The biogeochemical flows, this planetary boundary is referring to, is the phosphorus cycle and the nitrogen cycle. These cycles happen naturally in nature over time, and without our intervention, remain in balance.
Let’s start with nitrogen
Nitrogen makes up 78% of the air we breath and so, it is all around us. This gas is made of two atoms with triple bonds. These bonds are very difficult to break. Plants and animals, including us, need nitrogen to survive. We cannot use the nitrogen in the air and neither can plants. So how do we access this nitrogen? Tiny microscopic bacteria that live in the soil take nitrogen from the air and fix it into the soil. These bacteria produce enzymes that break these triple bonds and put nitrogen into a form that is accessible to plants. We can then access our nitrogen requirements by eating the plants. Nitrogen is returned back into the system when plants and animals die or when animals urinate or produce manure. Plants take this nitrogen up from the soil to grow. There are also special bacteria that convert this accessible nitrogen into atmospheric nitrogen or nitrogen gas. Another name for this gas is dinitrogen.
Commercial agriculture uses synthetically made nitrogen to fertilize crops but this chemical leaches into rivers and lakes when it rains and causes algae blooms. When the algae dies, bacteria break them down but consume all the oxygen in the water by doing so. These oxygen consuming bacteria turn the river or lake into a dead zone. It’s called a dead zone because no other aquatic life can survive in water without oxygen. America’s dead zone off the eastern coast is visible from space.
You can see from looking at the planetary boundaries picture, that we have crossed this boundary into the red high risk areas. This means we have too many dead zones around the world because of nitrogen pollution in seas and lakes. Commercial agriculture takes a lot unhealthy shortcuts to produce food but affects the natural balance of nature and thus negatively impacts our ecology. Permaculture methods do not use chemical fertilizers but lets nature do the work for us.
The Phosphorus Cycle
Phosphorus is found in rock especially sediment layers and with constant weathering, is released into the ground. Plants take up phosphorus from the ground and we take up our needed phosphorus from plants. When animals and plants die, this phosphorus is returned back to the soil or runs into the sea, becomes a sedimentary layer and in a few million years, pops up as a mountain exposed to weather again. It’s a really slow process.
Commercial agriculture has messed up the phosphorus cycle so badly, that it is becoming deplete in the soil. Phosphorus is mined and used in chemical fertilisers that commercial farmers use. Permaculture does not use synthetic fertlizers to grow crops and harmonises with nature’s processes. Permaculture is the sustainable and regenerative method of farming because it treats the land as a permanent source of nutrition by building top soil and not depeleting it.
If you know about climate change, then you will know that burning fossil fuels like oil, coal and gas is releasing carbon into the atmosphere. This carbon affects the ability of the suns rays to be bounced back into space.
Between 30 and 40 percent of this atmospheric carbon is absorbed by the ocean. As the ocean absorbs more carbon dioxide, it becomes more acidic. This increased acidity is killing sea creatures that use calcium carbonate to survive. These include animals with shells like oysters, coral and crabs. Many of these creatures are keystone species which means that they support the ecosystem in a big way. As keystone species collapse, then ecosystems collapse.
What can you do to help?
We don’t need a whole car to ourselves if there are other people who travel the same route or go to the same destination near us. Using public transport allows us to read, crochet and communicate with others instead of being stressed out by aggressive traffic. Doing a little bit of homework and setting up a car pool can save you hundreds of rands and it’s fun. If you can ride a bicycle to get where you want then you get to burn fat instead of fuel and your body will thank you for your efforts! It’s a win win all round! Live close to work or find work close to home. What about working from home?
A healthy tree can sequester about 20kgs of carbon dioxide in a year and 1 ton in 40 years. By planting trees, you are sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. You will also be creating shade and reducing the city temperatures, building topsoil, and creating a habitat for wildlife. Trees filter noise, wind and increase property value and they provide shelter and food. You don’t need any help or petitions to plant a tree. Find some indigenous seeds, do a little research and plant some love in the world. If we all planted one tree a week, the world would start going green, literally.
