New report helps Southerners fight climate change

In the midst of a record-breaking cold snap in the South, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) is releasing today a comprehensive position paper detailing policies for agriculture to adapt and mitigate climate change.  This study integrates the most recent climate research to develop comprehensive agricultural policy recommendations. However, it won’t keep shivering Southerners from echoing the tweet from a Florida golf course last winter that “perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old global warming.”

2018 soil cools in climate change

Climate change does not always mean global warming, but it does mean challenges to all farmers in the US.  The report details the likely climate changes which will take place and how farmers can adapt to these changes.  The report also details how climate change is intensified by hog and cattle factory farms and traditional row crop practices.

The report notes climate change is taking an anomalous path in parts of the Southeast.  In some areas, centered around Alabama, Mississippi and southern Arkansas, temperatures have cooled by an average of 1.2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1958, while global average temperatures have risen 1 degree.  This cooling has mainly occurred in the winter months.

The cause of this “global warming hole” appears to be relatively warmer air in the Arctic pushing the still cold Arctic air deeper into the US.  So cold air, which once only reached Ohio, is now getting down to Alabama.  The 2018 article propounding this theory is at this link.

Most importantly to non-farmers, the report reveals how farms can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and reduce release of other greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide.  The South has immense potential for locking such greenhouse gases in soil and perennial biomass where they can increase resilience of Southern farms. Most soils in the South have vast capacity for increasing their storage of organic carbon.  The long growing season and high rainfall in the South provide perfect conditions for storing carbon in perennials and cover crops.

Some counties in the South have totally abandoned row crops and turned all their land into carbon-fixing pastures and forests.  Two such counties, Neshoba County in Mississippi, and Winn Parish in Louisiana, have turned from cotton to management intensive grazing and trees.  These counties, which rank in the top counties on resilience nation-wide, did not set out to be climate change pioneers.  They developed farming systems based on perennials because these systems fit their agroecological conditions. They left row crops to the farmers in flatter ground such as the Mississippi Delta.

Farmers in the most resilient Southern counties realize the benefits of manure from animals along with perennial biomass.  They are managing their land to mimic the movement of the herds of buffalo which helped create the carbon rich soils of the plains.

Research cited by the NSAC paper indicates that everyone, even vegetarians, should applaud management intensive grazing since it is one of the top means of removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.  Even those who don’t eat meat should support agricultural systems where animals graze perennial species in ways that mimic nature’s adaptive cycles.

NSAC’s paper also points out that increasing resilience has implications far beyond climate change.  Climate change is just one of many disturbances buffeting farmers. Others include tariffs, input costs, market fluctuations, labor supply, and policies which support monocultures grown on immense acreages.

The good news is that resilience to all disturbances can be enhanced by the practices and policies advocated in the NSAC paper.  The best agroecological research indicates that increasing diversity, soil health, perennials, animals on pasture, composting wastes and organizing local processing and marketing helps the climate and helps farmers’ bottom lines.

Download your copy of the policy paper at this link: NSAC Climate Change Policy Position_paper .

For discussions of resilience beyond climate change, see the Resilience Project’s reports at this link.

To find out how your county ranks on resilience, try out the tools at this link.

Southeast cools as rest of country gets hotter

Last summer for a few days it was cooler in Arkansas than in Missouri or Michigan. Climate change is not always bad. Tornadoes also seem to be less prevalent here lately. Missouri and other Northern states are getting hit more and central and southeast Arkansas less.  So maybe there is good reason that climate deniers are more prevalent in Southern states as several studies have indicated.

south cools in climate changeAs the map shows, many areas of the South have been having cooler winters over the last few years.  As the rest of the nation warms up, we are cooling down.

The unusually cold weather has produced a mix of outcomes for farmers, wildlife and human residents. South Carolina peach farmers welcome a certain number of cold winter days for their trees to produce a full crop. But they’ve been walloped when a freeze arrives late, as have Florida’s citrus growers and Georgia’s Vidalia onion farmers.

Across the region, the cold helps knock pests, but it can stress native flora and fauna. Some 35 manatees died of cold stress syndrome in January 2018, according to a preliminary report from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The cold also numbed the state’s invasive iguanas, some of which started falling out of trees in January, prompting Floridians to rush to their rescue.

