Earl Katz: Regenerative Agriculture and Massive Planting of Trees is Our Only Hope

Yves here. While this is an informative and wide-ranging talk about climate change, I have a couple of quibbles. One is about the history. I have no doubt that what Earl Katz recounts is accurate, but I believe he missed a critical development which wound up setting back environmental change, which perversely was the “Limits to Growth” study by the so-called Club of Rome. At least as far as the popular press was concerned,  “Limits to Growth”  for a time dominated the discussion of how resource constraints would play out to the detriment of the planet. They wound up doing harm because their initial forecasts contained  modeling errors which led to overly dire results, to the degree that the report authors redid their work and had to issue a major revision, which had the effect of discrediting the entire exercise.

The second issue is not everyone is on board with tree planting as the best CO2 remediation; apparently other forms of ground cover are more efficient. But that is more a reader hook than much of a topic of discussion in the interview.

By Paul Jay. Originally published at TheAnalysis.com

Earl Katz has been fighting since the late 1960’s for governments and the public to face the urgency of the climate crisis. Now he wonders if it’s too late. On theAnalysis.news podcast with Paul Jay.

Paul Jay
Hi, I’m Paul Jay, and welcome to theAnalysis.news podcast. In the 1890s, a Swedish chemist, Svante August Arrhenius estimated that the doubling of CO2 levels in the atmosphere would lead to a five-degree warming effect. People were not so concerned at the time as such a thing seemed unlikely and maybe even welcomed. But his calculations turned out to be not far off.

By the 1930’s British scientist, Guy Stewart Callendar noted that the United States and the North Atlantic region had already warmed significantly after the Industrial Revolution in 1988, the hottest year at that point on record. NASA scientist, James Hansen, said that he was 99% sure that global warming was upon us. In 1989, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, was established under the United Nations to provide a scientific view of climate change and its political and economic impacts. So from the 1890s, a hundred years later, you get the IPCC plenty of warning. And where are we today? Very little has been done to address the climate crisis, even though we knew it was coming.

My guest today is an old friend. He’s been in the trenches fighting for an urgent approach to the climate crisis for decades. He’s been at it since the 1960s, trying to sound the alarm. Earl Katz founded and was president of Public Interest Pictures. He’s an environmental, social justice, antiwar activist, and Emmy Award-nominated documentary film producer. Earl is the executive producer of Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election, Unconstitutional Hacking Democracy, made for HBO, Broadcast Blue’s Heist and others. He’s also the executive producer of four short environmental films narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, titled Carbon, Last Hours, Green World Rising, and Restoration in 2019.

He was an associate producer of Ice on Fire for HBO. Earl was the US senior staff member of Dai Dong, an NGO that organized and produced the Menton memorandum that linked the environment, poverty, and war. The statement was initially signed by 2,200 international scientists from 23 countries on both sides of the Iron Curtain. In 1971 it became the cover story and first issue of UNESCO, (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), Career dedicated to the environment. It was instrumental in 1972, about 50 years ago, during the launch of the UNEP, the United Nations Environmental Program.
Earl served as executive director of the Campaign to Defend America’s Environment, a coalition of five leading environmental organizations. He was the entertainment coordinator of the International Earth Day in 2000 and has been a board member of several NGOs and currently serves as a board member of the Carbon Underground. Earl has been at this for a long time. And where are we now? Now joining us is Earl Katz. Thanks for joining us, sir.

Earl Katz
Hi Jay

Paul Jay
After all these years, you still call me Jay.

Earl Katz

What are you going to do?

Paul Jay
It’s Paul, but I don’t care. What do you do when you got two first names? So you’ve been at this a long time. This has got to kind of wear you out in a sense that the science, even by the late 1960s, certainly by the statement in 1972, the science was pretty clear. And by a decade later, it was really clear. How did you become aware of this so early, and what did you do about it?

Earl Katz
Well, I graduated with a bachelor’s degree and a dual major in psychology and biology. And in biology, we learned about the environment and ecology and I could see the problems already in late 1969. My best friend had come back from the Peace Corps in Africa. I was a big sales executive with IBM, and we went to the pilot program for Earth Day at Columbia University. Less than a month later, my dear friend called me and said he’s becoming a European organizer of the Transnational Peace Environmental Organization, and that they needed someone to be the U.S. representative and to be the global fundraiser. We were based in Brussel and in Nyack, New York, which is where I worked out of.

Paul Jay
And what year are we in again?

Earl Katz
This was over the Christmas holidays in ’69.

Paul Jay
So this is the Vietnam War is raging.

Earl Katz
Yes. And the parent organization of our environmental peace organization was the umbrella group for the anti-war movement. We organized the peace marches to Washington, developed draft counseling along with the American Friends Service Committee. So that was our national program, working to end the war, and the international program was anti-war, environmental.

Paul Jay
Now when you say environmental. How much of that was climate crisis and how much of that were pollution issues? Because how aware were you of the climate danger at that point?

Earl Katz
We were quite aware. I mean, I think I sent you a little piece about the Monton statement, which was encapsulated in the UNESCO’s Carrier. We were the cover story. And it was billed as a message to two or three and a half billion neighbors. But one of the scientist part of my job was to meet with scientists in the United States. And there were four European organizers, people working in Africa and Asia as well.

And Paul Ehrlich was one of our signatories. And Paul Ehrlich exposed us to the problems of climate change. In fact, he wrote about it in his book, The Population Bomb. And in any case, in the full version of the Monton statement, we talk about carbon dioxide from automobiles and other sources building up in the Earth’s atmosphere. And then within the next 30 years, it’s expected to increase by 25 percent. I believe it increased a lot more.

