Climate Change – what can we do?

Climate Change – what can we do?

“The climate emergency is THE defining issue of our times.”

It is the beginning of August, the time of ripening fruits. The year is progressing rapidly and the sun is already past its peak. It has been a stormy first half of the year with weather extremes throughout the world. Temperatures nearing 40°C which in my neck of the woods is unheard of, especially this early in the season. July and August can always bring swelteringly hot days, but this appears to be a new kind of normal. We urgently need to rethink the squandering of our planetary resources and what can be done to address this burning issue.

 

Climate Grief

 

As the intensifying seriousness of the situation is burning into my skin I find myself cycling through the stages of grief. Denial is no longer possible. Some days, I am overcome with grief and inconsolable sadness. I long for a state of reliable normalcy but know in my heart that nostalgia is futile.

 

Some days, I am almost numb with shock and disbelief. The seemingly wilful destruction of our beloved home planet is simply incomprehensible.

 

Some days, I just get angry as hell.

 

But, deep within me, there is still a beacon of reason reminding me that these feelings are the drivers of change, that the way forward starts exactly right here, where I stand. All I have to do is to take a step outside of the ‘normal’ complacency of my comfort zone. All I have to do is to challenge myself with questions about the changes I want to see in the world. What can I do to make a difference in my own life and in my immediate social surroundings?  Such questions empower me and transform sadness, frustration, and anger into determination – powerful energy for change.

 

We each are the ‘gardeners’ of our worlds and choose, at each step of the way, the seeds we want to grow and that there will be to harvest when the season comes. Instead of just concerning ourselves with fulfilling only the short-term demands or temptations, perhaps it would be a good idea to take the long-range view and ask ourselves that crucial question: how do we want to shape the world? What will be the fruits of our action or inaction? What will we harvest, when the time comes? And what kind of environment and seed store will we leave for our children and children’s children?

 

Our time here on this planet is short but our effect on the lives of future generations is huge.

In Norse mythology, Mid-summer inaugurates the time when the fiery God Lugh takes over from the bouncy Bel.

 

Bel warms the earth and quickens the seeds, Lugh ripens the corn and sweetens the fruits. But Lugh can also bring almighty thunderstorms and heavy monsoon-like rains. In recent years these phenomena are spinning out of control at alarming rates.

To be sure, even in the past, August could bring short but intense rains that refreshed the land. Maybe even an occasional hail storm, which farmers feared, but rarely did it bring complete devastation. Nowadays, hail comes in the shape of ping-pong balls, destroying crops in a matter of minutes. The amount of rain that normally falls over the course of a month now often deluges towns in just a few hours. Cities are flooded and little streams turn into raging rivers at very short notice. New weather records are broken every year. We can’t deny it – climate change is here.

 

We have seen it coming, yet few have been ready and willing to act. People are looking for guidance from authorities, but that is in short supply. Given that politicians are in office for only a short period of time, their priorities lie with short-term goals. Bureaucracy is slow to change and unpopular messages reduce the chances of being re-elected. Fear may help to sell even the most unpopular draconian policies, but it is not a useful tool for attracting votes.

 

People want simple answers to our woes. Unfortunately, there are no simple answers to climate change. It is a hugely complex and new phenomenon that we are only just beginning to understand fully.

 

It seems, without guidance from ‘above,’ we must find ways to help ourselves.

 

So, what can we do?

 

Perhaps it is time to reflect on what has helped us to get this far on our evolutionary journey.

 

Human beings are nothing if not curious and what has helped us the most is our keen sense of observation and experimentation. Observing the phenomena that are happening around us and paying close attention to what works and what does not. The task seems daunting. There are so many fires, so many issues that are screaming for attention. Whole ecosystems are affected by the changes that are taking place. How can we possibly address them all at once?

The world around us is a system. Whatever we do, the effects are never isolated but will affect the whole. The crucial aspect to realize is that WE ARE ALSO A PART OF THAT SYSTEM! Therefore, whatever we do in the world out there also has repercussions on US.

