It is late-July. A car drops us off at the edge of a patchwork of agricultural fields on the outskirts of Mysore in a village called Bannur in the South Indian State of Karnataka. Despite the oppressive heat, the women clad in colorful saris, and the sacred cows—more plentiful than potholes—artfully dodged by cars and motorbikes every 20 yards or so along the road, I am reminded of the Midwest.
No matter that there is no corn or soybean in sight and that parcels measure 5 acres instead of 400. It's the neatly defined fields in perfect rectangles that resemble what you see when you fly over Iowa. The field adjacent to the road where the car left us boasts a weed-free plantation of banana trees, the one next to it is lined with straight rows of sugar cane and the one just across the walking path that traverses the fields is recently sown with rice.
We walk a good half mile to the farm we're meant to visit. Leading the way are seven men on motor bikes ranging in age from 30 to 60, wearing flip flops and fabric the size of table cloths wrapped around their waists in typical farmer garb, at least two of them are boasting bright green scarves thrown over their shoulders, symbolic of the social movement they're connected to that promotes “natural farming."
We're headed to Krishnappa's farm, a member of this green-scarf social movement referred to as KRRS, or the Karnataka Rayja Raitha Sangha. Founded in 1980, this peasant farmers' movement is rooted in Gandhi's philosophy of swadeshi, or home economy, meaning that political and economic power can only be just when it is governed by democratic assemblies organized at the village level. KRRS believes that by relying on a localized economy (local production and consumption) for village needs, everyone has the opportunity and the resources to work and create a dignified life.
As we approach the edge of Krishnappa's 5-acre farm, the outward appearance is strikingly distinct from his neighbors' parcels. It seems to be overgrown by weeds and unruly plants of varying heights defending their access to sun and water. The parcel looks like an island of chaos floating next to the neat rows of plantings all around us, waiting stoically and well-behaved on scorched earth for the rains to come. But nothing could be farther from the truth. Within minutes of stepping onto Krishnappa's land, we become privy to an intricately designed coupling of various food-producing plants and intercroppings that bloom into a veritable food forest—the healthiest and most productive land we've seen in India during our short sojourn.
Krishnappa, the proverbial “poster child" of Zero-Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF), has been growing food according to this straightforward yet scientifically-based method for 15 years. KRRS credits Zero-Budget Natural Farming from saving Krishnappa from the fate of so many other farmers that were featured on the front page of the The India Times almost daily during the time we were in Karnataka. These farmers had tragically succumbed to suicide in the face of unrelenting debt. Farmers in India have been forced to take on high-interest rate loans to purchase seeds and chemical inputs from banks that are profiting from agribusinesses' strategy of dictating the methods necessary to produce cash crops such as rice and sugar cane. Like the more than 3,000 farmers in India who have committed suicide in the past three years (50 suicides in 15 days in July of this year in the state of Karnataka alone) Krishnappa was feeling trapped and impotent, a victim to the whims of the loan sharks and unpredictable markets that either paid nothing or too little to make a dent in debt mounting season after season, let alone feed his family.
It was about this time that Krishnappa learned of a workshop to teach farmers an alternative to the chemical-based mono-cropping techniques, a central feature of the Green Revolution that has led to a decline in the total number of small landholders, an increase in the costs associated with farming, and a decrease in the amount of land used to grow food for local consumption in favor of cash crops. The Green Revolution has proven to be a false panacea, whose promise of a reduction of hunger and poverty was short lived. What piqued Krishnappa's interest the most in this workshop was the term “zero-input." Was it possible to recover the health and productivity of his small but adequate parcel without investing in inputs that required cash or loans? The workshop was sponsored by KRRS and was an introduction to Zero-Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF), given by the pioneer of this methodology, Subhash Palekar. The two main features of ZBNF are:
- Zero-Budget: Nothing has to be purchased outside of the farm; no upfront investment is required in patented seeds, chemical fertilizers or pesticides. All you need is one local breed of cow.