And it’s forming a film around the Earth. It’s almost certain to change the world climate. And then we talked about the carbon dioxide from factories and cities and, you know, accumulating in the atmosphere, and here we are today.

Paul Jay
So this is 1972, about 50 years ago.

Earl Katz
Well, actually, the statement— I call it the Menton Statement. The U.S. calls it the Menton Message. This was 1971 that we finished the statement.

Paul Jay
So how dangerous did you think it was then? I mean was it just one of a lot of issues? When do you start? When do you start to get this is actually an existential problem, as most of us seem to understand now. Not that it’s changing by that much. What’s actually happened?

Earl Katz
Well, we knew about it. We knew it was a danger to science, and in fact, had been proven by the scientist, Punta Arenas, that you mentioned, who, by the way, Greta Thunberg’s father’s name is Svante.

And that’s because the man who really first discovered climate change, and the fact that we’re heating the atmosphere with CO2 and other greenhouse gases was Greta’s grandfather or great-grandfather, I’m not sure which, but her father’s named after him, Svante.

Paul Jay
That’s really interesting. And her, she’s got in her DNA fighting on these issues.
So ’71 is the statement. The war is raging. So, I mean, the war is very preoccupying.
When do you start to really click for yourself that this is your mission to be fighting, to change on this?

And then in ’88, when Hansen makes a statement. Between the lead up to the ’88 Hansen statement, what do you do and what’s happening in terms of the sort of what amounts to denial? I know during the period myself personally, I used to hear little bits about it, but I kind of dismissed it, honestly. The war was going on. There was so much happening. And I know myself, and a lot of people I knew that were involved in the anti-war movement. We all kind of thought, gee, you know, if it’s really so serious, even the capitalists are going to have to deal with it. You know, they can’t risk the worst effects here. So we don’t have to worry about it that much. That turned out to be true.

Earl Katz
I was worried about it from having interacted with Paul Ehrlich and understanding the science. The main message of the Monton statement is that all of mankind’s problems are inextricably related. And, you know, from pollution to poverty to, you know, all of our problems are in health.

They’re all inextricably related. And the point of the Monton statement was that a necessary precondition for solving the panoply of problems facing mankind is the cessation of war. So that’s really the takeaway from this. So I became deeply involved in the antiwar movement, not in my resume, but when I was a fundraiser for a film called The Winter Soldier Investigation, where dozens of Vietnam veterans gave testimony to their personal war crime atrocities. And when the film was done, I gave it to John Kerry, who was then the head of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

So the only way we can really deal with climate change now is to stop doing the destructive things that are causing it. It’s very, very late. In fact, I think it’s too late because of something called latent heat that we can go into that later. And I’m not the only one that thinks it’s too late, but whatever we can do to ameliorate the problem, we should be doing. But as long as we are a warrior nation, as long as we’re killing one another, we’re not going to be saving humanity or the planet itself.

Possibly there’s a good chance this planet can turn into Venus with the runaway climate change.

Paul Jay
Which would look like what?

Earl Katz
Hotter than hell.

Paul Jay
Hotter than hell!
So give us the big beats. On the last, you know, 20, 30 years about what’s been discovered in the science, and then let’s get into what could be done.

Earl Katz
The science is clear. The IPCC report from the U.N. is very clear. There was I read a very interesting review written by Bill McKibben, who is the founder of 350.org. And it’s in the August 20th issue of the New York Review of Books. And he’s reviewing a book called Our Final Warning, Six Degrees of Climate Emergencies. He’s quoting the authors saying, If we stay on the current business as usual trajectory, which is growth for the sake of growth, increased gross national product, that’s my paraphrase, we could see two degrees as soon as the early 20s, 30s, three degrees by mid-century, four degrees by 2075 and so on.

If we’re unlucky with positive feedbacks, which I know quite a bit about from the thawing permafrost in the Arctic, collapsing tropical rainforest, then we could be in for five or six degrees by the end of the century. We can’t live in that kind of world, a world that’s that hot. We can’t grow crops.

Paul Jay
And you’re talking about the lifetime of our kids.

Earl Katz

Paul Jay
So if the science is so clear, why is there so little being done? You know, all of a sudden, Biden has a kind of climate plan. It’s clearly not enough to rise to the occasion. Obama and Biden. But Obama saw all this data. Nothing really that new has emerged in the science since Obama was president. And the measures he took were beyond modest, even in terms of his bully pulpit.
I went back before he left the presidency, and I looked at about four or five of his State of the Unions and climate in almost all the state of the unions, but one barely got more than two paragraphs, often one paragraph. And in the one State of the Union where it wasn’t one or two paragraphs, it was because there was none.

He’s a smart guy, and I’m not just trying to isolate him individually, but in terms that he represents a stratum of really smart, intelligent people who have access to tons of information and power, and didn’t even use their position to get people alarmed, never mind actually takes some action. You know, some of these people. How do you explain what goes on in their heads?

Earl Katz
Well, they better talk to Van Jones than to me about it. Van was President Obama’s climate guy. And he really won’t say anything negative about the president, President Obama.

Paul Jay
He won’t say much negative at all about the Democratic Party.

Earl Katz
So that’s right. That’s right. So I don’t know if you were old enough to remember when Khrushchev came to this country, he said, I don’t want to meet with the president. I want to meet with the captains of industry because that’s who really runs the country, and we’re still there. It doesn’t get any more complicated than that.

Paul Jay
But they’re not stupid people, the captains of industry. Some of them are so well aware of the climate issue and other than some lip service and some sort of greenwashing, very little serious is happening from any of them.

