Author: John D. Liu
Personally I believe that in real terms investment in restoration has the highest possible return because it is sustainable and aligns with natural evolutionary trends that create living matter from sunlight, water and minerals. While this is of incredible value and the basis of air, water, food and energy, the existing economic system does not actually include this because it is not built on logic or science but on historical precedent. Sadly the precedents include feudalism, slavery, imperialism and colonization. This legacy is the one we need to change so that future generations don’t inherit this error even further compounded.
If it were simply a scientific issue about hydrological dysfunction, loss of fertility and loss of biodiversity that could be solved through investment then it would be much simpler. I could just estimate that an investment of approximately 5000 Euros per hectare would be needed to ensure infiltration and retention of rainfall. Then logically we must divide ecological and economic land so that biodiversity survives into future generations in the ecological land and we can raise food, fiber and fuel in sustainable optimized ways in the economic land. Then you could multiply 5000 by 2 Billion hectares of degraded land and get a rough estimate of what global restoration would cost.
However, it is not that easy. The problem is that the majority of people on the Earth are acting in what they believe is their individual interest even when this erodes the global commons. There are 7 billion people on the Earth. Some of them have huge amounts of money. Think Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, or others in that league and also other people with lots of money but not quite that much. Then there is a middle class with many aspiring people hoping to join the rich. Finally there are billions of others with virtually nothing. Where has this money come from? Why are there some rich people, some middle class / working class people and billions of poor people?
What my research suggests is that the current degradation of the environment and the current disparity between the wealthy and the poor are caused by the current global economic system. By valuing products and services and now financial speculation above natural ecological function, human society has built into the economy a perverse incentive to degrade the natural environment. Human society also created an economic system that has been imposed on billions of indigenous people around the world without their consent, leaving them trying to survive in degraded landscapes. These vast degraded areas have been degraded in the enriching of others on the other side of the world. The system also requires infinite growth to provide jobs and consumables for the ever more people clawing their way up the social and economic ladder. This is impossible. This analysis suggests that the current global human economy is illogical, immoral and impossible.
I believe that the existing economy will change in one of two ways. Either it will fail because of its inherent problems or it will change because we consciously build a fair and sustainable system.
The biophysical aspects can be fixed if we understand them and act rationally to align with natural systems. The moral and historical problems are the true causes for the degradation and the poverty and they require that we change the intention of society away from selfishness toward collaboration.
So rather quickly we need to stimulate enlightenment on a planetary scale so that everyone understands that it is not in our own interest to impoverish anyone and that ecological function is vastly more valuable than production and consumption of goods and services.
Gradually I’ve come to consider what we need to ensure that we have the skills necessary to restore the degraded parts of the Earth and have the type of collaboration and dedication needed to do this effectively together. The conclusion I have come to is that we need to build Vocational Training Centers for Ecological Restoration in every continent to serve as the vanguard for the Earth’s restoration.
In looking at what is the correct structure for such centers I have considered “Community Land Trusts” which essentially means that the members of the community own the center. This means that communities that voluntarily chose to dedicate themselves to long term large scale ecological restoration would replace the type of 3 to 5 years projects that the development “industry” has been promoting. These have shown some excellent methodologies but have often been too small and too short to bring about the type transformational change that is needed. Making vocational training centers for ecological restoration the purpose of community land trusts would mean that these centers would be permanent. While projects might come and go the overall center would absorb each project and grow stronger rather than end at the end of the funding period.
The types of facilities needed are seed saving and propagation, soil creation, water retention technologies, nursery systems and of course all the other requirements of successful communities such as culture, recreation, education, health care and permanent agriculture.
Geoff Lawton’s research farm in Australia shows many of the things that must be done and can be seen at the link below:
Zaytuna Farm Tour – Apr/May 2012
The ideal situation would be communities that provides full employment for everyone in all the various aspects of restoration, the study of restoration, the training needed for restoration and that they “Live Well” in the sense that they have clean air, water, healthy food and strong families and communities and that they have substituted a more profound purposeful life for the materialism of the current global economic model.
This type of structure could be supported by management, technical support, human resources and capital arranged by the new Natural Resilience Initiative being led by Willem Ferwerda.
We don’t have theoretical climate changes. We have physical disruptions to Earth Systems. Mitigation and adaptation to climate change requires physically restoring organic matter in soil, biomass in vegetation cover and protecting biodiversity.
This could help merge the needs and aspirations of communities with global efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate changes, to restore ecological function to broad areas of the planet where they have been degraded by human beings over historical time.
Can we learn to live and work together for a common goal? Can we trade selfishness for collective security and sustainability. Can we work to ensure that the air, water, soils are clean and pollution free?
This is the way that I would like to live the rest of my life in helping to restore degraded landscapes and I believe that there must be millions more who would also like to do this. I would like to hear your thoughts on this.
Best regards, John D. Liu