Atlas of biological work

A short 3-page proposal for a fully featured Atlas of biological work, an expansion of the Map of Soil Carbon Change.

PDF here

You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

Buckminster Fuller

We live in what are perhaps still the early stages of a shift of Copernican proportions with regard to our human civilizations on earth. We need major changes, both locally and globally, in the huge flows of water and carbon through soils and atmosphere. These changes will require an enormous amount of work (force times distance). Faced with the inability of our technology--currently powered at about 16 terawatts worldwide--to accomplish this work and to build the needed soil aggregates, some innovative graziers and farmers have glimpsed and even explored the opportunity to better manage, enlist, and enhance the 130 terawatts or so of sunlight energy captured by photosynthesis, which in turn is multiplied dozens of times by life's diversity and abundance which creates topsoil, soil cover, and the carbon-rich soil aggregates that accept, retain, and filter water.

Learning to imagine that the smaller earth revolves around the larger sun has taken centuries or millennia, and the learning process is not over. It is easier to assume or imagine that the sun rises and sets over a fixed, larger earth. We have a similar challenge with regard to biological work--the sunlight energy captured and used by living organisms, which is the most powerful and creative planetary force. How do we grasp it, how do we learn to work with it to create what we want and need?

Our best-trod paths of acquiring knowledge and skill could hardly be more ill-suited to this task, which is one of social and participatory learning in specific but variable situations involving considerable complexity, and considerable tension around the magnitude or types of change needed. We have an almost complete absence of open and accessible data about localized, farm-scale changes over time in soil carbon or water cycle function to show us what might be possible. This data gap is filled to overflowing with a cacophony of advocacies and matching skepticisms about biochar, permaculture, organic farming, biodynamics, no-till, compost application, planned grazing, you name it. Institutional research remains largely focused on practices, species and genetics, technologies, narrowly defined problem solving, and managing against what we don't want--which tends to worsen fragmentation and conflict. Simulations and computer modeling, typically based on limiting and simplified assumptions, help disguise the lack of actual data. Many of us remain disoriented, unable to recognize leadership, unable to imagine or consider the possibilities, unable to participate in the social learning that could let us harness (or be harnessed by) the work of self-motivated living organisms.

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Infiltration test

Stan Boyd of South Dakota NRCS made a great little video about doing a simple, single-ring infiltration test on three different types of management. "[Infiltration] responds very rapidly to changes in management."

Single-ring infiltration tests are part of the Soil Carbon Challenge baseline method.

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Soil Carbon Cowboys: 12-minute Peter Byck film

SOIL CARBON COWBOYS from Peter Byck on Vimeo.

This short film features two participants in the Soil Carbon Challenge.

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Lake Champlain, Vermont water issues

Jack Lazor, an organic pioneer in Vermont of Butterworks Farm in Westfield, recently wrote a great little article about Lake Champlain.

"You can’t beat roots in the ground to prevent runoff and leaching. The same holds true for residential lawns and public parking lots. We need the permeability that comes with soils high in humus and organic matter. There is hope for Lake Champlain and we can still have dairying in Vermont if we can figure out how to put carbon back into the earth."

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Cows save the planet: and other improbable ways of restoring soil to heal the earth

Judith Schwartz's new book is out (we're in it!):

From the publisher:

Unmaking the Deserts, Rethinking Climate Change, Bringing Back Biodiversity, and Restoring Nutrients to our Food

Cows saving the planet? Why not? An idea that sounds preposterous begins to make sense when you take a soil’s-eye view of our current ecological predicament.

In Cows Save the Planet, journalist Judith D. Schwartz looks at soil as a crucible for our many overlapping environmental, economic, and social crises. Schwartz reveals that for many of these problems—climate change, desertification, biodiversity loss, droughts, floods, wildfires, rural poverty, malnutrition, and obesity—our ability to turn these crises into opportunities depends on how we treat the soil. Where do cows fit in?

Cattle, like all grazing creatures, can, if appropriately managed, restore land and help build soil. Rebuilding soil is only one aspect of this important, paradigm-shifting book. Drawing on the work of thinkers and doers, renegade scientists and institutional whistleblowers from around the world, Schwartz challenges much of the conventional thinking about global warming and other problems. For example, land can suffer from undergrazing as well as overgrazing, since certain landscapes, such as grasslands, require the disturbance from livestock to thrive. Regarding climate, when we focus on carbon dioxide, we neglect the central role of water in soil—“green water”—in temperature regulation. And much of the carbon dioxide that burdens the atmosphere is not the result of fuel emissions, but from agriculture; returning carbon to the soil not only reduces carbon dioxide levels but also enhances soil fertility.

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California Rancher to Rancher project field demo

The Rancher-to-Rancher project, which will support central coast California ranchers in setting up low-cost, risk-free learning site trials, held a demonstration April 12 on Hollister Hills State Vehicular Recreation Area, where Joe Morris grazes stocker cattle.

Joe Morris explains the learning site idea where livestock are concentrated for a short period followed by a generous recovery period. In the background, the learning site has about 700,000 pounds of stocker cattle per acre.
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Burleigh County, North Dakota: Healthy soil, healthy farms, healthy communities

Brian DeVore of Minnesota's Land Stewardship Project wrote a good piece about Gabe Brown and others:

Included in the article is a link to a presentation by Kristine Nichols that is a great introduction some soil health concepts from a simple, practical perspective that looks at the whole. Included in this presentation is a picture of Gabe and Paul Brown's ranch after it received 13 inches of rain in 24 hours, and there is no standing water.

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Joe and Julie Morris receiving Burch award at Quivira Coalition conference

Joe Morris, of Morris Grassfed in San Juan Bautista, California, is receiving the Clarence Burch stewardship award at the Quivira Conference this month in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “I am honored to be recognized by the Quivira Coalition for this year’s Clarence Burch award, and deeply appreciative to all of our partners for making this possible,” Joe said.

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Grass fed beef is best

according to a recent report by the National Trust in the UK. The report uses modeling.

"Research reveals that grass-fed beef is better for people and the environment. Feeding cattle on grass throughout their lifecycle is the most environmentally sustainable way to rear beef, according to new research we've commissioned."

"The results are contrary to recent thinking that livestock farming methods must intensify further in order to lessen carbon emissions to feed an ever-increasing world population."

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Tony Lovell's TED talk

Here is Tony Lovell's talk from TEDxDubbo, September 2011. He begins with an excellent explanation of why our brains can't cope with climate change, and does a great job of explaining the implications of the biological carbon cycle. Click the link if the frame below doesn't show.

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