According to the Third National Climate Assessment, part of the Southeastern United States  experienced much cooler than normal temperatures in the years between 1991 and 2012.  The phenomenon is so contrary to the rest of the country and the world that it has been labelled a “global warming hole.”

Why the hole exists is an open question.  National Geographic published an article summarizing the major theories, if you are interested.

The most recent (2018) theory is that relatively warmer air in the Arctic is pushing the still cold Arctic air deeper into the US.  So cold air which once only reached Ohio, is now getting down to Alabama.  You can read the article propounding this theory at this link.

This study was based their on examining NOAA data from 1,407 temperature stations and 1,722 rain stations across the United States, from 1901 until 2015. They then identified stations that were persistently cooler than average from 1960 to 2015.

They found that daily temperatures in the hole have cooled by an average of 1.2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1958, whereas global average temperatures have risen 1 degree over the same time period.

The most recent data is shown on the following map which shows that Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama are the states with the largest decreases in temperatures from 1895 to 2018.

2018 soil cools in climate change

The 2019 article producing this latest data also has a feature which lets you enter any US county and find out how much the temperature has increased or decreased since 2018.

The bottom line is the climate change will not occur in any regular, predictable fashion.  Mother Nature is striking back at us in strange and unexpected ways.  Some of these might even be nice.  If you like thunderstorms, then you’ll get few more thrills from as the climate changes.

And the South may continue to get cooler.  Or not.

 

Eight almost-commandments of resilience

The only dogma of Nature is survival.  Whoever survives the latest challenge or disruption gets to enjoy life until the next challenge.

hot dogma

Nature demands adherence to no commandments.  You are free to go off on all sorts of silly, frivolous and destructive paths. And you will.  Nature loves and accepts such messes. . Nature’s only response is to wipe you off the planet when you mess up enough.

Some of us have survived decades of messes and have had the opportunity to observe many people and communities messing up and surviving, Our conclusions from these observations amount to  almost-commandments.  These are more than suggestions, but not immutable laws since such do not exist in Nature.

We’ve distilled the best of the best of those almost-commandments into a set of antecedents of resilience for you and your community.

  1. Be connected but independent.  You are a community of species and a part of a community of people and other species. We all need genuine relationships with other people and animals and plants, but we must also be independent, able to survive without any one of those relationships. Be independent but part of a community of our own and other species.
  2. Be self-organized. Don’t depend on others to organize your life. Be creative and create your own order, one which arises from the community which is you and which your are a part of. You are composed of multiple needs, impulses, and desires as are the people, animals and plants around you.  Organize them all to create a system which works for you and creates a locally self-organized community.
  3. Be curious and innovative, but conservatively. Traditional behavior and structures exist because they contributed to resilience in the past.  A particular behavior or structure which worked in the past may not necessarily support resilience in the future.  But a community which does not preserve the basic foundations of its resilience will never survive. The most innovative usually do not survive.  The conservatively innovative are resilient.
  4. Be focused on maintenance and redundancy.  Take care of the little things and the big things will take care of themselves. Some are so focused on efficiency, they forget that efficiencyBe efficient in your work, including creating back-ups for your community.
  5. Be thrifty and accumulate useful tools.  Resilient communities build richer and deeper soils, a variety of skills, water catchment systems, and any other tool which passes the conservative innovation test.
  6. Be ready for transformation. Always be ready to be born again.  You and your community must be open to renewal and must lay a foundation which encourages that transformation when it is needed.
  7. Be integrated in your ecosystem. Enjoy the natural world where your community lives. Treat your ecosystem as you would your neighbor and yourself. That is, follow the other almost-commandments with the natural systems around you.
  8. Be diverse and promote diversity, as long as it is complementary. We are built to give and receive.  But we are not built to only give or only receive.  We must do both.  Anyone who only gives or only receives destroys their community.

The above spell out the acronym CLIMATED, fortuitous since climate change and weather extremes are among the most treacherous challenges to any community.

These eight almost-commandments have proven themselves time and again.  They are include all the qualities included in numerous frameworks of resilient systems including those of Rockefeller Foundation. Stockholm Resilience Center, international development experts (Frankenberger et al.), Australian resilience pioneers (Walker and Salt), agricultural development experts (Cabell and Oelofse) and many others.

For more information on how you and your community can become more resilient, download the chapters of our free book here.