Category Archives: Regenerative Agriculture

Uncharted Territory: WHO Warns on Climate Change

The Guardian reported on the World Health Organization’s report recent assessment of record temperatures in 2016 and implications for the future. “Even without a strong El Niño in 2017, we are seeing other remarkable changes across the planet that are challenging the limits of our understanding of the climate system. We are now in truly uncharted territory,” said David Carlson, director of the WMO’s world climate research programme.

Here’s a clip:

2016 saw the hottest global average among thermometer measurements stretching back to 1880. But scientific research indicates the world was last this warm about 115,000 years ago and that the planet has not experienced such high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for 4m years.

2017 has seen temperature records continue to tumble, in the US where February was exceptionally warm, and in Australia, where prolonged and extreme heat struck many states. The consequences have been particularly stark at the poles.

“Arctic ice conditions have been tracking at record low conditions since October, persisting for six consecutive months, something not seen before in the [four-decade] satellite data record,” said Prof Julienne Stroeve, at University College London in the UK. “Over in the southern hemisphere, the sea ice also broke new record lows in the seasonal maximum and minimum extents, leading to the least amount of global sea ice ever recorded.”

Plant for the Planet: Campaign to Plant 1 Trillion Trees!

Launched at the age of nine, Felix Finkbeiner is now 19, and his organization Plant-for-the-Planet has planted more than 14 billion trees in more than 130 nations.

Check out this piece in National Geo:

Finkbeiner has an answer for skeptics who doubt the science of climate change.

“If we follow the scientists and we act and in 20 years find out that they were wrong, we didn’t do any mistakes,” Finkbeiner told an Urban Futures conference in Austria last year. “But if we follow the skeptics and in 20 years find out that they were wrong, it will be too late to save our future.”

A Big Effort to Count Trees

The tree study came about as Plant-for-the-Planet’s ambitions expanded. One of the largest projects now is a reforestation effort underway on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. The group built a nursery that contains 300,000 seedlings of native trees and plans ultimately to plant 10 million trees by 2020.

Larger ambitions prompted new questions. Did the 14 billion trees already planted make any difference? Would 10 million in Mexico? Can planting keep up with the continuing deforestation around the world? No one knew. Scientists have long considered conducting a tree census, but until then, no one had done one. Enter Tom Crowther and his team at Yale.

“Felix asked the simple question: how many trees are there?” Crowther says. “Plant-for-the-Planet was certainly the inspiration for me.”

The two-year study, published in Nature in 2015, found that the Earth has 3 trillion trees—seven times the number of previous estimates. The study found that the number of trees on the planet since the dawn of agriculture 12,000 years ago has fallen by almost half—and that about 10 billion trees are lost every year. Planting a billion trees is a nice effort, but won’t make a dent.

“I thought they might be disheartened,” Crowther says. Instead, “they said, ‘Okay, now we have to scale up.’ They didn’t hesitate. They’re contacting billionaires all over the world. It is amazing.”

Scaling up means Plant-for-the-Planet now aims to plant one trillion trees. That’s 1,000 billion. Those trees could absorb an additional 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide every year; Finkbeiner says that will buy time for the world to get serious about reducing carbon emissions.

Amazing Space in Cedar Rapids

Nice profile on Cedar Rapids’ Amazing Place building at the Indian Creek Nature Center in Tech Republic.

Here’s a clip:

“Nature, science, and facts are non-partisan,” said Indian Creek Nature Center executive director John Myers. “Technology is an extension of nature. The two not only interoperate, tech and the environment complement each other.”

Science and technology are also good for business. The Indian Creek Nature Center (ICNC) is Iowa’s only private nonprofit nature center. The organization’s headquarters and new Amazing Space “living building” is an energy NetZero facility nestled in a grove of oak trees on the edge of a sloping prairie dotted with both wildflowers and solar panels. The new building is a 12,000-square-foot environmental education center, Myers explained, and is “under certification by the International Living Future Institute to become a Living Building. This certification is far beyond LEED standards and focuses on truly sustainable practices that restore, not degrade the environment.”

Indigenous Iowa breaks ground on Earth Mother Camp, an environmentally progressive think tank

Indeigenous activist Cheryl Angel speaks at the site of the new Earth Mother Camp. Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017. — photo by Zak Neumann.

