I started this series of commentaries in January to encourage readers to cut carbon emissions by 7 percent each year for the next decade, in line with achieving the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommendations of a 50-percent emissions cut by 2030.
Recently, I was happy to be reminded of an article by Chelsea Harvey, a freelance science writer whose work appeared in the Washington Post in May 2016. She reported on a study about how people respond to making changes in their life relative to climate change: “the study concluded that a person’s sense of how active people around them are being about climate change – as well as how effective they think their actions are – are some of the most important drivers of action.”
Is the problem greater than carbon emissions? Troy Vettese, a doctoral student at New York University, recently analyzed the IPCC report in the Boston Review and, in part, recommended “a switch to a regenerative/agroecological agriculture that puts carbon and water back in the soil where it belongs.”
We’ve lived in our current house for 25 years, during which I’ve been changing how I think about gardening and observing how those changes impact the web of life in our yard.
When we first arrived, much of the land was newly released from typical dryland farming and the weed control those operations employ. The county weed agent paid me a visit and suggested shade would control many weeds.
I planted a small forest of maple, oak and cherry. They were intentionally close enough to become crowded and push one another to the sky. The result is our “forest” with a high canopy and thin grass below. I don’t irrigate and mow only occasionally.
I garden differently, too. Initially, I rototilled a rectangle. Now I grow a rotation of annual vegetables among perennials in flower beds without tilling. Heavy mulching and some weeding replaces rototilling and chemical management techniques. I see more worms and mushrooms now.
Google a TED talk, “The Good Carbon Story,” by soil scientist Ichsani Wheeler to learn how soil is a place to store carbon and doing so has multiple benefits.
Permaculture, a term coined by David Holmgren, an environmental designer, and scientist Bill Mollison, strives to create landscapes with the productive and resilient features found in natural ecosystems — an interdependent web.
I can’t claim to be a permaculturist, but I am exploring some of the practices and seeing an increasingly rich web of life in the yard.
If you own land, is it working as an ecosystem? Are you growing food for yourself or wildlife? Hosting pollinators? Sequestering carbon? Recharging the aquifer? Is it part of the interdependent web?
Consider this from Eric Holthaus, writing for Grist, a nonprofit environmental news organization: “On balance, lawns are awful for the planet. Our addiction to lawns means grass is the single largest irrigated ‘crop’ in America, more than corn, wheat, and fruit orchards combined.”
Repairing the web and sequestering carbon are necessary, but you must cut your carbon emissions too. I’ve suggested finding the biggest sources of your emissions controlled by the fewest decision makers.
If you water and fertilize a lawn, you could save water, emissions, and money with one quick first step: stop.
Then take some time to redesign how you want to manage your yard.
Nils Peterson is executive director of the Moscow Affordable Housing Trust and was formerly chair of the city Planning and Zoning Commission.