Journey of an Apprentice

Biodiversity Carbon Cooling Science Water

Introduction by Jim Laurie

Erling Jorgensen was a student in my “Systems Thinking and Scenario Building” course (Biodiversity 6) in the summer of 2022.  He is determined to learn how life processes work and develop a scenario of restoring these processes.  His goal is also to create a story that young people and adults with little training in biology and science could appreciate and enjoy. 

Jorgensen’s imagination created named characters that worked together within the soil, the trees, the atmosphere, and the oceans.  They are like miniature “Symbiosis Teams.” 

Later Erling began drawing graphical figures to supplement his “Journey of the Apprentice” story.  After presenting to my Biodiversity9 course in December 2023  he has been improving and deepening his story with many new graphics.  The 17 drawings are quite colorful and draw you in to follow the carbon cycle, water cycle, and energy flow.  There is also an extensive reference list for those who want to dig deeper.  

“Journey of the Apprentice” is a wake-up call for our species. He quotes W.H. Auden’s words that we have been the “Impetuous Child with the tremendous brain.”  Erling Jorgensen is challenging us to learn from the Elders, the many living things that have learned to deal with the great changes we face on Planet Earth. Thank You Erling for sharing this wonderful effort from the Bio4climate Team. 

Jim Laurie

Journey of an Apprentice:

A Biodiversity Story Scenario

by Erling Jorgensen, March 2024

Part I — A Visit to the Once and Future Earth 

Come with me to the future Realm of Microbia, the Land of the Soil Builders.  We could say the once-upon-a-time Realm, because this is how the land used to function not 500 years ago.  But a Great Desecration has come upon the land, to churn it up, and scorch it with heat, and rob it of life. 

Thus, we want to meet the Builders, who will restore this land and bring it back to life again. 

First up is Myke the Plumber.  He works as a team with Rhiza the Pipe Fitter, and Celia the Welder.  Myke’s job is to design mycorrhizal fungi within the soil into vast mycelial networks.  In the process, he leaves behind a structure of soil aggregates, just the right size for air percolation (nitrogen, oxygen), and a sponge-like holding capacity for unbelievable quantities of life-giving water. 

Rhiza the Pipe Fitter then has to connect that fungal system of channels to the roots of the Plant Skyscrapers.  She has different types of fungal tubes for the job.  She can choose porous pipes that surround and feed the root hairs of the large forest trees.  She also has penetrating pipes that she attaches to the insides of the cells of the root conduits themselves.  This serves the needs for 80% of plant species on Earth. 

Celia the Welder’s job, by contrast, is to fashion the layout for an intricate mycelial web extending in every direction in the soil.  Stretching not just farther out, but also deeper in, following ever smaller degrees of scale.  Celia orders the raw-material carbon on the open market directly from the plants, carted over by Wheelbur the Welder’s Helper.  Why go far, when the supply is right there?  And she is a Master Welder, who has trained for some 500 million years (give or take a few million), who can join fungal threads with walls as fine as one cell thick.  This produces a vast capillary network for gathering water and nutrients from far and near, for those diverse and ever-thirsty plant cities of skyscrapers.

This points us to another Realm.  The territory of Microbia exists on the border of the Realm of Plantasia, the Land of Energy Architects.  This region, too, has its Builders and Traders. 

Foremost among them is Saul the Solar Engineer.  He works all day in the Plant Skyscraper complex, although it must be said that some of these towering buildings, by comparison with the fungal citizenry below, are the size of shrubs.  But no matter.  Saul is equally at home in the spacious tree canopies as in the ground-hugging grasses or the dangling vines in between.  And Saul is an extraordinary engineer.  He has compiled thousands of leaf designs, for capturing any intensity or orientation of solar energy.  Indeed, his skill is so refined that not one of these solar panels (we call them leaves) is identical to any other. 

Saul works very closely with Zynnie the Chemist, whose office is the chloroplasts inside the plant cells.  Zynnie rediscovered photosynthesis among the Ancient Ones from the Primordial Sea, and he adapted its use for Plantasia.  His Reverse Alchemy can harness the gold from the sunlight to make endless earth-stuff, turning carbon dioxide and water into energetic sugars and other carbon-rich compounds. 

The so-called ‘waste’ product of photosynthesis is oxygen, not needed by the plants, but an abundant source of catalyzing energy for many other life forms.  (There is a lesson here:  In these Earth Realms, nothing gets wasted; it is always used to serve some other need.)  Because photosynthesis and its steadfast source are so reliable, the sugar they produce can be used as a form of currency to exchange with other living beings.  This is Plantasia’s “gold standard,” backed by the sun, and fashioned into carbon coinage.  Perhaps 50% of the sugars manufactured in Plantasia is traded with the Realm of Microbia in the soil. 

This requires the skills of Carmen the Carbon Trader.  She works as an import-export specialist in the borderland zone of the rhizosheath.  Her job is to oversee the exchange of high-value liquid carbon for nitrogen or various trace minerals (so necessary for enzymes).  These have been uncovered by Manrico Head of Fungal Mining crews and their helper bacteria.  Her carboniferous buffet table attracts soaring numbers of microbes, whose metabolic products provide foodstuffs for Plantasia.  Carmen also facilitates phytochemical signaling through mycological back-channels, to stimulate immune functioning and disease resistance among neighboring plants. 