Indigenous Iowa, a social and environmental justice organization rooted in indigenous culture, welcomed the first visitors to the Earth Mother Community Education Camp near Williamsburg, Iowa on Sunday, Feb. 26.

The ceremony began with a song to welcome water protectors from Oceti Sakowin, a camp at Standing Rock, North Dakota resisting the Dakota Access Pipeline. Cedric Goodhouse was

invited to start the ceremonial fire, setting positive intentions for the camp. There were speeches by Oceti Sakowin, Indigenous Iowa and Meskwaki speakers at the ceremony.

Click here to read the full article.

Turning Deadly Poop Into Fertile Soil

Due to lack of a proper sanitation system Haiti is fighting the worst CHOLERA epidemic in modern History. “Since 2006 a non-profit organization called SOIL has been transforming human waste into resources in Haiti. Through the use of ecological sanitation, SOIL is working to create a revolutionary business model for providing access to safe, dignified sanitation that produces rich, organic compost as a natural resource for Haiti’s badly-depleted soils, while also creating economic opportunities in some of the world’s most under-resourced communities”.

This ecological sanitation is a game changer, this is one of the most organic fertilizers, there are no chemicals added and is rich in nutrients and minerals, this is what allows plants to grow healthy and stronger. It also adds organic matter to the soil which may improve soil structure, aeration, soil moisture-holding capacity, and water infiltration. Plants that grow in a rich soil environment are stronger than those plants that grow in a soil full of fertilizers made in labs by humans, that have added chemicals and therefore need insecticidal because a plant needs more than NPK( Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium) to be strong, and this manure fertilizer provides more of the nutrients that the plants and the soils needs.

For more details please see the following video, courtesy of AJ+:

Turning Deadly Poop Into Fertile Soil

Haiti is fighting cholera by turning human poop into rich fertilizer.

Posted by AJ+ on Sunday, February 26, 2017

Poplar Trees and Restoration of Contaminated Soils, Water

Check out this old article on Lou Licht, an Iowa-based engineer who works with planting poplar trees for soil remediation and water management. Licht’s trees eliminate the chemicals in wastewater. “Every drop of water passes within an inch of a root,” he said. Those roots and microbes – the tiny organisms around them – breakdown pollutants like pathogens, ammonia, spilled oil or pharmaceuticals.”

Here’s a clip from Iowa Watch:

He’s an entrepreneur with a doctorate in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Iowa. But in some ways, Licht still is like the dairy farmer he grew up as. Only now, he grows things. His crops are poplar trees that filter fine particles and formaldehyde from the air. When planted in swales, they retain and filter water from rain, reducing storm surges and runoff in flood-prone states like Iowa. And, they can treat sewage.

“In the case of Iowa, where we are surrounded by farmland, the right 15-20 acres can do all the tertiary treatment for a town of 1,000 people,” he said.

Licht, a native of Lowden, Iowa, lives in a North Liberty home surrounded by poplars. Wearing thin-rimmed glasses and black zip-up vest over a long-sleeved beige shirt one breezy October morning, he talked about his professional evolvement, the pollution-fighting trees and his hopes for what they could do for Iowa’s environmental problems.

As he spoke, the sun peaked through the thick forest of spindling trees that shield much of his lake from view. Topped with thin patches of still-green leaves, those trees dot the landscape of the few acres Licht calls home. Green-brown, expansive space, accented with the chirping of birds, it is the type of place where you might expect to find someone who studies trees.

But Licht doesn’t just study trees. He plants them – by the thousands each year in places like Chicago, Atlanta and St. Louis, and gets thousands of dollars to do it. He’s not an in-your-face ecologist who lambastes mankind for “the rape of Mother Earth.” He’s a businessman who speaks of incentives and convergence. To him, cleaning the environment isn’t a moral issue. “It just makes sense,” he said.

But why would the U.S. Air Force or companies like Tyco or Republic Waste, which is the second largest disposer of garbage nationally, want Licht’s trees? Why do scientists around the globe seek his advice?

Licht’s work is “awesome,” said Kenneth Yongabi, coordinator of Phytobiotechnology Research Foundation in Cameroon. “I have no doubt about the formidable treasure this technology has for the future.”

The trees work through a process called phytoremediation that involves tree roots, swales and surrounding microbes, and they save companies money, lot’s of it, he and his environmental colleagues say. They help clean polluted land, air and water.

