Compendium Vol. 1 No. 1: ABSTRACT

Compendium Volume 1 Number 1 July 2017

There is substantial evidence that we can address the climate crisis by intensive global eco-restoration: drawing down vast amounts of carbon from the atmosphere into global soils through photosynthesis; managing water cycles to cool the biosphere; restoring biodiversity and degraded terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.

Support for an eco-restoration hypothesis is solid and comes from a wide variety sources, both in academic science and modern and traditional land management practice.  Eco-restoration may be applied in numerous ecosystems: croplands/agroecosystems; estuaries; forests; marine ecosystems; shorelines; pastures and rangelands; wetlands; and others.

One of the challenges at this point in time is to collect available evidence from sources spread across many disciplines, in different formats, synthesize it, and present a comprehensive, logical and compelling case that there are practical steps we can take to regenerate large areas of the planet in order to address global warming successfully and rapidly.  

In this paper we attempt to connect these disparate sources and create a constructive narrative to move from the current climate paradigm, where global warming is narrowly defined as a problem of excessive greenhouse gases, to a new climate paradigm, where global warming is defined as a systemic problem resulting from global anthropogenic destruction of the natural world.  

We include in Appendix A an essential discussion of how paradigms both promote and constrain research and discovery.  A key point is that a shift in paradigms opens many positive possibilities for addressing climate through eco-restoration, possibilities that are outside the scope of the current greenhouse gas paradigm.  The latter is limited to reducing fossil fuels emissions and has little if any success to date based on annual increases in atmospheric greenhouse gas burdens and rising global temperatures.  Notwithstanding technological advances, it furthermore has uncertain future prospects, especially considering the accelerating warming we are seeing today.

We further explore an idea that has been overwhelmed by our current preoccupation with powerful technologies, i.e., that living systems are the most powerful force affecting planet earth throughout the biosphere.  Therefore it is in living systems, not technology, where the solutions to global warming reside.

We also address historically healthy natural systems that were bountiful in ways that are mostly lost to modern human experience.  Collectively, humans have gradually whittled away at the power of the natural world through environmental overshoot and destruction over hundreds of generations, until widespread environmental collapse – including mass extinction, desertification and global warming – appears inevitable.  When we begin to grasp the potential productivity and broad benefits of healthy ecosystems, we discover a hopeful new roadmap for addressing present dilemmas.

We also discuss in Appendix A the conceptual and psychological obstacles to a paradigm shift, as postulated by Thomas Kuhn in his highly influential 1962 book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions [Kuhn 1962]. It is our hope that Kuhn’s insights will assist in understanding the current scientific and cultural roadblocks and in proceeding with the necessary transitions.  

We conclude that it is possible, even this deep into climate, extinction and eco-destruction crises, for successful environmental outcomes for a biodiverse spectrum of species, including Homo sapiens.  The challenge is largely overcoming resistance inherent in human dominant culture, including scientific, technological, social, political and economic beliefs. Such resistance is the primary obstacle.  Otherwise we can solve these problems with readily available resources and little or no technology, provide for satisfying and productive lives in local habitats worldwide, make ample food and water available to existing populations while reducing both global population and non-essential consumptive behaviors. Not to mention preventing droughts, floods and conflicts over resources, and all for relatively little expense.  

While this may all sound too good to be true, these are not separate problems.  By solving the one key problem, a natural world in utter anthropogenic disarray, it is possible for all the pieces to fall into place.

Kuhn, Thomas 1962, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, U. Chicago Press, 1962; full text available (2d edition, 1970) at [Introduction]

For the full PDF version of the compendium issue where this article appears, visit Compendium Volume 1 Number 1 July 2017