”

Holt’s theory dealt with the way economists view environmental resources. The traditional environmental economic theory deals on a microeconomic scale — with resources treated as a commodity to be bought and sold. Holt’s idea is to treat a healthy environment as a productive part of the macroeconomic system — creating healthier people who are happier and visit the doctor less. Instead of using up natural resources through exportation, Holt offered the idea of increasing biodiversity through more efficient technology to increase gross domestic product.

…“When you use capital, it depreciates,” Holt said. “When a forest is clear cut, when soil is degraded … there are serious implications.”

These implications, in Holt’s opinion, result in a less happy, less healthy, less productive workforce. Holt’s other option: increase biodiversity to create a better life and environment for countries and workforces to increase productivity.

…The professor furthered his argument with the idea that the eventual shortage of environmental resources may force big economic players to become more conservative with their resources.

“As oil becomes scarcer, we can develop more efficient automobile engines and public transportation,” Holt said.
(20 April 2006)

On Earth Day (beyond small solutions)

Alex Steffen, WorldChanging
…With every passing day, we are discovering that things are worse than we thought. Our climate is ripping apart at the seams at a rate that’s surprising even the so-called alarmists. Natural systems are collapsing. The ocean seems headed towards a series of catastrophic tipping points. Economic inequity is producing a planet of billionaires and a billion desperate people. Our political systems are suffering a massive crisis of legitimacy, while insane fundamentalists, violent criminals and two-bit dictators (wearing both uniforms and Armani suits) are stealing or destroying everything they can get their hands on. Everywhere on the planet we find an empty consumer culture so accepted we barely speak of it, except perhaps to make an ironic joke. We have placed a Great Wager on the future of humanity, and the odds are getting worse.

In the face of this reality, recycling a bottle is an act so insignificant as to be merely totemic. Paper or plastic? Who the hell cares?

In the developed world, few of us, essentially none of us, currently live a “one-planet life.” The vast majority of us, even of those of us who have committed ourselves to change, consume more resources and energy than our sustainable share: indeed, it is very, very difficult to live an individually sustainable life, because the very systems in which we are enmeshed — which enfold and make possible our lifestyles — are themselves insanely unsustainable. We’re driving our hybrid SUVs down the highway to the Collapse.

Most of the harm we cause in the world is done far from our sight, created through the workings of vast systems whose workings are often intentionally hidden from us, and over which we have very little influence as single individuals. Alone, we are essentially powerless to change anything that matters. We can’t shop our way to sustainability.

I believe we are bombarded with messages encouraging us to take the “small steps” precisely because those steps are a threat to no one. They don’t depress sales of fashionable crap we don’t need. They don’t bring people into the streets or sweep corrupt politicians from office. They certainly don’t threaten the powerful, entrenched interests who are growing fantastically rich off keeping us locked into the systems that make our lives such a burden on the planet and impoverish our brothers and sisters elsewhere.

Buying a hemp hoodie is not a blow for better world, it’s at best a mere gesture towards the idea that the world ought to better. And, here in the Green Spring of 2006, we must finally admit to ourselves that gestures are no longer enough. That to be focused on lifestyle tweaks and attitudinal adjustments at this moment in history is like showing up with a teaspoon to help bail out a sinking ship. If the New Green degenerates into handing out more stylish spoons, we’re screwed.

We don’t need more carpool lanes. We need to eliminate fossil fuels from our economy. We don’t need more recycling bins. We need to create a closed-loop, biomimetic, neobiological industrial system. We don’t need to attend a tree-planting ceremony. We need to become expert at ecosystem management and gardening the planet.
(21 April 2006)
A fine, full-spirited rant for Earth Day. The impassioned tone seems a change from the usual WorldChanging style.

Deep-fried America (hope on global warming)

Chris Mooney, Seed (via Tom Paine)
Growing up in New Orleans, I always thought of our local paper, The Times-Picayune, as a conservative, establishment voice, one fond of kissing up to Louisiana’s powerful oil and gas interests. In 2000, partly for reasons of energy policy, the Picayune firmly supported George W. Bush over environmentalist Al Gore for president. “That is a big-time pocketbook issue for Louisiana, and it is a compelling reason to choose Mr. Bush,” the paper editorialized. “He lives right next-door, and he’s an oilman.”

How times have changed. Exactly three months after hurricane-driven floodwaters enveloped New Orleans, I caught a Times-Picayune editorial on global warming, an issue that had gone totally unmentioned in the paper’s 2000 endorsement of George W. Bush for president. The new editorial took the form of a stern rebuke to the Bush administration, expressed in tones that might have made Al Gore himself proud. “Americans have now seen what can happen when rising waters overwhelm a major coastal metropolitan area,” wrote the Picayune post-Katrina. “The United States should be leading efforts to combat global warming, instead of straggling behind.”

Every time I hear griping and complaining about the United States’ intransigence on global warming, my mind reverts to that Times-Picayune editorial. Without a doubt, the U.S. owes the rest of the world an apology for its frustrating inaction on this issue. We ditched Kyoto without offering an alternative. We suppress and ignore our taxpayer-funded government scientists. We put our fingers in our ears and scream “la-la-la” when countries want to discuss anything other than voluntary means for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Chris Mooney is Washington correspondent for Seed, the magazine that connects science and society.
(21 April 2006)