- Jeevamrutha: Treatments for seeds and crops are made with a culture produced using your cow's dung and urine as the main compounds.
According to Krishnappa, there were more than 1,000 farmers at the start of this week-long intensive workshop he attended some 15 years ago. By the end of the week, there were only 13 farmers left standing and only one of those farmers was willing to take the risk of implementing ZBNF. That was Krishnappa, who now hosts regular learning exchanges on his land as word has spread through radio, newspaper and word-of-mouth about his ability to produce a multiplicity of food crops in soil that is dark and rich with microbes, requires zero cash investments and needs virtually no outside labor.
The five farmers that accompanied us on the farm tour that day, in addition to Krishnappa and a fellow ZBNF farmer, were—like us—walking his farm for the first time, too. They were fellow farmers who told us they were looking for a way out of the debts they were facing, the chemicals they and their family members were routinely exposed to, the depletion of the soils on their land and for a life that afforded them the dignity to feed their families.
There are currently close to 1,000 farmers growing with the ZBNF method in Karnataka and 100 in Krishnappa's district alone. It was easy to see why Krishnappa has become a walking-talking advertisement for Zero-Budget Natural Farming. If anyone could sell the virtues of meticulously collecting and culturing cow dung and urine into liquid gold that incites the Earth to fulfill its promise of a healthy bounty, it would be the charming and loquacious farmer we encountered that day who kept us on his farm scribbling furiously in our notebooks for hours until the sun set on the patchwork of fields around us.
“Food and income in three months, Sir!" became Krishnappa's enthusiastic mantra throughout the day. Without the proof of the bounty of fruits, vegetables and fibers we witnessed as we walked the entire length of his 5-acre farm, it would be easy to confuse him for a snake oil salesman. I don't even own one acre of land in the U.S., let alone India, and I was ready to acquire my own local breed of cow and start cultivating. I was ready to sign on the dotted line and become a ZBNF disciple that very afternoon!
The longer we walked and talked; the more times we knelt to touch, small and even taste the soil; the more birds and butterflies we encountered; the more we scanned the land from the soil to the sky—from the microbes to the earthworm to the tubers, to the beans, to the sugar cane, to the limes and finally to the coconuts ripening in the top of the trees—the less “plug-and-play" this ZBNF method became.
Productivity isn't just dependent on the jeevemrutha, it turns out. The farmer's approach to caring for the land and his or her capacity to learn is equally critical to success. And, according to Krishnappa, learning means gathering knowledge through failures and then sharing those lessons. It is important to assume ignorance in the face of the natural world, he said, so as to be able to ultimately comprehend and trust in scientific principles that dictate the designs of nature.
Krishnappa told us that he loves his plants so much that he talks to them regularly. And they answer back! They tell him to take their fruits for food for his family and community and otherwise leave them be. They tell him to take the time to observe and learn how they grow and what makes them thrive. They tell him that less is more when it comes to interaction with humans.
“It's only the farmers that are using chemical inputs that are committing suicide," Krishnappa reminds us. He proclaims on more than one occasion that all a farmer in Karnataka needs is a local breed of cow and some seeds saved by and gifted from another farmer to get started in ZBNF. He believes ZBNF is the antidote to the epidemic of farmer suicides in India. And what's more: “Farmer-to-farmer interaction and shared learning is the only way to grow the number of farmers practicing ZBNF." He went on to profess: “All the scientific knowledge I have now, I have learned through practice. I am an uneducated farmer. I didn't go to school. For me, failure is an important method of learning."
As darkness crept over the fields and we wended our way back to the road where our car was parked, the visiting farmers now climbing astride their motorbikes seemingly satisfied and sufficiently inspired by having come to see for themselves the unfathomable—that one could heal the land and grow food in abundance without incurring debt—Krishnappa, this farmer-cum-philosopher invoked us to recall something he said early on in the afternoon: “There are two kinds of truth: One that is unknowable and one that is proven through practice. Sir, food and income in three months!"