Earl Katz
You cannot underestimate greed. When I was working on the Monton statement and that parent organization, which was called Dai Dong, Dai Dong de Joy. De Joy was the parent organization of the Monton Statement, and Dai Dong was a project of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation. I was sent to a conference by a granddaughter of John D. Rockefeller, and it was in Washington, D.C. It was a meeting of an organization called the Federal Union. Any information about this online has been eliminated. People at the Heritage Society, they’re rooms of people that are doing that, eliminating our history.

So we had to read a book prior to going to this conference. I was able to bring a guest who has since passed away. And the book is called Famine in 1975, written by two brothers who worked at the State Department, William and Paul S. Paddock, one of whom was an agronomist. And the book essentially was the same as the full Monton Statement saying there’s going to be massive population increase, there’s going to be resource depletion, there’s going to be water scarcity, there’s going to be mass migrations due to the environmental causes.

And this was a conference of—125 people were invited. I was sitting next to the heiress of Krupp’s armaments through most of it. there were four-star generals there. There were very powerful people, not me. On the last day of the conference, they brought out some people from NASA, and the NASA people had mockups, little models of the space shuttle. And they said, well, we’ve read the book. We understand what’s going to happen.

It’s going to be runaway population growth, runaway resource depletion, runaway problems, increased war. If you use your influence to help make sure that the space shuttle gets funded, we will be able to build an orbiting space station around the planet and we can build many of them because the space shuttle enables us to have enormous thrust, and some of us will be able to live there while chaos reigns on the earth. And, moreover, it’ll be easy to colonize the moon and possibly Mars because you don’t need much thrust once you’re outside of the atmosphere. It was then that new things are in real trouble.

Paul Jay
That’s crazy.

Earl Katz
And I was there with an open mike, and people were advocate, you know, totally bought in. And I got up and I said, Look, as far as I know, we have everything here on Earth. We need to make a paradise on Earth. At least that’s what Buckminster Fuller says, who was one of the signers of the Monton Statement, and we can create paradise here on Earth. It’s folly to try to go to space. And, you know, it doesn’t make any sense. I’m not a scientist, but I think, you know, there’ll be problems with weightlessness. What will it do to our skeletal systems? What about solar radiation? The NASA scientists snowed me with scientific jargon. I had no idea what they’re talking about. Then a little man got up and went to the microphone, and he said, “I’m a scientist. My name is Harold Yuri.”

Harold Yuri was one of the top five scientists in the Manhattan Project, a Nobel Prize winner. And he said, “This is what the Federal Union has in mind. I hereby resign.” And he walked out.

So what it is, the captains of industry and the super-wealthy have what’s known in the environmental world as a bunker mentality that would, with enough money, they’ll be able to ride out. You know, the coming environmental deterioration, whether it be orbiting in a space station, in an old Nike missile silo that’s been totally tricked out with its own ventilation systems and stocked with food and water for decades. But they have this bunker mentality. And that’s what’s prevented us from doing something about it. That and the fact that the fossil fuel industry has mounted a massive disinformation program about the dangers of climate change. And that’s kind of ironic because not only have they not done anything significant on climate, they’re nowhere near having space stations, and they’re not even very good at building bunkers.

Paul Jay
I mean, the whole thing is they’re so short-sighted. All right.

Let’s talk about where we’re at if Trump wins again. There’s no conversation to be had about climate policy in the United States. And the situation’s going to deteriorate even further. But the way things are looking, it’s likely to be a Biden presidency.

What he’s proposed in climate goes further than what he’s ever proposed before. We’ve done a few stories on this. What’s your take, first of all, on what Biden’s plans are?

Earl Katz
I’m not terribly familiar with it, to be honest with you. But I don’t have that much faith that anything can really be done. I think the die has been cast because the greenhouse gases that are in the atmosphere will continue to heat the planet for as much as thousands of years. And the only way we can possibly, possibly survive is through regenerative agriculture, which is bringing the carbon down from the atmosphere and putting it back into the soil.
Naturally, reforestation that made it was done on a massive global scale, we might survive, and I say might, but there’s no political will for that. You’re taking on industrial agriculture.

Paul Jay
Well, be concrete because not everybody’s familiar with what this process is. How does this type of agriculture bring carbon out of the atmosphere at a scale that’s necessary? How does it work?

Earl Katz
There have been white papers written about it. The United Nations has information about it. When you till the soil deeply, you kill all the microbes in the living soil. You kill the worms and you have to put nitrates and fossil fuel fertilizer to grow the crops. We are losing healthy soil. It’s such an extent that we now have. Five years ago, they said we have 60 harvests left. Now we have fifty-five. But with regenerative agriculture, there’s an exchange between the roots of live plants and fungus deep in the soil that actually pulls the carbon out of the atmosphere and puts it back in the soil, but has to be done on a massive scale and has to be done now.

Paul Jay
So massive scale means what? It means industrial agriculture, which I assume has most of the land being “tilled.” Would have to be made because it wouldn’t be profitable, as profitable to do this. The government would have to essentially make American, North American. I assume this really needs to be done on a global scale to have that kind of effect.

And what would that look like? I mean, I know we’re talking politically. This probably isn’t possible, but what would it look like if it was?

Earl Katz
It would look like small little gardens all over the world.

Paul Jay
Why small? Why can’t this be done in big fields and stuff?

Earl Katz
It takes planting by hand, actually, where you just poke a little hole in the soil and drop a seed rather than tilling. It’s very labor-intensive.

Paul Jay
Why does it require that? Why can’t that be automated?

Earl Katz
I don’t know that it can or cannot, but I’ve been told that I mean, there’s an article, an op-ed written by Eric Ottone, who’s the guy who publishes the Utne Reader in the July 25th issue of The New York Times.

