How are we to revive the seas, air, and soil?
By sustaining their ecosystems and reducing our polluting waste.
Science writer Ed Yong encourages us to consider the living-worlds of other species. He explains that bats “see” their world by producing “calls” which echo back to their ears. These calls are so high pitched that we can’t hear them and so rapid that bats in darkness can “see” more clearly a flying moth than we can in bright light. As sound travels further in water environments, dolphins using echolocation clicks can “see” fish clearly at a distance equal to three football fields laid end-to-end. Hummingbirds have four light cones whereas humans have three. So, hummingbirds see hundreds of colors invisible to us. As bee eyes evolved to see colors, we realize that flowers evolved their colors to entice bees to visit them.
How do prairie flowers and grasses compare to forests for sequestering carbon? Forests have been storing “about a quarter of the carbon dioxide pollution produced by humans worldwide. But decades of fire suppression, warming temperatures and drought have increased wildfire risks” and changed forests in California “from carbon sinks to carbon sources.” A recent study conducted by the University of California at Davis has verified that in California “grasslands and rangelands are more resilient carbon sinks than forests.” We might infer from the study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, that replanting prairie grasses around the globe should be given priority over planting trees. Especially in semi-arid environments that exist on forty percent of the earth’s surface.
More than 2.3 million Americans live in low-income areas where residents don’t have access to nutritious food. New York City is a leader in combatting food deserts with more than 700 urban farms and gardens. They have found that adding bees improves food quality and increases yields up to 71%. Research published in 2018 by the Royal Society B has shown that bees living in urban areas live healthier lives than their counterparts in rural habitats. Bee colonies are larger, better fed and less prone to disease. Urban colonies also outlast their country cousins. The Nature Ecology and Evolution magazine reports that urban vegetable and flower gardens often have 10 times as many bees as parks, cemeteries and nature reserves.
Composting with coffee is a great way to make use of something that would otherwise end up taking up space in a landfill. Composting coffee grounds helps to add nitrogen to your compost pile. Composting coffee grounds is as easy as throwing the used coffee grounds onto your compost pile. Used coffee filters can be composted as well. If you will be adding used coffee grounds to your compost pile, keep in mind that they are considered green compost material and will need to be balanced with the addition of some brown compost material. “Brown materials” for composting consists of dry or woody plant material: dry leaves, wood chips, straw, sawdust, corn stalks, newspaper.
Sherri Mitchell explains in “Indigenous Prophecy and Mother Earth” that the Wabanaki people of the US Northeastern Woodlands frame their eco-choices with stories and words affirming: “the deep interrelatedness of the sacred and the secular. Our traditional societies are rooted in one inseparable reality that acknowledges the inviolability of all aspects of creation. Time does not exist as separate epochs unfolding in linear fashion, but as one movement unfolding in all directions simultaneously. The harm experienced by our ancestors is felt in our bodies today, and the harm we create today will be experienced by our future generations tomorrow. We realize that we cannot separate ourselves from those who have come before us or those who will follow, because we all exist together in this one moment.
Jane Zelikova is director of Colorado State University’s Soil Carbon Solutions. She writes: “A tablespoon of soil contains billions of microbes. These tiny bacteria, fungi, protists, and archaea make up the bulk of life in soils. There may be a trillion species of microbes on Earth—99.999 percent still undiscovered. Though invisible to the naked eye, microbes collectively hold more carbon than all animals combined. Billions of tons of carbon sit underground, three times more than in the atmosphere. Microbes are the movers and shakers of carbon sequestration. They transform organic matter from plants and animals into soil organic carbon (and other nutrients, a process that builds soil fertility and draws down carbon from the atmosphere and locks it
Our bodies’ immune systems have evolved to capture and kill bacteria that enter our bodies and pose a threat to our health. This is happening all the time and requires only that we maintain a healthy body by eating healthy foods and exercising regularly. In the buildings where we spend most of our time, our eco-choice is not to use the chemicals that are designed to kill as many microbes as possible. For using these toxic substances will kill not only beneficial microbes but will also result in microbes resistant to whatever chemical we are using. Our goal instead should be maintaining a healthy biodiversity of microbes in our buildings.
The majority of butterflies and moths do not migrate but use leaf litter for winter cover to protect their eggs, caterpillars, chrysalis, and adults. “Red-banded hairstreaks lay their eggs on fallen oak leaves, which become the first food of the caterpillars when they emerge. Luna moths and swallowtail butterflies disguise their cocoons and chrysalises as dried leaves, blending in with the ‘real’ leaves.” Also bumble bees, beetles, millipedes, snails, worms, and other organisms live in leaves and provide food for chipmunk, birds, and countless micro-organisms. Instead of using fossil fuel fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides on the landscape to keep turf grass green, we should mimic nature and return to the soil the nutrients trees have used to create their leaves.
Birds have important ecological value, supporting resilient ecosystems and acting as indicators of environmental health. And they contribute to our economy, providing ecosystem services such as insect control and pollination and adding more than $100 billion each year to the economy through consumer spending on birdwatching activities. A 2019 report found that North America’s bird populations have declined by 3 billion birds since 1970, representing a 29% decline overall. Grassland birds, shorebirds, seabirds, and aerial insectivores have faced particularly steep declines. Additionally, a report from National Audubon Society found that two-thirds of North America’s bird species are at risk from the compounding impacts of climate change. In January 2022 the Biden administration repealed the Trump administration’s rollback of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Mulch is a staple in most gardens for good reasons. Mulch made of straw, bark chips, pine needles, or other organic material retains soil moisture, promotes healthy drainage, protects roots against temperature fluctuations, staunches growth of weeds, and enriches the soil as it gradually decomposes. While pine needles effectively hold moisture and make the soil more acidic, which limits weed growth, in a moist climate mold and mildew may grow in your pine mulch. Breathing in mold spores won’t affect you severely, unless you live where there is a lot of mold growth or have a compromised immune system (i.e. people with asthma, shortness of breath, etc). Crushed rock mulch applied around the perimeter of your house creates an effective fire barrier, while most organic mulches are flammable.
Our Gut Microbes
There are 39 trillion micro-organisms in your gut, give or take a few billion. That’s what Dr. Will Bulsiewicz reports in his 2020 book Fiber Fueled. What we eat feeds the community of microbes we host in our gut, which in turn provides nutrients for the cells of our body. Compared to the 17 digestive enzymes produced by our own cells, the microbes in your gut produce 60 thousand different enzymes. “The fact that our microbiomes contain this insane number of digestive enzymes makes sense when you remember that there are three hundred thousand edible plants and potentially millions of types of fiber in our diet.” Humans co-evolved with micro-organisms, and our health depends on their health.
Plants recruit bacteria in the soil to assist in “nutrient uptake, nitrogen fixation, and pathogenic defense systems.” Of the microbes “that aid immunity, some function by out-competing pathogens for nutrients, while others actively secrete antibiotics or induce an immune response in the plant. Maize seedlings to protect themselves secrete a chemical from their roots that eliminates harmful bacteria, insect, and other plants. This chemical attracts bacteria that protect the plant. These bacteria “can detoxify” the plant’s secretions and also ”out-compete” the bacteria that are harmful to the plant for the “limited nutrient supply in the soil around the plant’s roots. Testing soil for its microbial diversity would reveal when it is sufficiently fertile to enable maize seedlings to defend themselves.