In this series of mini-episodes, Corinna teases through the primary concepts of Paul Hawken's book, Regeneration: Ending The Climate Crisis In One Generation. This week's focus is on Wilding. She provides an overview of the chapter's 8 sections with...
In this series of mini-episodes, Corinna teases through the primary concepts of Paul Hawken's book, Regeneration: Ending The Climate Crisis In One Generation. This week's focus is on Wilding. She provides an overview of the chapter's 8 sections with relevant quotes from the book and commentary from her own experience. Visit www.caremorebebetter.com for complete transcripts and for a new guide to unleash your inner climate activist.
Hello fellow do-gooders, regenerators, and friends. As we jump into chapter 3 of Regeneration: Ending the Climate Crisis In One Generation - by Paul Hawken, I’d like for you to think about the last time you were somewhere remote, where you couldn’t see or hear the mark of civilization. How recent was that moment? Was it last week? Last month? A year ago? Or is it further in the rear-view mirror than you care to admit? It may just be time to unplug and explore the wilds around you… With chapter 3, we are going to explore all things wild as we dive into the concept of Wilding.
At the center of the concept of Wilding is the fact that all beings are connected. We each have a microbiome comprised of trillions of cells, with more cells that aren’t human” than those that are. We do not exist in a vacuum. We exist as a part of a whole. And that is precisely what has landed us in the predicament of our current climate crisis. We have acted in an extractive way – one which holds at its core an ethos that takes without giving back.
We do not exist in a vacuum. Earth, and all beings on it are alive. They are connected, interconnected and inter-dependent.
This chapter of Regeneration is broken into 8 distinct sections, followed by an essay titled “Wild Things” by Carl Safina. And I have to say, this is one of my favorite chapters in the book – because I’m in awe of all things wild. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, so let’s jump right in.
#1: Trophic Cascades
As we explore Trophic Cascades we are introduced to Roger Paine’s important work helping to define this phenomenon. Trophic means the act of feeding or obtaining nutrition. When a single species is thrown out of balance, or a food source is disrupted, it has a cascade of effects. Some of these cascading effects can be predicted easily, and some of can’t. There are certain “keystone species” – or a specific organism that glues the entire ecosystem together. Sometimes that glue is the apex predator in an area – like wolves and grizzlies. In the Monterey Bay, one of our keystone species is the sea otter. The sea otter eats clams, fish, and the sea urchin. Sea urchins dine on the roots of giant kelp, which sets the kelp adrift, destroying the forest that once stood there.
When the sea otter is missing from a particular area of our coastline, so too does the forest. Once, giant kelp forests stretched along much of California’s coast – but today, they thrive mostly in the Monterey Bay where the sea otter thrives. You can drive north or south of the Monterey Bay, where sea otters are less abundant if not entirely gone, and you’ll find plenty of purple sea urchins and no kelp forests at all.
Divers like me, refer to these as the “purple urchin barrens”. They devour everything, leaving nowhere for fish to hide, abalone to feast, or sea otters to play. You’ll see sea hares – a giant sea slug, rocks, purple urchins, sand, and not much more. The ecosystem collapses without the sea otter through a cascade of events that starts with the loss of our kelp forests. Keep in mind that kelp forests generate more oxygen than forests on land…
There are 3 types of keystone species: Predators including the sea otter, Ecosystem Engineers like Beavers and Prairie Dogs who alter their environments creating new ecosystems, and Mutualists like the African Red-Billed oxpecker who perches on an ox’s back to eat the insects there.
#2: Grazing Ecology
In this second section, we are asked to think about the importance of grasslands in their ability to sequester carbon. Grasses have a complex root system that brings minerals up, creating healthier grasses. Grazers move over the environment chewing its leaves but leaving behind the root system that sequesters carbon. The grazers fertilize the area, creating new rich and healthy soil with their waste. Because grazers move through an area, the area has a chance to recover before the next migratory herd comes through. The land is not left bare. The soil does not blow away. The grasslands themselves recover using that very same root system the next season, and the next, providing food for generations of animals. This leads us straight into our third topic, Wildlife Corridors.
#3: Wildlife Corridors
Here, I’ll quote David Quammen’s Song of the Dodo, featured on page 72.
“Lets’ start indoors. Let’s start by imagining a fine Persian carpet and a hunting knife. The carpet is twelve feet by eighteen, say. That gives us 216 square feet of continuous woven material. Is the knife razor sharp? If not, we hone it. We set about cutting the carpet into thirty-six equal pieces, each one a rectangle, two feet by three. Never mind the hardwood floor. The severing fibers release small tweaky noises, like the muted helps of outraged Persian weavers. Never mind the weavers. When we’re finished cutting we measure the individual pieces, total them up – and find that lo, there’s still nearly 216 square feet of recognizably carpetlike stuff. But what does it amount to? Have we got thirty-six nice Persian throw rugs? No. All we’re left with is three dozen ragged fragments, each one worthless and commencing to come apart.”
