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Our Mission: Restoring Ecosystems to Reverse Global Warming

We now have six highly successful conferences behind us on the road to restoring ecosystems to reverse global warming.  Videos and slideshows are available on each conference’s program page.

Check them out! 

  • Harvard University, April 2016, The Power and Promise of Biodiversity: Visions of Restoring Land, Sea and Climate
  • Tufts University, October 2015, Restoring Water Cycles to Reverse Global Warming
  • Washington, DC, September 2015, Restoring Ecosystems to Reverse Global Warming
  • Harvard Science Center, May 2015, Urban and Suburban Carbon Farming to Reverse Global Warming
  • Bristol Community College, February 2015, Carbon Farming for Food, Health, Prosperity and Planet! 
  • Tufts University, November 2014, Restoring Ecosystems to Reverse Global Warming

Our Work: Education and Activism

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Biodiversity for a Livable Climate brings you information about decades of scientific research and the practical experience of land managers around the world.  We work to remedy the information gap in mainstream climate advocacy which tells us that virtually the only practical effective action we can take is to reduce fossil fuel emissions.  There is another way. 

Primarily based in the physical sciences, climate scientists generally do not yet recognize what life scientists and ecologists have long known: the power of life has molded almost every aspect of the physical earth, including the climate.  Wise human management of the biosphere can undo the eco-mess we have created, and regenerate a planet that we can live on.

While reducing emissions is of critical importance, there is far more that we can and must do, especially considering that emissions reductions efforts have to date been insufficient – and even if emissions were to go to zero today, we would still be faced with catastrophic effects of climate change. 

According to the 2013 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report:

A large fraction of anthropogenic climate change resulting from CO2 emissions is irreversible on a multi-century to millennial time scale, except in the case of a large net removal of CO2 from the atmosphere over a sustained period . . . (p. 28, emphasis added)

Global warming is a symptom of a much deeper problem, and to address the problem effectively we need to get to root causes: the human-caused degradation and desertification of lands worldwide.  Regenerating  healthy global ecosystems – and moving gigatons of carbon from the atmosphere back into the soils on billions acres of degraded land – is the answer. There is reason to believe that it’s possible to return to safe pre-industrial levels of atmospheric carbon in a matter of decades.

We bring speakers from around the world to our conferences, and they have inspired thousands of people with hope and practical, inexpensive, low-tech solutions – and stunning results.  

There are many tools in the eco-restoration toolkit, and there’s something for just about every habitat on the planet. Approaches include permaculture, holistic planned grazing, wetland restoration, reintroduction of native keystone species (e.g., otters, kelp, prairie dogs, mangrove forests, beaver), innovative water cycle management, reforestation, biochar, rock powders, coastline and fisheries restoration, regenerative agriculture – the list of promising options continues to grow. And we know how to put these into practice – now!

We have lost far more carbon to the atmosphere from soil disruption since the beginning of agriculture than the excess carbon that is currently in the atmosphere. We must turn this around:  Through eco-restoration and regenerative agriculture, we can take gigatons of carbon out of the atmosphere and put it back into the ground.

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The American Dust Bowl, 1930s. Tons of carbon are moving from formerly healthy soils to the atmosphere. Since the beginning of agriculture, worldwide soil degradation from farming, deforestation and other human activities has caused greenhouse gas pollution that rivals that currently in the atmosphere.

We know now that the safest and most effective approach to reducing atmospheric carbon is to capture it with millions of species of green plants, animals, insects, fungi and micro-organisms, which bury it deep in soils in carbon-rich molecules that are stable for centuries or longer. In the process, because complex organic carbon molecules retain many times their weight in water, we restore vibrant life to billions of acres of parched, desertified areas that were once healthy forests or grasslands.

