2% solutions

Mitigation or adaptation? It’s usually an either/or choice: either we work on ways to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere or we find ways to adapt to new conditions created by climate change, including reducing society’s vulnerabilities and raising its resilience. Fighting to close a coal plant or developing green energy alternatives, for example, is a different job than translocating an imperiled species or planning for inevitable sea level rise. Same problem, separate responses. Different tribes. Mitigation and adaptation even have separate conferences!

Climate and the Khans

There are periods in Western Civilization’s history that lack the glamor of the ages of empire or the steady march of progress that seemed to characterize the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans or other remarkably advanced societies. Between military adventures we tend see the periods of hiatus and re-consolidation as “dark” or “middle” ages. Nothing much was going on, we think. These periods comprise a largely un-rediscovered history. The fascination of the dominant university narrative with militarism also leaves out vast areas on the periphery, where a lot of innovation began.

How to ruin a perfectly good word

Sequester. Sequester. Sequester. Sequester. Sequester. There, the word is now meaningless. There’s a linguistic term for this effect: semantic satiation. Supposedly it’s only temporary, so we may in time retrieve the proper use of the word. Good thing, too, because its current usage both is incorrect and has overtaken its use as an important environmental concept.

Hot carbon

Carbon is hot. This was the main message of a conference on climate change and agriculture that I attended last week in Davis, California. Everyone was talking about carbon, either as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere or soil carbon below our feet. Farmers, scientists, policy-wonks, regulators, graduate students, activists and many others all had something to say about carbon.

Biochar 101

Charcoal retains the carbon cell structure of plants from which it is made and, when buried, the carbon can stay in the ground for hundreds or thousands of years. Most fertile soil contains charcoal from ancient or recent forest fires and, until the introduction of synthetic fertilisers, charcoal was widely used by cultivators for enhancing the soil. The most remarkable example of soil modified by charcoal is the deep ‘terra preta’ from a previous civilisation in the Amazon that transformed infertile earth into rich loam.

A personal forest

I guess you could say trees are as family to me. They remain a part of my life wherever I go. When I was 17 I learned to work horses on the long line, and later, when I arrived at the Farm in Tennessee, fresh out of grad school, I put those skills to use snaking logs from the forest with a team of Belgian mares. I built a tent home for my bride on a platform of hand hewn oak logs acquired that way.