A Soil Economy
The true economic foundation is photosynthesis. Whether an economic foundation is the burning of fossil fuels or the building of soil carbon, the true economic foundation is photosynthesis.
The key to changing tracks to one with a future is the realisation that it is possible to grow crops using systems which enrich soil through fixing carbon in soil.
The current economic system is unsustainable. It requires ever increasing resources and energy. This energy currently comes largely from burning fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are a finite resource and burning fossil fuels contributes to climate change.
It is one thing growing food and producing heat using systems which reverse your ecological footprint, it is another to make a living from doing so.
Most peoples incomes derive from systems which rely on burning fossil fuels. If a critical mass of people were to produce resources in ways which build soil and reverse climate change then we would have a sustainable economic backbone.
One of the biggest hurdles to overcome in enabling people to move away from fossil fuel dependence is the food and fossil fuel subsidies, nearly $400bn to agro industrial systems and $1.2 trillion to fossil fuel companies each year. Sustainable alternative systems need to be very efficient to be able to compete with such subsidised systems.
Then there is the issue of unequal land distribution. Once people have access to land and the corporate subsidies and tax breaks have been addressed then there is the issue if ignorance.
By allowing corporate systems to take over our food supply, very few people have the knowledge and skills to produce food and live in ways which replenish the Earth. If 7bn people were to come off fossil fuels, start to dig the soil and cut down trees for fuel, we would only speed up our own demise.
As an example of where we are now, we are fracking for gas and much of this gas is used to produce nitrate fertilisers using the Haber-Bosch process.
Whilst it is well known that these nitrates create dead zones in water courses and cause nitrate pollution, a less well known consequence of nitrates is that they cause a proliferation of soil bacteria which release soil carbon (as climate changing CO2) resulting in degraded soils which need increasing levels of nitrates until they can no longer hold enough water to support crops.
As environments collapse, more strain is put on the economy. Prevention of the effects of climate change will be a lot cheaper than attempting to repair the damage afterwards.
An increasing number of people are now realising this and are wanting to start growing more of their own food and collecting wood for fuel. Unfortunately digging the soil more will result in increased soil carbon loss and soil erosion and there simply are not enough trees for people to increasingly burn wood inefficiently.
It is time to change the backbone of our economy. Beacuse of the corruption and unequal wealth distribution caused by centralised economies, we need to decentralise resource production.
We are all responsible for meeting our own needs. We have allowed corporate control of our food and energy supplies to lead us to the brink of complete environmental collapse, we have to reclaim power. This might seem like a tall order and it may be unlikely that people will wake up to reclaiming sovereignty over their resource supplies, but the simple truth is that we are each responsible for the impact our lives have on the rest of life on the Earth.
By buying subsidised supermarket food you are supporting wars, land grabs, deforestation, mass extinctions and climate change.
One consequence of agricultural subsidies is that they encourage people to support corporate food producers and so small scale sustainable struggle or fail to compete.
By paying taxes you are subsidising agro-industrial and fossil fuel industries. By buying food grown in cultivated soil, grown using biocides and fertilisers, you are responsible for the destruction these corporations cause.
Immediate change is needed if we are to survive. We are on the brink; change can not wait. Stop buying food and energy from sources which overstretch the Earths carrying capacity.
A Soil Based Economy
All growing systems which use soil either build soil or destroy soil.
Systems which destroy soil often generate short term, rapid economic growth. Systems which build soil tend to generate slower economic growth. Subsistence growing systems sometimes slowly degrade and sometimes slowly build soil. Fertiliser based systems rapidly destroy soil.
Land grabs are usually carried out by corporations which take the land from people who have been using systems which slowly build soil. Thousands of years of work is then destroyed in a few decades. Land grabs are therefore particularly unfair to those people who, over generations, have learnt to look after and protect soil.
It is a reflection of the ignorance of people who buy food from supermarkets when people who knew how to preserve soil have been replaced with a system which destroys soil.
We should really be studying ethno-agricultural systems, not subsidising and supporting their destruction.
Adding high carbon organic matter such as composted chipped wood can benefit damaged or poor soils in the short term if the conditions for stabilising that carbon are not met.
Encouraging AMF to proliferate through minimum dig and having plant roots present will result in increased glomalin production, another form of stabilised carbon.