The architects of Plantasia are not only solar masters.  They are also experts in the Small Water Cycle that rehydrates the land.  This land-to-land recirculation of moisture serves to hold freshwater in and over the land longer.  This reduces any net loss via streams to the ocean, despite what may be happening via the ocean-to-land precipitation of the Long Water Cycle. 

Connecting the plant with the Small Water Cycle is the responsibility of Anahita the Heat and Hydrology Engineer.  She monitors the passive release of water vapor through surface evaporation, as well as the active transport of vapor through transpiration, pumping water up from the roots and out through the stomata pores on the undersides of leaves.  Because water has a high heat-carrying capacity, it is able to redistribute heat energy from the sun.  By means of this evapotranspiration (Nature’s most efficient air conditioning system), Anahita regulates the internal temperature of the plant, as well as fostering local cooling in the atmosphere.  

Anahita works closely here with Ravi the Rain Seeder.  He sows pollen and volatile oils on the leaves, to provide condensation nuclei for microdroplets of dew.  He also scatters dust and forest microbes from the canopy itself, to be carried by air currents and become precipitation nuclei for rain from the low clouds.  These multiple forms of cooling create zones of low pressure, resulting in a “Biotic Pump” to draw in atmospheric rivers of warm humid air. 

Water is the Great Heat-Carrier here, as enacted by the Twin Water Sprites of Fluidia Transpirata and Cloudidius Condensiatus.  The change of phase from liquid water into gaseous vapor requires energy.  This calls for the special artistry of Fluidia.  Her raw material is the heat in the immediate environment around the leaves, carefully applied to loosen the chemical bonds linking the water molecules together in their more liquid form.  That redirected heat energy, offered in the service of hydrology, results in local cooling.  The heat is now packaged as potential energy pushing the H2O molecules apart into their gaseous form.  In this manner, water vapor can carry latent heat into the atmosphere, without simply radiating it right away to be trapped by low-lying greenhouse gases. 

Next comes the workmanship of Cloudidius, Fluidia’s twin.  As water vapor rises, it eventually cools sufficiently to condense around particulates in the air, which have been diligently gathered by Cloudidius, to form clouds at various heights in the atmosphere.  Condensation is when that latent heat is given off again, with much of it radiating into space as the clouds drift across the middle atmosphere.  His compression and consolidation of water molecules closer together means there is less pressure against other atmospheric molecules.  That lower pressure vacuum is what draws in air currents from elsewhere, to fill that pressure differential.  In other words, the physics of water movement creates winds.  Such is the twin handiwork of Fluidia and Cloudidius. 

These thermal equations operate on both mundane and grand levels.  On the micro-scale, water can transfer its energy into the Earth as a heat-sink, as it percolates through the soil.  It can also carry its latent heat aloft, to discharge much of that climate-warming excess safely into the upper atmosphere.  It is also the vehicle, via the Long Water Cycle of ocean-to-land water transfer and the Biotic Pump of contiguous forests, to drain off mounting heat from the oceans, carrying it over vast distances inland, to feed and dissipate amongst the energy flows of the Small Water Cycle, 

When those saturated currents fall as rain on the land, special care must be taken that it does not run off the land too rapidly.  And there are special managers who take on that responsibility.  Here we are crossing over into the Realm of Animalia, the mobile Earth Wanderers

The specific job at hand belongs to Beaverly the Water Shaper.  She is from the Child Race of Beaverdontia, the Great Water Masters.  The task is really quite straightforward:  If water is not slowed down, it returns to the ocean and gets re-salinated much too quickly.  So Beaverly supervises the construction of countless permeable dams, to slow and spread the water, so it can sink into the earth.  In so doing, she creates lush meandering marshes that extend out into flood plains of nutrient-rich soils, as habitats for an incredible array of biodiversity. 

The point is to circulate the water through as many layers of life as possible, because Life gives to Life.  Some of the water is generously redistributed across the land via the Small Water Cycle, so that beings elsewhere can be renewed.  And some leaches into Deep Storage Aquifers for the long-term service of Life. 

In this manner, Beaverly is one of many trusted allies serving the Elder Ones, those charged as Relationship Builders as the Earth evolved.  This includes the Sun-Companion Chlorophylia whom we have already met.  It includes the Busy-Matchmaker Pollenentia, the insects who make sure plants survive into the next generation, together with a gentle mixing of genetic traits.  And it includes the Mycologia, the Great Recyclers, whose mega-task assigned by Earth is to see that nothing gets wasted, nothing gets lost. 

Humans, too, are meant to be trusted allies of the Elder Ones.  For we are of the Child Race of Homo Sapientia, the Apprentice Caste Extraordinaire.  And indeed, the role and task of all the Child Races is to be the Trial-and-Error Innovators.  That offers great promise, as well as the potential for great harm. 

If we are to return to our role as trusted apprentices, there are certain elementary principles that we must relearn.  So here then are the starting Lessons for Apprentices.  First up is ‘The ERE Principle, to know ere anything else’: 

  1. Lest you think otherwise, Everything is Related to Everything. 
  2. Life Gives to Life.  That includes your own, both as giver and receiver. 
  3. “A healthy ecosystem features outrageous diversity.”  (words attributed to Michael Phillips, one of the Master Apprentices and author of the book “Mycorrhizal Planet”) 
  4. Biodiversity is the planet’s immune system. 
  5. Do not harm your Elder teachers. 

