Papers & Presentations
WHY THE FOCUS ON “LANDSCAPES”?
A provocation to promote reflection and debate by Chris Henggeler, August 2003
If the words “Global Climate Change” challenge our comfort zone now, what will the escalating effects of this phenomenon do?
While the scientific community remains locked in either debate or in a state of denial, observation and the use of good sense can offer some hope.
We bear in mind:
- media interpretations that wish to command attention
- meteorological observations that record the results of interacting physical forces
- factual, emotional or irrational reports from those directly affected by such change
- political and industry agendas
- scientific theory
- computer modelling and possibilities of mathematical extrapolation
However let us not forget that whilst external physical forces will act on the landscapes that surround us, we as humans have influence over many (perhaps even all) of the internal forces that affect micro-climate: from what happens in our soils to the type/number/location of trees that grow. How we manage our landscapes in the face of external physical forces beyond our control remains our responsibility and subject to “The Law of the Harvest”.
If we try and look at this phenomenon from the perspective of a human who wishes to be healthy and to feel comfortable it helps to ask ourselves some questions:
- What does “healthy” mean?
- What does “comfortable” mean?
- What do we need to be healthy and to feel comfortable?
- Where is “climate change” taking place?
- Which are the external factors we cannot change, but need to allow for?
- Which are the internal factors that we influence?
- When are we observing “agents of change”?
- When are we observing symptoms of change?
- Are there ways to favour a more desirable and sustainable “Harvest”?
1. What does “healthy” mean?
We are talking about “quality” and not about “quantity” so I hesitate to define “Health”. However I do wish to list some traits: Health represents a “state of being” that is generally located somewhere along a continuum that ranges from extreme vitality to dis“ease”, and in its absence we find death or no life. As humans we generally like to think about “health” as a position somewhere closer to the “extreme vitality” end of the spectrum; this is associated with the capability to perform according to expectation and the capability to meet adversity with resilience. Good health demands adaptability and a capability to function within a range of natural parameters and variables.
2. What does “comfortable” mean?
Here we have a very relative term that has a unique meaning for each individual and each situation. Comfort implies the absence of fear and anxiety, and that “needs” are satisfied. It often implies a state of “rest” or “relaxation” at emotional as well as at functional/performance levels. It is a “state of being” that we define consciously or subconsciously in our own mind.
3. What do we need to be healthy and to feel comfortable?
If we were to answer that question in one word, it would be balance.
We share our three basic needs (for: air, moisture & nutrition) and one basic desire (for comfort) with every other living organism on the planet. The urge to satisfy this quest is the biological force that drives us. One of the things that make us humans unique is that we as a species expend more energy (mental and physical body energy as well as energy taken from fossil fuels and other sources) in the pursuit to satisfy our desire for comfort than for the fulfilment of our three basic needs. I therefore suggest that we qualify the word “balance” with: balanced relationships; balanced diets; balanced exercise; balanced productive activity; balanced emotions, balanced financial budgets (personal, house-hold, enterprise, industry, national, global); balanced economies (here we perhaps need to consider that with a global resource base that is on decline, the “budget” would need to factor in an annual surplus to restore former levels of productivity).
4. Where is “climate change” taking place?
- On the land…
- In our soils…
- In our oceans…
- In our atmosphere…
5. Which are the external factors we cannot change, but need to allow for?
- External forces that act on our biosphere “Planet Earth”.
- Natural laws that govern the behaviour of external and internal forces.
- The existence of “patterns” and/or evolutionary programming that we do not understand.
6. Which are the internal factors that we influence?
These are too numerous to list, but one way to make sense of this question is by focusing on the natural “programming” of “cause &’ effect” situations rather than focusing on only causes: How do we influence “fundamental eco-system function”? In any highly dynamic situation if we influence one determining factor we influence the whole equation. (To avoid any confusion I will now use some terminology that is evolving as a result of the international Holistic Management movement.) Accordingly we find that if we influence the energy-flow in an ecological equation, we simultaneously impact nutrient cycling, water cycling (with an emphasis on the biological component) and thus the performance of living organisms.
