This is The ChangeUnderground for the 21st of March 2022.
I’m your host, Jon Moore
Decarbonise the Air, Recarbonise the Soil!
There’s a link in the show notes and an embedded version over on the website transcript of this episode that I would urge everyone to look at. It shows millions of tonnes of topsoil pouring from the Tweed River, the border between Qld and NSW on Australia’s east coast. This is following the recent flooding. It is worth remembering the Tweed is one of more than fifteen rivers in such a state.
The east coast had lots of rain before the systems that forced the flooding. We are in a La Nina weather pattern that’s supposed to last until the end of Autumn. That being said, more flooding is possible. One of my old schools has a floodplain area for football fields and I saw a photo on the book of faces showing these under water for the first time since 1974, the last big flood in Brisbane.
This time around, the speed of water level rise was what caught people out. In a town called Lismore a bit south of the Tweed in the pic, waters rose so quickly and so high people were trapped in the crawl spaces between their ceilings and their roofs. Most were saved by locals in open aluminium boats with outboard motors breaking in to save them. The floods stretched from northern Queensland to south of Sydney. The speed saw some dairy farmers unable to move their flocks to safety. 70 plus years of breeding washed away, sometimes in front of the farmers.
A bit like the fires of 2019-2020, these floods were bigger than anything seen before in a few ways. Both the rise in water levels and the sheer area under flood were beyond anything recorded previously. That’s a fairly amazing turnaround from fires to floods. The bush tends to bounce back quickly from fires but these were different. We had, therefore, under vegetated catchments from the fires, unprecedented amounts of water and topsoil quicksilvering to the sea.
After that much rain, there will be a huge growth in vegetation ready to dry off for the next round of El Nino induced fires.
The other thing these rains did was to downgrade the record wheat harvest in quality. Much of the bumper crop will now be only good enough for animal feed. Less than a month later Ukrainian and Russian wheat supplies to the world have been curtailed. And something about Russian oil and gas supplies rings a bell too.
The way things are going right now, we might as well pronounce the “L” in Salmon, nothing seems as it should be.
What’s to be done?
Well, the higher fuel prices should drive more people to electrify their transport. Anything really from electric push bikes to tractors and semi trailers. To be fair the semis probably would be better on hydrogen but you get the picture. There is a desperate need to decentralise electric energy production and distribution, more along the lines of the interwebs rather than with centralised power stations. We need to electrilise everything, seriously, everything. That removes the possibility of the poor around the world being shafted every time fuel prices spike.
Removing fossil fuels will also have knock on effects for agriculture. At present somewhere between 65 and 75% of all food is produced on farms of 1 hectare or less. This is a difficult thing for us in the developed world to get our heads around but it is so. And that’s why the seeds, fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides developed for broadscale agriculture are such a poor fit for the small farmers of the world.
Yet those small farmers can teach us all. From the website Journey to Forever and its page on Small Farms:
Sustainable farms are small. They’re mixed — mixed crops, mixed trees and mixed livestock, with all three mixed together in an integrated pattern that mimics natural biodiversity and reaps the benefits of collaborating with nature.
The main benefit is health: healthy soil, healthy crops and livestock, and healthy yields, along with low input costs.
This kind of farming is intense and needs close management, and since they’re usually family farms, this is why they’re small: a family can’t manage a bigger farm properly.
Anyway, there’s no need to: mixed family farms provide sustenance, food security and a healthy surplus for sale or barter — they far out-produce the bigger, mechanized farms.
And this is happening. The growing number of regenerative farmers, even if they don’t know it, are having an effect.
It all starts with cover crops. Keeping the soil covered, increasing the tree cover, using hedgerows, protecting waterways and returning to a live soil approach removes the need for the fossil fuel based inputs. We need to do these things for climate reasons but they are also mitigation efforts. By reforesting the hillsides of catchments, keeping the soil covered we slow the water down, it percolates into the soil rather than running down the slope taking soil particles with it. All these little flows are what created the image on the website. And we can stop most of it by following the example of small farmers and still grow food, make a living and reduce GHGs. Now if that’s not a win/win I don’t know what is.
And to do this, we can all do a little bit. From changing suburban lawns to gardens or at least replacing the monoculture of lawn grass with a mixed clover profile, we cut back on mowing, we provide food for bees and get to feel clover under our bare feet. This last point is one of life’s truly underestimated glories. As we come up from suburban lawn areas to larger plots, the same thing applies. Clovers, mini hedges of perennial herbs and dwarf fruit trees and chooks or ducks and so on. I think you can all see where this is headed. On the rangelands the intermediate plant species, the saltbush, the acacia, the hazel can pioneer the way for larger trees for fruit, timber, beauty, diversity and to just sit under or climb. The vision is possible, remember the Great Green Wall from episode 288, imagine that across the temperate regions of the world. A 15 kilometre deep wall of trees, followed by a 30 kilometre wide strip of agricultural land with scattered trees, hedgerows and orchards and then another 15 kilometre strip of tree cover and so on. Not necessarily in strips like a well mown sports field but adjusted to the terrain and waterways. I see this as a future we can all grasp and work towards.
If you’d like to support this podcast, I have a “Buy Me a Coffee” link in the show notes and at the website. All coffees are gratefully accepted.
Decarbonise the air, recarbonise the soil!
Thank you all for listening and I’ll be back next week
The ChangeUnderground Academy No-Dig Gardening Course:
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Journey to Forever: http://journeytoforever.org/farm.html
Episode 288: https://worldorganicnews.com/episode288