One of his projects is in Slovenia, where land that once was oil refinery now is an 18-hole golf course still lined with some of the trees he planted years before.

In Iowa, Licht says his methods could help deal with poorly treated sewage. More than 700 un-sewered communities discharge 1.2 billion gallons of poorly treated sewage into state waters, according to two studies by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources cited in a 2005 Iowa Policy Project report. Upgrading those systems to new federal standards can cost millions.

Cities Must Be Regenerative. But What Kind of Regeneration Are We Actually Talking About?

Filippo Boselli with the World Future Council has a nice series of definitions on regeneration and regenerative cities. “The term ‘regenerative´ is becoming increasingly popular in the discussion around sustainable urban development and especially relevant now as it gets frequently mentioned within the UN discourse leading up to Habitat III,” Boselli writes. “For example, the term has recently been re-adopted in the official document of the UN World Urban Campaign as one of the 10 final Principles of The City We Need 2.0. The 6th principle explicitly states that “The City We Need is Regenerative and resilient”. The terms is also mentioned several times throughout this document as well as in other UN preparatory documents towards Habitat III such as the final Policy Paper 8 Urban Ecology and Resilience.”

But what does Regenerative actually mean?

Here’s a clip:

While the ultimate aim of a regenerative city is to be able to regenerate the natural resources that it absorbs, it is important to highlight that the concept is in fact much broader and comprehensive. It is therefore important to clarify the types of Regeneration that we would see in the Regenerative City. In summary, we can say that the concept embraces 4 key types of regenerations, all extremely important for the effective implementation of the Regenerative City.

4 Fundamental Regenerations

Regeneration of Resources (from Linear to Circular Flows)

Regenerative urban development seeks to mimic the circular metabolic systems found in nature. This will require a switch in paradigm away from the old linear metabolism (which allows cities to operate within an isolated segment of the resource cycle) to a new circular metabolism. This will mean closing the urban resource cycle by finding value in outputs that are conventionally regarded as waste and using them as resource inputs in local and regional production systems. For example, all the energy the city consumes needs to be able to be naturally regenerated by natural processes. For this reason, renewable energy is considered the only viable energy sources for regenerative cities, as it is continuously available and does not involve the consumption of a finite stock such as fossil fuels. Similarly all the material goods the city needs are not discarded into landfills but are kept in the resource loops by being upcycled, recycled, reused or by becoming a useful input in another processes such as energy production processes.

Regeneration of Natural Capital and Urban Ecosystems (From Consuming to “Prosuming”)

The Regenerative city is not only conceived as a consuming entity, but actively contributes to the production of the resources it needs and to the restoration of the natural capital and ecosystems from which it depends. For example, food supplies are complemented through urban agriculture (including vertical agriculture), energy through solar rooftops, geothermal and bio-waste, and water through storm water collection at the block level and by allowing urban aquifers to be replenished through water percolation across the extensive green and permeable areas in and around the city. This enhanced ecosystem service infrastructure within the urban area improves the city’s self-sufficiency as well as its resilience. For example, increasingly relying on urban agriculture and on food from the immediate hinterland improves self-sufficiency while extensive greener areas provide benefits in terms of pollution mitigation, CO2 sequestration, water retention, natural filtering for cleaner urban aquifers, flood resilience etc. Similarly, relying on renewable energy sources from within the city or from the immediate surroundings increases the city’s resilience to energy prices fluctuation and dependency on imports. In addition, the regeneration of the productive capacity of the city and its ecosystems will lead to a renewed, enhanced relationship between cities and their hinterland and between urban and rural areas.

Regeneration of Urban Spaces (from Sprawled to Dense)

Rather than sprawling and expanding on virgin land, regenerative urban development is about creating denser cities by redeveloping and regenerating the existing urban fabric and existing neighbourhoods (instead of simply developing new sites from scratch). Increasing density has in fact huge benefits in terms of efficient use of energy, resources, infrastructures and transport. At the same time, the focus of urban regeneration projects should be on making cities more people-centred, increasingly functional for the community, more accessible and inclusive and at the same time able to positively enhance the natural systems of the city and of the surrounding areas. Retrofitting and renovation projects are prioritized while at the same time historical and cultural heritage is also conserved and revalued. Enhancement of urban ecosystems is prioritized and it is achieved by making sure the city is rich of green areas and vegetation that, for example, help to block shortwave radiation, cool the ambient and create more comfortable urban microclimates. The latter can be highly beneficial, particularly given the risks of increase in temperature due to global warming. Improving urban ecology, promoting bioremediation of degraded areas and flora regeneration are also essential and have benefits beyond the environmental ones as they also increase the liveability and aesthetic value of the city.