These are merely beginning points for the Child Race of apprentices. 

Part II — The Great Desecration 

The Apprentice Caste has not lived up to these principles very well.  We have been the “Impetuous Child with the tremendous brain” (W.H.Auden).  Wondrous insights have been treated as final insights, with little more to worry about.  We have chosen force over understanding, and Chemistry over Biology, thinking we knew better than all the unicellular Ancient Ones, who were the Originators of BioMachinery in the cells of life.  We are apprentices who have been reckless in our treatment of other living beings, considering them not worthy of full consideration or cooperation.  Multiple processes of Earth have been put at risk as a result. 

First we disrupted the Soil: clearing the timber, draining the wetlands, parching the ground, paving over for cities and highways, ripping the earth open for minerals, killing the soil life with chemicals.  Short-sightedly, this disrupted the Water cycles: where rain rushed off compacted and crusted soil, filling streams with eroded sediments, which was ‘fixed’ by dredging and gouging the rivers so they flow even faster, which then carried their excess of nutrients out into the seas, bringing dead zones there, with nothing to replenish the shrinking water tables.  Eventually, this started to disrupt the Climate: with heat masses rising from urban thermal islands, creating high-pressure systems that block moisture coming in from the sea, until coastal storms become ever more powerful, including huge cloudburst events leaving no time for land to absorb the water, leading to lengthy in-between periods of drought. 

The disruptions then spread to whole Ecosystems: landscapes scarred by erosion and flooding, chemical remedies killing off diverse biology, sun-baked soil with minimal life, lakes and creeks and reservoirs running low, springs drying up, decimation of plant and animal life and all the varied helpers, until the ecosystems simply collapse.  Alarmingly, these forces are becoming Runaway Feedback loops:  droughts that go on for years, deep drilling that depletes the long-term aquifers, crop failures from insufficient water to go around, wildfires consuming a dried-up landscape, an escalating cycle of extreme weather events, more floods, more droughts, more massive fires, ever more disruption for whatever cannot get out of the way. 

There are also global effects from all the dislocations.  Consider the reciprocal polar / tropical Temperature Conveyors that shape wide contours for much of life on Earth.  Between heat-trapping CO2 levels and a melted Arctic Ocean, the northern jet stream is thrown off its normal fluctuations.  Searing heat domes now appear in higher latitudes, while numbing cold swoops into southern climes.  Methane held in permafrost and continental sea beds threatens a runaway cycle of further greenhouse warming.  As glacial sheets melt off of Greenland and Antarctica, that stored-up water inevitably raises sea levels, endangering a few billion people living in coastal areas around the world.  Moreover, that rush of less dense freshwater into the North Atlantic threatens to shut down the north end of the world-wide oceanic conveyor belt.  This is the temperature differential bringing warmer water from the tropics, that normally cools in the arctic regions and plunges oxygenated surface water to the bottom of the ocean, to nurture marine life down there.  If that three-dimensional conveyor is disrupted, it can lead to extinction-level events from the change in ocean chemistry. 

These are all results of an Apprentice Caste that does not seem to listen, and does not wish to learn.  A Great Desecration indeed. 

Part III — Tasks of an Apprentice 

The Elder Ones still have much to teach.  They do not cease their faithful efforts at caring for Earth.  What they need is our return to the true vocation of an Apprentice. 

“Life gives to life,” say the Elder Ones.  What that means for an Apprentice is to shift back to an Ecology of Care, rather than our short-sighted mindset of an Extractive Economy.  Under the current crises of desecration, this boils down to three overriding endeavors: 

  1. Reduce the Carbon Pressure on the Atmosphere 
  2. Reduce the Water Disruption on the Land 
  3. Reduce the Heat Pressure on the Ocean  

In terms of key leverage points for Microbia, Animalia, and Plantasia, this means: 

  1. Carbon for Celia 
  2. Water for Bearverly 
  3. Heat for Anahita 

With regard to how the Apprentice Caste might Reduce the Atmosphere’s Carbon Pressure – a.k.a. the need for alternate carbon storage – the Soil is the vast untapped resource for filling that need.  There is estimated to be five to thirty times more carbon biomass in the below-ground Realm of Microbia than in the above-ground Realm of Plantasia.  Consider this: before Mycologia, the fungal domain, had figured out how to decompose and recycle lignin from woody plants, that carboniferous material had plenty of room to accumulate in the ground as vast deposits of coal.  There is simply lots of capacity down there.  And there are much quicker methods for the Apprentice Caste to capture carbon than waiting for the semi-fossilization of compressed plants. 

A Place for Carbon 

One method we have already seen, as enacted by partnerships such as the reverse alchemy of Zinnie the Photosynthetic Chemist, providing tradeable supplies for Carmen the Carbon Trader, building materials for Celia the Mycelial Welder, and subsequent deliveries of oxygen and water for Tyrell Head of Tunnels and Transport.  The main ingredient of the fungal pipes is carbon, fused into intricate below-ground networks.  These can go dozens of feet deep, if the Plantasia supply chain with its roots is there to feed them.  And even when certain unneeded fungal tubes dissolve, their external walls leave behind a sticky glomalin substance that is 40% carbon, creating soil-aggregated micropores for air and water. 