That realization can be even more depressing. But it shouldn’t be, because it also is the key! It is the key to understanding that we must start with ourselves and all that we do. We may not be able to fix the whole world by ourselves, but we can each fix our own world by taking responsibility for our lives and our actions. We can start by reflecting on how our own habits affect the world and make changes to minimize that impact

Some habits and practices are harder to change than others, but we each can start somewhere! 

There are things that we can do

  1. Organize
    The most important thing all of us need to do right now is to bring climate change into the conversation. If possible, group together with friends, family, and your community specifically to discuss how you have been affected and what, as a group, you may be able to do about it. A group can always achieve more than any one individual. Skills, know-how, and tools can be sourced and shared. Instead of feeling like a lone soldier fighting a losing battle you can tackle issues together, support each other and empower one another in doing so.
     
  2. Plant trees
    Encourage your community to plant more trees, and if you have the means and space, plant some yourself. According to a recent report, trees are the single most effective way to combat the rise of CO2. Even communities in poor countries, such as Ethiopia and India, have embarked on massive tree-planting campaigns. They are literally planting MILLIONS of trees. To optimize such an effort it makes sense to plant a variety of species and not just one fast-growing type. Diversity will build resilience as different trees react differently to various climate conditions.

Trees not only function as massive CO2 sinks, but they also create shade for other, more sensitive species, and help to conserve water by creating shade. Trees are also a vital component in the water cycle that regulates our climate. They are absolutely key to almost any ecosystem. They clean the air and produce oxygen, which we all need to breathe. Air pollution is currently one of the biggest environmental health hazards, according to a WHO report. It claims the lives of some 4.2 million people each year.

Extra kudos if you can plant trees with edible fruits and nuts that can provide food for people and wildlife.

wild flower meadow

  • Conserve water
    A lot of water is simply wasted – not just on sometimes obsessive hygiene routines but also because it just gets drained into the canalization. In places where the water system is not well developed, some of it may drain directly into streams or rivers, adding to the pollution.

 

Most people won’t have the opportunity to build a compost toilet in their back yards or find ways to easily separate grey water from solid waste. However, you may be able to save some greywater from the sink and ‘donate’ it right to your garden. But, make sure that you are using biodegradable detergents, otherwise, the toxic substances can build up in the soil.

An easier way to conserve water is to collect it from the drain pipe. Instead of letting it wash down the drain, divert it into a tank or water barrel to be used for watering the garden. Make sure the container is covered, otherwise you will provide a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Gardens are notoriously thirsty. This is especially true of lawns and vegetables. A good way to help conserve water is to mulch your veggies. Irrigating plants with a slow trickle watering system may also work well. Take a container (some people use plastic bottles but un-fired earthenware is better) and puncture several times to make some small holes. Dig a hole in the veggie plot and submerge the container so that it is level with the ground, fill it up with water and cover with a stopper. That way water continuously seeps into the ground. If your garden is large and you can dig in several such containers this is a good way to reduce the time and effort it takes to water.

Another good way to save water is to abandon the idea of a perfectly manicured English lawn. Instead, aim at a perfect wildflower meadow or plant more fruit trees or veggies. Or consider replacing your water thirsty turf with a more water conservative variety,  which is now offered at garden stores (e.g. Bluestem Enviro-Turf). Fleur de lawn includes low growing herb species such as white clover that fixes nitrogen in the soil and provides nectar for bees.

 

  • Composting
    The earth is covered by a thin layer of fertile soil. Due to erosion, this layer is continuously reduced. Farmers have to add tons of fertilizer, most of it inorganic, in order to sustain their yields. Heavy machinery further destroys the soil structure and compacts the soil. The negative effects of this type of farming practice are cumulative and turn into a vicious cycle. The only way to break this downward spiral is to change the way we look at the soil.

