When I was a teenager, fifty years ago, I saw recycling for the first time. I was visiting a friend who lived in a hippie commune, and he explained the cardboard boxes in the kitchen. “We sort the glass by color, and put the metal cans here. When the boxes are full, we drive them twenty miles to the recycling center.”
It all seemed so strange and extreme. Fifty years ago, it seemed as though there was plenty of everything; nature would never be exhausted. Now we know better, and there are recycling bins in front of every home, with weekly pickup.
This is how change happens. First a new idea is just weird, then it’s controversial, and then it’s normal.
In our country, we are halfway through this process in regards to climate change. It is still controversial.
But scientists are telling us unanimously that our use of carbon based fuels is changing the balance of gases in our atmosphere. We have too much carbon dioxide now. Of course, we have to stop burning so much fossil fuel. But we also have to start taking carbon out of the air and ‘sequestering’ or storing it somewhere else.
Luckily, nature already has a way of doing this. It’s called photosynthesis, and green plants do it all day long. They take carbon dioxide out of the air and store it in their bodies. Their roots also carry it deep into the soil and store it underground.
When we make compost out of our garden trimmings or food waste and spread it on the ground, or dig it in, we are also storing the carbon which plants took out of the air. In the form of humus, it can stay underground in a deep, fertile soil for a long time. What makes a fertile soil look dark is the carbon stored in it. Incidentally, the same humus helps soils hold and filter water, sending it to plant roots or down into the water table.
What makes gardens look beautiful and appealing? It’s the stacked, colorful layers of foliage on trees, shrubs and groundcovers, the flowers full of active pollinators, the fertile soil that makes the plants vibrant and shiny, and the sweet air, rich in oxygen from the breath of growing plants. These are the same features that signal a landscape that is actively sequestering carbon.
Air, water, soil, and power. These are the things we need for life. My granddaughter is a baby now. I want her to have healthy food, clean power, fresh water, and air that is rich in oxygen and healthy to breathe fifty years from now.
One grandmother can’t change the course of history by helping to tend a richly layered and planted landscape garden with deep fertile soil on 1/2 acre in the Sunset. But I can learn and teach, advocate and vote, and take my small direct action towards the future I care so much about.
And maybe a few years or decades from now, every park, school and community garden, and every backyard, will be planted in deeply layered landscapes growing in rich organic soil. Maybe a few years later these same principles will be used in large scale farms, ranches and public lands.
It’s not impossible. Si, se puede.