This is the dark rich loam, so beloved by Child Race farmers.  Living roots mean living fungi, with liquid carbon the medium of exchange.  If the Apprentice Caste can cover as much ground as possible with Plantasia’s biodiversity – such as a Half-Earth rewilding strategy – then that reverse alchemy can draw carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and store it below ground in the fungal life and soil sponge of Microbia,

Another method, leading to carbonized Tiny Home structures lasting millennia, is to create charcoal.  This enlists the aid of WoodStock the Fuel Broker.  When wood is burnt with sufficient heat, not only the lignin and cellulose but also the escaping volatile oils ignite, creating an amplifying cycle of increasing heat capable of carbonizing any wood that is cut off from oxygen.  This is the craft of BioCharlie the Tiny House Builder.  Oxidized wood becomes ash, but by leaving out that atmospheric fuel source, BioCharlie can create crystalized structures of carbon, that have a micro lattice configuration.  These sub-surface cabins and condominiums are just the right size for the smallest dwellers in Microbia.  Too small for root hairs to penetrate, they are ‘gated communities’ easily accessed by living mycorrhizal cells to give nourishment to the Plant Skyscrapers above.  In fact, the construction and inoculation of biochar is a way for Apprentices to help jump-start stable colonies of fungi and bacteria for the Realm of Microbia, and in the process sink carbon into the soil. 

A further way to galvanize such colonies is by means of fungal-dominant compost, created in an oxygenated but unturned pile of plant residue.  While Apprentices can build such Johnson-Su bioreactors, the inner labor is performed by a different partnership.  A moist pile of decaying matter invites vermicomposting by the shadowy Wormsley and his Silent Worm Ingestors.  And as long as the saprophytic fungi are not being systematically disturbed and dismantled, then like a chef Saphira the Fungal Element Liberator offers an exponential banquet, to feed Microbia and later inoculate more barren soil with the fungal largesse. 

These are methods that support biology in the soil, which promotes exponential growth cycles between Plantasia and Microbia.  An army of backyard Apprentices, making bioreactive compost or carbon-stable biochar, could indeed accomplish much. 

Partnerships Abound 

There are also good above-ground methods to sequester carbon, as mastered by the Child Race of Ruminators With Big Hooves.  Holistically managed grasslands and rangelands offer striking ways to rapidly increase Soil Organic Matter, which is mostly composed of carbon.  Consider Boromir of the Boreal Cariboosters.  When animals graze eating the tops off pasture crops, a similar root-mass portion below-ground sloughs off to feed soil microorganisms, which cycle through the food web to make a healthier soil buffet.  Or consider Cudzilla, Matriarch for Domestica Ruminanta.  The hooves of her ruminant machines allow better water infiltration, just as urine and dung provide extra nutrients for the Plantasia residents.  These actions are greatly aided by Digby the Dung Beetle and his Caste of Unashamed Scavengers, who within days can bury that feast closer to the plant roots, and in the process interrupt the reproductive vectors for many parasitic flies. 

Such partnerships abound among the Child Races.  Since most current collections of hooved animals are no longer the wandering bison of old, the Apprentice Caste has its own role to play, by frequently moving domesticated herds to fresh paddocks, so the synergy of previously grazed pasture crops has time to recover.  Similar methods can be used to restore heavily degraded land from mine tailings or forest-burnt soils.  The hooves of heavy cattle are perfect for pressing perennial grass seeds into exposed soils, while grazing on applied mulches, all the while supplying their own fertilizer as they go. 

The offshoot of any of these partnerships is the sinking of carbon into the soil.  A billion of these regenerative Apprentices, caretaking the soil of 2 ½ acres apiece (1 hectare), could sequester five gigatons of carbon per year, enough to draw 2.5 ppm of CO2 out of the atmosphere, (which currently stands at a level of 415 ppm.)  Forty years at that rate could counteract 100 ppm, a drawdown of sufficient numbers to relieve some of the carbon pressure currently being exerted on Earth’s atmosphere. 

Another major endeavor for the Apprentice Caste is to Reduce the Water Disruption on the Land.  The goal is slow infiltration into the land, rather than rapid run-off.  Concrete is not a friend of water, nor are straight channels.  At present, more water is lost as run-off to the sea than returns to the land via the Long Water Cycle of rainfall from the oceans.  This is feeding increasingly long stretches of drought, interspersed with torrential storms and cloudbursts that the land cannot absorb. 

Once again, partnerships are called for, to try to interrupt these deteriorating cycles.  We must learn from our Beaverdontia cousins.  Humans like to speed and send water.  Beavers know to slow and spread it.  Here is a need for Beaverly the Water Shaper, whose genetic talents are custom made to create holding capacity for water.  She does not think in terms of giant concrete dams, that create huge evaporative reservoirs while blocking the navigation routes of migrating Animalia like salmon and other fish, who carry their living nutrition upstream to the food webs there at higher elevations.  No, Beaverly makes small interventions, and her dams are permeable, so that a protracted flow of slowly trickling water has time to cycle through more layers of life.  These Water-Master Beaverdontia are specialized among the Child Races for the massive job of redesigning the stock-and-flow structures of water retention on land, as even photos taken from space have illustrated. 

