Monday, April 27, 2009

Indigenous Strength at Food and Society

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation hosted its Food and Society conference once again this past week, from April 21-23 in San Jose. In showcasing many inspiring projects across the country, participants both learned from presentations in traditional panels and keynotes, as well as from a very rich day of open space sessions, where attendees proposed topics and held small group discussions.

Many groups in attendance were working for sustainability and better relationship with their lands, including:
Mvskoke Food Sovereignty Initiative

New Mexico Acequias Association

Tohono O’odham Community Action

One open space session focused on identifying the solutions that we're missing from 10,000 years of place-based living and understanding of right relationship to our lands. The thoughts that came up included: understanding and documenting our history; use of permaculture techniques like observation of the patterns of sun, wind, and water across a landscape; and using story to communicate concepts and values. We hope to further highlight the outcomes of that session in a future post.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

People on the Edge

The shootings that have gripped our country over the past several weeks is an unfortunate alarm.  We think it's no coincidence that this is a time of economic uncertainty and recession -- problems typically come to the fore during times of stress.  

Part of our challenge is that we have become over-vested in the economy.  We have designed our lives on the assumption of plentiful money, working in whatever profession we choose.  What we've given up is resilience and managing against the risks of not having the ability to provide the basics of life -- food, clothing, shelter -- forgetting that we cannot eat money.  When we can't provide these basics, we necessarily are under undue stress and react on a primal basis.

Rather than pursue earning as much money as possible, perhaps it is time to return to the basics.  We can learn how to grow our own food, and make our own clothes and shelter.  These are skills that characterize true community resilience, security, and sustainability, rather than high income.  

"Through [the new paradigm], we see reality so structured that all life-forms affect and sustain each other in a web of radical interdependence.

. . . . We turn to this radical interdependence . . . because it can serve the healing of our world, and its very survival."
                                                --- Joanna Macy

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Biodiversity and the Quest for Balance

There was a pause in the breeze, on one of those crisp fall days that foretell colder days to come.  Yellowed dogwood and aspen leaves already littered the swampy forest floor, providing temporary cover for tree frogs and field voles.  As the breeze picked back up, a lone hiker emerged out of the mist, studiously watching the ground as he moved through the trees.  Hearing a slow trill, he bent down, looking intently, and spied what he was looking for – Hyla chrysoscelis, the gray treefrog.  As it turned slightly, he noticed the leg.  A fifth leg, sprouting from the middle of an otherwise-normal back limb.  He stood straight sharply, taken aback.  This was the sixth deformed frog he had found this season.

Although the story above is fictitious, the essence of the passage is a very real story that gripped the scientific world between 2000 and 2004.  Reports from all over the world document both a general decline in amphibians and the alarming increases in deformities and unnatural growths.  Was it some odd fungal infection?  Was it a legacy of the decades of pesticides, fungicides, herbicides and other synthetic chemicals that had been dispersed throughout the environment?  No one was sure, to believe the report in the 2003 Scientific American, which hypothesized several possible causes: contaminated water, ultraviolet radiation, or a parasite.[1] And an article in the March-April American Scientist of 2004 linked many of the amphibian problems to human-induced climate change.[2] 

What was clear was simply that something was wrong.  Amphibians, with their highly permeable skin, act as canaries in the coal mine, and signal that something is amiss in the world's living systems.   And it was highly probable that human activity was culpable in some way.

In how many other areas have we seen significant detrimental impacts in our lack of balance with Mother Earth?  And perhaps more importantly, why do we so often fail to restore balance, once we see what we are doing?  

All life is sacred, and our fellow beings are key threads of the web of life, yet our actions too often do not make this recognition.  As we see, amphibians are not the only threads in danger.  

- Bats under Siege.  Similar, to the frog decline, 2008 and 2009 found tens of thousands of bats killed, in relation to a white fungus which is somehow involved, and has had a 50-90% fatality rate in infected bats.  The ultimate cause is not known.[3]

- State of the Songbirds (Aububon Report).   The Aububon Society in 2007 reported on the population changes of several common bird species in North America, and found twenty species had declined at least 50, and in some cases, 80 percent.[4]  The critical factor is the loss of habitat – i.e. the grasslands, wetlands, and healthy forests that have been taken through development.  This largely tracks the 50-80%% of wetlands that have been lost throughout the U.S., according to the U.S. Geological Service.[5]

- The UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.  This project of the United Nations  looked at the services provided to humankind by nature.  The report's scientists found that "approximately 60% (15 out of 24) of the ecosystem services examined in this assessment are being degraded or used unsustainably".[6]

We clearly have our work to do.  Of this, more to be said later.

[1] Bustein, A. R. and P. T. J. Johnson. 2003b. Explaining frog deformities. Scientific American 288: 60-65.
[2] Kiesecker, J. M., L. K. Belden, K. Shea, and M. J. Rubbo. 2004. Amphibian decline and emerging disease. American Scientist 92:138-147.
[3] "Bats Perish, and No One Knows Why", Tina Kelly of the New York Times, March 25, 2008.
[4] Common Birds In Decline, The Audubon Society,
[5] Loss of Wetlands in the Southwestern United States, Roberta Yuhas of the U.S. Geological Service, 1996.
[6] Ecosystems and Human Wellbeing: Opportunities and Challenges for Business and Industry, The United Nations, 2005, p. 6.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Community Leaders

Jesus Leon Santos was awarded a 2008 Goldman Environmental Prize, as an indigenous farmer who works with Mixteca traditions, and has conserved more than 4,000 acres of farmland while creating more economic growth.  And the Hopi Tutskwa PermaCulture program has a community tree-planting project, where volunteers planted 320 trees in five community orchards.

The power of these programs is that they are rooted in the traditional ecological knowledge that spans centuries, and use the permaculture principle of looking at all physical, ecological, and social resources available -- whether traditional or modern.