 

We derisively call it dirt and regard it as a rather lowly element. Yet, even a couple of handfuls of soil contain more micro-organisms than there are humans on earth. The soil is alive and constantly working to make this planet habitable for ‘higher’ species. The micro-organisms do this by breaking down organic materials that plants can assimilate. They also aerate the soil so that rain can penetrate the deeper layers instead of just running off the hard, impenetrable surface. But micro-organisms need one thing to do their job:  organic material on which they can work their transformative magic.

This is where compost comes into the picture. Compost is what your organic waste turns into when it is broken down by worms and other creatures that live in the soil. Some may think that composting is gross. But what is truly gross is to dump organic and inorganic waste all together into a bin which eventually ends up as toxic sludge in a landfill. By composting your organic materials and using it in your garden you will actually improve the fertility and soil structure of your plot, which not only helps it to retain more moisture but will also make your veggies more nutritious.

 

There are many other measures we can take to make a difference. Some may need a bit of organizational effort: carpooling for school or shopping runs, or forming buyers co-ops so as to make high quality, organic foods more easily and more cheaply available in low-income neighborhoods. Others may require an investment that will actually save money over time. such as exchanging energy-hungry appliances for more efficient ones or installing solar panels or wind power generators.

 

The climate emergency is THE defining issue of our time. It does seem daunting – almost too big to even contemplate. But once we stop to think about our own behaviors and habits and what we individually can do to make a difference, we realize that many little steps can eventually bring about the change we so desperately want and need.

 

Collectively changing our consumer habits and voting with our conscience will eventually ring the bell at the government level. We must make it clear that we do not want to go down the road of certain planetary destruction. In democratic countries, governments depend on our approval and cooperation – and that is where our power lies.

 

What to sow in January

What to sow in January

 range isIf you are one of those impatient gardeners (like me), who are itching to get going with the gardening year, you’ll be wondering what you could possibly grow this early in the season. In the northern hemisphere, January is one of the coldest months of the year. But don’t despair! There are actually a few things that you can sow in January. But, not out in the open as long as temperatures drop below freezing. There are ways around that limitation though – like, discover a new use for your window sill, or you can make a cold frame – or maybe you are the proud owner of a greenhouse or poly-tunnel.

Here are some veggies you can sow (indoors or under glass) at the end of January (about 4 weeks before the last expected frost):

Lettuce

There are many different varieties, so pick one that is hardy in your area. Lettuce prefers cooler weather. Once it gets too warm it will quickly bolt. 

 

Kohlrabi

There are purple and green varieties. The purple one is a bit more flavourful. Kohlrabi is pretty tough and winter kohlrabi can stay in the bed until needed. Summer kohlrabi should be started under glass. They should be hardened off before transplanting them outside. Like other members of the cabbage family, kohlrabi does not like the company of other crucifers in its neighborhood.

 

Radishes

These crunchy, peppery fellows are a lovely early spring crop since they are very tolerant and are quick to grow. Best to sow in intervals, every 2 weeks to optimise the harvest. But make sure you pick a spring variety as radishes are daylight sensitive.

 

Pick open-pollinated heirloom varieties so you can save your own seeds for the next growing season.

Before they can go out into the regular bed they should be hardened off. Don’t plant them out as long as temperatures fall below zero. The ideal temperature range is 

For heirloom seeds see: https://exchange.seedsavers.org/

 

Topiaria gaudium fever

Topiaria gaudium fever

Have you heard? There is a strange fever going around. Strangely, it only affects gardeners. I call it ‘Topiaria Gaudium Fever’. It is a special condition marked by high levels of excitement caused by the anticipation of the new gardening season. Round about now you can find gardeners up and down the land working up a sweat as they are feverishly studying long lists that look like pages of the phone book (phonebook? Who the hell still uses these?) It is impossible to catch their attention. Their eyes glazed over, they are almost drooling with febrile excitement as they utter strange sounds and incomprehensible words that make no sense to most other mortals.