It is one thing to slow the percolation of water within cells and tubules of plants and fungi.  It is quite another to slow the free flow of rushing water out on the land itself.  By making the streams meander and spread into new pools and channels on the face of the land, Beaverly produces exponential cycles of biodiverse growth, among plants and insects and their companion animals, both avian and land-based. 

Mimic the Other Innovators 

Here is an important role for the Apprentice Caste, because spreading and meandering creeks and pools take up space that Homo Sapientia like to use for their near-sighted development projects.  A partnership is needed, so that Beaverdontia are protected and their handiwork is not blasted or bulldozed away.  (Maybe the language of “Damn beavers” needs to change, to “Dam, beavers! Dam!”) 

The role of an Apprentice Caste, by definition, is to serve as helpers.  Plantasia needs as much plant diversity as it can get.  For that to happen, it needs available water, slowly winding and infiltrating across the land, and readily accessible from the life and structure of the soil.  Where Apprentices can foster conditions to favor such outcomes – such as planting diverse mini-forests to speed up successional growth for rewilding the earth – their actions are welcome.  Where they demonstrate the myopic overconfidence of a novice, missing the eco-forest for the extractive-trees, they need to step out of the way. 

Apprentices can mimic Beaverdontia in other ways as well.  Keyline design earth-scaping is a way of interrupting the flow of water from its natural channels and valleys, and sending it slightly off contour out onto ridge areas.  If narrow infiltration furrows are plowed parallel to the contour where a valley depression flattens out, rain and other descending water will be sent to irrigate surfaces that normally shed water. 

More beaver-esque methods include improvising with local materials to make rainwater catchment dams in eroded ravines, or inserting stream deflectors or weir-obstacles made of rocks and timber posts, to re-induce meandering among overly-straight creeks that speed by too quickly.  This slows and spreads whatever water comes downstream, capturing nutrient-rich sediments so the soil does not just rush and erode away.  Sinking the moisture into expanding wetlands turns marsh roots and foliage into efficient carbon sinks.  It also creates crucial resources for rehydrating all sorts of ecosystems, nourishing the resulting Chlorophylia, Pollenentia, Animalia, and the subsurface Mycologia. 

Feeding the Water Cycles 

All of that plant biodiversity leads to the work of Plantasia’s Heat and Hydrology Engineer, Anahita.  Her job is to keep the evapotranspiration hydraulic engines operative within the plants, using the mechanism of water vapor given off through the leaf stomata, the micro-valves on the undersides of leaves (100-200 per square millimeter.)  The Great Heat-Carrier is water, through the twin work of Fluidia and Cloudidius, who manage the physics of water’s change of phase from liquid to gas and back again.  In so doing, Fluidia Transpirata feeds water vapor into the atmosphere, to keep the land-to-land Small Water Cycle going. 

The rising water vapor is then turned over to Cloudidius Condensiatus.  Cooling and compressing the spread-out vaporous molecules not only releases their potential energy as heat towards the upper atmosphere.  The resulting pressure differential, multiplied by trillions of water molecules, leads to continental air currents that can bring moist air in off the ocean, in what is called the Long Water Cycle.  Since all water, unless it is gathered into deep aquifers, ultimately travels via gravity back to the sea, a method is needed to replenish water over the land.  And the Elder Realm of Plantasia (the Land of Energy Architects) knows just how to bring that about. 

The work is delegated to Anahita, who then amplifies it within uncountable numbers of plants across the landscape.  Evapotranspiration is the great engine for recirculating moisture between the ground and the air.  These efforts ultimately become a regional Biotic Pump of lowered air pressure, drawing in winds and humidity even from far-off oceanic air masses, via the Long Water Cycle, to feed and fall as Small Water Cycle rain again.  Thus, the moisture that the Water Shapers make available to Plantasia is able to uplift and cycle down through more forms of life.  All of this happens by lengthening the journey and slowing the water’s passage through the environment. 

Much of that stately journey happens below ground, through the mycological efforts of Myke the Plumber and his various helpers.  One of the offshoots of Myke’s plumbing operation is to leave a stable infiltration system within the soil structure itself, not just within the living mycorrhizal infrastructure of the pipes themselves.  Particles of soil (i.e., sand, silt, or clay) become aggregated by sticky glycoproteins called glomalin, given off by fungal walls and spores, which serve to bind mineral particles together.  This is what has become known as the Soil Sponge, which is capable of saving, storing, and releasing phenomenal amounts of water.  It also provides oxygen channels, supplying mitochondrial energy at deeper levels for fungi and aerobic microbes in the soil.  It has been estimated that, up to a limit, each 1% increase in Soil Organic Matter doubles the water-holding capacity of that layer of soil.  A sponge-like structure underground becomes an incredible buffer zone, to ameliorate the effects of an increasingly erratic climate. 

A third major endeavor for the Apprentice Caste, and perhaps the most difficult given the accelerating, time-sensitive pressures of CO2 in the atmosphere and H2O for the land, is to Reduce the Heat Pressure on the Ocean.  It is true that excess carbon dioxide is accumulating in the oceans, leading to acidification of coral reefs and the calcium-laced shells of countless marine animals.  However, the most serious pressure on Earth’s oceans is its steadily increasing absorption of heat, a yearly energy accumulation equal to 120 million explosions of the Hiroshima bomb.  Indeed, over 90% of the yearly increase in global warming is getting stored in the oceans.  Ironically, this may have delayed widespread awareness of the threat such warming could pose.  Yet there are limits to how much heat or carbon this giant Earth buffer can absorb. 