From 2001 to 2017, 24 million acres have been lost to development. Hardscaping replaces the growing and grazing wild lands of the past. Buildings, roadways, manicured landscape. The wilds are disappearing. Our wild land is fragmented. We know from experience and from Paul Hawken’s direct language in this section that 3 decisive actions are required to stop global warming. On page 73, Paul spells them out. #1 eliminate emissions, #2 sequester carbon. #3 protect earthly carbon. When we build we release earthly carbon. We destroy ecosystems. With these actions, we lose more species. Biodiversity plummets. Since the mid 2000s, migratory patterns have been cut off as development continues. He notes that 58% of elk, 78% of pronghorn, and 100% of bison migration have been blocked in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
And here we pause for the story of Isabella Tree & Charlie Burrell – a story that Paul shared with us in our interview. She tells her story in an essay titled “Wilding”. She and her partner inherited a farm that struggled with productivity on clay soil. They started with a chemically fertilized and traditionally farmed approach but shifted to regenerative practices and let the land “go wild” after they nearly whent bust. They introduced a few species that could help them restore the environment and they let it go wild. The land recovered. Today, that same land thrives as a nature preserve, with culled herds to ensure their health. Humans, essentially acting as the keystone predator, ensure the health of all. This rewilding estate has helped the turtle dove recover from near extinction in Britain. I encourage you all to read the essay by Isabella Tree in Regeneration. It’s on pages 76 to 79 and it’s marvelous.
Did you know that 15% of global terrestrial carbon storage is in our grasslands? That, and they store 91% of their carbon underground where it is more secure during droughts and fire seasons than that stored in forests. Grasslands are declining more rapidly than forests because they are easier to clear for farmland and development. Not only that, but grasslands are reflective. They repel heat. As a result, grasslands are not an ideal candidate for afforestation projects – like those we detailed in our last deep dive, Forests. Dark forests, on the other hand, absorb heat.
#5: Rewilding Pollinators
“Restoring and protecting migratory corridors – sometimes called nectar trails – is crucial to the survival of these species.”
This is critical precisely because they travel long distances, and are thus exposed to many threats including drought, pesticide exposure and habitat degradation. One key to their success is the reestablishment of native perennial shrubs along highways, at the edge of crop rows, or even in your yard. Ensuring these flowerful bushes are established along a corridor North to South, and South to North is key to migratory pollinator success, from the monarch butterfly to the long- necked bat.
Wetlands cover 4% of the land and contain six times more carbon per acre than grasslands. Peatlands protect 650 billion tons of carbon – and for comparison – there is 885 billion tons in the atmosphere.
“Wetlands remain the most diverse and productive habitat on the planet, repositories of carbon, diversity and life. Wetland variations are endless, depending on the soil, clime, depth, and ecosystem. They can be seasonal or permanent, freshwater or saline, and come in a myriad of shapes, forms, and places. There are fens, bogs, peatlands, seeps, moors, mires, muskegs, mudflats, mangroves, quagmires, marshes, bayous, tidal marshes, swamps, billabongs, floodplanes, oases, and oxbows. Wetlands range from the countless bogs strewn across the summer Arctic to the 54,000-square-mile Pantanal, in South America. They are feeding grounds for migratory birds, sanctuaries for beavers, sloths, otters and capybaras, nurseries for spawning fish, mollusks, and crustaceans; ponds for egrets, herons, and cranes; and refuge for alligators, frogs, snakes, and turtles.” - Paul Hawken, Regeneration, pg. 84
Draining wetlands in the name of progress creates serious challenges, as biodiverse habitat and carbon sink is destroyed with it. Recently, wetland restoration projects are returning dried land back to its wetland roots. In 2001, the Dixon Waterfowl Refuge began one such project. They began removing a network of underground pipe that had been laid to drain wetlands, leeching 9 million gallons of water and dumping it into the Illinois river each day. Once completed, lakes refilled, birds returned with 915 species of plants, insects, invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians and mammals. As we move into the next feature in Wetlands we’ll begin talking about one of those Ecosystem Engineers we mentioned when discussing Trophic Cascades and Keystone Species…
“Nature’s best water restoration technology comes with a sleek, oily fur coat and chisel-like incisors.” – Paul Hawken, page 86
You guessed it!
From the 1700s into the 1900s, beaver populations dropped from 60 million or more to only 100,000 – with none found in the Northeastern United States. They were hunted for fashion and warmth. They were hunted for their fur. We once thought they destroyed ecosystems – but now we understand they create them. Recent conservation efforts have resulted in a population rebound to 10-15 million, resulting in marked improvements in wetlands and a restoration of salmon habitats in some areas. You can look at the habitats they create, with slowing water.
“The beavers have been called earth’s kidneys, owing to an unforeseen benefit of the dams. Silt builds up on the upstream sidewalls and collects toxins, such as pesticides and fertilizers, which are then broken down and detoxified by the microbial populations. Thus, the benefits of beaver activity include increasing groundwater levels, decreasing and retaining stormwater runoff, creating habitat for species besides salmon, decreasing erosion and incision of streambeds and increasing riparian vegetation.” – page 87
Paul goes on to quote an environmental journalist’s book on beavers. Ben Goldfarb writes.