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By Jeff Berardelli
For the past year, some of the most up-to-date computer models from the world's top climate modeling groups have been "running hot" – projecting that global warming may be even more extreme than earlier thought. Data from some of the model runs has been confounding scientists because it challenges decades of consistent projections.
International Effort to Evaluate Climate Models<p>For the past 25 years the international community has been evaluating and comparing the world's most sophisticated climate models produced by various teams at universities, research centers, and government agencies. The effort is organized by the World Climate Research Programme under the United Nations World Meteorological Organization.</p><p>Climate models are complicated computer programs composed of millions of lines of code that calculate the physical properties and interactions between the main climate forces like the atmosphere, oceans, and solar input. But models also go a lot further, incorporating other systems like ice sheets, forests, and the biosphere, to name a few. The models are then used to simulate the real-world climate system and project how certain changes, like added pollution or land-use changes, will alter the climate.</p><p>Every few years there is a new comprehensive international evaluation called the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP). In the sixth such effort, known as CMIP6 and now under way, experts are reviewing about 100 models.</p><p>Information gleaned from this effort will act as a scientific foundation for the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) next major assessment report, scheduled for release in 2021. The goal of the report – the sixth in 30 years – is to inform the international community about how much the climate has changed, and, importantly, how much change can be expected in coming decades.</p>
A Conundrum Emerges<p>Over the past year, the CMIP6 collection of models being reviewed threw researchers an unexpected curveball: a significant number of the climate model runs showed substantially more global warming than previous model versions had projected. If accurate, the international climate goals would be nearly impossible to achieve, and there would be significantly more extreme impacts worldwide.</p><p>A foundational experiment in every report addresses "sensitivity": If you double levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) that were in the air before the Industrial Revolution, how much warming do the models show? This doubling is not expected for a few more decades, but it is a quick way to communicate the critical role of greenhouse gases in changing the climate.</p><p>The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by 35% since the 1800s because of the burning of fossil fuels. As a result, global temperatures have already increased by more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit.</p><p>In the first IPCC assessment report, published in 1990, the answer to that question about the impact of doubling carbon dioxide gave a fairly wide range of results – between 2.7-8 degrees F of global warming. Since then, four more assessments issued six to seven years apart reached nearly the exact same conclusion on sensitivity.</p><p>But that sensitivity may, for the first time, change significantly in next year's assessment. Why? Because starting last year, numerous models in the CMIP6 collection displayed even bigger spikes in temperature upon doubling of CO2 concentrations. We're in serious trouble if the climate sensitivity falls in the mid or upper range of the previous assessments. But if the new, higher estimates are correct, the impacts on civilization would be catastrophic.</p>
In the above CarbonBrief interactive visualization, the bars offer a comparison in the range of sensitivity in the CMIP5 models (gray) and CMIP6 models (blue).