Regeneration of Communities (from Passive to Active Engagement)

Local communities and local businesses are themselves regenerated, revitalized and strengthened by becoming the actual leaders and drivers of all the regeneration projects taking place in the city. Citizens are constantly engaged and are encouraged to take part in the decision-making processes and community-based activities within the city. The informal sector, local youth and marginalized groups are also involved. For this purpose, it is crucial to establish a policy framework that promotes greater citizen participation, facilitates the processes of collaboration among stakeholders and of coordination across levels of governance and actively supports innovation and formation of new activities, locally based projects, start-ups and community initiatives. All of these processes contribute to the creation of a more dynamic, lively, people-centred and inclusive urban reality.

Cultivating Regenerative Food System in the Cities

As part of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Circular Economy project, “A New Dynamic 2: Effective Systems In a Circular Economy” report looks at regenerative solutions for our food systems in the cities. The authors declare: “That is why it is time to move away from what has become a “linear food system”: a take, make, dispose system in which, too often, synthetic inputs go into the land; the land gets overused, and a huge proportion of the food produced is wasted and ends up in landfill. In addition, many nutrients never make it back to the field, stacking up in contaminated sludge. The goal should be to move toward a regenerative model in which land is restored as it is used and in which nutrient and material loops provide much-needed inputs, resulting in a healthier food supply.”

Here’s a clip:

Promote peri-urban and urban food production

The demand for local, fresh and relatively unprocessed food is growing. American greenhouse operator Bright Farms has signed a contract with supermarket chain Giant Foods to supply 450 tons of produce annually to 30 Washington, D.C.-area stores from a 100,000-plus square foot greenhouse located in the metro area. This is expected to be the largest urban greenhouse operation anywhere in the world.

In Europe, Barcelona has announced a goal of producing half its food in the metropolitan region. Establishing shorter supply chains between farms and retailers or consumers reduces the waste associated with transport. Doing so can also help to create local jobs and strengthen rural-urban links.

On a smaller scale, urban farming is also emerging, in the form of vertical, hydroponic and aquaponic farms. Vertical farms grow produce inside or on top of buildings. Typically, these farms use 70 to 90 percent less water and fertilizer than conventional ones because they keep unabsorbed water and nutrients in the system.

It needs hardly be said that cities are not going to supplant traditional farms. But given that more than half the world’s population lives in urban areas (a percentage that is growing), the idea that cities have a role to play in food production makes sense.
Create digital supply chains to reduce food waste

20 percent of food gets wasted on its way from the farm to the store in developed economies. Big data and IT can help to improve inventory management and thus shrink that figure.

SAP, the German software giant, offers retailers a dynamic consumer-pricing system that changes item prices in real time, based on availability and expiration date of the product. COOP, a European food retailer, has automated its fresh-food replenishment system to manage one of the largest sources of waste. Digital solutions, such as smart refrigerators, on-demand e-commerce delivery and wearable monitors can help consumers to buy the right quantity and quality of food at the right times. This will help to cut down the amount of food that people throw away.
The $346 billion opportunity

A circular food system would combine all these approaches, while also incorporating the best of traditional agriculture, to improve both the quality of the food produced and the health of the land that produces it.

In terms of production, a circular system would use significantly less synthetic fertilizer, pesticides, energy, land, and water, while emitting fewer GHGs.

The circular scenario might also produce more jobs than otherwise because organic farming and waste management are relatively labor-intensive activities. All told, we estimate that if Europe implemented the four approaches described above, the direct and indirect economic benefits could reach $346 billion (compared to the current development path).

Nowhere else is the link between long-term economic viability of our model use and the health of the underlying assets as evident as in agriculture and soil. And nowhere have we departed so visibly from the concept of regeneration, replenishment, and circularity. Building a new food system that puts the long-term productivity of our biological systems at the center won’t be easy and it will require new policies and priorities, but the time is right to start.