Faith & Denial

“You live in California, you’re moving to a developing country to learn about sustainable farming, and you do yoga. Let me guess you’re a liberal. And let me guess, you believe in Climate Change” snipped Ron, a 61-year-old godfearing retired Naval officer from Iowa, who sat next to me on a five hour bus ride my first day in Belize. Meanwhile as he said the words “Climate Change” like the punchline of a joke, my Californian-tree-hugging-yogi-liberal-self thought, “I’ve found one in real life! A climate denier!”, as if I’d encountered a unicorn. Needless to say Ron and I had an interesting discussion, trading climate data for bible verses as around us Kriol women chatted in their melodic carribean accent over the soft 60’s reggae playing out the crackly stereo system of our bus ricketing down the Hummingbird Highway.

Yes, I believe in climate change. Although ‘believe’ isn’t the verb I’d choose to use as I think we’re well past the point where we have the time to debate the validity of climate science, let alone the semantics of climate deniers. “Denial is a luxury for fools and the soon-to-be-extinct”, to take a line from Albert Bates’ book “The Biochar Solution” which I just devoured and will likely try to convince you all (more than once) to read. 

Climate change is real. It’s the single biggest definite threat society faces today. (Sure, nuclear war is terrifying, but it’s only a possibility if our crazy political leaders turn out to be just as crazy as we all fear. Climate change is already here, crazy leaders or not). I’m anxious about climate change. It terrifies me. But as much as it terrifies me, it also motivates me. What can I do to slow the effects? To try to undo some of the damage? 

It’s refreshing to be on the farm with people who care about and understand these issues. Like me, they’re skeptical about humanity’s chances, but optimistic enough to give it a shot. While we grumble about the devastation of the recent hurricane season over our morning coffee, we put on our gloves to go plant trees.

So what can we do? It’s actually pretty simple. If carbon in our atmosphere is causing the planet to warm, we need to stop putting more out there and take some of it out. Take carbon out of the air. Put it in the ground. Like crazed hippie Robin Hoods taking excess from the rich and passing it to the poor, we need to grab carbon from the atmosphere and put it back into the soil where it belongs. I’ve been learning ways to do that with soil management. Healthy soil, full of microbial life and nutrients, holds carbon. Composting, mulching, and plants help the soil hold even more carbon. Biochar (something I’m really excited about these days) can help soil hold even MORE carbon (and nutrients and water too!). Biochar is a charcoal-like substance used as a soil amendment, modeled off of ancient practices used to maintain soil fertility in the Amazon for thousands of years (called terra preta). Hopefully I’ll be making some in the next few days and can update you with some pictures and a brief explanation afterwards. It’s really exciting stuff. 

Anyways, next week I’ll board a series of buses across the border to Guatemala where I’ll spend the rest of the year at the Instituto Mesoamericano de Permacultura on the beautiful Lake Atitlan. Who knows who I’ll sit next to on the next bus ride, but I’ll happily trade climate data again. Let’s just hope next time I’m trading for Mayan legends or even illuminati conspiracies instead of bible verses. Anything but bible verses….

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