There’s more good news: with biodiversity and eco-restoration we can unite people, organizations and governments, even those who have been fighting and maneuvering for advantage for decades.  Everyone will agree that a magnificent stretch of wooded hills or green fields of grasses full of life are preferable to those rendered parched, cracked, barren and lifeless due to human misuse. Therefore, the mission of Biodiversity for a Livable Climate is to promote seeing the world in wholes to re-establish biodiversity and the water cycle, store carbon in the soils, maximize photosynthetic solar energy capture, eliminate bare soils and reverse global warming by applying regenerative approaches to the land worldwide.  chihuahuan desert - before

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Site in the Chihuahan Desert in Mexico before and after restoration with Holistic Planned Grazing.  There is roughly six times more water captured in the ground by plants (bottom photo) than there was in the artificial pond (top photo).

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Above: Depaving in an urban environment (Somerville, Massachusetts) to recreate healthy soils.  Carbon dioxide, along with water, is the basic and primary building block of plants.  Now that the asphalt is gone, all the carbon you see as leaves and flowers is carbon that’s no longer polluting the atmosphere and causing a greenhouse effect.

Contact: info (at) bio4climate.org

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Geo-Engineering – An Idea Whose Time Ought Never Come

By Adam D. Sacks
Executive Director, Biodiversity for a Livable Climate

Climate urgency is very clear.

There is an established belief in science that there are roughly 20-to-30-year time lags between a year of emissions and the perceptible  appearance of their effects. Therefore we are currently seeing the consequences of carbon concentrations 40 to 60 ppm less than at present. Furthermore, the signature of positive feedback loops is acceleration – it is apparent that in the last 2 or so years we are witnessing that acceleration in spades, as heat records are broken right and left, wildfires rage, etc. etc. 

Those of us who research and educate about eco-restoration have these accelerating phenomena firmly in mind. What considerations might be at the top of the list in approaching our daunting portfolio of problems? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Human technology is, along with the population growth made possible by technology, the foundation of the anthropocene era.  Technology’s ultimate end is to expand carrying capacity so that we can accommodate a growing population, and bears many unintended consequences of which global warming is one of the most serious. The technologies in question over the past few hundred thousand years include the intentional use of fire, development of hand tools, agriculture, wheels, shipbuilding, architecture, culminating in the industrial era and widespread use of fossil fuels. 
  2. There is a long list of unintended technological consequences and progress traps that have effectively put an end to every large-scale complex society in human history.
  3. The basic planetary life-support system – sunlight, photosynthesis and soils in terrestrial and aquatic habitats – is an absolute necessity for virtually all life on earth.
  4. Catastrophic climate change is one of many symptoms of the widespread destruction resulting from human technologies.
  5. The ecological damage we are seeing today is a result of unintended consequences which always result from human technologies. In other words, human technologies always bear risks, from minimal to catastrophic, that may take decades, hundreds, or thousands of years to manifest (a long time in human terms, but geological microseconds).
  6. This sixth mass extinction is the culmination of human technologies in the service of short-term human survival, which is a natural outcome of responding to immediate needs, i.e., food, water, shelter, warmth, reproduction. That is, it’s nobody’s fault, it’s the way we’re built.

Therefore:

Any invocation of human technology will bring unanticipated risks that will inevitably result in harm eventually, sometimes serious, occasionally extreme enough to cause widespread extinction and loss of the biodiversity on which our life-support systems depend.  No life-support system, no life – we are not immune from extinction. 

The inevitable reasonable conclusion is that we cannot rely on human technologies to solve the problems we are facing because of the unknown dangers such technologies bring.  A corollary is to use the least complex and least invasive technology possible for maximum safety and, ultimately, effectiveness.

UNFORTUNATELY we are in the thrall of our technologies to the extent that the effects of technology are often invisible to us, leaving us to wander into progress traps and to fall victim to our own ingenuity. We fail to see the pending outcomes until it is too late and resort to more technology to cure prior technological ills, digging ourselves into holes that turn into graves. The poster child today is global warming, but there are many others.