It’s his op-ed, and it’s titled, ‘Feeling Hopeless? Embrace It’, and he’s saying, we need a segway now from techno-industrial market economies to much smaller scale, less energy-intensive, localized communities that prize food growing knowledge sharing and inclusiveness and steward the Earth and create small biotic community. That’s the only society that might survive the rocky climacteric, that is already upon us to have hope. Now, if hope means the expectation that someone, a new president or something, geo-engineering, which I’m totally against, or some other techno-fix is going to save us, then no, I’m hopeless rather than hope free.

Paul Jay
Why are you against geoengineering at least? Why shouldn’t that be investigated? Because given the scenarios you’ve laid out, there isn’t going to be a scenario that works because the kind of agriculture you’re talking about, the kind of economy you’re talking about, essentially is not something that can happen with this many people, with these big cities and societies. So it may be where there is no way out of this, but that may be what the truth of it is.

But if there’s any possibility, certainly geoengineering might be one of the things that would make it work, seeing as nothing else seems to be able to make it work except planting tons of trees. I mean, it seems to me that’s a very doable proposition, even politically at some point.
I mean, before we get into the geoengineering, let’s just back up to the tree part.
If there was a massive, massive planting of trees around the world, how much effect would that have?

Earl Katz
It’s a question of time. The book that Bill McKibben reviewed said 20 years, we can have a civilization collapse at the outside 40 years. How long’s it take to grow a tree? Geo-engineering is a Trojan horse. It’s been funded primarily by fossil fuel companies, primarily by the Koch brothers. It’s the ideal excuse to do business as usual. And rather than allow the industry to continue to act on its own interests, the world has to establish a strong, democratic regulatory mechanism, which includes the option to ban this technology outright.

It’s OK to try and develop them, but testing them on any kind of significant scale can bring untold horrors. And there’s a foundation in the Heinrich Böll Stiftung, a green political foundation that funds all the various Green Parties throughout Europe. They are totally against geo-engineering. It can destroy our oceans. It can be used as a weapon of war to create drought in some places and tsunamis in other places. And when I say it’s being funded by the fossil fuel companies, you can take that to the bank. It’s a false hope.

Paul Jay
So what are we left with?

Earl Katz
What we’re left with really, “Is the guy a principal?” which was developed by James Lovelock, I think, in ’69 or ’70, a British environmentalist. And back then he posited that the Earth is a self-regulating entity that is biophilic, that does what it has to do to create an atmosphere on the planet that is suitable for life to exist. He was scorned at first, but no longer. The Gaia hypothesis has been pretty widely embraced.

It is a hypothesis that observes how the biosphere and the evolution of life forms contribute to the stability of global temperature, ocean salinity, oxygen in the atmosphere, and other factors of habitability. Lynn Margulis, a microbiologist in the ’70s co-developed it with Lovelock, and it’s now being studied in the disciplines of geo- physiology, Earth systems, science and some of its principles have been adopted in fields like biogeochemistry and systems ecology. The ecological hypothesis has also inspired analogies and various interpretations in social sciences, politics, and religion.

Under vague philosophy and movement, the Earth does what it has to do to survive and make life possible.

Paul Jay
But not necessarily for humans.

Earl Katz
That’s right. Humans are the problem now. And with our increased pension, not with our increase, with our pension for continued growth, it’s antithetical to an Earth in balance. Growth for the sake of growth is the philosophy of the cancer cell. The planet is metastasizing fast. We have to if the best thing we can do is stop burning fossil fuels almost immediately, as soon as humanly possible, live smaller, develop renewables, do regenerative agriculture, plant trees, have less children, stop putting our resources into a military budget that is wasting our financial, mental and humanistic strengths.

Paul Jay
Thanks for joining us.

Earl Katz
Thank you, Paul

Paul Jay
And thank you for joining us at theAnalysis.news podcast.

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    1. Yves Smith Post author

      First, the Club of Rome predicted dire outcomes like mass starvation and pervasive pollution that on their timetable should have materialized by now and haven’t. While they were correct about the ultimate results, they predicted the dire outcomes would take place faster than they did.

      Second, the Club did a bit of a “never mind” when developing countries were upset that believing their forecasts meant they’d have to accept staying where they are now. This is from a 1973 executive committee document “clarifying” their position:

      An erroneous image of the Club has, therefore, formed as a group advocating zero growth. Again, the possible consequences of unregulated growth of the industrialized societies and, still more, those which would arise if growth were abruptly brought to a halt, has disturbed some of the less developed countries where, we have already said, the report is all too easily seen as a selfish proposal from the developed world which would still further aggravate the difficulties of the great mass of underprivileged on our planet.


      1. witters

        I send this before, but it never appeared.

        CSIRO Working Papers 2008-2009

        A Comparison of the Limits to Growth with Thirty Years of Reality, Graham Turner
        ABSTRACT In 1972, the Club of Rome’s infamous report “The Limits to Growth” (Meadows et al., 1972) presented some challenging scenarios for global sustainability, based on a system dynamics computer model to simulate the interactions of five global economic subsystems, namely: population, food production, industrial production, pollution, and consumption of non-renewable natural resources. Contrary to popular belief, The Limits to Growth scenarios by the team of analysts from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology did not predict world collapse by the end of the 20th Century. This paper focuses on a comparison of recently collated historical data for 1970–2000 with scenarios presented in the Limits to Growth. The analysis shows that 30 years of historical data compares favorably with key features of a business-as-usual scenario called the “standard run” scenario, which results in collapse of the global system midway through the 21st Century. The data does not compare well with other scenarios involving comprehensive use of technology or stabilizing behaviour and policies. The results indicate the particular importance of understanding and controlling global pollution.


