Systemic racism in a pine forest

Pine forests seem like fragrant, soft places where anyone could relax and be comfortable. Looks and smells are deceiving. All pines are dedicated only to other pines. When pine needles fall to the ground, they prevent other plants and trees from growing underneath. Pine needles release various acids and organic compounds that leach into the ground as the needles begin to decompose. These chemicals don’t hurt the pine tree, its roots or its fungal symbionts. They do deter nearly all non-pines from settling anywhere close.

You might say pines establish a pine privilege. A hickory nut which rolls into a pine forest doesn’t have much of a chance. The pine fragrance we like so much is the reason. This fragrance is caused by a class of chemicals called terpenes found in the needles. These particular pine terpenes retard germination and new growth. Retardation of germination can be a good thing for a gardener. It helps to keep weed seeds from germinating. For the hickory trying to survive in an alien environment, the terpenes are death. Plant as many hickory nuts or oak acorns as you wish in a bed of fresh pine needles. None of them will germinate.

Pine like pines. They are like all species in nature, they have methods for perpetuating their own kind and discouraging anyone who is not a pine.

Unless you are an azalea, a rhododendron or a blueberry. These acid loving plants thrive under pines. Except when the pine forest gets tall enough and thick enough to shade them out. Then it’s all pines all the time. Diversity is as minimal as in a Southern country club at tee time. Or a Colored Methodist Episcopal church on Sunday morning. Or an inner city ghetto any time.

In plants this effect is called allelopathy. Luckily for most other species, pine allelopathy is short lived. The acids and terpenes dissolve readily in water and dissipate into the air. By the time pine needles are brown and dry, most of the terpenes have evaporated. Once that wonderful pine fragrance has gone out of the needles, so have the terpenes, the source of that fragrance.

So you can use pine straw as a mulch without fear. It may hinder germination a little, but that will be good for the gardener who doesn’t like to pull weeds.

Every species in nature tries to perpetuate itself. The pines have perfected one method. Sunflowers, black walnuts, wormwoods, sagebrushes, and trees of heaven have their own chemical methods. The creosote bush is so good at controlling other plant species in the desert that it is called “gobernadora” (Spanish for “governess”) due to its ability to secure more water by inhibiting the growth of nearby plants.

In the 1970’s, an animal rights activist coined the term speciesism. This term expands the idea of racism to whole species. Man is accused of speciesism because he wants to preserve his own species. We are learning that all species try to help their own kind. No species survives for long if it doesn’t.
Most interesting is how some species seem to thrive even when the dominant species is doing its best to wipe them out. They do so by providing something the dominant species needs. Mycorrhizal fungi flourish on the roots of pine trees. They provide nutrients to the pines which are locked up in the soil until the fungi release them. They are examples of complementary diversity and discussed in more detail in our book.

Like all species in nature, pine trees get their comeuppance if they grow too big for their britches. When pine trees dominate a landscape too thoroughly, they provide the perfect environment for species like white pine blister rust, southern pine beetles, and mountain pine beetles. These species love to destroy homogenous stands of pine. A vast increase in diversity then follows.
Pine and other allelopathic species keep trying to create a world fit only for their species. Nature always puts them in their place.

The world view of pines reflects systemic racism. The pines have created a world where only pines and a few other species can prosper. They do well until they get too homogenous. Then they are destroyed and other species can prosper.

Man in his hubris should learn some lessons. Though all species will try to perpetuate their own kind, the most resilient will embrace diversity–as long as it is complementary.

Born again into psychological resilience

What does ecological resilience research tells us about being born again?

As with all living beings, we follow the adaptive cycle.  We are born, grow quickly into a new being never seen before on earth, mature slowly while accumulating resources and progeny, and then die. Our children follow the same cycle, as do their children after them.

Ecological resilience theory labels these four stages as organization (alpha), rapid growth (r), maturity (K) and release (omega). Not only does every organism go through these stages, but all living systems do.  Forests, farms, communities, nations. 

The release phase is not just about death, though. A farmer plants seed, watches it grow quickly, mature and become brown dead plants.  But then he harvests the seed from the dead plant and begins the process again. Release only means death for the plant, not for the seed.

In us and all living systems, adaptive cycles are nested within adaptive cycles. We face disruptions in life and reorganize our life to cope with the disruption. I never went to daycare, lived in the country and had little contact with outsiders until I was sent off to school at 6 years old.  I didn’t like it and cried a lot, but I adjusted to the disruption, figured out how to adapt and became a different person. We all have several such disruptions in our lives.

