Stock hedges, home insurance, and our misunderstanding of risk

Written by Community Solutions Fellow, Kurt Cobb

Originally posted 

"If you own stocks without a hedge, it's not rational." So says the world's most famous student of risk Nassim Nicholas Taleb in a recent interview with Bloomberg as many of the world's stock markets hover near all-time highs. "It's like buying a house without insurance," he explained. "We have tail risks today that we didn't have before, and every day it gets worse."

"Tail risks" refer to the possibility of unusual, rare, catastrophic events, often of a nature that cannot be anticipated or even imagined. Such events are frequently dubbed black swans, a term made famous by Taleb's book called The Black Swan.

So, what is the perceived difference between houses and stocks and what does that tell us about how we judge risks elsewhere in our lives and societies? First, houses. Houses are very expensive consumer items or investments or both, depending who is buying them and why. Taleb's point is that the value of a house will not track the market if the house burns down.

Every homeowner understands this and buys insurance. In fact, the bank requires insurance if the home has a mortgage. And, that's because, of course, homes don't rebuild themselves if they are destroyed.

The companies underlying stock listings, however, are not obliterated by a market crash. Of course, some companies may disappear if the crash is followed by an economic downturn; but the thousands of companies that make up the exchanges do not all evaporate.

Stocks have historically recovered after losses, even extreme losses. So, the hedging Taleb is suggesting is really about timing. Can an investor afford to wait for the rebound before having to cash in? If Taleb's concerns are borne out in the next few years, many near retirement or already retired may be answering this question.

(The history of stock markets reveals a mixed picture. Some rebounds to previous highs have occurred within months or years. Some have taken decades. The Japanese stock market has yet to revisit the peak of 1989 and currently stands at about half the level of that peak.)

With housing and stocks we have two different kinds of risk, both of which can be hedged so as to prevent a severe loss of net worth. Why do most people only hedge one, namely the home?

Now, most investors diversify their investments. They own some stocks, some bonds, some real estate and perhaps some other investment such as a business they control or an annuity. While diversification, if done properly, can reduce risk, it is not true hedge.

Hedges are designed to go up in value in inverse relation to the decline in value of the instruments they are hedging. Owning gold as a hedge against a stock market crash may or may not work. Gold is not a true hedge in this instance and in the last market crash, it plummeted along with stocks. Stock options that necessarily rise in value as stocks sink are a true hedge.

Of course, homeowners insurance does not insure us against a decline in real estate prices. It turns out that one can actually now hedge that risk with the appropriate financial instruments. But few people do that for their family homes. In fact, people rarely envision having to sell their homes for less than they bought them.

It is this one-way bias that links people's perceptions of both homes and stocks. It is almost inconceivable that any of us might be forced to accept catastrophic losses if only we can hang on long enough. What this view presupposes is that the future will look like the recent past (that is, the last century or so). It will be one of growth, growth, growth. Growth in population. Growth in economic output. Growth in financial wealth. Growth in the energy supplies needed to make all the other growth happen.

It would indeed be a black swan if growth failed to appear or was so stunted that few people obtained any benefits from it. (Has the second scenario already arrived?) But the twin crises of energy depletion and climate change make such a future ever more likely. These crises aren't hidden and they aren't cyclical. They are advancing in such a way that the risks of both are not staying neatly tucked under the "tails" of the bell-shaped distribution curve of possible outcomes. Our current actions make them inevitable.

Things could change. Human societies could revolutionize the way they live so as to avert disastrous climate change or fossil fuel depletion (that is, depletion without adequate alternative energy). But, it seems that such a revolution would be more akin to a black swan than any rendezvous with energy or climate Armageddon.

We've convinced ourselves as a world society that such outcomes are so unlikely that we are making what amount to token efforts to avert them. Renewable energy is being deployed rapidly, but not rapidly enough to replace the current fossil fuel infrastructure soon enough to prevent a climate catastrophe (and perhaps an energy insufficiency).

There is no insurance policy that will protect us against catastrophic climate change. We cannot get our habitable climate back on any time scale that matters to humans once it's gone. The insurance policy is us, that is, changes in our behavior and our technology done quickly enough to matter. There is no other hedge that will help us.