        1. Yves Smith Post author

          The “predictions” indeed were too aggressive. What the world runs out of first is potable water, which oddly they missed, and we’re on track for that happening in 2050. Note you don’t need potable water to grow food.

          The problem is when you put dates on things, people tend to hold you to them:

          Global Industrial output per capita reaches a peak around 2008, followed by a rapid decline
          Global Food per capita reaches a peak around 2020, followed by a rapid decline
          Global Services per capita reaches a peak around 2020, followed by a rapid decline
          Global population reaches a peak in 2030, followed by a rapid decline


          And one of the lead authors said they weren’t predicting…but if they weren’t, why the dates?

          In 2011 Ugo Bardi in “The Limits to Growth Revisited” argued that “nowhere in the book was it stated that the numbers were supposed to be read as predictions.”

          As someone old enough to remember the release of Limits to Growth, I thought it was sensible and important. It was successfully discredited and if anything wound up being a negative for conservation efforts.

  1. PlutoniumKun

    Unfortunately yes, the focus on resource renewal and population expansion in the 1970’s did damage the environmental message when many of the predictions turned out to be wrong. Although I suspect the main momentum was just the surge in neoliberalism in the 1980’s which swept away many alternative viewpoints in one big wave of ‘the market will cure it’.

    Just planting trees is simplistic for all sorts of reasons, but yes, in the short to medium term the only possible way of stopping the increase in CO2 is through, more broadly, vegetation. In many areas its grasses, in many its just set land aside and let natural regeneration make the choice. What is frustrating is that fairly simple solutions that could have major impacts get lost in the argument. In the 1990’s there were lots of promising small changes in waste policy that could have had profound changes – one I was involved in was to look at the possibility of using low grade compost from waste streams as a weed suppressant for grain crops as an alternative to early spring application of glyphosate (this tends to lead to lots of soil erosion). It was simple, and potentially cost effective, and would have solved several problems in one go, but it got lost in general changes to waste management policy in Europe(yes, mostly deregulation). Many small unrelated decisions can often end up with catastrophic consequences.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      I start from a bias in the sense that I don’t regard model outputs as predictions. To me a model converts a bunch of assumptions and initialization data into a calculation that provides an answer or result of the calculations. Models are tools not oracles.

      Please elaborate, perhaps describe a few of the predictions that turned out to be wrong.

    2. JimL

      The only way to stop the rise in the atmospheric concentration of CO2 is to stop burning fossil fuels. And even if we stopped completely right now and let the environment go wild, the concentration of CO2 would probably not go below 400 ppm by 2100. Right now the 34 GTons of CO2 we are putting into the atmosphere per year is increasing the concentration by about 2 ppm (from BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2020 and Keeling et. al. Mauna Loa data). In 1976 when we were only emitting half as much the increase was 1 ppm per year. If we are to have a chance to keep global warming to 1.5 C, the IPCC says we need to reduce emissions to 50% by 2030 and 0 by 2050. To decrease emissions by 50% every 10 years would mean a yearly reduction of about 7% and by 2050 we would still be emitting 12.5% of the emissions of 2020 – about the same as in 1936 when the world was recovering from the Great Depression and population was 2.2 billion (Our World in Data). The Pandemic has shown us that we can reduce our emissions worldwide. But the enormity of task before us is overwhelming and makes the contest this fall between Joe Biden and Donald Trump seem almost trivial.

  2. CSP

    Our local extension agent (who is no crazy) likes to point out that the number one cause of natural habitat loss in the Southeast over the past several decades is the growth of managed pine forest for paper, wood and pulp production. The complete lack of biodiversity in such forests lead to mass extinctions for all sorts of creatures.

    1. Mitch

      As someone who has been through a couple of those massive managed pine forests I can vouch for the lack of biodiversity. It’s like a desert, but with trees.

    2. Synoia

      This was also very true in new forests in the UK, Planted by the forestry Commission. They were all softwood forests, not mixed trees, and became dank, sinister and devoid of life.

      I’m writing what I remember of the Forestry Commission work of the late 1960s.

    3. deplorado

      I’ve heard from colleagues that it is the same in India, where native species are replaced with industrialized species by half-baked reforestation programs, and native diversity of plants and animals are irrevocably lost in the process.

    4. Lambert Strether

      > the growth of managed pine forest

      I believe this is a contributing cause of the California wildfires, too. One hundred years ago, the forests were sparser, and fires caused by natural events like lightning would burn out.

      I think the concept is plant forests, not trees (of which tree plantations, monocultures, as with BECCS, are a subset). Forests improve carbon capture, too. The more complexity, the better! (Too lazy to find the link, though.)

  3. JohnnyGL

    A couple of quick points. Katz seems unfamiliar with changes in agricultural practices in recent decades. No-till has actually become a lot more widespread, which is a reason that US soils aren’t eroding as quickly as some other countries with worse practices.

    Also, planting with no-till practices can be automated. Gabe Brown has done a string of lectures. They are up on youtube and he’s got lofs of solid data to back it up. He’s really improved his soils and he’s got a couple thousand acres (i think).

    One key that doesn’t get discussed is how important it is to use polycultures, crop rotations and integrates animal husbandry.

    Mismanagement of animals is one of the biggest problems these days. Right now, there is a misdirected reaction in the form of claiming veganism will help. It might help a bit, but plants and animals co-evolved and work best when they are properly integrated with good design plans.

    Big tree-planting projects often fail. Something like 1/2 the trees end up dying.