It is an annual condition and immunity does not seem to build up over time.  Despite the fact that the land is buried under a thick layer of snow, gardeners are getting excited about future possibilities, exotic varieties, rare beauties, and even over bog-standard varieties of garlic or potato. They are not the same, you see. There is a world of difference between a Butte Russet and Russian Banana, wouldn’t you know?!

Our gardening friends are studying their seed catalogs and they can agonize over such lists for days. With so many varieties, what should one choose? Which variety is best suited to their specific climate and will it get on with the neighbors? Decisions, decisions…

What pains them are all the seeds that they have to say ‘no’ to for lack of space or adverse climatic factors. And yet, it is amazing how much even a relatively small area will give you if you know how to make the most of the available space.

A good plan is half the work

Garden planning is the ‘unseen’ work of the gardener, but if you want success, it is one of the most important stages. A good plan is half the work. And it is such fun, too! Skilled gardeners optimize the available space by intercropping, companion planting and vertical gardening. That way you can make the most of each season. Some early crops, like spinach, peas, rocket or radishes are ready to harvest before the main summer crops just get going. But timing is everything, so you have to be on the ball!

‘Intercropping’ means to grow several crops together or in close proximity. But planting willy-nilly won’t do. Some plants compete more than others and some need a lot of space once they get beyond the seedling stage. Ideally, you should aim to grow plants together that don’t go after each other’s resources, both in terms of space and in terms of nutrients. In horticulture, this practice is also known as ‘companion planting’ and you can actually grow a lot of different veggies all in the same bed as long as you give them enough space.

In colder climates, it is important to start seeds off early, indoors, to give them a head start. By the time it gets warm enough for them to go out they will be strong little plants. But starting them off too early can also be problematic. Every window sill eventually runs out of space. And also, some plants have a tendency to get dangly if they are kept indoors for too long. Instead of growing strong, they grow feeble. Thus, studying the seed catalogs, which provide information about the optimal growing conditions, planting and harvesting times, is time well spent. If you limit yourself to those varieties that are hardy in your climate and can withstand the odd weather adversity, you are doing great!

To visualize what your garden will look like, and to get an idea of what needs to be done at which time of the year gives you a huge head start. You will be reward with a steady harvest for the most part of the year.

P.S. And while you are contemplating seeds, think about the bees and the butterflies as well. Use open-pollinated seeds and don’t forget to put some out for the birds!

Eager to find out what you could sow this month? Check out ‘What to sow in January‘.

Let them eat…beans?

Let them eat…beans?

Beans belong to one of the most widespread and diverse botanical families, known as the Fabaceae, or Leguminosae. They occur throughout the world as bushes, herbaceous shrubs, herbs, and trees. It is estimated that there are about 619 genera with about 18815 species (depending on who’s authority you accept). Of course, not all members of this large family are edible, but many are used in one way or another, as food, for medicine, as a dye, or for their oil. As a further boon, these plants are able to fix nitrogen in the soil (with the help of bacteria). This atmospheric gas is extremely important for plant life, but they can only absorb it from the soil.

 

Edible members of this huge family come in an infinite variety of colours, shapes, and sizes: peanuts, carob, lentils, chickpeas, green and yellow peas, kidney beans, runner beans, broad beans, black beans, mung beans – and, economically probably the most important of them all: the soybean.

 

Pulses, such as peas, chickpeas, and lentils are some of the oldest domesticated plant species. According to the archeological record, the history of their cultivation both in the Old and in the New World goes back 5000 – 6000 years (some claim even earlier dates).

 

Of special importance are the genera Vigna (Old World) and Phaseolus (New World). They have become so well adapted to our needs that they have lost the ability to disperse their seeds naturally. Originally, seedpods evolved to ‘explode’ upon ripening and drying. But if you have ever grown peas or beans, you will have noticed that modern varieties no longer do this. This is convenient for us but means that the plant/human relationship has become so tight that these species have become completely dependent on us for their survival.