New and Encouraging Evidence Is Emerging<p>At first, scientists were uncertain whether the new model runs were on to something, so the international modeling community dug in to produce multiple studies. The results are not yet conclusive, but a gradual collective sigh of relief seems to be materializing.</p><p>"Evidence is emerging from multiple directions that the models which show the greatest warming in the CMIP6 ensemble are likely too warm," explains Dr. Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.</p><p>For example, <a href="https://www.earth-syst-dynam-discuss.net/esd-2020-23/" target="_blank">a study</a> released April 28 evaluated the past performance of the models making up the CMIP6 ensemble. The team assigned weights to each model based upon historical performance of their warming projections, weighing the poorer performing models less. By doing so, both the mean warming and the range of warming scenarios in the CMIP6 ensemble decreased, meaning the warmest models were the ones with weaker historical performance. This result supports a finding that a subset of the models are too warm.</p><p>That conclusion is supported by another new study evaluating one particular model – the Community Earth System Model (CESM2) – that showed greater warming. Using that model, the researchers simulated the climate in the early Eocene era, about 50 million years ago, when rainforests thrived in the Arctic and Antarctic. The CESM2 simulated a historical climate that seems way too warm compared with what is known about that era from geological data, indicating that the model is likely also too warm in its future projections.</p><p>Two other recent studies of the CMIP6 models being evaluated use clever analysis methods to <a href="https://www.google.com/url?q=https://www.earth-syst-dynam-discuss.net/esd-2019-86/&sa=D&ust=1589209938203000&usg=AFQjCNHYwFB-1KqndGfJ4sXdrrm9DpbLaQ" target="_blank">narrow the range</a> of future warming projections and also <a href="https://www.google.com/url?q=https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/12/eaaz9549&sa=D&ust=1589209938203000&usg=AFQjCNEhKY1YZ19qgjSZ_hJM14JmzqXOXw" target="_blank">reduce the projected warming</a> of the CMIP6 models by 10 to 15%.</p><p>Through the intensive research spurred by the CMIP6 climate-sensitivity curveball, scientists have been able to turn a confounding challenge into a confidence builder, providing even greater certainty than they had before in both the abilities of the climate science community and in the computer models used. Moreover, the experience has helped unearth uncertainties remaining in the modeling process.</p><p>Experts conclude much of this uncertainty probably lies in the complexity of clouds. "We have been looking as a community at why the models with greater warming are doing what they are doing – and it's tied to cloud feedbacks in the southern mid-latitudes mostly," explains Schmidt.</p><p>In fact, <a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/26/eaba1981" target="_blank">a new study</a> addressing the increased sensitivity was published in Science Advances stating, "Cloud feedbacks and cloud-aerosol interactions are the most likely contributors to the high values and increased range of ECS [sensitivity] in CMIP6."</p>
Understanding the Complexity of Clouds<p>It's long been known in climate modeling circles that cloud processes and interactions are a potential weak link for climate modeling. That reality has been brought front and center by the urgent challenges posed during this CMIP6 evaluation period, but the current evaluation of models also provides an opportunity for discovery and improvement.</p><p>Cloud complexity comes from the reality that clouds have a multitude of sizes, altitudes, and textures. Some clouds cool Earth by providing shade, reflecting sunlight back into space. Others act like a blanket, trapping heat and warming the world.</p><p>Given that about <a href="https://www.nasa.gov/vision/earth/lookingatearth/icesat_light.html" target="_blank">70% of the globe</a> is covered by clouds at any given time, it's no surprise that they play an integral role in regulating the climate. The challenge is to figure out which types of clouds will increase, which will decrease, and what the net effect will be on cooling or warming as the climate changes.</p><p><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41561-019-0310-1" target="_blank">One study</a> last year reached an alarming conclusion: Left unchecked, the release of CO2 into the atmosphere may lead to a tipping point where shallow low clouds disappear – leading to runaway, catastrophic warming of nearly 15 degrees F. While scientists see that outcome as only a remote possibility, it drives home the urgent need to better understand clouds.</p><p>"We have a saying at NOAA: It isn't rocket science – it's much, much harder than that," quips Dr. Chris Fairall, ATOMIC's lead investigator. "One of the major problems for modeling is there is not clean separation of scales." The photo below is one that Fairall took from the NOAA P-3 aircraft.</p>
Investigating the Secrets of Clouds<p>To address the urgent question about the dynamics and role of clouds in a warming world, NOAA and European partners launched their ongoing research effort unprecedented in scale. The U.S. contribution, ATOMIC – short for Atlantic Tradewind Ocean-Atmosphere Mesoscale Interaction Campaign – is an international science mission that was featured recently on "<a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/video/study-aims-to-examine-links-between-climate-change-and-clouds/" target="_blank">CBS This Morning: Saturday</a>."</p>
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