Now before you get all up in arms, this is not about global warming. Global Warming is a political statement used to scare people, it’s not real. Climate change is happening, it’s not a debate anymore, it’s real. It has already been proven that humans have contributed to speeding up this natural process. Technically, we are at the end of an ice age and the industrial revolution and beyond helped end it quicker. The fact that glaciers still exist means we are still in an ice age. No one really knows what’s going to happen since all predictions have been inaccurate to some degree. But there is no reason to deny it anymore. You can either be prepared for it and change along with the climate, or be left behind and fail, it’s as simple as that.
The other myth people need to let go of is that they can stop climate change. That is not possible. This planet has been through many ice ages. That means it’s gone through heating and cooling, massively, all on it’s own, without people or cars. All we have done is polluted our resources, sped up the rate of change and caused mass extinctions due to human development. If you live in a tree and eat carob nuts to save the planet or you live in an apartment and eat McDonald’s everyday, you cannot stop climate change. It is impossible.
Now that I’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about what we can do.
As you have seen from the past couple of winters, things are changing quickly. We’ve spent the past 20 years with mild winters and now we’re facing record shattering temperatures in both directions and massive fluctuations. I can guarantee if this trend continues, the plant zoning for the entire United States will shift in the next 2-3 years. Last winter my Zone 5 in Michigan dropped into the Zone 3-4 area a couple of times. If we experience prolonged temperatures in that area it could be enough to kill off entire orchards and shift the entire landscape over time.
Our only intelligent choice is to shift our practices with the shifting climate. That means if you are in Zone 5, having plants/trees that are hardy to Zone 4 if they must overwinter outside. Even possibly introducing Zone 3 hardy plants. This also means the integration of the food forest systems. No one can deny the sudden shift in ambient temperature and humidity when you enter a forested area. Woodlands also provide buffers from the elements and can provide enough shelter to protect sensitive plants over the winter. These forested areas, if properly managed, can be extremely productive, provide shelter, food, wild game, water, timber, etc. The list goes on and on.
When plants evolved to do photosynthesis on this planet they poisoned most of the earth’s population by bumping the oxygen levels in the atmosphere more than double their original level. There was a mass extinction and they easily took over the entire planet. Some species obviously figured out how to deal with the new oxygen levels. Plants are the longest surviving species on this planet. Through ices ages, climate change and what ever other disasters, they have survived. It only makes sense to follow their example and work side by side with them. They are the most resilient kingdom on the planet, they know how to do it.
Experts in permaculture and agroforestry look towards the future and draw a blank. They know that working in forest-based systems solves many problems, but they don’t know how things are going to change. Most likely the planet will follow it’s usual pattern, it will heat up (people move away from the equator) and then it will suddenly cool down again (people move towards the equator). The problem is we don’t know how fast or how violently these things will happen. We do know, however, that these forest-based systems provide protection from the elements and their ferocity. They also provide a level of food safety that agriculture cannot even hope to meet. Unfortunately, 90% of the time tested, thousands of years worth of forest based knowledge has been lost due to the carelessness of our ancestors. In this time of great change, we struggle to grasp the basics before we are left behind.
I encourage those of you who are interested to take those permaculture classes you are unsure of, take a class on agroforestry, take a class on creating food forests, gardening, or what have you. But do something. It’s unfortunate that so many are uninterested in preserving and regaining knowledge about food systems. Eventually those people, however dire it may sound, will either wise up and learn or be left behind. Maybe not in our lifetime, but eventually it will happen. There have been plenty of shortages in grocery stores (certain fruits, veggies) and huge price jumps (meat especially) in the past couple of years. Once those items are no longer available or too expensive, how will you fill the void? Will you just quit eating them, replace them with synthetic foods, or will you provide them yourself? I know what my choice is. What’s yours?
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