Eat from the backyard and not from the shop. You save money, fossil fuels, doctor bills and electricity costs. Who needs refrigeration when your food is fresh and alive in the ground? You may have never grown a tomato before but it’s never to late to learn. By building this skill, you can be more independent than you have imagined. You will also appreciate food more and understand the energy gone into it. The majority of us cannot say the same for what is on the grocery store shelves. There are horror stories full of poison, deforestation, world hunger, food wastage and abuse of resources lurking in those ingredients. What is even more disturbing is that you are paying for it with your hard earned money and becoming addicted to unhealthy food traced with poison. Stop this cycle of abuse and plant some food bearing seeds in the ground.
Recycle, up cycle, reuse and compost what you don’t need so that you produce no trash. If that sounds a little impossible for you, starting an ecobric will get you on the right track. Click here for more about Ecobrics. Join Facebook groups that are about zero waste and find support and knowledge. Join Freecycle – it’s a great way to turn your trash to someone else’s treasure. The more people who join in South Africa, the more useful this platform becomes. Perhaps their trash becomes your treasure! I have already benefited from this resource by finding building materials for our natural water pool.
Get to know your neighbours and community. Strike up a conversation and find creative ways to network. We are sociable creatures and need social systems to thrive. As an African proverbs says, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’
Invest in clean energy and harvest water. You can reuse your grey water for the garden by making your own biodegradable cleaning products.Guerrilla House regularly hold workshops to learn how to do this effectively. Guerilla House also host many other workshops about permaculture, fermenting foods, growing mushrooms, fertility and more. You can also join their community of willing permaculturists who support each other through permaculture principles. Through this network, I have been given logs to inoculate with mushrooms, biochar for garden fertility, seeds and more.
Search with Ecosia instead of Google. They have planted over 40 million trees and offered 1 million Euros to save Germany’s forest from coal mining. I have helped plant 31 trees since using them. That’s enough to offset one plane trip!
Watch Surviving Collapse by Geoff Lawton and he will show you how he is greening deserts. The most arid, barren, dry, hot deserts where nothing grows. Read Permaculture – A Designer’s Manual by Bill Mollison and Permaculture – Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability by David Holmgren. This knowledge will empower you to provide for yourself.
Invest in an eco loo and build a compost bin. You can use all that water that you were using to flush, for your food garden. Plus, in year’s time, your biowaste would have turned into lovely black compost for your trees. Nature does all the work for you. Soil that has been well dressed with compost holds a good amount of water which means it needs less watering. So you save water by not flushing and you save even more by making compost for your garden. If everyone grew their own food by composting their biowaste, reusing their greywater and using water retaining soil, we could collectively save monumental amounts of water. Commercial agriculture has become so specialized, it misses the essence of good practice which often is low tech.
Support small local businesses instead of transnational companies.
Did you know that you can borrow seeds just like you borrow books from the library? It’s true and it’s called a seed library. You can make a withdrawal, plant the seeds and enjoy the fruits of your harvest. In order to be self sustainable and regenerative, some plants must be left to produce seeds. These seeds are harvested to grow during the next season. This is called seed saving and closes the loop so producing food is like a cycle that feeds itself. Once you have saved some seeds, you then return a small portion back to the seed library so others can borrow seeds to add to their varieties of food crops.
You don’t need to pay to borrow seeds however being an active part of the library helps build stock and keeps the seeds fresh. You can also donate seeds to the library which increases the diversity. Maintaining a large variety of seeds helps us to protect food biodiversity and preserve heirloom seeds from privatisation, destructive and deadly monoculture and genetic splicing. For more information about why this is an important issue, read ‘Protecting Our Seed Biodiversity‘. Click here for information aboutsaving seeds.
What can you borrow from Milnerton Seed Library?
