How Did Farmer Brown Bring His Dying Land Back From the Brink?
By Jeff Turrentine
Sometimes enlightenment arrives as a flash of epiphany: a gravity-obeying apple that falls from a tree, for instance, or a blinding light that freezes you in your tracks on the road to Damascus.
Other times, though, it's more of a process. That's how Gabe Brown came to regenerative agriculture. About 20 years ago, Brown nearly lost his 1,760-acre farm outside Bismarck, North Dakota, which he had taken over upon his in-laws' retirement in 1991. Just as his wife's family had done since the 1950s, Brown continued to till, fertilize, graze and chemically treat the land—all of which were considered best practices at the time.
In high school and college, he said, "I was taught the current production models. That's all I was exposed to. I learned the conventional mind-set—how to use all the fertilizers and pesticides and fungicides, and how to give growth hormones to cattle to get them to grow faster."
Gabe Brown poses at his ranch in Bismarck, North Dakota.Gabe Brown
Then, in 1995 and 1996, a pair of massive hailstorms destroyed his crops. A blizzard followed in 1997, leading to the deaths of many of the cows the Browns had been relying on to generate income in the wake of their successive crop failures. Brown and his wife steeled themselves and regrouped, only to have a third freak hailstorm destroy their crops once more. In discussing these events and their aftermath, Brown tends to refer to this dark time in his farming life as "the four years," in the kind of hushed tone typically reserved for myths and legends.
He didn't give up. Having already been introduced to the central ideas of regenerative agriculture, Brown was eager to give them a try—to fortify his weakened farmland by minimizing synthetic inputs and restoring ecological balance. Put simply, regenerative agriculture aims to boost microbial activity, carbon retention and water infiltration in soil so that plants can get more of what they need more efficiently. Paradoxically, the best way to achieve this agricultural state of grace is to do less, not more.
Some examples of regenerative ag include reducing or refraining altogether from tilling, which farmers have been doing for centuries but which can destroy soil structure, inhibit water infiltration and increase erosion; ending the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and fungicides, so that healthy microbial biodiversity can flourish underground; and planting cover crops in multispecies combinations to "armor" the soil, further preventing erosion and promoting the generation of organic matter. Brown had heard the stories from scientists and other farmers about how these strategies could result in higher crop yields and greater soil resilience, irrespective of location. After enduring the four years, he and his wife knew something had to change.
And so it did. Brown now runs a flourishing 5,000-acre ranch with his wife and their son, Paul, and has become a well-known champion of soil health in the bargain. His story is recounted in a new book, Dirt to Soil: One Family's Journey into Regenerative Agriculture, which also serves as a primer for farmers, ranchers, and policy makers who want to better understand how one can boost the operations of an entire farm by putting the health of the soil above all else. Moreover, Brown's conversion experience suggests a possible way out of our modern agricultural predicament, wherein centuries of mechanical and chemical disturbance have rendered soils nutritionally depleted and highly vulnerable—locking farmers into cycles of constant (and costly) interventions that only serve to perpetuate the underlying problem.
Once Brown started to think of his soil not just as a medium for other living things but as a living thing itself, he was stunned by the immediate results. In one early experiment, he planted several one-acre plots with different monoculture cover crops: radishes, turnips, lupine, and so on. But on one plot, he planted all of these together in a biodiverse polyculture "cocktail." Over a two-month period marked by very little rain, production was three times greater on the polyculture plot.
A healthy cut of soil from Brown's land.Gabe Brown
By 2010, Brown stopped using synthetic fertilizers and today, his crop yields are 20 percent higher than the average yields in his county. He's also seen water-infiltration rates skyrocket—from one-half inch per hour, back in 1991, to one inch in nine seconds in 2015. Carbon-retention rates have risen dramatically, too. "On our home place, where we've done in-depth, significant testing, our soils have 96 tons of carbon per acre in the top 48 inches," he said—compared with the 10 to 30 tons of stored carbon typically found in conventionally farmed soils of the Northern Plains.
"I tell people that many of the ills we're seeing today—whether we're talking too much carbon in the atmosphere and not enough cycling in the soil where we need it, problems with our watersheds, nitrates in our estuaries or in the Mississippi Delta or the Gulf of Mexico or the Great Lakes or the Chesapeake—we can solve all of those," Brown said. And there's consequences for human health, too. "We no longer have healthy, functioning soil, so we don't have the ability to move nutrients out of the soil and into plants," he said. "People aren't getting the necessary nutrition they need from the food that's being produced."
Brown now spends nearly as much time touring the country and spreading the regenerative agriculture gospel as he does working his land. He's hopeful that the message is breaking through to a younger generation of farmers. "They're looking for something else, because the production model we're in is just wrong; it's broken," he said. "But what's wonderful today about these younger producers is that they have the experience of all of us—the ones who went before them—to draw upon." The seeds of regenerative agriculture have been planted.
Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
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By Stuart Braun
"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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World's Richest One Percent Are Producing More Than Double the Carbon Emissions as the Bottom 50 Percent
A new report from Oxfam found that the wealthiest one percent of the world produced a carbon footprint that was more than double that of the bottom 50 percent of the world, The Guardian reported. The study examined 25 years of carbon dioxide emissions and wealth inequality from 1990 to 2015.
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