Using biochar, glomalin and other methods to optimise soil aggregate formation will result in a soil structure which resists drought and flooding and which holds onto the other soil organic matter,
Building soil by optimising aggregation can provide an income. By earning a living from crops grown and maybe baked in ways which build soil, you are contributing to a new, sustainable economy.
Stabilise carbon in soil and you will be in a position to start meeting your energy and food needs and so will start to become more independant of the oil based economies.
Stabilise carbon in soil and you will hopefully help to soften the blow as the fossil fuels on which we currently depend increasingly become more scarce.
Stabilise carbon in soil and live in symbiosis with the Earth, reversing your carbon footprint.
Stabilising carbon in soil and teaching other people how to do so is an important step to being able to support 7 billion people without fossil fuels. Going back to ‘conventional’ systems of growing food and collecting firewood will no longer do if we want to avoid a large and rapid population decrease.
Stabilising carbon in soil will not instantly generate vast amounts of money in the same way that invading a country and taking control of its oil wells will, but how often does that money and power trickle down to ordinary people anyway?
Stabilising carbon in soil does not easily fit into large scale agricultural systems which rely on heavy machinery, fertiliser and pesticide use. Individual growers do have to act, people have to return to the land, but armed with new skills; biochar stoves, an awareness of the conditions under which arbuscular mycorrhizae proliferate and of the conditions which favor soil aggregation.
Good food and efficient domestic heating systems might meet the needs for the majority world but those used to more consumer goods will have to make cut backs. The average American citizen for example has an ecological footprint that requires 9 gha (global hectares) to maintain his lifestyle, whilst there is an average of 1.8 gha per capita. The simple fact is that ‘unsustainable’ equates to ‘will run out of sustainence’. So long as it is dependent on non renewable resources the economy will collapse. Start stabilising carbon in the soil and at least you will have good food and the ability to produce enough energy for domestic needs. It is possible to devise systems which enable you to reverse your ecological footprint; to hold soil fertility through producing crops and heat in ways which build soil through using trees to draw down atmospheric carbon, through using biochar heating systems which stabilise that carbon and through optimising conditions for symbiotic fungae.
If we are to make the transition from fossil fuels then we can not simply re-learn the old ways of cultivating the soil and gathering wood for fuel. There are now too many people for the Earth to support if we do this. Not unless we stabilise carbon in the soil in order to make the soil naturally fertile and productive will the Earth support us all.
If humanity is to survive the trials of peak fuels and climate change, we need to replace systems and processes which allow the population to rise as a result of burning fossil fuels. A symbiotic system based on mutual respect, an understanding that everything in the universe is connected to everything else, free information flow and connection with the Earth, is more likely to result in a stable global population with low infant mortality and a high life expectancy.
Such a world, although not looking hopeful at the moment, is not impossible. It has happened before and still is happening in various parts of the world. Western civilisations have a lot to learn from ethnoagricultural studies of various human cultures which have lived in partnership with their environments. Rather than wiping out these cultures in order to profit by exploiting the resources in which they live, closer observation of how such cultures live in harmony could well be the key to our own survival.
Terra preta di Indio, the black earth of the Amazonian Indians, is a soil made by humans. The point about this civilisation is that they lived in a forest where the soil is naturally too shallow and poor to support a human civilisation. Their population can only have increased as a result of the fact that they built soil.
The New Economy.
We have to regain balance with the Earth. Persuading people to produce their own food in an unsustainable manner (digging the soil, using fertilisers and herbicides) will not result in that balance being regained. Learning from those cultures which have lived in symbiosis with the Earth.
Persuading people to use biochar producing stoves to generate heat, to return the biochar to the soil and to manage their soil in ways which encourage glomalin production and maximise biodiversity is a far more satisfying process than conventional gardening. By doing this people become symbiots with the soil again. The more cooking and growing we do, the richer the Earth becomes.
Biochar heating systems are appropriately scaled, they empower people to move away from the corporate energy suppliers, they burn sticks, coppice and not logs and so encourage the planting of more trees rather than cutting down trees.
The heating systems need to be used in conjunction with closed loop agroecology and other tree based growing and cooking systems. Bakeries, tree bogs, vertical growing systems, kitchen gardens, crops for clothing, any food or energy system which currently rely on fossil fuels and which deplete soils can be turned around. Biochar heat source technologies can help to turn these systems around, tho make them carbon negative, but combining crops and trees are the key to acheiving this.