Here is a list of what we currently have:
Bean – Broad Bean Bean – Dwarf Bean Contender Bean – Non GMO Soy Beetroot – Crimson Globe Beetroot – Early Wonder Broccoli – Green Sprouting Carrots – Nantes Calendula – Orange Cauliflower – Snowball Coriander Corn – Non GMO Bloody Butcher from Transkei Cosmos – Sensation Mixed Cucumber – Ashley Eggplant – Black Beauty Leek – Giant Carentan Melon – Honeydew Green Flesh Melon – Hales Best Onion – Australian Brown Onion – Caledon Globe Peas – Antique Pepper – California Wonder Radishes – Cherry Belle Squash – Caserta Squash – Rolet Squash – Waltham Swiss Chard – Fordhook Giant Sunflower Tomato – Floradade Turnip – Early Purple Top Globe Watermelon – Charleston Grey Watermelon – Congo Watermelon – Crimson Sweet Zulu Clover
Climate change is a loaded topic and you can dig deep into intimidating mathematical calculations and chemistry. What it all boils down to (pun intended) are the molecules in our atmosphere. Before the industrial revolution, it worked like this: The sun shines down on earth and mostly the energy bounces back out to space. Water vapour and some carbon dioxide keeps a fraction of the energy maintaining warmth. This way, the sun warms the earth enough to sustain life but doesn’t burn us to a crisp.
With carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydroflourocarbons and other gases in the atmosphere, a harmful amount of the sun’s heat is trapped in our atmosphere and not enough is reflected back out into space.
This is ultimately the greenhouse effect which warms our planet. This is why we are reaching record high temperatures and earth’s creatures are behaving differently.
I got so lost in links of links of links in Wikipeadia and whilst I understood the just of it, I couldn’t write about it the way I would like to. Luckily, there are some brainiacs on Youtube that can explain it perfectly in visuals.
Enjoy the videos below and pat yourself on the back for learning the science behind climate change. They all compliment each other and are fun to watch.
This planetary boundary is one of two core boundaries. This means that if this threshold has been crossed, it affects other processes on earth. The other core boundary is climate change.
By looking at the planetary boundary picture above, you can see that the green to yellow to red piece of the pie, indicates that we have crossed this threshold.
We are now experiencing the sixth mass extinction of planet earth. This beautiful blue and green planet of ours has experienced 5 mass extinctions before. These have been said to be caused by volcano eruptions, asetroid strikes, climate shifts and other natural causes. During these natural phenomenons, species extinction occurs at 1 to 5 species a year. This is called a background rate.
The sixth mass extinction known as the Holocene or Anthropocene extinction is caused by humans. The extinction rate of species is 1,000 to 10,000 times larger than the background rate of previous extinctions.
We are facing a future of losing 30 – 50% of all species by 2050 if we don’t act dramatically now.
This is caused by a number of factors:
Habitat loss and degration due to farming especially animal agriculture
Climate change through heat stress and drought stress
Excessive nutrient load and other forms of pollution
Over-exploitation and unsustainable use (e.g. unsustainable fishing methods) we are currently using 25% more natural resources than the planet
Armed conflict, which disrupts human livelihoods and institutions, contributes to habitat loss, and intensifies over-exploitation of economically valuable species, leading to population declines and local extinctions.
Invasive alien species that effectively compete for a niche, replacing indigenous species
The threat of extinction is at large and includes:
1 out of 8 birds
1 out of 4 mammals
1 out of 4 conifers
1 out 3 amphibians
6 out of 7 marine turtles
75% of genetic diversity of animal crops have been lost
75% of the world’s fisheries are fully or over exploited
Up to 70% of the world’s known species risk extinction if the global temperatures rise by more than 3.5°C
1/3rd of reef-building corals around the world are threatened with extinction
Over 350 million people suffer from severe water scarcity
Stratospheric Ozone Depletion is one of 9 planetary boundaries.
Introduction to Planetary Boundaries
Planetary Boundaries is a concept where each of the nine boundaries are interconnected with one another. It was proposed by a group of earth system and environmental scientists led by Johan Rockström from the Stockholm Resilience Centre and Will Steffen from the Australian National University.
When one boundary is pushed beyond it’s limits, it can cause catastrophe for the other boundaries. It’s a bit like looking at the planet as a whole ecosystem.