FORTUNATELY the natural world has all the answers we need. We have only to develop the ability to see them. We are blind to the power that brought us liquid water, an oxygen atmosphere, a narrow temperature range suitable for life, and millions of species for an exquisitely complex and biodiverse world. The same natural world that resulted in the evolution of homo sapiens sapiens in the first place.

In sum, our faith is entirely upside-down, believing in the world of nuts, bolts, copper wires, silicon chips and rocket ships, thinking that these are more important and powerful than biological systems. We won’t successfully address climate or any other ecosystem disasters until we understand this fallacy through and through, at a visceral as well as an intellectual level.

When we start to understand how the natural world functions – as complex systems – only then will we grasp what we need to do.

Those of us who work in eco-restoration face daunting odds because a paradigm shift is required, and the places where our cultural habits dictate that we look for answers don’t have them. The answers we desperately need cannot reside in the dominant paradigm which brought us these problems in the first place. The solutions lie elsewhere.

Fortunately, we know many of those solutions, they’ve already been applied on millions of acres on five continents. These solutions – from planned grazing to reforestation to permaculture to biochar to rock powders to wetland and ocean restoration – are all ready to go, far cheaper than anything tech, with many associated benefits for water and carbon cycles, control of floods and droughts, food production, economic justice, and on and on.

THEREFORE

Based on this reasoning and experience, one can only conclude that complex and/or untested technologies such as geoengineering (as distinct from geotherapy) should be off the table. They are potentially ineffective, expensive and/or very dangerous. Unfortunately they fit in neatly with the dominant paradigm, and getting excited over something techno-cool that we know little about is a reflex well-conditioned into our daily lives, only all too often turning out to be a snake-oily empty promise. Unfortunately, we no longer have time to play with empty promises.

From nature’s perspective geo-engineering makes no sense whatsoever, despite promises resulting from the misleading oversimplification of complex systems.  Solar radiation management (SRM) is readily available with intact ecosystems and healthy water cycles. Similarly for carbon dioxide removal (CDR) – photosynthesis can remove all the atmospheric CO2 we need. Artificial trees, deep well injection, etc. are similarly pointless – untested, expensive, potentially dangerous – we only go there because the dominant paradigm is blind to its own shortcomings and the power of nature, while we wax ecstatic over our reflex cultural loyalties. And because we are rightly desperate.

Many people request persuasive evidence that biological drawdown and ecosystem restoration alone can prevent a continuous thaw of the permafrost and other climate phenomena, given how late the hour is.  Coming from the land of the dominant (reductionist) paradigm – and we all struggle with its powerful constructs – such a request makes sense.

This is a common request, and at first blush not unreasonable, so let me take a moment to deconstruct it. There are many tricky and undefined (and perhaps undefinable) words in that sentence: “persuasive,” “evidence,” “alone,” “prevent,” “late.” There are also assumptions about mechanisms of drawdown, permafrost thaw, biological drawdown and eco-restoration. Suffice it to say that such requests are rife with undefined elements, and the key is that “seeing is believing” (not the other way around). That is, if you are prepared to believe what you’re asking for you will see it. Otherwise, it will continue to be invisible, and the conventional response to such invisibility is that “the science” isn’t there (wherever “there” may be).

When we refer to “the science” in the mainstream sense, we’re mostly referring to academic and reductionist science (where systems interactions are discounted), associated with revered institutions, experimental protocols, statistical analyses, and peer-reviewed studies. 

But we should keep in mind that before any scientific field is mainstream, it isn’t. No academic support, no peer review, no formal studies – but plenty of evidence, perhaps derided as “anecdotal,” but without which there would be no science at all.

So how does one arrive at a comfortable place of “seeing persuasive evidence”? 