Nature, of course, has any amount of “check and balance mechanisms” in place to restore equilibrium. As clever humans we have however succeeded in many, many individual instances to either, bypass or to deactivate these. (Artificial lighting to prolong daily activity; transport and refrigeration to mitigate seasonal influence on the availability of nutrition; technology to manipulate the storage and distribution of water; the extraction of energy stored in fossils and atoms; the list goes on…) Human history shows a significant change from symbiotic relationships between species to a competition amongst species for diminishing natural resources. A distinct minority of humans appears to be winning the race by now betting on a technologically supported and bureaucratically governed world. But at what costs…?
In the effort to win the race the focus of participants is drawn to areas of immediate influence: the supply of nutrition, water and immediately available forms of energy stored in both dead and living organisms… this divorce from Nature seems to blind us… we neglect the fact that Nature should have no waste and that Nature runs on current solar energy; we have lost our awareness of the “law of the harvest” and nature’s push for equilibrium. The “cost” is coming to haunt us in the human induced facet of global climate change as the buffering capabilities of biological forces diminishes with the erosion of biomass and eco-system function in our landscapes and production sites.
7. When are we observing agents of climate change?
There are some external factors like volcanic emissions, sunspot activity, earthquakes, etc that we can observe… Others like laws that govern gravity and thermal dynamics in the air and in our ocean currents are not readily observable (we learn about them by watching out for the symptoms). We must however add some internal factors to the list of agents: all humans or communities of humans who with their actions/inactions impact eco-system function (actions/inactions that can be related to a manipulation of micro-climate).
8. When are we observing symptoms of change?
The symptoms are the actual results. These are generally expressed in a volatility of otherwise common and mostly predictable patterns (ocean currents, weather/rainfall, cropping, commercial growth). As with declining human health we see inconsistency, less resilience, reduced adaptability; these are all trends that all indicate a decline in vitality (life forces). Often (as with a decline in human health) these and other symptoms are also accompanied by a sense of “denial” by those most directly affected.
9. Are there ways to favour a more desirable and sustainable “Harvest”?
There is a growing body of people who believe that this is possible even if external forces dictate new challenges. We humans are responsible for how we manage the internal factors.
Landscapes are the stages on which the symphony of terrestrial life is conducted.
- provide for the purification of the air and water we require
- provide for ecological stability
- supply nutrients and other “building materials” for our way of life
- surround our farms, our communities and our cities
- offer inspiration and recreation
- constitute our natural asset-base (the “natural capital” that supports living communities of organisms including national economies and human civilisations)
- they can offer hope and opportunity to those in need
Leading edge technology enables us land-managers at the grass-roots to obtain a better understanding of these functions and what impact our individual and collective management actions may have on them: www.soilfoodweb.com
The health of our landscapes plays a determining role for the quality of all biological life on earth including that of human communities.
The good news is that current rates of erosion and contamination can be reduced and reversed in natural and cost-effective ways. Desertifying and unproductive regions can be safely reclaimed within practical time-frames. The challenge is to get better at it and to promote community dialogue with the sharing of results without losing track of the task.
A visit to Wilma Keppel's slide show on erosion gives us an impression of the challenges we face.
If we watch Nature at work when it builds an economy we notice a cyclical process that is symbiotically managed by three groups:
- This group is responsible for in-take and a net out-put.
- This group has the privilege of net consumption.
- This group modifies waste so that the producers can recycle it.
History shows us humans to be the ultimate consumers: Consumption at the expense of Nature’s producers, reducers and fellow consumers; Big-city mineral and nutrient sinks and wasteful, inefficient production sites where resources are mined and the life-blood sapped out of landscapes leaving behind lifelessness. (At the turn of the millennium deserts were said to be growing at a rate of 16’000 hectares per day…)
Some human economies are now recognising the need to better manage available resources and industrial recycling promises to alleviate industry pressure on the eco-system. Biologically safe farming is building a new economy using nature’s template. Globally one glaring vacuum persists: Landscapes that do not provide a cash-injection to national governments remain at risk while politically correct extraction continues.
Nature abhors a vacuum. We believe that once society at large begins to value uncontaminated air and water and once the correlation between landscape health and human health is better understood, this vacuum will be filled.
Landscape management is posed to be the biggest, healthiest, most challenging and most exciting opportunity that has presented itself in the modern age.