A Conversation with Helena Norberg-Hodge

This audio clip was a conversation between Helena Norberg-Hodge & Charles Eisenstein, both of whom will be speakers at the Community Solutions 2017 Economics of Happiness Conference.

It was originally published on

This is a conversation with the political thinker and activist Helena Norberg-Hodge. She had a huge radicalizing influence on my political thinking through her film Ancient Futures. By "radical" I don't mean the usual leftist politics. Helena is a tireless advocate for re-localization, the reclaiming of the commons, and the importance of direct participation in community. She is deeply insightful in linking these to global issues. Having spent decades in Ladakh, she is also one of the first to integrate traditional and indigenous world-views into a coherent critique of techno-industrial society, finance, and politics. Her work has been a great source of nourishment to me in unfolding a vision of a more beautiful world. I hope you enjoy this conversation we recorded in the fall of 2016 in England.

Click here to hear the audio clip

Trump Trauma

This article was written by Helena Norberg-Hodge, who will be a speaker at the Community Solutions 2017 Economics of Happiness Conference.

It was originally published on Local

While we mourn the tragedy that fear, prejudice and ignorance “trumped” in the US Presidential election, now is the time to go deeper and broader with our work. There is a growing recognition that the scary situation we find ourselves in today has deep roots.


Is soil the great new integrator?

This Article was written by Lisa Palmer

and was originally published in Environmental Health News

Carlos Hernando Molina pressed his boot onto the shovel and the blade cut into the earth. He rocked the handle, turned over the clump of soil, and fingered the dirt to point out the worms, bugs and plant fibers as the soil crumbled.

His land was alive. Worms twisted and beetles scurried to hide. Microorganisms were there, too, but you couldn’t see them working to help plant fibers decompose, making the soil ready to supply nutrients to roots. The shovel-full of soil was the definition of healthy, but it didn’t always look this way.

Read More

Preparing Vocational Training for the Eco-Technical Transition

Written by Community Solutions board memberNancy Lee Wood

Excerpt from EarthEd: Rethinking Education on a Changing Planet

Over the coming decades, in the face of climate change, resource depletion, and economic contraction, the kinds of things that people will need to know and the standard approaches to accessing that knowledge will change. As people seek new and innovative ways of building sustainability and resilience into their lives and within their communities, they will encounter a widening variety of educational choices.


Community Solutions buys half of Arnovitz farm

By Audrey Hackett

Agriculture and conservation were the winners at the auction of the 267-acre Arnovitz farm Thursday night, following weeks of speculation about the potential for development along the western edge of Yellow Springs. All nine parcels were sold, to a total of seven buyers, for a combined amount of over $1.6 million.

Nearly half the auctioned land went to Community Solutions. The local nonprofit purchased two of the nine parcels, Tracts 6 and 8, totaling about 128 acres, for $655,000.

“It feels miraculous,” Executive Director Susan Jennings said minutes after auctioneer Ron Denney banged his gavel and brought the auction to a close.

Community Solutions plans to establish a center for regenerative farming on the property, as well as put about 80 acres into conservation in collaboration with Tecumseh Land Trust and other groups, according to Jennings earlier this week. At the auction, Jennings said the nonprofit also hopes to relocate its offices to the existing home on Tract 6.

The single largest auctioned parcel, 124-acre Tract 8, is a conservation priority for Tecumseh Land Trust, or TLT, and the Village of Yellow Springs. The land contains two tributaries of Jacoby Creek, plus woodlands around the creek, and is part of the long-envisioned Jacoby greenbelt. Village Council voted unanimously on March 6 to commit up to $200,000 in Village greenspace funds toward the purchase of a conservation easement, clarifying with a second unanimous vote this past Monday its intent to focus those funds specifically on the creek’s preservation. Jennings said earlier this week that Community Solutions shares TLT and the Village’s commitment to protecting the creek.

The next largest parcel, 84-acre Tract 9, was purchased by Miami Township resident Julie Jones for $400,000. Jones declined to comment on Thursday about her plans for the land, which is currently being farmed.