It is the heat-carrying capacity of water that is the main issue here.  Since 1955, the Earth’s oceans have amassed the same energy equivalent as that released by the meteor that killed the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago.  If it caused extinction-level repercussions back then, why would our Apprentice Caste today think that such levels are sustainable? 

The oceans have a fever!  And the glacial ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland (now in the process of melting) serve as cold compresses to bring some of that fever down.  Another prime way of dissipating that energy, to our great alarm, is found in the near-record cyclones and storm systems that buffet our coasts and the island nations.  Warmer surface temps beget fiercer typhoons through massive evaporation off the ocean, dispersing the heat skyward and towards the land. 

This speaks to how important the previous two endeavors are for our present-day Apprentices.  Give the CO2 and the water, and thereby the heat, someplace to go.  Create more capacity, in the air and in the ground.  Draw down carbon by building Soil.  Soak up water by building Soil.  For without expanding our ability to dampen the shocks of such tremendous oceanic releases of heat energy, the dislocations for countless life forms will be massive. 

This calls for coordinated ecosystem efforts from all the Elder Ones, and all of their Animalia helpers.  As described above, the Energy-Architects of Plantasia and the Soil-Builders of Microbia will have chief roles to play.  The technology is already in place; it does not need to be discovered.  The main way to draw carbon dioxide out of the air will be through Zinnie the Photosynthetic Chemist, who will need to use all of his alchemy to turn vast quantities of sunlight into mammoth amounts of carbon.  That becomes a prime building block for the cellulose and lignin tissues of Chlorophylia.  It also winds up in long-term storage underground, through the mycological talents of Myke the Mycorrhizal Plumber and Celia the Mycelial Welder. 

Any Apprentice actions to preserve and protect the symbiosis of these plant/fungi associations – such as no till, no clear cutting, no fungicides – will feed the exponential loops needed to arrest the runaway cycles of too much carbon in the air, too much heat in the ocean, and not enough water on the land.  Additional partnerships are listed above, among ruminants and scavengers, worms and fungal decomposers, wood and biochar constructors.  Apprentices can help with each one of those, to cast the carbon into stable subterranean locales.  Any of those draw-down efforts for taking CO2 out of the air mean there is less heat and less acidifying CO2 for the oceans to attend to. 

The Elder Ones also cooperate in expanding hydrological capacity on the land.  The living tissues of Chlorophylia and Animalia are two of Earth’s bio-storage sites for water.  A more extensive one is the Soil Sponge of glomalin-aggregated mineral particles that turn the ‘dirt’ into ‘soil’.  A further reserve, albeit in need of replenishment, comes from the Deep Storage Aquifers of filtered water for any H20 molecules not currently being processed through the Small Water Cycle or on their way streaming back to the ocean. 

Global Forest Effects 

Two of Plantasia’s leading workers have major roles to play in the movement of heat by means of water.  It is no accident that Anahita deals with both heat and hydrology, because the two are intimately linked.  The water pumped up from the Soil Sponge cools and hydrates the near-by vicinity, as evapotranspiration turns it into vapor.  When water evaporates, the cooling effect comes from absorbing latent heat eight times more efficiently than the phase change of ice melting.  Surface heat from the surrounding area is packaged into gaseous water molecules, which function like an elevator to carry the non-radiative latent heat aloft. 

When the vapor condenses into clouds, it releases that heat and transfers much of it into the upper air, some at altitudes above where greenhouse gases mostly congregate.  Thus, the forests of Plantasia have major effects on overall temperature regulation, both on and above the planet.  What’s more, the clouds resulting from all this upwelling of moisture-laden air reflect more of the incoming solar radiation back into space through albedo effects, another way of protecting earth’s surface from too much heat. 

However, condensing water vapor, shorn of its heat, is meant to cycle quickly back into cooling rain again.  Here is where Ravi the Rain Seeder comes into play.  He sends pollen, dust, microbes, and volatile oils (the ‘smells’ of the forest) from off of the tree canopy, which are carried aloft by convection currents.  These particles serve as a ready source of precipitation nuclei, without which water droplets would not form, to steadily feed the land-to-land Small Water Cycle. 

This is amplified by a plant-induced Biotic Pump to draw in moist air from the oceans as part of the Long Water Cycle.  A densely forested section of land has a heat-dissipating advantage as compared with open water.  A forest might have ten square yards of surface leaf area for every one square yard of space on the ground.  The cumulative surface area of the leaves in a dense patch of forest is therefore many times higher than the surface area of water on a comparably sized patch of ocean.  Thus, the evaporative cooling index for the forest is much greater.  In a moist climate, even a 70-acre (or 28-hectare) section of contiguous forest – e.g., a parcel 1/3 of a mile on each side – may be sufficient to initiate a biotic pump phenomenon, as long as connecting forests can continue the process. 

If this system were a corporate entity, it might be called Biotic Forest Pathways, serving as global specialists in heat and water management.  This would be a distributed system, at many levels of scale, spiraling and expanding out from the cells of the trees, to the leaves, to just outside the leaves, to the forest canopy, to the atmosphere above the forest, to indeed air masses extending across a continent.  In such locales we could find divisions of labor corresponding to the tasks of Design, Cooling, Packaging, Precipitation, Shipping, and Transport, each with its own key agents serving the forest. 