Some people argue and say that using planetary boundaries implies that humans can continue their destructive ways up until a determined limit and thus not change methods entirely. I agree with them. I believe we should be altering our methods so that we are healing the planet and not taking without replacing.
I do, however find the planetary boundaries concept interesting because it alerts us to the dangerous territory we are embarking on that could cause the life, including human life, on our blue planet to collapse.
Business as usual in a system that is based on infinite resources is leading us to the depths of Modor, to put it figuratively. We are dancing on the edge of a cliff and we must find our way back to the laws of nature.
Nature is a wonderful thing. She is fruitful, rewarding and can pour abundant doses of happiness into our souls. That sentence only applies when we treat her with respect. If we abuse her, punish her, force her and overpower her, she will become hostile. Unfortunately many innocent lives are at stake for the actions of a few people orientated by money and immediate gratification. We must look into the future and think ahead. Immediate gratification is like an addiction and it will make us sick.
Our Ozone Layer
The ozone layer encircles the Earth, and it is a gaseous layer situated at the lower end of the stratosphere. Ozone is a molecule made up of 3 oxygen atoms. The oxygen we breath is made up of molecules with 2 oxygen atoms. The ozone layer has more ozone in it than any other atmospheric layer around the earth. Ozone serves an important purpose for life on earth. It blocks harmful ultraviloet radiation that comes from the sun.
It is compelling to know that ultraviolet radiation from the sun actually forms the ozone molecules in the ozone layer. Ozone forms when radiation or electrical discharge separates the two atoms in an oxygen molecule (O2), and these free oxygen atoms can form with other oxygen molecules (O2) to form ozone (O3).
The general public became more aware of the ozone layer when scientists discovered that certain chemicals manufactured by humans destroyed some of our ozone. These harmful chemicals include chloroflurocarbons (CFCs) and caused a ‘hole’ (or rather a considerable less amount of ozone) in our ozone layer that sits over Antartica during the spring time.
After an outcry, an international treaty was signed in 1973 called the Montreal Protocol, and the manufacture of these chemicals was greatly reduced.
The ozone layer destruction has slowed down significantly and we are hoping that it will continue to heal with humanity’s cooperation. There is some science that suggests that major volcanic eruptions (mainly El Chichon in 1983 and and Mt. Pinatubo in 1991) may have also contributed to the ozone depletion.
If the ozone layer continued to deplete, humans would be susceptible to various cancers, cataracts and plants would not grow well thus impacting our food supply. Whales have also shown signs of skin damage due to the hole in the ozone layer.
While stratospheric ozone which protects us from the sun is good, there is also ozone produced near the ground from sunlight interacting with atmospheric pollution in cities that is bad for human health. It causes breathing problems for some people, and usually occurs in the summertime when the pollution over a city builds up during stagnant air conditions
The planetary boundary for the ozone layer is recorded in Dobson Units and is currently 276 Dobson units. That means if we fall under 276 units, we have passed the threshold. The current reading accorning to Wikipedia is 283 Dobson Units. The value before industrial times was 290.
Here is an interesting timeline of the history of the ozone layer from theozonehole.com. Note Du Pont’s role in this, who is also responsible for biodiversity loss in food by producing pesticides, herbicides and genetically modified food to survive these poisions.