The Village is in discussions with both Community Solutions and Jones regarding establishing a conservation easement on each property, according to Village Manager Patti Bates at the auction. “If their values match with village values, we’ll go from there,” she said.

Krista Magaw, executive director of TLT, said she believed Tracts 8 and 9, together representing over three-quarters of the auctioned land, would continue to be farmed.

Springfield attorney Greg Lind purchased Tracts 1 and 2, totaling about 26 acres, for $216,000 with conservation in mind. Lind said Thursday that he is working with TLT to conserve 23 of the acres, including protecting wetlands on the property. The remaining three acres will be a homesite, he said.

And local contractor Jimmy Kingsolver purchased 13-acre Tract 3 for $142,000. He currently lives in a home on the property and intends to continue living there, he said Thursday. Kingsolver bid repeatedly on a combination of three properties throughout the evening, winning just the one.

The auction at the Hilton Garden Inn in Beavercreek drew lively interest, with more than 80 people attending, including around 20 residents of Yellow Springs. Forty-nine attendees registered as bidders.

Bidding over the two-and-a-half-hour auction was initially brisk, then slowed down to a contest between a handful of bidders. Particularly hard-fought was Tract 6, which changed hands between Community Solutions and Kingsolver around a dozen times before the local nonprofit made the winning bid.

TLT’s Magaw said she was pleased with outcome. “I’m happy. We had a good mix of bidders,” she said. And she expressed confidence that TLT would be able to purchase easements on “most or all” of the parcels before the closing date of Friday, April 28.

“There’s still work to be done,” she said.

Community Organizing Conference

Written by Community Solutions AmeriCorps Vista Volunteer & Community Empowerment Coach Jonna Johnson

It was on these streets where I witnessed the power of faith, and the quiet dignity of working people in the face of struggle and loss.  This is where I learned that change only happens when ordinary people get involved and they get engaged, and they come together to demand it

Democracy … depends on our participation; on each of us accepting the responsibility of citizenship, regardless of which way the pendulum of power happens to be swinging.

Our Constitution is a remarkable, beautiful gift.  But it's really just a piece of parchment.  It has no power on its own.  We, the people, give it power.  We, the people, give it meaning.With our participation, and with the choices that we make, and the alliances that we forge.

                                            ~Former US President Barack Obama

 Sure, Obama, we need to engage, but how??? 

Well… I am pleased to invite you to a day of exploring Community Organizing.    Join us for a day of workshops designed to sharpen our abilities to engage - building support and coalitions, performing strategic research, creating meaningful action plans, and staying fit for the marathon. 

Meals and a community organizing handbook are included. 

Opening speaker, Naim Edwards, is on the frontline of Detroit’s well-known grassroots movements to co-create a Detroit that works for Everyone.  Local friends Amaha Sellassie, Reece Freeman, and Basim Blunt will be on hand as well!!

 Facebook event

 Speaker biographies

 Registration page

Mail in registration form

Please contact Jonna if you have questions, want to utilize a scholarship or reduced rate, or want to pay Community Solutions directly, or 937-767-2161.  We need a head count for food, and we want to feed you too!  Register by March 14th to be included in our meal count.

Coffee Shops, Beauty Shops and Resilience

Written by Community Solutions Senior Fellow Don Hollister

As I write this over one million households in Michigan are without electricity as a result of a record breaking wind storm. The governor of Michigan urged people in the affected areas to check on their relatives and neighbors, particularly the elderly or disabled, since it is estimated that electric power may be off for many days in some neighborhoods.

That got me thinking, how well do we know our neighbors? The process of checking in on their well being would vary tremendously on how much we already know about them. Information gleaned from casual conversation may suddenly be very important.

“Oh, she said that they would be out of town this week.”

“He gets a fresh tank of oxygen every Thursday”… or “he depends on an electric oxygen generator.”

In turn, your neighbor may be thinking about you. “Is he OK?”  And imagine if everyone down the city block or along the country lane was keeping track of each other. To a varying extent we do that all the time without thinking about it. Some neighborhoods are much closer than others and some individuals are more engaged than others. Of course, not knowing someone or only being slightly acquainted need not keep you from reaching out to see if they need help.  Yet in an emergency, in a time full of surprises, the level of mutual knowledge and of trust built up over the years makes a big difference in how well a community copes. This ability of communities to survive, adapt and grow in the face of shocks and stress is “resilience.”