The Design Division of this system originated from evolution, and is encapsulated in the DNA, chloroplasts, and structure of plant cells for moving water around and capitalizing on the unique properties that water affords.  This is where Saul the Solar Engineer and Zinnie the Photosynthetic Chemist work.  The Cooling Division takes place at the interface of the leaves with the surrounding space, through the agency of evapotranspiration.  Here every leaf serves as an air conditioner, where each liter of evaporated water is like cooling a large room.  This is where Anahita the Heat and Hydrology Engineer works.  The Packaging Division operates just outside the leaves, based on phase-change dynamics, to safely encase packets of heat within bubble envelopes of water vapor.  This is where the Twin Water Sprite Fluidia Transpirata works.  Such subtle heat management allows opening those packages at higher elevations, to dissipate their energy more broadly. 

The Precipitation Division draws particulates off of the forest canopy for purposes of condensation, to essentially seed the clouds and circulate rain back down in the service of the forest and its living companions.  This is where Ravi the Rain Seeder works.   The Shipping Division serves to separate the heat component from the water, sending them in different directions, with vertical air currents carrying the heat aloft, while horizontal air currents start to spread the water more widely.  This is where the other Twin Water Sprite Cloudidius Condensiatus works.  Finally, the Transport Division operates on a grand continental scale, laying out the routes and manifests into atmospheric rivers, as it draws in the induced ocean-to-land winds, to redistribute the water across hundreds and even thousands of miles inland.  Such is the amazing work of Biotic Forest Pathways. 

To sum up, the evapotranspiration artistry of Fluidia feeds the condensation machine of Cloudidius.  That then creates lower air pressures above the forests, which in turn set up wind currents capable of drawing moist air inland from off of the surface of the oceans.  With the water vapor comes the heat, carried as potential energy not radiative heat, draining down some of the overheated capacity of the ocean’s energy battery.  Some of that humidity will condense into rain, feeding the Soil Sponge beneath the forest, while keeping the wind turbines in the atmosphere actively moving. 

Reciprocating cycles of condensation and evapotranspiration produce a Long Water Cycle capable of pumping ocean-to-land moisture hundreds and in some cases thousands of miles across a continent.  Surprisingly, isotope studies of oxygen from the water molecules show that half or more of the subsequent rainfall moving inland is filtered through the forest’s transpiration, rather than directly from the ocean.  In one instance, the resulting atmospheric river flying above Amazonia and down across Argentina is estimated to carry as much water as the Amazon River itself.  Another remarkable finding is that a majority of China’s rainfall, despite lying along an eastward ocean, actually arrives from the west, via the Eurasian biotic pump embedded in the boreal forests of Scandinavia, Russia, and Siberia.  This suggests that large-scale forests are a crucial component in the redistribution of both heat and water for the planet. 

Biologic Counters to Oceanic Intensity 

So much for the capacity of what may come off the oceans.  There is also the intensity to deal with.  It is possible that the strong biotic pumps of the Amazon and Congo River basins already disrupt any concerted gathering of heat and circulating winds in the South Atlantic Ocean, preventing that region from becoming a nursery for hurricane formation.  Complex leaf canopies along coastal forests may also interrupt some of the force of storms that do come ashore.  Thus, an attentive Apprentice Caste may need to not only slow the excesses of deforestation, but actively engage in protracted reforestation, particularly along coastal areas to prime the biotic pump and disperse oceanic water inland. 

There may well need to be visionary cultivation of living shorelines stretching dozens of miles in from the coast, with features such as salt marsh transitions, kelp beds, and mangrove forests.  As palm trees demonstrate during any hurricane, living beings that bend are much more resilient to wind and wave than human structures that break.  To trust such a biological solution to the oncoming seas – rather than thinking a wall will keep out the ocean – would enable new aquatic food webs to emerge and creep up the continental shores.  The self-organizing ecosystems of such coastal marshes would be better suited to keep pace with however the sea level itself may fluctuate. 

For it is not just higher tides or periodic storm surges that pose a threat to residing on the seaboard.  There needs to be absorption capacity for squalls that sweep inland and then stall, dumping dozens of inches of flood water at a time.  Coastal cities themselves may have to migrate higher up and further in on the land, because the forces leading to substantial sea level rise across the globe have already been put into play.  These are all major adaptive challenges for the Apprentice Caste Extraordinaire. 

Hope emerges because the Long Water Cycle itself is a repeating process, bringing water in off the ocean and onto the land.  That means the heat coming from the ocean likewise has a place to go, carried by the water itself.  The Small Water Cycle, especially as buttressed by Plantasia’s Biotic Pump and the above-listed partnerships, is a cooling process for the land.  And as more of its water is kept on and over the land, cycling again and again through diverse life forms, that heat is able to dissipate into the upper air or into the ground. 

Here is the presence of ‘The ERE Principle’ again – Everything is Related to Everything.  The Tasks for the Apprentice Caste are all interrelated.  Our job is to interrupt the runaway feedback cycles currently unleashed, whether Carbon-based, Water-based, or Heat-based.  Harnessing exponential-for-a-time cycles of growth and resiliency can have a healing influence upon the Earth.  There is deep wisdom in realizing we cannot just export the problem elsewhere.  The elements of Earth, just like its forces, do not disappear.  They just transform into something else.  If we can become Apprentices and trustworthy allies once again to the Elder and Ancient Ones of the Earth, we can bear witness to an outrageous biodiversity that brings healing.  For there is one further principle for our Apprentice Caste to take deep into our bones – Biodiversity is the Dance of Life itself, in every locale and every degree of scale. 