But we also go through several motivational stages in our life.  We come into the world selfish, crying to get what we need.  We are focused on hunger and security and the family around us.  Once those physiological, safety and social needs are met, we can explore other needs. Toddlers, when they are fed, clothed and feel secure always venture out to explore their world.  They are satisfying the need for novelty, intellectual stimulation.

Then they start interacting with others their age and they seek to satisfy more social needs but also needs for respect and recognition. There’s always a boss of the playground or play group and you want to be that boss or be respected by her.

We deal with meeting those physiological, safety, social and esteem needs all through life.

Some of us are lucky enough to meet those needs and realize there is another level of need to be met. Some call it self-actualization, others call it serving others or realizing their creative potential, or being born again.

“Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

Each of these motivational phases follows the adaptive cycle. We realize we have a need, we work to fill it, we become satisfied and mature in that satisfaction.  Then we realize there are higher needs to be pursued. We release our previous focus and reorganize our lives around the new need or idea or principle.

Some of us never seem to get the basic needs met and we get stuck in the physiological or safety or social or esteem needs. We can’t ever seem to get enough. We don’t realize that our depression or boredom isn’t due to lack of enough food or sex or friends or respect.  It’s due to the fact we can’t move beyond those basic needs.

Those of us able to focus on ideas and needs beyond the basics find that we can be born again many times into new perspectives on the world. And each of these new perspectives or ideas follows the adaptive cycle.

Every time you are born again you must realize this too shall pass and you will someday go beyond this perspective and reorganize your life once again, gaining  more and more resilience to disturbance as you grow.

This too shall pass: resilience and peace

It’s tough to be at peace when all is in crisis around us. One of the great blessings of studying ecological resilience is the peace and calm it gives you. When everyone about you is wailing about the dire state of the economy, government, the environment, climate change and whatever other catastrophe they are fixated on, you know it will pass. You know that all living systems go through an adaptive cycle which includes a disruption phase. A phase where the existing order is destroyed and replaced by a successor.

It happens to governments, nations, businesses, communities, forests, farms. The iconic example in resilience studies is the forest fire. Nowadays, forest managers realize fire is a natural part of the cycle of forest life. They use controlled burns to eliminate build-up of dead wood on the forest floor. Foresters now know that when they don’t do this, huge amounts of tinder build up and huge, deadly extreme fire storms result. California foresters have neglected to remove this tinder in recent years and deadly fires are the result.

The resilient person knows that any large fire in nature is an opportunity to rebuild, a necessary scouring of the old order to make way for a new, more resilient order.

Though ecological resilience is a relatively new field of study, the concept is old. King Solomon was trying to humble his wisest servant, so he requested a magic ring — one that, if a sad man wore it, he would become happy and if a happy man wore it, he would become sad.” The wise man failed. Then Solomon went to a jeweler and designed a ring with the inscription saying, “This, too, shall pass.” 

Deep within every crisis is an opportunity for something beautiful.

When you realize how perfect everything is you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky. Buddha.

You are the sky. Everything else–it’s just the weather.

The only order in the universe is just a cycle of calm and chaos.

A man of calm is like a shady tree. People who need shelter come to it.

There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm. Willa Cather in The Song of a Lark.

Storms visit the quietest and the most peaceful places to calm themselves down and to have their nervousness cured. Mehmet Murat ildan

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? Consider how the lilies of the field grow: They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was adorned like one of these. Matthew 6:28

Peace is the result of retraining your mind to process life as it is, rather than as you think it should be.

Proverbs 29:25 states, “The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe.” 

“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12).

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4).

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13).

Normal is an illusion. What is normal for the spider is chaos for the fly.

The poets and prophets say to our heart what resilience writers say to our heads.

It’s natural to get too attached to the forest, to our communities.

All are imperfect all need to be improved.

Don’t dwell on what is being destroyed, look for opportunities for change toward more resilient systems.

Unity and oneness: unending search

“The health of soil, plants, animals, people and the environment is one and indivisible.” “We need a unified nation.” We search for that sense of oneness. And we sometimes find it.

But if we are honest we know it doesn’t last. Ecological resilience research tells us “oneness” is necessarily fleeting.

The oneness of soil, plants, animals, people and environment exists only until a new species or technology or culture comes in which can establish a new oneness. 