 Resilience is a term that has gained new popularity, but there is nothing new about the factors involved. How can we be more resilient? There has been increased attention in recent years to emergency management, with fire departments, local police, hospitals and transportation agencies collaborating on local plans. These physical systems are certainly key in surviving a crisis; however, the social side of resilience generally falls below the planning radar.

If you value social resilience how can you strengthen it? How can you increase the social ties and goodwill in your neighborhood and wider community? People write entire books on that question, but it boils down to looking at your own life and the daily lives around you. Where do people bump into each other? When do people get a chance to chat? Do people visit with each other in the immediate neighborhood, across the fence, walking their dog, while putting out the trash, while watching their children play at the playground down the block? Some observers describe the home as the “first place” that you encounter people, family and immediate neighbors, the workplace as the “second place,” and a wide range of neutral social spots, such as churches, beauty or barber shops, coffee shops, bowling alleys, bars, and libraries as “third places” where people meet friends and make friends. Look for the places around you where people do visit and then ask how those patterns of interaction might be shared or expanded. Or look at the patterns in other communities and imagine what might be started in your own neighborhood. These third places, the occasions for repeated back and forth between individuals and families, are a template for relationships, for the weaving of social fabric, for the strengthening of resilience.

During the next wind storm and power blackout, it may well be your neighborhood church, local beauty shop or corner diner that becomes the field headquarters, literally and emotionally, for the recovery operations in your community.

Evidence for microbial-derived soil organic matter formation

This article comes was originally published in the November 2016 issue of Nature Communications

Written by Jack Kittredge





This 10-page paper by Cynthis M. Kallenbach, Serita D. Frey and A. Stuart Grandy was published in the November 2016 Nature Communications, 7:13630 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms13630

Summary: For nearly a century soil organic matter (SOM) formation has been depicted primarily as a function of the preservation of biologically stable complex plant compounds. Yet it has been known that soil microbial communities are adept at decomposing such materials, incorporating the released carbon into their microbial biomass. Due to advances in laboratory molecular analytic techniques, the role of microbes in SOM formation has been increasingly recognized. But direct evidence about the degree to which microbes are involved has been lacking. Now, a team of University of New Hampshire scientists has uncovered evidence that microbial pathways are the chief source of the organic matter found in stable soil carbon pools. They suggest that SOM is formed by residues of microbial digestion of carbon from roots and root exudates.

Click here for the full article.

Fertile Health: Parallels between Sustainable Agriculture and Sustainable Medicine

Written by Healthy Soils Symposium Didi Pershouse

Originally Posted on

The microscope, the telescope, and the deep-sea camera have helped us to rediscover that we are part of a vast interdependent web of relationships, and whatever happens in one part of the system affects the whole.   This means that there is no such thing as “human health” apart from the rest of the planet, there is only health. When I use the word “medicine” I mean something much more profound and far reaching than medical care practiced by, and for, humans. The planet itself has become something like a field hospital, with new species limping in each day, and others going extinct.

The “Sterile” Model of Care

Both agriculture and medicine went through a profound shift in the past two hundred years. As I have tried to understand the issues of our current health care system, it has been useful to note the parallels between industrialized agriculture and medicine as they adapted to the larger markets of the modern-day growth economy.

Both agriculture and medicine shifted away from what I would call a “fertile” model, and towards a more “sterile” one, that competed with, or killed off, what was not wanted. We turned away from stewardship, collaboration, and cooperatives, and towards competition, profits and patenting.  We used pesticides and herbicides, rubber gloves and antibiotics, and turned away from compost and manure, human touch and probiotics.  Both agriculture and medicine shifted from seeing things in the context of whole integrated systems, focusing instead on individual parts. We moved away from diversification and focused instead on specialization, we abandoned small-scale localized infrastructure and invested in large-scale corporations. In the process, we lost touch with traditional knowledge that works with natural patterns and cycles, and rushed instead into chemical and high-tech manipulation of nature. This left us with a planet swimming in industrial waste and struggling to adapt to an entirely new climate—all in the guise of feeding ourselves and keeping ourselves healthy.