When we’re studying systems such a personal transition is different for different people, but involves exposure to many new ideas, plenty of illustrative stories (“anecdotes”), conversations with numerous people, perhaps reading technical literature (or perhaps not), reflection on nature vis-a-vis human affairs, seeing the magic of eco-restoration first-hand, perusing some wonderful books by nature writers, and contemplating the vastness of the universe, the amazing existence of life on earth (perhaps nowhere else) – until you begin to recognize life as a force greater than any other on earth. Earth – it would be a dead rock in space, like Mars or Venus – without life.

I hope this longish post is helpful – I know that connecting these dots is not obvious. I’ve been on this winding road for the better part of a decade, the understandings are a personal evolution as much as anything.  

There is, thankfully, a great deal of knowledge and experience out there that has opened up a new paradigm of life on earth, into a universe of great possibility and hope where there are positive tools for regenerating a bountiful planet, where a healthy global ecosystem can take care of global warming and so many other pressing problems.  We humans have a vital role to play.

Let us proceed in partnership with nature on the path to biodiverse abundance, with enthusiasm and joy, guided by the gods within.*

*  Harking back to the original meaning of “enthusiasm,” en- (in) + theos (god).

 

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Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions Won’t End Global Warming

by Jacqueline Sussman
Research Associate, Biodiversity for a Livable Climate

Solar panels on rooftops. Hybrid and electric vehicles. Meatless Mondays. What do all of these indicators of societal progress have in common? They are just some examples among the many symbolic, yet widely attainable, lifestyle modifiers for reducing energy consumption in our fossil fuel-addicted world. But while replacing SUVs with hybrid cars and changing lifestyle habits to reduce individual carbon footprints is important, it simply isn’t enough to reverse climate change. We have long surpassed the point where phasing down fossil fuel emissions alone will arrange for a biologically-diverse and livable climate.

Grid-connected PV and wind system

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A Call for Sanity

By Helen D. Silver, Director of Policy, Biodiversity for a Livable Climate

In September, members of the United Nations will convene a round of climate change negotiations. It’s not hard to guess what is on the table: greenhouse gas emissions reductions. Yet after almost three decades of effort, during which atmospheric carbon concentrations have only gone up, another meeting focused primarily if not exclusively on emissions reductions appears to hold little promise for success.  While emissions reductions are of course essential and we must keep working to end the burning of fossil fuels, we also have to do something else. Something that brings new hope to addressing global warming.  That something is soils.

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Biodiversity for a Livable Climate (BLC) seeks to redirect the climate conversation to include large-scale carbon sequestration through ecosystem restoration.  Given that we know that healthy soils have the potential to sequester vast amounts of carbon dioxide, indeed enough to potentially reverse climate change, why haven’t policies seized upon this simple, apparent opportunity?  I have found the following questions helpful:

1.  Have GHG emissions reduction efforts reduced emissions?  Clearly not.  Despite admirable attempts and sincere commitment, climate policies have resulted in little meaningful mitigation of the climate crisis.  Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have climbed to 400 parts per million (ppm), far above what most scientists agree is the upper bound of a safe level.  Emissions continue rising annually, and all the while disruptions from climate change – in the form of rising temperatures, unpredictable water supplies, widespread drought and more violent storms – are being felt on every continent with ever-increasing frequency and intensity. Continue reading

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Good news!

Click here for high resolution image.

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The Paradigm Fence: Wish You Were Here, See You Soon!

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Changing the Climate Conversation

by Steve Wineman

“Everything is connected to everything else.” – Barry Commoner, The Closing Circle

Like most climate activists, for a long time I thought that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions were THE driving force behind climate change.  It followed that reducing emissions was our overriding goal. 

 A steady stream of messages from both the climate movement and the mainstream media are constantly reinforcing the perception that GHGs and the climate emergency are synonymous.  The most prominent activist organization is named after atmospheric carbon levels.  Even the climate deniers reinforce this focus when they react against the claims of scientists and activists  about carbon.  GHGs and what to do (or not do) about them frame the debate.