“Beavers, by capturing surface water and elevating groundwater tables, keep our waterways hydrated in the face of climate change-fueled drought. Their wetlands dissipate floods and slow the onslaught of wildfires. They filter pollution. They store carbon. They reverse erosion. And, whereas our infrastructure is generally inimical to life, they terraform watery cradles for creatures from salmon to sawflies to salamanders. They heal the wounds we inflict.“
I loved beavers before. This curious rodent that safeguards itself from predators and cold winters by modifying its environment. Now, I regard them with the utmost respect.
Bioregions describe geographical areas that are defined by their unique landscapes and ecosystems. In order to ensure they continue to succeed, Paul postulates we need to do three things – which he also called for when I interviewed him.
First, we need to identify & inform inhabitants about where they live – more than the city or state – what has that land historically been? Who lived there? What does the ecology actually look like?
Second, we need to maintain and regenerate degraded natural systems.
And third, we need to explore the idea of re-inhabitation to create more life in each bioregion. As he states, you can’t manage what isn’t measured – so it starts there. We need to know where we are now so we can develop a plan to return our land to its “nature state”.
Carl Safina’s Essay “Wild Things”
This concludes the 8 sections of this chapter – and as Wilding comes to a close, Carl Safina’s essay “Wild Things”. Carl reminds us that millions of species are now threatened. In Germany, flying insects have declined 80%. A quarter of the world’s sharks are now vulnerable. One in 8 bird species are now threatened, as are one fifth of all mammals. But conservation efforts, when focused, really work. We just need to be specific with our goals and our actions. Key examples include the Bald Eagle, Brown Pelican, the American Alligator and the American Bison – and even the Black Rhino. Our work isn’t done, nowhere near in fact – but there is hope. And here I’ll close with the last 2 paragraphs of Carl Safina’s essay.
“No one worked on all of those successes. But someone worked on each of them, and that’s what made the difference. It would help all of us, and the cause of the world’s species, if we think more granularly, speak more specifically, focus on what can be meaningful, and stay observant of the many beauties remaining. Beauty is the single criterion that best captures all our deepest concerns and highest hopes. Beauty encompasses the continued existence of free-living things, adaptation, and human dignity. Realy, beauty is simple litmus for the presence of things that matter.
“Endangered species and wild things in the remaining wild places need us to care for them not selfishly but selflessly, for their sake, the sake of everything and everyone who is not us, for the sake of beauty and all it implies. As we make our habitual appeals to practicality, the argument we cannot afford to ignore, the one that must frequently be on our lips, is this: We live in a sacred miracle. We should act accordingly.”
-- Carl Safina, Wild Things (essay in Regeneration: Ending The Climate Crisis In One Generation”
This brings our coverage of Part 3 – Wilding – to a close. If you listened to my interview with Paul Hawken, I encourage you to check it out. You can also go back to parts 1 and 2 at your leisure.
I’m including links to prior episodes on this topic and to Paul Hawken’s site and work in show notes, so I encourage you to visit caremorebebetter.com to check it out. You’ll also find our complete transcript – so you can revisit any of the quotes I covered in this session.
And for the budding and experienced activist alike, I’ve created a new tool – to help you unleash your inner activist. If you join our newsletter on CareMoreBeBetter.com you’ll receive a download link to that guide as your welcome gift. It provides 5 actionable steps to creating your activism plan, and includes a few inspirational links and resources for building group engagement using tools like facebook groups, slack channels, and shared file resources.
Next week, we’re going to cover the next section of Regeneration – LAND – we’ll learn about regenerative agriculture, land restoration, compost and vermiculture. So get ready to think about food – and everything we do to produce it in a more regenerative and holistic way. And before we wrap, I’d like to introduce you to another show – It’s another decidedly different – and fun show built specifically for progressives that enjoy Pop Music! So, on behalf of my friend Hannah, co-host of The B-Sides I ask you…
“How do we define pop music? Are we all chained to the rhythm? What do we expect from our artists in an era that needs all progressive hands on deck? Why does every Carly Rae Jepsen album feel like a moral necessity? What can Britney Spears’ career trajectory tell us about pressure and patriarchy? Will Rihanna ever release new music and pull us through the careening emergency that is American politics, once and for all? Let’s talk.
The B-Sides is a podcast and internet home for progressives who love pop. Subscribe today wherever you listen to get biweekly musings from hosts Becky, Hannah, and Mimi on pop’s place in our world, and the music you should put in your ears to fuel your reckoning with the trashfires all around us.
Listen to the B-Sides on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever else you find podcasts today. And follow them on instagram at @listentothebsides to join their internet community.“
I hope you’ll check out their show – and let me know what you think.
Thank you listeners, now and always for being a part of this pod and this community, because together we really can do so much more. We can care more, and we can be better.