By lambert strether
I should have put this up yesterday, but Memorial Day is the day to plant in Maine, so I was outside gardening, instead of inside, meta-gardening. So herewith, the famous “Greening the Desert” permaculture video with some discussion and links. (The video is from Geoff Lawton, who you may remember from a beautiful video about edible forests here a few months ago.)
From the editor of the video at the Permaculture Institute:
When there’s no soil, no water, no shade, and where the sun beats down on you to the tune of over 50°C (122°F), the word ‘poverty’ begins to take on a whole new meaning. It is distinct and surreal. It’s a land of dust, flies, intense heat and almost complete dependency on supply lines outside of ones control. This is the remains of what was once called the ‘fertile crescent’. It is the result of thousands of years of abuse. It is a glimpse at a world where the environment – whose services provide for all human need – has all but completely abandoned us. This is a glimpse at the world our consumer society is inexorably moving towards, as our exponential-growth culture gorges itself at ever-increasing rates. … The work profiled in that clip demonstrates that humanity can be a positive element within the biosphere. Man doesn’t have to destroy. Man can repair.
Through this work we see desertification stopped in its tracks, and reversed. We see this century’s dire water issues getting resolved. We see productive work for millions in bypassing the irrelevant efforts of our ‘leaders’, to instead build a new kind of culture – a culture based on cooperative effort and learning. It’s a culture where its members have regained a sense of their place in creation, where they become land-based stewards of remaining resources; creating a culture where we at last find ultimate satisfaction – promoting and building peace and low-carbon, relocalised, community-based prosperity.
Maybe. Then again, a secular version of Pascal’s wager might impel us to invest in a vision like this. And although people do back-slide — burning organic matter, for example, instead of composting it, or running drip-lines uphill — it seems to me that if there were enough sites like the single site in the video, they would begin to reinforce each other. Especially since these systems seem reasonably robust, despite human folly:
[T]he Greening the Desert site has received no serious funding or management for 6 years, and yet a number of the plants seem to be thriving. Better yet, soil seems to be replenishing itself through the system of swales—a form of rain harvesting trench—that the original team put in. Impressive stuff
Efforts like this make me think that worries about feeding the world might be completely misplaced. If we haven’t greened the desert, have we even really tried?
NOTE I wonder, given the impending water shortage in the American Southwest — or, rather, its reversion to a more natural pattern (here, here, and here) — if there are similar efforts taking place in that environment. Readers?