 

What makes the pulses so important  as a food is their high protein content. Plenty of plants provide carbohydrates in the form of sugars or starch, but few provide protein in useful quantities. In regions of the world where other sources of protein such as meat or fish are not easily available, or are not used on religious or ethical grounds, pulses fill the gap. In combination with a staple, such as wheat, corn or rice, beans provide practically all our protein requirements.

 

But, because they are seen as a ‘lower value’ protein compared to meat, they have been stigmatized as ‘peasant food’. While the rich can afford to feast on meat, peasants have to make do with beans and rice. Another reason why they are not welcome in polite company is their ‘musical’ (and smelly) note. Interestingly, green beans are innocent of this effect and do not suffer the same kind of disapproval. Au contraire! They are much sought after in haute cuisine, while in ‘ethnic’ cuisines, rice and beans, refried beans, dhal, black-eyed beans, etc. feature as ‘soul-food’.

 

 

string beans

 

Considering our growing problems of food insecurity, climate catastrophe, and population explosion, beans may yet save our species. At present, most of the grain (and soy) is produced as animal feed, but this is a highly inefficient way of fulfilling the world’s protein requirements: it takes 7kg of grain to produce just 1kg of meat. Many more people’s nutrient requirements could be met if the land was used to grow food for direct rather than indirect human consumption.

 

It would go beyond the scope of this article to discuss each edible member of the Fabacaea separately. Suffice it to say that there are enough varieties to try a different one for every day of the year.

 

But, this would mean cutting back on cattle farming just at a time when more people than ever can afford to buy meat on a regular basis. If trends in Japan can be regarded as indicative, the demand for meat will grow rapidly, especially among the middle classes of the emerging economies. In Japan, (traditionally a fish-eating culture) meat consumption has increased by 360 percent (!) between 1960 and 1990 (Shah and Strong 1999:19). Due to religious taboos this trend is less pronounced in India, but not elsewhere. 

 

Fortunately for our planet, vegetarianism and veganism are spreading, along with a general reduction in meat consumption among ‘flexatarians’. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what is driving this change, but health concerns are one likely cause, while the other might be a growing awareness regarding the impact of a meat diet on climate change. Even the UN has called for a change in dietary habits in an effort to reduce CO2 emissions. Livestock produces 14% of greenhouse gases, second only to energy production and more than the emissions produced by all means of transportation put together.  Besides, methane, which is produced by cattle ’emissions’ (burps and farts, basically), has a far greater impact as a greenhouse gas than CO2).

America, Oceania, and Europe are still the top meat consuming regions of the world, on average consuming 3 times as much meat as Asia.

 

 

 

The problem with soy

 

Pulses are becoming increasingly popular and none more so than soy. They have been riding a wave of success. Along with wheat, maize, rice, and potatoes soy are one of the 5 top crops worldwide. Soy is also one of the most likely crops to have been genetically engineered. It is difficult to find any truly organic sources. The reason that the food industry loves soy so much is because of its versatility. Soy proteins and oils are used in an incredible range of things (not just food), which makes it a sure fire, immensely profitable crop. However, apart from the GM prevalence, there are a number of other concerns that suggest soy may not be the solution to all our woes.

 

Most soy is produced for animal food, and just as worryingly, for use as biofuel. This is marketed as a ‘green’ product, but nothing could be further from the truth. Much of the world’s soy is produced at the expense of rain forest, which is cut down to make way for the soy. (see The Perilous Progress of the Soya Bean)

 

Medicinal and nutritional aspects

 In addition to their excellent protein profile (17 – 25%), beans are also rich in fibre, which can help to reduce cholesterol levels. In themselves, they contain very little fat and no cholesterol at all. Thus, they are an excellent choice for a ‘heart healthy’ diet. Many types of beans can be sprouted and produce fresh, crunchy greens that can be used to top soups, sandwiches or salads.

Black beans are rich in anthocyanins, a powerful antioxidant. Researchers have found that the darker the bean ‘coat’ the higher the proportion of antioxidant compounds. Thus, black beans lead the pack, followed by red, brown, yellow, and white beans.

