Saturday morning when I walked outside, just after sunrise, it was already warm. The remnants of Nicole, an exceptionally late season hurricane that washed away structures in Florida before it diffused over land, had dropped three inches of rain on our North Carolina homestead.
All the plants, still holding their leaves, glistened with large water droplets. Meanwhile, scores of trees defoliated entirely overnight from the weight of those heavy drops hammering against their red and gold hued deciduous leaves.
Thankfully, because we planned our landscape for climate resilience, our carbon sequestering soil and strategically placed swales soaked up the downpour leaving little evidence that a deluge had passed through in the night.
Our rain gage, and the collection of buckets I forgot to flip over, were the only conclusive proof of exactly how much water had flowed over our mountainside as we slept.
Still, there were plenty of other telltale signs to suggest that recent cataclysmic weather events had conspired to create chaos in the natural order. For example, a freshly leafed sapling in an otherwise deciduously defoliated forest stood out as an environmental aberration.
Also, the vegetative perennials and non-hardy annuals in our potager had the exuberance of mid-April written all over their lush foliage. Of course, with predictive powers like weather reports at my disposal, I knew those tender green tips would soon be snuffed out by a seasonally appropropriate cold front on the way.
In spring, I would’ve thrown floating row covers over the foliage until warmer conditions prevailed. This time of year though, I set aside notions of salvaging greenery and instead felt gratitude for an alternate fate.
That fast-formed, flush of foliage would instead become a protective blanket of frost-killed mulch, insulating the soil life that surfaced prematurely in response to our tropical November conditions. That late fall carbon contribution would buy the insects and microlife I rely on to produce food time to burrow or become partially dormant.
Something like the fact that a hurricane struck land this late in the season used to fill me with climate anxiety. But I’ve learned to treat these events as normal at this point in our human history.
Confounding seasonal irregularities are just the preliminary, predictable stages of our global climate crisis. They are the irrefutable proof that we’ve taken too long to heed four decades of scientific warnings. And, to use a farming analogy, they are confirmation that we reap what we sow as stewards of a shared planet.
Frankly, I’m too immersed in the research, and too skilled at manipulating natural systems to produce food, to pretend that everything we presently consider normal isn’t at risk of failure during my life span. I also have no doubt human actions are the primary cause of the instability that leads to anxiety in our lives today. And yet I am still hopeful and excited about the future.
It is this hope that helps me channel my climate anxiety toward more joyful activities like Weed-Free Gardening.
Conquering the Carbon Kraken
Now, don’t get me wrong, humanity has definitely unleashed the equivalent of a catastrophe-causing, carbon kraken on our global ecosystems. Even if we stop feeding this beast, by immediately cutting carbon emissions, things won’t magically go back to normal. But our planet is amazing in its capacity to regenerate after climate altering kraken attacks.
For example, recent discoveries indicate that about 300 million years ago early evolutions of tree roots helped turn stone dust into soil. Then because those roots were too shallow to hold soil in place, that fertile soil washed into waterways. That influx of fertility from erosion caused massive algal blooms that temporarily robbed the atmosphere of oxygen, killing off countless species.
After that epic die off, though, plants evolved deeper roots and mechanisms like annual leaf drop to hold soil in place. They also became carbon sequestering, oxygen producing powerhouses of evolutionary advancement.
Those adaptive changes went on to mitigate the risk of algal blooms and atmospheric instability. Plants began sequestering carbon and raising atmospheric oxygen levels using sunlight for energy. That new oxygen-rich atmosphere enabled the creation of complex, mammal-based wildlife systems including our modern day human settlements.
I am deeply comforted knowing that we live on a planet predisposed to rebuild with more resilient complexity after catastrophe strikes.
Of course, nature takes eons to do these things and humans don’t have that long to wait. Yet, when you factor in that humans are the most technologically innovative species that has ever occupied earth (as far as we know), the possibilities for facing our present challenges by creating an even more beautiful and diversely complex future seems entirely possible.
Even just here on our homestead, a miniscule microcosm of the rest of the world, we’ve managed to use mostly organic matter, our limited intelligence, and hand tools to create a stunningly beautiful, climate resilient landscape with fewer non-renewable resources and significantly less money than a typical suburban lawn.
Imagine the collective impact if everyone with a yard began using simple techniques to hedge their bets (and beds) in a rapidly evolving climate!
Channeling Climate Anxiety
Certainly, the incongruity and climate confusion of our November climatescape is still alarming. And so are the recent comments from UN Secretary General António Guterres who said “we are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator.” But we are by no means obligated to stay on this highway to climate hell.
We can instead line the highway with swales to catch the deluges. We can use the swales to grow plants and support wildlife while acting as a biofilter to scrub carbon from the air and pollution from the water. Then we can pull over and enjoy a picnic with our loved ones instead of racing toward some still avoidable hell on earth.
The painful tragedies of 2022, like apocalyptical flooding in Pakistan and famine in parts of Africa, aren’t caused by some incomprehensible villain out to get us for no good reason. They are caused by human activities that have destabilized natural systems.
If we can create problems of this magnitude, then we can also solve them. And we don’t have to go back to the dark ages to save our planet. However, we will need to leverage the natural resilience of our planet and learn from its systematic approaches so we can build back better over time.
Individuals, companies, and communities are already evolving and using the solutions we need right now. Our efforts may be imperfect at the moment and require refinement as we gain experience. Yet, the more we try, the more we learn, the better we can do over the long run.
As our global leaders wrap up their talks at COP27, with real solutions on the table and so many of us willing to do the work to adapt and improve, I am channeling my old anxiety into new hope. If we embrace our collective power, we can recapture the carbon kraken and create an even more complex, diverse, collaborative, inclusive, and beautiful future.