So, this is gonna cover a lot and hopefully not be all over the place. I was out bird watching today and my head kept turning and connecting dots and there are a lot of dots. I agree with you in spirit in a lot of things, but probably come from a different philosophical place, though I think even philosophically we’re pretty in tune here. Maybe not. I dunno. Let me pump out some words and we’ll see.
One of my concerns when it comes to private land and rededicating it to ecological recovery, whether we’re talking forests, or otherwise, is that it can often be a touchy issue even when it doesn’t seem like it should be. I’ve read about projects, both local and across the world, that are pretty reasonable on the surface, like repurposing golf courses, empty lots, what have you, and they’ve often butted up against resistance. For agricultural land in particular, I could see resistance ratcheted up for quite a few reasons. The biggest one is economics. Agricultural land isn’t just a source of income for the people who own them, but they’re also engines for communities they’re a part of. We see this dwindling a bit in America, where rural areas are struggling, and I think corporate farms are partly to blame. More on that in a second though. The other reason there could be a lot of vocal resistance is that we put a lot of stock as to who we are in our land, the resources on it, and how we choose to use those resources. Our land is often tied to not only our economic identity, but our national, cultural, and religious identity as well. Historically speaking, one of the ways governments have wrecked communities, intentionally or not, is through messing with land and the resources on it. The bison are an extreme, but appropriate example of this.
If we were to repurpose land for ecological recovery, whether we’re talking about a cornfield out in Iowa or a vacant lot in New York City, it’s really important that we collaborate with the landowners as well as the communities that are invested in that land, and it’s really important that we approach these collaborations with honesty and compassion, because if people feel like they’re not being heard or worse, that they’re being threatened, they’re not gonna react positively and instead of taking steps forward, we could be taking steps back. There’s a aspects to this collaboration, from economic and legal incentives (like what you’re saying with the Amazon and Brazil), to educating people on why repurposing the land is beneficial to a certain community in a certain instance(say, storm water management), to most importantly, making sure that the land owners and community understand how and why they’re an active part in these projects and why these projects are beneficial.
As a related aside, my wife and I listen to a podcast about urban forestry from time to time, where the host interviews everyone from urban planners to landscapers to architects. It’s an awesome podcast, despite some questionable production choices (like having conversations in restaurants), but the conversations are amazing. Recently, we were listening to one about developers who build houses and apartments and such, and that despite a good landscape improves property values, a lot of developers don’t feel that they have a long term economic incentive to properly implement landscape. I’ll actually touch on this a bit.
So, corporate farms. I’m gonna lay my bias right out. I don’t like them for a lot of reasons. The biggest is, I do not like a lack of diversity, whether we’re talking about nature or business, because the less diversity there is, the less resilience there is. If you were to ask me “Hey, applewood, what would you say if the government overnight decided to grab a significant portion of all corporate farmland for ecological redevelopment?” I’d probably have a knee-jerk squeal of glee at the thought. Upon further inspection, I don’t think I’d like the legal ramifications, no matter how it would work out. I’m pretty wary of land grabs.
Anyway. One of the reasons why collaboration and community investment are actually really important, is that they bake in a sense of investment, and with that, a sense of honesty. One of the real struggles we’re working with, in land development (circling back to those developers), in forestry, in mining, or what have you, is pretty crumby follow through. Here in America, and the world over. A lot of the time what happens is, we have laws, contracts, or other agreements that say one thing on paper with an intended outcome, but companies see it sufficient to do what they can to make sure all the check boxes are filled in, even if the end results are what’s intended in spirit. As a result, we often have waterways that aren’t properly cleaned, soil that isn’t properly restored, trees that aren’t planted in a way to ensure that they’ll survive, what have you. I think long term, community oriented projects, would prevent a lot of that, because there’d be at the very least, an emotional incentive to do things right, if not economic and legal incentives as well.
Either way, landowners and the communities around them have rights, and that includes the right to self determination and to have a voice. I think it’s really important that we do what we can to ensure that they make healthy, well reasoned choices.
we need to ask questions such as "why is the ecosystem now different and is that different good or bad" and "would planting trees here be beneficial or detrimental?
I think this was a failure of assuming you understood what I was saying without me being detailed. When I talk about these questions, it’s not just in regard to agricultural land or a private lot in a city or a country club somewhere that’s gone out of business, or what have you. It’s literally anywhere. For example, there are lots of land out there that are currently contain prairies, dunes, marshlands, or what have you that have been that way for hundreds if not thousands of years without human interference that could possibly play host to some types of trees somehow. For these areas, if there’s a desire to plant trees there (and I hope, more often than not there isn’t), these questions are really important. These places are unique biomes and they play important roles in biodiversity. Planting trees there, might throw things off.
One of the things that I see, when I read and hear and participate in conversations, is that people tend to think of planting trees as the goal of reducing CO2 first, and everything else is secondary. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, if nothing else than for the fact that by digging up and burning all of these fossils fuels, we’ve put millions of years worth of sequestered carbon into the air and trees aren’t gonna cut it. Your math post illustrated this really well.
What is important though, is that not only do trees play a role in CO2 sequestration, they play a central role in participating in biodiversity. A lot of us, me included a lot of the time, talk and think about global warming and climate change as if it’s about to happen, when in fact, it’s happened. It’s not waiting at our doorstep, it hijacked a bulldozer, drove straight through our wall, and said “I’m here! What’s for dinner!” Where biodiversity comes into play, is that it allows nature a resilience to global warming. The more diverse our environments, the more diverse the species within them, and the more diverse the genetic variation among those species, the better ecosystems are protected from collapse.
Unfortunately, we can’t just plant a bunch of trees everywhere and think the problem is solved. Trees by themselves, aren’t the answer. If we look at tree plantations for example, whether we’re talking for forestry or for agriculture, this is readily apparent. To me, they’re one step away from being wastelands. Yeah, trees are growing, but it might only be one or two species of trees, and there’s not much else there, plants or animals. If we plant trees with ecological recovery in mind though, then it’s less “trees” and more “forests,” less “monoculture” and more “ecological landscape.” Somewhere in this whole thread of mk’s, I mentioned how protecting what we already have is easier than trying to rebuild what we lost, and this kind of ties into that.
The other problem we face, is that we have to be very careful with planting trees and make sure we’re planting the right ones, in the right environments. Trees, like any other living thing, have certain requirements to thrive. A tree that can grow really well in a certain area, might grow horribly in another area. Or worse, it might grow too well, and before we know it, it’s out competing other flora for resources, crowding out local species, or playing host to other types of plants, animals, bacterias, or fungis that could wreak havoc, and suddenly, what was a good hearted attempt to make things better, has actually made things worse by throwing off ecological balances.
That’s one of the reasons why I really liked the whole #teamtrees effort that went on. The Arbor Day Foundation works really hard to not only make sure the right kinds of trees are planted in the right areas, but they work collaboratively with governments and public and private organizations. I think more importantly though, even if it’s only for a brief moment in history, is that they inspired a whole number of people to care and take action, and I think that the good will and the awareness that they have cultivated through this project can be built upon. Inspiration and enthusiasm are infectious, after all.
I hope this isn’t too long, I tried to focus and trim this down a lot, and there’s tons of ways this conversation could branch things out.