Biodiversity for a Livable Climate is dedicated to expanding the terms of the climate conversation.  We want to bring to the table measures for restoring degraded and desertified lands, re-establishing balanced water cycles, managing forests and reforestation, and restoring ocean food chains.  This is not instead of working to reduce GHG emissions, but in addition.  These are measures that have the potential to store huge amounts of carbon in the soil, reduce flooding and drought by stabilizing local climates, address the immediate dangers posed by the world’s diminished water supplies, restore habitable environments for innumerable species,  increase food supplies and create jobs.  Why would such measures not be on the climate table in addition to emission reduction?

Spanning the specific benefits of individual measures is the overarching need to restore the balance of Earth’s interconnected natural systems.  Why would we not place carbon reduction into this larger ecological context?

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I can think of several reasons why it’s not easy to change the conversation. Continue reading

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Cool It! Water and the Climate Crisis

By Judith Schwartz, Advisory Board Member and author of Cows Save the Planet

With a record drought in California, floods in the UK and snow paralyzing areas of the South that have hardly met a plow, people are starting to make the connection between climate change and water. But generally the cause-and-effect link only goes one way, noting how climate change will affect water by putting stress on global water sources while parts of the world get soaked. This is a real concern. But we’re not seeing the other part of the picture: the effect that water can have on climate. You see, water in its various forms is an important thermoregulator of climate. By working with the water cycle—most basically by keeping water on the land in soil and vegetation—we can address climate changes locally, regionally and even beyond.

thermals from park in Trebon new water paradigmPhotograph of the square and adjacent park in Trebon, Czech Republic, taken with a thermal camera. The differences in temperatures between the vegetation, facades and roofs of the houses – from 15°C (59°F) to 30°C (86°F) – are visible.
[From New Water Paradigm, p. 33]

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Carbon Farming: Paying for Results, Not for Data (Soils Are Far Too Important for a Commodities Market!)

By Adam D. Sacks, Executive Director

At Biodiversity for a Livable Climate, removing carbon from the atmosphere by regenerating ecosystems and restoring biodiversity is our non-profit mission. Supporting farmers, herders and ranchers around the world to work in ways that both sequester carbon in soils and provide major benefits in productivity is a key means to that end. Unfortunately, the resources that carbon farmers need to accomplish this are currently in short supply. We need to develop a conceptual framework outside the current carbon-market mechanisms to advance the soil solution to global warming, and to provide funds, training and supplies that make worldwide carbon farming on billions of acres a reality.

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Why everyone – vegetarians and vegans included – should be passionate about Holistic Planned Grazing

Helen D. Silver, Director of Policy, Biodiversity for a Livable Climate

Happy New Year!

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Over the holiday season, I had the luxury of sharing many meals with family and friends, including latkes and apple sauce; Tofurkey and yams; and locally caught shrimp and farm-raised oysters.  In discussing my work, I was asked several times, “But how can you not eat meat and be so passionate about Holistic Planned Grazing?”

Easily. Holistic Planned Grazing promotes reversing climate change, restoring grassland ecosystems, animal welfare, and healthier food.  That Holistic Planned Grazing offers a sustainable meat source is incidental for most ecological purposes, in particular restoring degraded land (notably, 74% of the land in North America).  Such restoration is necessary here and worldwide to avoid the worst impacts of climate change in the near and long term.

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Without vast tracts of grasslands, what can we do in New England?

signal_lamb copyTo pull carbon out of the atmosphere and sequester it in soils, we need to restore biodiversity: that’s the foundation of the whole show. One of the most important visible elements from the perspective of ecosystems is to cover bare ground. Bare ground doesn’t absorb water, it breaks the water cycle, it interferes with the moderating effects of moisture on planetary temperature, it kills soil life, it fails to create carbon storing molecules created by green plants, fungi and microbes. This is less obvious in the relatively wet northeast than in the dry west, but still a real problem here.

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