TODAY, November 13, is the start of the United Nations’ massive open online course, “National Adaptation Plans: Building Resilience in Agriculture.” The six-week course—free and open to anyone who is interested, has access to the Internet, and knows English— aims to lift awareness and deepen understanding on how to make agriculture resilient in the face of the extreme weather conditions resulting from climate change.
Participants are expected to get a good grasp of links between climate change, agriculture and food security, become familiar with relevant international agreements and how these relate to local levels, and they will learn how to identify and prioritize adaptation options in agriculture, among others.
The six-week course was put together by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the United Nations Development Program, and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research. All one has to do in order to join is to go to www.napmooc.uncclearn.org and register.
Incidentally, it is also at this time that world leaders, government officials and environmental advocates are gathering in Bonn, Germany, for the 23rd annual Conference of Parties under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The conference shows “the two faces” of climate change: The face of the “positive, resolute, inspiring momentum by so many governments,” cities and states, business and civil society leaders coming together to do something concrete to save the planet. The other face is “the reality check. The thermometer of risk is rising…, the window of opportunity is closing,” according to Patricia Espinosa, the UN Climate Change Executive Director, in a November 5 press statement.
I couldn’t help but recall Frank Herbert’s epic novel Dune, in particular Dr. Liet-Kynes and his dream. Liet- Kynes started greening the desert planet of Arrakis by making the local tribe plant small plants and grasses, even if they all knew it would take many generations to turn the desert into a place fit for human life. But eventually the desert was all but gone.
One could say that advocates of regenerative farming and land use are the Kyneses of today’s real world. They believe that regenerative farming and land use “can reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter”. Regenerative agriculture, in the advocates’ own words, “is a holistic land management practice that leverages the power of photosynthesis in plants to close the carbon cycle, and build soil health, crop resilience and nutrient density” (“What is regenerative agriculture,” February 16, 2017). Biology was my worst subject in school so I’m not good at explaining in my own words how this works, but basically plants draw climate-change causing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere to the soil to feed the plants. Furthermore, plant roots hold the soil, thus lessening erosion and improving the soil’s holding capacity for water. Using synthetic fertilizers on the soil destroys the natural balance of microbes in the soil and should be avoided. Of course, we would have to plant plants on vast tracts of lands and one may well wonder if there is really enough barren land to plant a sufficient quantity to reduce atmospheric CO2 and reverse the rising global temperatures. However, the point is that everyone can make a difference. Start making the planet fit for human life again, one plant at a time, like Kynes and his Arrakis Fremen.
The burning of fossil fuels remains the biggest culprit in climate change, accounting for about two-thirds of total greenhouse gases (Jack Kittredge, August 14, 2015). We all contribute to these emissions by driving around in our cars or getting on an airplane. The manufacturing processes of many of the consumer goods that we buy are also highly polluting though we usually know little if anything about the production processes or their ecological footprints. China is reportedly the No. 1 producer of greenhouse gases— but practically everything that we buy is made in China! China is producing and polluting for the world.
Obviously, pollution, both the type that causes climate change, and the many other types of pollution, affects us all, all the time. It is an “inconvenient truth,” as former US Vice President Al Gore said it more than 10 years ago, but a truth nevertheless. There was a time when people concerned with the environment were labeled as tree huggers or radicals. They were accused of being more concerned with birds and plants than with people and economic development. Pollution and ecological degradation have reached unprecedented proportions on a global scale since then, despite all the warnings, and we are killing ourselves in more than one way. It is reasonable to doubt that our individual small steps could really make any difference. Yet Planet Earth is our only home and if we – you and I – do nothing then obviously we cannot expect things to change for the better.