They are also rich in vitamin B1, folate, molybdenum, manganese, tryptophan, magnesium, and iron. Soy is rich in calcium. However, there are some concerns over unfermented soy. Another health concern regarding soy is the fact that what ends up in processed foods are mostly isolated soy compounds, such as isoflavones. These act as endocrine disruptors and are considered detrimental to thyroid health. Caution is advised.

Medicinally, the husks of the Phaseolus species rather than the beans themselves are used. Dried bean pods are strongly diuretic and are said to be able to dissolve small gravel and stones in the urinary system. The decoction is recommended for edema, especially where this is due to general kidney or cardio weakness. Old herbals claim this to be the most effective remedy to release excess water from the body. It is thus recommended as a remedy for flushing out uric acid crystals and other metabolic waste products. This is interesting, as beans contain purines, (also found in meats and other foods), which the body breaks down to form uric acid. The shells, therefore, provide a remedy for one of the health hazards associated with excessive consumption of beans.

Such a decoction is also said to be useful for controlling blood-sugar spikes associated with diabetes and hypoglycaemia. Beans themselves are beneficial for diabetics as their energy is released slowly and steadily (low glycemic index due to high fibre content), rather than in one big rush as is common with simple carbohydrates.

 

mucuna pruriens

  

Mucuna pruriens, also known as cowhage or velvet bean, is not commonly used as food, although the young shoots and seeds can be eaten if prepared correctly. This interesting bean contains L-DOPA, a precursor of the neurotransmitter dopamine. It is occasionally used as a natural remedy for Parkinson’s disease, in which reduced dopamine levels play a major role. However, self-medication is not recommended, as dosing can be difficult.

The plant also contains dimethyltryptamin and has been used as an additive for ayahuasca preparations.

In traditional Ayurvedic practice, it is known as an aphrodisiac, a claim that is supported by a study involving rats. Apparently, their consumption of mucuna resulted in raised testosterone levels.

Indian medicine uses it to treat cholera, delirium, impotence, spermatorrhoea, urinary troubles, and to expel roundworms. An infusion of the ‘hairs’ that cover the pods is said to aid in the treatment of liver and gall bladder diseases. Externally,  it is applied as a local stimulant and mild vesicant (Parrotta:2001).

In magical herbalism, it is occasionally used in the practice known as ‘lucid dreaming’.

 

Caution:

 

Although mostly harmless, there are two diseases that are associated with the consumption of beans: favism and lathyrism.

 

Lathyrism is a condition that causes paralysis of the lower limbs as a result of excessive consumption of Indian Pea (Lathyrus sativa). This is not usually a problem when the pea is consumed as part of a normal diet. But in times of drought or scarcity when other foods are less available, it can become problematic. Indian pea, is extremely resistant to drought, and may be one of the few things around that are still edible. The paralysis can be permanent.

 

Favism is an acute anemic condition, which results from eating partially cooked or raw broad beans (Vicia faba). Even inhaling the pollen can cause this condition. Curiously, it only affects males of Mediterranean origin.

Pythagoras may have suffered from this condition as he vehemently rejected beans as a source of food. On the other hand, his objections may have had religious reasons. In Orphism, an ancient religious belief of the Greeks, beans are considered sacred to the Goddess and it was believed that each bean contained a soul. Or, Pythagoras might have considered beans too lowly a food, as even in his days, beans were regarded a peasant food.

 

The flatulence associated with bean consumption only occurs with dried beans. This is due to the fact that the human digestive system finds the oligosaccharides (a complex carbohydrate, which form during the drying process), hard to break down. The effect can be reduced by soaking the beans in two changes of water before cooking them. (soak, drain, soak again, drain, add more water, then boil ). Adding certain herbs and spices, such as epazote (Mexican favourite), fenugreek, cumin, coriander etc. can also help to minimize the flatulence effect.

 

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