    1. td

      Like anything else, knowledge and skill are required to expand and maintain tree stands. British Columbia has one of the largest tree-planting operations and makes an effort to maintain biodiversity. Increasingly, this is true of several other provinces that have large boreal forests. Obviously, bark beetles and fire are severe problems and it is important for people to push the expansion of such efforts and the biodiversity aspect of them as part of the overall fight against climate change.


      By the way, it is common to plant too many seedlings for a given area and then to go back and thin out the weakest. The retired parent of a friend took advantage of a program in Ontario that would plant trees at no cost to the landowner to cover the clear areas of his rural property with trees. He then carefully watered and tended the seedlings across about 40 acres of plant and very few of them died. A few years late, the Ministry folks came by and weeded out 80% of his little trees, which resulted in some tears being shed.

      1. td

        It’s a very interesting article and I would encourage anyone who is interested in growing trees to treat it as a proper gardening project with an emphasis on native species and diversity. One point that was made by some commentators is that the article recommends amending the soil to a depth of a meter for at least 100 square meters. That is potentially a tremendous amount of work and would prove a barrier for many. It is reasonable to be realistic about resources and time and to do what you can.

      2. juno mas

        Read the comments included at the end of the article. Some of the proscriptions need ‘splainin’.

        Amending soil to a 3′ depth (1meter) is a massive amount of work. Especially since vegetation root growth is opportunistic and would likely stay in the top 18″ of soil; juvenile plants add root mass in relation to above ground canopy (photosynthesis) and so root growth at a 3′ depth seems overkill.

      3. garden breads

        Amending a meter deep using “locally abundant biomass” within 50 kilometers is great for one mini-forest, but using external inputs especially in such volume does not scale. What locally abundant biomass could possibly suffice to regenerate more than a miniscule fraction of land near to the biomass source? Calculate the demands to transport the amount of biomass needed to quickly amend soil to a depth of one meter for anything more than a token plot.

        It’s taking me a over a decade to improve only 1/4 acre with multi-layer plantings (permaculture like) using areas of carbon dense plants to provide mulch and increase carbon content (Jeavons like).

        1. CuriosityConcern

          What I’m getting from your response and the other 2 is:
          Skip trying to import outputs and then amending to a meter deep(Which is inline with the main post where Earl Katz discourages tilling if my recall is correct).
          Trying dense planting methods using local flora is good. Use inputs from my families waste stream instead of trucking in.

  4. flora

    Thanks for this post.

    There are a series of videos on Youtube about regenerative agriculture and land stewardship.

    One from Australia -‘From the Ground Up’, 13 min.:

    One from Saudi desert – ‘The Story of Al Baydha: A Regenerative Agriculture in the Saudi Desert’, 20 min:

    Finding ways to slow rain water run off to let it soak into the ground is as important as planting trees.

    Thanks for this post.

  5. Herb

    Katz is woefully misinformed and biased about the promising potential for certain kinds of Geoengineering to stop further warming.

    He also dramatically over estimates the degree to which regenerative agriculture can slow further warming.

    And he ignores other scalable approaches to restoring a safe climate such as synthetic limestone, kelp farming, adding iron to oceans and utilizing biochars.

    Thus he sets back progress on climate by perpetuating ill-informed attacks on Geo engineering and Pollyannaish assessments of regenerative agriculture

    Sadly it seems like his best work and his best ideas are behind him and not ahead of him.

    1. bmeisen

      Both emissions reduction AND extraction / capture / sequestration of CO2 are needed. Managed agriculture is one of several key CO2 removal routes and IMHO it is not the most promising. large-scale management of marine photosynthesis e.g. occuring in kelp, seagrass and plankton is more promising. People like Gates should be financing large-scale, mid-ocean kelp farms, a raft the size of Oregon in the north Pacific. It would capture about a tenth of what needs to be sequestered.

      The fate of humanity depends on a price for sequestered CO2. We have priced production but we haven’t priced sequestration. It’s insane for people to invest in Mars missions, pipelines, new forms of individual transport. If there were a price for sequestered CO2 then we might have a chance to make it out of the century.

    2. thoughtful person

      What is the difference between kelp farming and tree planting (other than semantic)? I suspect even tree planting could be labeled geoengineering. My bias would be to try everything we can that seems likely to be safe (not likely to do damage). There are some geoengineering proposals out there (like setting of nuclear weapons in deserts to generate global cooling) which seem like ways of avoiding what we also need to do: stop geoengineering the atmosphere with our CO2 pollution.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Tree planting could be thought of as ” eco” engineering, as in “ecological”.

        Whereas surrounding the earth with an upper atmoshphere layers of sulfuric acid droplets could be called ” techno”-engineering, as in “technological”.

        We can only think as clearly as the words we use permit. If we had clearer words to speak of the kinds of “geo-engineering” we mean, we could think and speak more clearly. Perhaps we should invent those new words. I’m doing my part with “ecogeo-engineering” versus “technogeo’engineering”. If others like them, feel free to use them. If others want better words, let others invent the better words they would wish to see.

        So mass-tree-planting can be eco-engineering or ecogeo-engineering or whatever one wants to call it. Hopefully millions of masses of millions of people would find a word they can agree on.

    3. drumlin woodchuckles

      It all depends on what we mean by ” Geo engineering”. If we mean “bio-terraforming Eco-engineering” such as the Indian Nations of Amazonia were doing on-goingly right up to the Holocaust of the Explorer Diseases, then ” Geo engineering” has promise. If we mean surrounding the earth in a permanent sun-blocking shroud of sulfuric acid droplets in the lower stratosphere, right where the ozone layer is ( so they can destroy that even as they keep out other sunlight) , then ” Geo engineering ” don’t impress me much.