In high-tech, industrial models of agriculture and medicine we tend to focus on:

  • Human manipulation of nature
  • Machines, speed, and technology
  • Isolating parts to understand the whole
  • Killing off“bugs” with pesticides or antibiotics
  • Laboratory knowledge
  •  Mono-cropping and specialization
  • Simple chemical fertilizers and synthetic vitamins
  • “Sterility” and separation from the natural environment
  • Growth, profits, and corporations
  • Large, centralized farms and hospitals, and global production of supplies

Bio-Mechanistic Puzzles

The industrial farming model—in which we put an animal in a box, away from its natural environment, give it antibiotics and hormones and then try to determine what nutrients it needs to be maximally productive, or we put a seed into “sterilized” dirt, kill off all the weeds and bugs with chemicals, and try to figure out what artificial fertilizer the seed needs to be maximally productive—is strangely similar to the industrial medical model. We tend to look at patients, like the cow or the grain, as if they were bio-mechanistic puzzles. We put a patient in a private room, away from natural influences, and give him industrially-made food and medicine with the goal of keeping him alive and functional as long as possible so he can be a productive member of society. It’s not a bad goal, just an odd way of getting there: since it doesn’t take into account its effect on everything outside of the hospital.

As we have changed our outer landscape with industrial agriculture and changed our inner landscape with industrial medicine, we have created new problems—many of them intertwined in the ongoing relationships between food and health, and health care and the environment. These include loss of beneficial bacteria, loss of essential micro-nutrients, dwindling supplies of clean drinking water, antibiotic resistance, superbugs, auto-immune diseases, and a general loss of resiliency.

Ironically, modern health-care itself, practiced in the context of the for-profit growth economy, has become a contributor to our health-care problems. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, adverse reactions to pharmaceutical drugs  properly administered are estimated to be somewhere between the fourth and sixth leading cause of death in the United States.[1] [2] Pharmaceuticals persist in sewage and water-treatment plants, adding other people’s medications (and their side effects) to our daily drinks, and spilling antidepressants and cholesterol-lowering drugs into rivers and lakes where they affect wildlife.[3][4] [5] Until recently, hospital incinerators were a major contributor to cancer-causing dioxins in the environment.[6] Health care is hugely dependent on fossil fuels for heating, cooling, and power, as well as for the raw materials, manufacturing, and transport of medical supplies and pharmaceuticals.[7] If you take into account all that goes into running a hospital, medical care for one patient spending a single night in a large teaching hospital adds nearly one metric ton of climate-disrupting CO2e to the atmosphere.[8]

When we change the biology around us, the chemistry around us, the genetics around us and even the physics around us, we change the systems that we rely on for health and survival.  As we begin to fathom the interconnectedness of life, the doctor’s mandate “first, do no harm,” becomes a much more complex task.

The question is: how do we adapt our forms of caring for one another to take all these aspects into account?

Our Common Roots with the Natural World

Farmers and scientists working within the permaculture and sustainable agriculture movements have already questioned the long-term workability of large-scale industrialized agriculture. Out of these concerns have come many new integrated models that revive traditional wisdom without necessarily abandoning technology altogether. These farming methods produce healthier, more resilient crops and animals that actually enrich the landscape, rather than depleting and polluting ecosystems. I think medicine is ready to do the same.


Photo by Didi Pershouse

To do so means that we must acknowledge our place as one of many species living within—and dependent upon—a healthy functioning whole.  We evolved out of the same natural cycles, patterns, and events as the land around us—and we struggle with many of the same issues. Plants and animals deal with bacterial, viral, fungal and genetic illnesses just as we do. They also rely on a wide variety of beneficial microorganisms for survival, just as we do. They are affected in various ways by insects and uncertain weather patterns, and they need nutrients and water, just as we do. When they are resilient, they adapt and change and evolve, just as we do.

We can draw many of the solutions for taking care of our inner landscape and growing healthy people from seeing how sustainable agriculture takes care of the outer landscape to grow healthy food.