HISTORY OF THE OZONE LAYER
600,000,000 B.C. Ozone layer forms
1839 Christian Schöenbein identifies ozone in the laboratory
1845 Auguste de la Rive and Jean-Charles de Marignac suggest ozone is a form of oxygen; confirmed by Thomas Andrews in 1856
1858 Andrei Houzeau finds ozone present in natural air
1865 Jean-Louis Soret proves that ozone is O3
1879 Marie Alfred Cornu measures solar spectrum and finds sharp cutoff in ultraviolet (UV) light
1881 Walter Hartley recognizes cutoff corresponds to UV absorption by ozone
1913 John William Strutt (Lord Rayleigh) shows absorption is not in lower atmosphere
1919 Charles Fabry makes first spectrometric measurements of “thickness” of ozone layer
1924 G.M.B. Dobson develops ozone spectrophotometer and begins regular measurements of ozone abundance (Arosa, Switzerland)
1925 Jean Cabannes and Jean Dufay show ozone is about 10 miles high
1928 Thomas Midgley synthesizes chlorofluorocarbons (CFC’s)
1929 Umkehr method for Dobson instrument establishes that ozone maximum is below 15 miles altitude
1930 Sydney Chapman describes theory that explains existence of an ozone “layer”
1934 Ozonesonde (balloon) measurements establish the ozone concentration is maximum around 12 miles up
1930’s GM develops applications for CFC’s
1950 David Bates and Marcel Nicolet propose catalytic (HOx) ozone destruction
1957 Global network of Dobson spectrophotometers established during the International Geophysical Year (IGY)
late 1950’s CFC market expands rapidly
early 1960’s Catalytic destruction is necessary in order to explain ozone amounts
1960’s Boeing proposes supersonic transport (SST) fleet of 800 aircraft
1969 Paul Crutzen discovers NOx catalytic cycle
1971-74 Dept of Transportation sponsors intensive program of research, The Climatic Impact Assessment Program (CIAP)
1971 Congress axes funding for the SST
1971 Johnston calculates that NOx from SST’s could deplete ozone layer
1973 Rick Stolarski and Ralph Cicerone suggest catalytic capability of Cl
1973 James Lovelock detects CFC’s in atmosphere
1974 Sherwood Rowland and Mario Molina warn of ozone depletion due to CFC’s
March 1977 First international meeting (Washington DC) to address issue of ozone depletion held by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP)
March 1978 US bans non-essential use of CFC’s as aerosol propellant
1978 Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer (TOMS) is launched aboard NIMBUS-7 spacecraft giving global coverage of ozone layer thickness
1980’s Renewed expansion of CFC market
Oct 1982 Shigeru Chubachi measures low ozone over Syowa, Antarctica (reported at Ozone Commission meeting in Halkidiki, Greece in Sept 1984)
1984 British Antarctic Survey scientists discover recurring springtime Antarctic ozone hole (published in Nature May 1985)
March 1985 Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer
Sept. 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer (Amendments – London 1990; Copenhagen 1992)
March 1988 DuPont agrees to CFC production phase-out
late 1980’s Ten years of satellite data begin to show measurable ozone depletion globally
1991 DuPont announces phase-out of CFC production by end of 1996
1992/3 Abnormally low ozone observed globally
1995 Crutzen, Rowland, and Molina win Nobel Prize in Chemistry
mid-1990’s springtime Arctic ozone dent appearing
Jan. 1996 CFC production ends in US and Europe
2000 Maximum CFC concentrations in stratosphere are reached
Today The Ozone Layer – Global Map
2010 CFC production ends world-wide
2030 Hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) alternatives are phased out
2040 HCFC production ends world-wide
2050 Springtime Antarctic ozone hole disappears
I did find a video that states that the ozone layer is not healing and I cannot ignore it from this article. To view it, click here.
Trees are incredible forms of life on this planet.
I can write pages and pages about them. If you knew what I knew about trees, perhaps you would hug them too now and again. They are essential to our existence and without trees, our planet would be inhabitable. I cannot empahsise enough how we must strive to plant them, whenever we can, and in many places as we can.
Just because you don’t have a garden, does not mean you cannot plant a tree. Enhance public spaces like parks and sidewalks with trees. Choosing an indigenous and water wise species will increase chances of survival and not consume too much water.
Here are some important facts you should know about trees:
1. Trees seed rain
Trees transpire water which form clouds and rain back down. Check out these awesome videos which explain the process.
2. Trees increase the fertility of the soil
The leaves that fall off the trees, cover and protect the ground from evaporation. Microorganisms and other small creatures like worms, eat the organic matter and process it into nutritious soil for plants. The oranic matter becomes food for the ground. There are also trees that absorb nitrogen from their air and return it to the soil through their leaf litter and nodes in their roots. If the tree is large enough to prune, the stored nitrogen in the root nodes are released into the soil as the tree balances its roots with its canapy. When deciduous trees lose their leaves in autumn, you can decide how you would like to use them, as they have great fertilizing qualities.