  6. Alex Cox

    This is a very interesting piece, particularly the reference to the NASA presentation in 1969.

    But the transcript is woeful. “we need a segway” “is the guy a principal” “our pension for continued growth.” Am I alone in finding it disgraceful that two grown adults who feel the need to share their opinions with us can’t be bothered to re-read the their words before throwing them at the internet?

    They may know what a segue, the Gaia Principle, and a penchant are. But they make things harder on their readers thru their laziness.

    And what is this Heritage Society with rooms full of people eliminating history? Details, please!

    1. Dwight

      The transcript was auto-generated, which is hard to criticize as lazy without donating to Analysis. “Is the guy a principal” is the only example affecting understanding.

      Harold Urey was misspelled, but DuckDuckGoGo figured it out. Interesting character. Katz’s story would about Urey walking out of the Federal Union would be an interesting addition to his Wikipedia page.


  7. juliania

    There’s a lot of unnecessary stuff in the interview, which is frustrating when there are two main points, one really frightening and one absolutely essential. The frightening thing is the runaway heat we are already experiencing, and the essential thing is that small operations work, so everyone can be doing what they can to reel back on the long line that has that nasty hook at the end of it.

    First, I think, we need to realize that it is looking worse right now because of something good – we’ve cut emissions to a certain extent because of the virus slowing everything that contributed to that, so the suns rays are getting through because the air is clearer. But that’s only an indication that things are getting better. The point about more small agriculture and planting trees is what we do now, because the atmosphere is already getting better! Everyone. Not some big government corporation. Back yards, balconies, every place possible.

    Okay, you say, impossible. No, even a poor person like me with a postage stamp back yard – I did it! I’ve worked lots of piddly jobs, none of them making me a big salary, but the last one was working in a greenhouse, and that was my best job even though the pay was barely minimal. And I had a desertscape yard, all gravel and rocks and sand. But I planted trees, and I looked after them as best I could. At first they barely survived. And we went through some drought periods. But all it took were a few good years, and now that postage stamp is a forest.

    One person can do that. And as to small farms – that helped Russia survive the death of the USSR! A family will put its heart into husbandry the way no cooperative (good as the concept may seem in theory) ever could. Passing down the experience, fathers and mothers to daughters and sons. It’s only natural!!

    What governments CAN do is change the system, eliminate agrobusiness!!!

    1. Rod

      much good on you–putting your values into action.
      In a sense, Values are one of the few things we “own”, and that really puts the truth in–

      A family will put its heart into husbandry the way no cooperative (good as the concept may seem in theory) ever could.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Unless the “co-operative” in question is really a genuine Tribe. An ethno-cultural linguistic and land-based Tribe. As the Indian Nations ( among others) have demonstrated.

  8. juliania

    I don’t even have a quarter acre. But I did a rough count, and I have 10 mature trees front and back, with smaller ones in niches in between, plus various bushes. And this is in a tiny walled yard that was literally sand, rocks and gravel when I started, not what most folk would be facing. There was no soil, and I don’t kid myself that my little patch could survive without help. That’s not the point. I first made potholes in the terrain (can’t call it soil) for the trees to be in, and as they grew I added mulch and compost I made from their fallen leaves, filched the neighbors’ bags of leafage that would have gone to the dump – had tubs from some of the trees but they were all what could fit in my car, so not big – the greenhouse was happy to sell me extra large ones for compost bins, $5 per. Those set around the yard brought in the worms. And the rest is history.

    Not saying it’s easy and it does take time; but it can be done. And I love the shade and the wildlife that comes, even the worms!

  9. Matt

    Another example of how the “first” world doesn’t–ever, it seems–know what the third world is doing. Food Sovereignty embraces all these ideas but has been at it for two decades, building on culture and diet rather than white people notions of what needs to be eaten and is THE WORLD’s BIGGEST SOCIAL MOVEMENT, with 250 million POOR PEOPLE who already know how to think for themselves in its fold. The ignorance is always. . . breathtaking. So many miles ahead of this guy. To write something like this without referencing it is a joke.

  10. Swamp Yankee

    Been trying to do regenerative/biodynamic agriculture for the last four years in my corner of Southeastern Massachusetts. It’s been a lot of work inasmuch as I’m turning first-stage-of-succession forest into farmland and it is backbreaking, slow work — I’m fairly sure it hasn’t been plowed before, that it was likely pasture; the better soils though do indicate long and rich tillage, and I think I’ve found Native tools and arrowheads, and definitely colonial or 19th century metal tools.

    I go to local saltmarshes and beaches to gather seaweed for fertilizer and salt-hay as mulch (all free and common — the old English commons still live on in many places under different names: full disclosure, I wrote my dissertation on this subject).

    I’ve had good results some years, but this year has been tough, we’ve had moderate/severe drought here in New England, and it has been hard on my plants. But I have learned a lot.

    I also fish for food in local bays and freshwater glacial kettle ponds (nearly all lakes are called ponds in Southeast New England English).

    I think it’s the future (that or perish).

  11. Jeremy Grimm

    I remember the late 1960s and the decades the 1970s and 1980s as periods of of a restive Populace which troubled our Elites. I remember how movements and concerns churned the sentiments of Populace but were never allowed to grow too focused or too large. I doubt that I correctly remember all the movements or their sequence, relative timing, or relationships – but that’s not important. What is important is the way Government and Big Money steered and controlled Populace to avoid ever allowing any movement to grow to the same size and strength as the anti-War movements of the 1960s.