An acidic soil is a healthy soil for pines, azaleas, and blueberries, but would kill other plants.  Is it a healthy soil?  The pines think so as they drop acidic needles and make the soil even more acidic. You might call it “White Pine Privilege.” 

The Inuit survived and thrived as Greenland became cooler in the 1100s; early Viking settlers died out. The environment and animals and people were healthy when they were fish, seals and Inuit, not when they were Norse and cattle and medieval catholicism.

After horses were released by early Spanish explorers and found an environment they liked in North America, the Lakota developed a horse based culture which thrived.  This new culture wasn’t so healthy for the sedentary agricultural societies the Lakota raided and destroyed.  In 1776, the Lakota took the Black Hills from the Cheyenne who had taken it from the Kiowa. This enabled the Lakota to declare the Black Hills sacred and today call for the faces on Mt. Rushmore to be obliterated. The combination of the horse and the Great Plains was healthy for the Lakota, not so much for the Cheyenne and the Kiowa and, today, the WASP.

The megafauna present in North America (mastodon, mammoth, horse, tapir, ground sloth, giant bison, giant beaver, giant tortoise, American lion, short-faced bear, and saber-toothed tiger) were healthy and one with their environment and soils and plants until what are now called indigenous people came from Asia.  Then the megafauna provided lots of good meals for the “indigenous” until they were wiped out.

Chaparral requires fire to release the chaparral seeds from their pods. Regular fires are part of the oneness of soils, plants, animals and environment in chaparral country, like Southern California. Some wouldn’t see the healthy oneness in the fires in California today.

During the Second World War in the USA, there was an overwhelming sense of oneness as the country battled two totalitarian, aggressive enemies. Today, America is disunited and breaking into anarchy.

Paradoxically, searching and finding oneness requires us to abandon any attachment to particular animals, cultures, plants or environments. The only lasting “oneness” is more basic than any of these transient epiphenomena. They will pass away while the resilient remain.

For more info:

Building a resilient future in food and farming

Americans in 2020 realized we have a failing food system. Bare shelves in grocery stores were accompanied by vegetables plowed under, milk poured down drains, and animals euthanized and buried. The COVID-19 disruption showed the lack of resilience of American agriculture and the processing and distribution of its production. This disruption is not the first and it will not be the last that our food system will experience. Climate change is the foremost long-term disruption we face. Managers of America’s farm, forest and grazing lands could play a crucial role in combating climate change.

The road to a more resilient agricultural system will be long and hard. Fortunately, far-sighted Members of Congress have joined the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) and many other organizations to begin the first steps on that road. Earlier this year, the Agricultural Resilience Act (ARA) was introduced by Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) to begin the process of transforming American agriculture into a system that can rebound and adapt no matter what disturbance arises, including climate change.

Goals and Action Plan to a More Resilient Food and Farming System

ARA establishes a set of aggressive but realistic goals for farmers to help mitigate climate change and increase agricultural resilience, starting with the overarching goal of reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. agriculture by no later than 2040. Net zero means that all remaining ongoing carbon, nitrous oxide, and methane emissions are offset by removing an equivalent amount of greenhouse gas from the atmosphere. The single generation 20-year timeframe to reach that goal is achievable but only if appropriate policies are put in place soon.

ARA’s substantive programmatic sections are divided into six titles: the key building blocks for creating a more resilient agriculture. Each of these titles is summarized below, concluding with the corresponding goals set by the legislation.

Soil Health

Healthy soils not susceptible to erosion are the foundation of agricultural resilience. Without them, a prosperous agriculture is impossible. A key to healthy soils is incorporation of more organic carbon into the soil. ARA encourages farmers to pull carbon out of the air and into their soils –removing greenhouse gases and increasing soil health. Soils containing more carbon capture and hold more water to help farmers deal with both drought and torrential rains.

Intensive row-crop agriculture has caused the loss of an average of 30 to 50 percent of carbon and organic matter in U.S. agricultural soils prior to such intense cultivation. Farmers have the tools to restore most of the carbon we have lost and, in the process, help reverse climate change. These tools include diverse crop rotations, cover cropping, conservation tillage, and other practices to build soil health.

A first step in restoring soil carbon is to keep soils under cover as much as possible. Bare soils erode and release carbon into the atmosphere. The bill sets the goal of increasing cover crop acres across the country to at least 25 percent of crop acres by 2030 and at least 50 percent 2040, with at least 50 percent of American cropland acres covered by crops, cover crops, or residue year-round by 2030 and rising to at least 75 percent by 2040.