Here are some of the Master Apprentices who have been sources of inspiration for me: 

  • Auden, W. H.  Extraordinary poet, especially “Hymn to St. Cecelia,” about the ones I call the Apprentice Caste. 
  • brown, adrienne maree.  Pragmatic and insightful social justice facilitator, who applies system thinking concepts to community building, for transforming the future.  Author of Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds (2017). 
  • Brown, Gabe.  Rancher and promoter of regenerative agriculture with Holistic Management techniques.  Author of Dirt to Soil: One Family’s Journey into Regenerative Agriculture (2018). 
  • Holmgren, David.  Author of Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability (2002), a work that not only systemizes the concepts of permaculture, but also rewards repeated visits whenever it is opened. 
  • Johnson, David.  Microbiologist investigator of fungal-dominant compost, together with his wife Hui-Chun Su, including practical ways of inoculating and building soil by means of a Johnson-Su bioreactor. 
  • Jones, Christine.  A deep student of the Soil, who in unlocking its treasures is showing that every life form is deeply dependent on its microbiome. 
  • Kravcik, Michal.  Visionary student of the Small Water Cycle, and pragmatic architect for large scale retention of rainwater and restoration of land-based water cycles. 
  • Lambert, Jan.  Integrative author and editor of Water, Land and Climate – The Critical Connection: How We Can Rehydrate Landscapes Locally To Renew Climates Globally (2015). 
  • Lane, Nick.  Compelling writer of a three billion year old detective story.  Author of Oxygen: The Molecule that Made the World (2002). 
  • Laurie, Jim.  A master at making science accessible and relevant to ecosystem restoration and proliferation of biodiversity, along with envisioning possible futures via scenario writing.  Author of “Scenario 300: Reducing Atmospheric CO2 to 300 ppm by 2061” (2018). 
  • Lovelock, James.  His portraits of “Gaia” first sensitized me to what even simple mathematical models could reveal about the behavior of complex systems. 
  • Makarieva, Anastassia.  A careful and exacting geophysicist who, with V.G. Gorshkov, has shown how large-scale forests create a “biotic pump” driven by “evaporative force,” capable of drawing in oceanic moisture over vastly greater distances than exponential weakening would suggest. 
  • Margulis, Lynn.  A visionary and transformative researcher, who dared to consider that cooperative mergers (endosymbiosis) are at the heart of all eukaryotic and more complex life.  Author (or co-author) of Symbiotic Planet: A New Look at Evolution (1998), and Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Microbial Evolution (1986). 
  • Meadows, Donella.  Amazingly foresighted thinker, who distilled into accessible concepts her remarkable ability to grasp complex systems.  Author of Thinking in Systems: A Primer (2008), and lead author for The Limits to Growth (1972) and its updates. 
  • Nobre, Antonio Donato.  Pragmatic and welcoming guide for how to love the biodiversity of Amazonia and the force of its amazing potential to sustain and regulate heat and water cycles for the planet. 
  • Pershouse, Didi.  Insightful teacher about “the Soil Sponge,” and finding nodal intervention points.  Author of The Ecology of Care: Medicine, Agriculture, Money, and the Quiet Power of Human and Microbial Communities (2016). 
  • Philips, Michael.  A Master Apprentice, who needed a book on mycorrhizal fungi for his orchards, and finding none, wrote it himself, Mycorrhizal Planet: How Symbiotic Fungi Work with Roots to Support Plant Health and Build Soil Fertility (2017). 
  • Powers, William.  Intellectual mentor, and formative writer on the centrality of corrective feedback loops, not only for understanding human behavior, but all manner of life.  Author of Behavior: The Control of Perception (1973), and a series of collected works under the banner Living Control Systems. 
  • Savory, Allan.  Influential student of how properly managed ruminants can help to restore the plant life and water storage of the world’s grasslands.  Author of Holistic Management: A Commonsense Revolution to Restore Our Environment (3rd edition, 2016). 
  • Stamets, Paul.  Longtime apprentice and ally of mushrooms and their mycelial networks as the life-support system of the Earth.  Author of Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World (2005). 
  • Todd, John.  A Master Apprentice of self-organizing systems and their application as “living machines” to water purification. 
  • Ward, Peter.  A paleontologist whose investigations of half a dozen mass extinctions over the past 500 million years reads like a detective story, Under a Green Sky: Global Warming, the Mass Extinctions of the Past, and What They Can Tell Us About Our Future (2007). 
  • Weiss, Zach.  Protégé of Sepp Holzer and developer of animations and ways to describe water restoration, along with a platform for building community around “Water Stories.” 
  • White, Courtney.  Conservationist and coalition-builder, with an expert eye for do-able restorative practices to help the planet.  Author of Grass, Soil, Hope: A Journey Through Carbon Country (2014), and Two Percent Solutions for the Planet (2015). 
  • Wohlleben, Peter.  Author of The Hidden Life of Trees (2015), who demonstrates what careful and loving observation of a forest can uncover. 

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