    The Vietnam War and protests against that war were among the first concerns of Populace I became aware of. The anti-war protests threatened to move to broader issues as the war ground down. Government and Media worked diligently to steer Populace in relatively innocuous amorphous directions. For a while the Environment seemed to receive official encouragement by Media. Environment remained sufficiently broad and vague to spread out the intensity of those who joined the movement – at least until publication of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring”. But the actions which concern for the Environment demanded tended to be relatively inexpensive and only harmed business interests that were already winding down. There were substitutes for DDT and its patents were long expired making it safe as a focus for protests. The Environmental movements worked to protect our forests from being clear-cut but though annoying to lumber and paper companies much of the lumber had already been cut and mills were closing. Paul Ehrlich’s “Population Bomb” shifted the Environmental Movement into directions fraught with complexities. Women’s Movements grew and took up the issue tying it with birth control and abortion. Government deftly used abortion to split Populace into camps warring with each other over the issue. This was especially helpful for defusing and burying the potentially disruptive Club of Rome, “Limits to Growth” report when it arrived. The oil embargo, marked by long lines of people trying to buy gasoline, directed concern to gasoline and cars, opening the door to movements to control vehicle emissions and pollution – smog – and mandate mileage capabilities for automobiles. Pressures for building mass transit grew but they were easily diverted by endless studies of whether, where, and how to implement mass transit. Little mass transit was actually built.

  12. Jeremy Grimm

    This interview with Katz was a little disheartening. The observations about how long global warming and resource depletion have been known problems; observations about the US leadership and Big Money dedication to growth for growth’s sake and the lack any action toward addressing Climate Chaos; capped with the apt suggestion: “…the captains of industry and the super-wealthy have what’s known in the environmental world as a bunker mentality that would, with enough money, they’ll be able to ride out …” — are chilling. But his remedies — “…regenerative agriculture, plant trees, have less children, stop putting our resources into a military budget…” are as heartening and useful as his faith in the Gaia Hypothesis. His espousal of the ideas in Eric Ottone’s op-ed “…live smaller, develop renewables, have less children” are fine — except for developing renewables, unless that means wearing old and used cloths and repairing and using old stuff — already seem to be part of the post Corona plan for the US Populace. He could add to that eat less or stop eating, live in the streets, live fast and die young [except no beautiful corpse to leave] to the Post Corona plan. The small biotic localized communities that prize food growing knowledge sharing and inclusiveness and steward the Earth sounds like what survivors of Climate Chaos will have to work on if they want to continue as survivors. But it doesn’t seem like a good answer for what to do now.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      I finally figured out what has bothered me so much about this interview with Katz. — He went to great lengths to claim that he and his movements had long long ago warned of Climate Chaos.

      I don’t know about Katz’s group in particular, but what I remember from the late 1960s and 1970s, they were times of a chaotic Environmental Movement that badly splayed their subsidiary movements and concerns. I remember a period of too many voices shouting across each other dragging movements to retrograde. I am not conservative by any measure — but after watching the Democratic Convention in 1972 … I voted for Dick Nixon. The year 1972 was my year of exposure to the draft as part of the first draft lottery. I knew with cold certainty that were I drafted I would either become a causalty in training or help rice grow tall in some forgotten place. I am no soldier and cannot and will not follow or give orders. The Democratic Convention I saw in 1972 was so chaotic, and so loaded with competing issues, movements and groups, which George McGovern appeared completely unable to lead or control … I voted for Dick Nixon … and I still remembered Dick Nixon, then, as Joe McCarthy’s attack dog. But I wanted the war to end, the draft to end, and I felt no confidence that George McGovern could or would accomplish anything as he whirled with a smile and a wave in the chaos of movements and issues I saw in the Democratic Party of that time.

      I suppose these memories afflict my ability to assess the Katz interview. His claims of making early warnings about the coming Climate Chaos become engulfed in my memories of the chaos of movements and claims that I believe Katz was a part of. I don’t remember hearing or reading of any singular warnings about the coming climate chaos preceding Hansen’s warnings from 1988. This is not to claim that the coming climate chaos was unknown to our Government or the Fossil Fuel industries before that time — but it was very quiet or remained “under-the-rose”.

      Yves identified the exaggerations of the “Limits to Growth” — “initial forecasts contained modeling errors which led to overly dire results”. This echoes for me, a critique often made about Climate projections by teams running various climate models, and Paleoclimate studies. And strangely — this also recalls the gods’ curse upon Casandra.

      If a model misses its ‘doom-date’ by an hour, day, week, month, year, decade or … does that timing-miss invalidate the model, or more importantly, the predicted doom?

  13. Sound of the Suburbs

    Don’t worry, the private sector has the answer to all our problems.
    We just need to wait for a market based solution.

    A few decades later.
    Maybe Governments aren’t so bad after all; perhaps they can come up with a solution.

    The problems (UK)
    Governments haven’t been doing much for the last forty years as they had placed their faith in private sector solutions.
    Even fairly simple problems like solving the housing crisis and fixing the NHS are beyond them. They won’t even know where to start when faced with a more complex problem like climate change.
    Governments are underfunded, as they didn’t have to do much when the private sector was expected to come up with all the solutions. They don’t have the money to tackle this sort of problem.

    I am sure companies and billionaires will help out by moving their money out of tax havens and paying their way to solve the climate change problem.

    1. Sound of the Suburbs

      There is no way you are getting any of my money.
      I need every cent of my 196 billion.
      Jeff Bezos.

      This is not going to be easy.

  14. The World is 70% Water

    To add to this conversation, I recommend Bren Smith’s “Eat Like A Fish” which recounts his journey to become a restorative ocean farmer. Smith notes that kelp is known as the “sequoia of the sea” for its carbon capture and that shellfish (clams, mussels, oysters, etc.) are excellent at converting nitrogen.

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