You can choose to rake up the leaves, and store them to make leaf mould. Leaf mould is an excellent form of compost, or you can let nature do all the work for you by leaving them on the ground. Fallen leaves have a wonderful purpose, they protect the ground from extreme cold or heat. Leaves (as mulch) stop water evaporation and when the worms eat them, they turn them into super compost for the soil. This is nature’s cycle of returning nutrients back to the soil so that more life can grow.
3. Trees stabilize the soil
The roots dig deep into the soil to secure the tree and this also protects the soil from soil erosion. Soil erosion occurs when rains fall and top soil is washed away where there are no trees to hold the soil in place. This leaves big gaping holes where it is difficult to grow anything.
4. Trees provide shade and regulate temperature.
If you measured the temperature of various man made things like tar roads, concrete, bricks and steel and then compared those temperatures with the tops of trees, you will see a big difference. Trees regulate the temperature. Man made structures like roads and concrete increase the temperature in cities and contribute to global warming. I am sure all of you have experienced the sanctuary of shade underneath a tree on a very hot day.
5. Trees help in the maintenance of biodiversity and ecosystem balance.
Trees provide a home to wildlife and increase chances of survival of many species. They provide food and shelter. Where many species live together, a balance is retored and is called an ecosystem. An ecosystem can fall out of balance if a species of life is removed and this threatens the survival of all other life. Biodiversity is key for survival of all species.
6. Trees are a resource for fuel and building
Wood from the fallen and dried branches of trees, can be burnt to provide warmth. Burning dried branches also makes coal which can be burnt or used to clean water. It can even clean our teeth! We can make things with wood like furniture, shelter and paper. We must be careful to prune for the trees health, and not cut them down. Destroying a forest for our own needs is selfish when there are better and more sustainable ways of providing for our comforts.
7. Trees store carbon
Do you know about all that carbon in the air that is making our planet hotter and making the sea acidic? Well, it should be in the ground or in trees where it is safe and put to good use. Trees store carbon and return it to the soil by decomposition.
The Moral of the Story
Go out there and plant a tree for Arbor month. Plant 10 trees if you can and try stick to indigenous, water wise trees. Let’s fix the grass deserts in our parks and restore the land, climate and wildlife with trees. Plant some fruit or nut trees in your garden and you will be rewarded with delicious food.
Trees are so vital to our survival. We need more of them to fix the damage we have done to this planet. Plant a tree for Arbor Month.
I wanted to write about climate change so that every day people could understand what is happening to our planet. The science journals and graphs and special lingo can be offputting and a lot of information is not understood by the majority of people. The motivation to write about climate change happened one year ago and sadly, I have not devoted the time needed to resarch this topic fully in the way that I would like to write it.
My starting point was to explain planetary boundaries. This is a system based on 9 planetary life support systems and how they are interconnected. If a number of them are pushed, then the system in it’s entirety collapses threatning this planet’s habitability. To just explain one of these nine systems, I had to build on my limited scientific knowledge and quickly, I realised that writing this would be a series of artcles that would take a considerable amount of time.
Writing articles is not my main focus however I do feel that humans need to radically change their lifestyle to live harmoniously with the ecosystem. Hence, I write artciles to promote regenerative living however, there is more to expect…
Climate Change is happening now.
We are at the point of irreversable damage and that point may have passed us already. Sustainable is no longer good enough and regenerative living is not enough right now. For those that can accept the difficult and uncomfortable truth, preparation for adaption is needed.
We need to be informed of what to expect so that we can make preparations. Unicorn Cafe focuses on the positive side and drives change from this angle. Doom and gloom is not an experience we want to feel yet ignoring that serious consequences lie ahead of us would be irresponsible.
What I can do now is post links to media out on the world wide web and I hope to take you on the journey with me as I explore options to survive.
There are support groups in place
It is inevitable that some of us will feel hopeless and helpless when we understand the magnitude of what is to come and so, suport groups are forming.