What stood out for me most from Eric Toensmeier’s really rippin’ keynote at the NOFA summer conference last night was his insistence on multifunctional solutions for a multi-crisis time in history. We know that First World-caused climate disruption is really, really bad news for us and for the planet. But we ALSO have all these other converging crises on the table (a la James Howard Kunstler‘s articulation of The Long Emergency, or Chris Martenson‘s 3 E’s) which are exacerbated by climate change and in some cases contribute to it. So we need strategies and solutions that address multiple crises at once rather than attempting silver bullet solutions.
And the problem with the primary current scientific and political solutions being thrown around, especially in the geoengineering vein, is that they’re single-function (not to mention being incredible expensive, risky, and untested!) and keep existing power structures in place. And as Eric said, if it comes down to that or the planet turning into Venus, well, fine. But what’s powerful about a polyculture response, both literal and figurative is that it’s applicable across scales and across regions. Converting degraded and marginal land to perennial agroforestry systems is a viable strategy worldwide even though each place will have its own unique palate of techniques and species. Sequestering carbon in woody plants and the soil doesn’t depend on existing political and economic institutions to begin happening in a serious way – although, as an Australia vs. USA comparison makes clear, the difference between when the government and industry is getting on board vs. when it’s not is pretty enormous. It’s also the case that Australia is decades “ahead” of the US in terms of ravaging and depleting their continent, so they’re responding with land use changes from a place of need and crisis more than we can really imagine right now in most parts of this country.
Related to all this, I’ve been involved for a while in organizing a 3-week workshop series on regenerative agriculture (with some of the best trainers in the world in their respective disciplines) called the Carbon Farming Course, for Jan-Feb 2012 just north of New York City. The 3-day workshops are technical trainings in regenerative farming practices, while the 1-day workshops towards the end are a little more outside the box. The website just went live this week – check it out here!