ARA Goal: Restore at least half of lost soil carbon and maintain year-round cover on at least 75 percent of cropland acres by 2040.

Farmland Preservation and Viability

The conversion of grassland and forestland to cropland results in net greenhouse gas emissions. Conversions of native grasslands and forests to agricultural uses have resulted in large amounts of carbon lost from soils in the past, and losses on a smaller scale continue each year. As urbanization demands increase, agricultural land is also at risk of conversion to development. Converting agricultural land to development will have negative impacts on greenhouse gas emissions and our ability to store carbon in our soils. Long term, it could also pose a threat to our food security.

The bill sets the interim goal of reducing the rate of conversion of agricultural land to development and the rate of grassland conversion to cropping by at least 80 percent by 2030 and eliminating the conversion of agricultural land and grassland by 2040. ARA protects one of our most valuable natural resources and one of the best tools we have to sequester carbon and build resilience in food and farming: our soil.

ARA Goal: Eliminate conversion of agricultural land and grassland by 2040.

Pasture-Based Livestock

The best soils in the world were created by grass-eating animals herded by predators to intensively graze and incorporate their manure into the soil. ARA seeks to reestablish such soil-building systems with modern management-intensive grazing on all pasture lands in the U.S.

Unfortunately, most animals in the U.S. rarely see pasture. They live in large confinement facilities which generate methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Adaptive grazing methods improve soils while reducing methane production. The more we move toward carefully managed grazing-based systems and the re-integration of livestock with cropping systems, the better the climate mitigation results. Given the dominant role of confinement systems today, the transition will take time. But the methane produced by confinement facilities can still be reduced through the conversion of wet manure handling and storage systems to dry storage and composting, reducing methane emission and creating a source of organic carbon for our soils.

ARA Goal: Establish advanced grazing management on 100 percent of grazing land, reduce greenhouse gas emissions related to the feeding of ruminants by at least 50 percent, increase crop-livestock integration by at least 100 percent over 2017 levels, and convert at least two thirds of wet manure handling and storage to alternative management by 2040.

On-Farm Renewable Energy

Another basic step to increasing resilience of our food system is to reduce the reliance of farms on non-renewable energy, while increasing energy efficiency and generating on-farm renewable energy. Farms can reduce costs by increasing efficiency and can create new income streams by using the sun and wind to generate energy. ARA proposes tripling the level of on-farm clean renewable energy production and installing and managing on-farm renewable energy infrastructure in a way that does not adversely impact farmland, natural resources, or food production.

ARA Goal: Implement energy audits on 100 percent of farms and triple on-farm renewable energy production by 2040.

Food Waste

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the vulnerabilities and instabilities of our current food system. Reports about unharvested crops, dumping milk, and farmers having to euthanize their animals due to processing plant closures have made headlines across the country. Simultaneously, food banks have seen an increase in demand from struggling families.

Many farmers have surplus food available since they have lost their customers due to closures of farmers markets, schools, and restaurants, but the infrastructure is not currently set up to connect farmers and families in need of food. The waste of food in the COVID-19 crisis is heart-breaking when many are going hungry. However, food waste has long been ubiquitous in our food system.

Through ARA provisions such as  making composting a conservation practice eligible for support under federal working lands conservation programs, creating a new grant program to support large-scale food-waste-to-energy projects, and supporting schools to reduce food waste, ARA is setting the path forward on reducing food waste across our food supply chain.

ARA Goal: Reduce food waste by at least 75 percent by 2040.

Agricultural Research

None of the above goals can be reached without significant expansion of investment in research on climate change adaptation and mitigation, soil health, agroforestry, advanced grazing management and crop-livestock integration, on-farm and food system energy efficiency and renewable energy production, food waste reduction and related topics to accelerate progress toward net zero emissions by no later than 2040.

Our food and agricultural system affects public health, environmental protection, climate resilience, and the rural and national economy. However, federal funding for food and agriculture research has stagnated for decades, jeopardizing our future and hindering our ability to innovate in ways that improve farm viability, rural vitality, public health, and food security.

ARA Goal: Quadruple the total federal funding for food and agriculture research and extension by 2040.

What Comes Next?

ARA proposes specific tools and incentives to achieve all the above goals. More detail will be provided in additional blogs in this series over the next few weeks.

ARA is a first step toward transforming our food system to make it less susceptible to disturbance whether from a virus, climate change, or any unknown and unanticipated disruption.

A resilient U.S. food system is possible. We must take the lessons learned from the COVID-19 crisis and begin the journey to a safe and reliable food system for America. ARA sets a path forward for agriculture to survive and thrive and be part of the solution to the climate crisis.

Ecological resilience of food systems in response to the COVID-19 crisis

Resilience of food systems is being tested by the COVID-19 disruption. As with any severe disruption, collapse of some systems, innovation in others, and total reorganization of some will occur. Direct delivery of food, online farmers markets, community supported agriculture operations (CSAs), backyard food production, expansion of seed producers and plant nurseries, and decrease in restaurant share of the food dollar with increased home cooking are some trends that may be lasting. These trends can be seen as complex adaptive systems following the adaptive cycles of all open systems. The crisis provides an opportunity to examine a model of food system resilience (CLIMATED) and apply it more broadly.
For the rest of this article, go to the journal where it was just published:

How to become a demagogue

Why are demagogues disparaged so? One person’s demagogue is another person’s enlightened teller of truth to power. With global warming and the Great Extinction on our hands, maybe we could use a demagogue or two to stir the pot a little and see where populism might take us if applied to man’s abuse of the environment.


Huey Long advocated free college and confiscating millionaires’ fortunes long before the current crop of Presidential candidates.

So far no one has figured out how to harness populism to ecological activism.  Populism always offers a better life for people and most environmentalists want to take away everything which makes us comfortable and happy.  So it easy for populist demagogues to rail against environmental strictures.

In hopes that one of you, my dear readers, will become or encourage the union of populism and environmentalism, I submit these tips for becoming a demagogue.

One best selling historian traces all American populist demagogues back to religion.  Specifically the Presbyterian and other Calvinists who sparked the American Revolution.  These preachers challenged the authority of the ruling mainstream religions of their day. This challenging of authority was transferred from church autocrats to British kings by their followers.  And America resulted.

This movement, known as the Great Awakening was followed by a populist and religious revolt in the 1830s and 1840s known as the Second Great Awakening.  This led to the Civil War.

More recently demagogues have not needed religion to excite their followers.  But the hell and brimstone preachers established the mold for all demagogues to come. Demagogues appeal to emotion, denigrate their enemies with lies and insults and promise an impossible world which their followers will enjoy.

Huey Long is often called the quintessential demagogue.  Today Trump is cited as the essence of demagogue.  Others contend his opponents are adept at the tools of demagoguery.

But we always label as demagogues those with whom we disagree.  Today the opponents of Trump use all the tricks of demagoguery. If they were only more successful, we would label them demagogues.

Maybe all major  social and political revolutions require demagogues. If so, what can we learn from today’s and yesterday’s demagogues to help catalyze needed change.  Especially the changes needed to stop the greatest threat we have ever faced, the destruction and befouling of our planet.

So what does a demagogue have that most environmentalists don’t? They are skilled in oratory, flattery and invective; evasive in discussing many issues; appealing to the passions rather than the reason of the public; and arousing racial, religious, and class prejudices.  They are masters of the masses.

Demagogues have appeared in democracies since ancient Athens. Demagogue roughly translates as “leader of the mob.” They exploit a fundamental weakness in democracy: because ultimate power is held by the people, it is possible for the people to give that power to someone who appeals to the lowest common denominator of a large segment of the population.

Demagogues usually advocate immediate, forceful action to address a crisis while accusing moderate and thoughtful opponents of weakness or disloyalty.

James Fenimore Cooper in 1838 identified four fundamental characteristics of demagogues:

  • They fashion themselves as a member of the common people, opposed to the elites.
  • Their politics depends on a visceral connection with the people, which greatly exceeds ordinary political popularity.
  • They manipulate this connection, and the raging popularity it affords, for their own benefit and ambition.
  • They threaten or outright break established rules of conduct, institutions, and even the law.

We could employ just about all those tools of demagogues to address the destruction of our planet.  The only problem is that demagogues usually appeal to the poor and ignorant and promise them the moon.  Those who realize the peril our planet is in are not usually poor and ignorant and promising them material wealth won’t help the planet.

So maybe uniting demagoguery and environmentalism won’t save the planet, but we had better find something that does.  And if demagoguery will help, it’s worth a last desperate try.

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. A diverse community has members who are complementary (give and receive from other members) and dedicated to survival of the community as a whole.  Increasing diversity when it does not meet these criteria can decrease resilience–e.g. invasive species such as kudzu in the US South and rabbits in Australia.

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.