The sustainable/organic/permaculture models of agriculture and medicine tend to value:

  • Complexity and diversity
  • Working with natural patterns and cycles
  • Contextual understandings like Family Practice, and Permaculture
  • Complex nutrients teeming with beneficial bacteria and fungi
  • Boosting natural immunity and resiliency
  • Using natural predators and healthy bacteria to balance out inner or outer ecosystems
  • Collaboration and cooperatives
  • Multi-purposed stacking of functions
  • Small, localized, easily accessible farms, clinics, producers, and providers integrated into the community
  • A slow and steady pace, and long-term connections
  • The integration of traditional knowledge and indigenous ways of knowing along with creative use of technology

Returning to the Commons of Care

The future of health care, from what I can see, involves stepping out of the for-profit model and returning to the commons of care. If teachers, road maintenance crews, police and firefighters can provide for our social and physical needs in a model that doesn’t include corporate profits, then doctors, nurses, researchers and creators of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies can do the same. No matter what political system one believes in for the larger society, profit motives have little or no usefulness in the ecology of care.

I encourage those wanting to practice sustainable medicine to welcome in human collaborators as well as a wide variety of microorganisms and other natural allies. The time is ripe to study ecological models of the body, and apply pattern language and permaculture principles as we diagnose and treat illness. By doing that, we can understand the interrelationships between people, pollinators, healthy soil and food, and prescribe traditional diets that replenish the good bacteria in the gut. When prescribing pharmaceuticals or recommending technological interventions, we must do so with the precautionary principle in mind.

Now that we have already committed to at least a short-term climate crisis, health care itself will also need to quickly adapt if we want to continue to provide care in an era of increasing natural disasters, power outages, water shortages and supply chain interruptions. For providers and community members alike, I recommend reskilling in low-impact, carbon-neutral ways of caring for ourselves and others, in order to lessen the impact on the species that share our earth, and lessen the need for high-tech care in an age of powering down and re-localization.

Didi Pershouse’s book The Ecology of Care: Medicine, Agriculture, Money, and the Quiet Power of Human and Microbial Communities is available now.

Feedback Loops

Written by Community Solutions Executive Director Susan Jennings



The notion of feedback loops is an important part of the climate conversation, as climate researchers note that the positive (reinforcing) feedback of methane released from the warming Arctic and peatlands move our time for coordinated climate action up from decades to years.

Feedback loops also allow a more sophisticated reflection on global systems, rather than the linear cause-and-effect thinking that permeates political discourse. If, for example, we see the refugee crisis as feedback from climate change and military policies, we may be willing to reflect on our own deep complicity with international upheaval, rather than attempting to stop the international flow of peoples across borders.

Recent marches and protests are also a feedback loop, alerting us that those who have been nurtured by a multi-cultural society are unwilling to play the politics of separation. This kind of feedback can embolden others to find their own voices. As governors, mayors, and activists of all stripes find their leadership legs, hierarchical systems of control may cede to more sustainable systems of distributed and local leadership.

This sort of virtuous feedback loop is a central concern of Didi Pershouse, upcoming Soils Symposium keynote, and author of The Ecology of Care: Medicine, Agriculture, Money, and the Quiet Power of Human and Microbial Communities. Didi writes and speaks eloquently of the hope that she feels, spurred by the emergence of a ‘fertile’ model of care of ourselves and our soils.  By nurturing our biotic and human communities, a cascade of health, relational, and planetary benefits ensues.  We hope that you will be able to join us in February in Yellow Springs for our Healthy Soils Symposium. In the meantime, you can whet your appetite on the writing of Didi and other presenters below.

Climate Change Requires our Full Attention Now and Biosystems Offer Hope to Blunt the Worst Impacts

Written by Community Solutions by Community Solutions fellow Peter Bane    

      Global temperatures are rising at unprecedented rates along with increases in CO2 in the atmosphere and oceans. Last year (2016) was the hottest since record keeping began. Both phenomena are a result of human economic activities, including fossil fuel burning, the intensification of agriculture, and other forms of land degradation. These trends lead directly to a host of climate change effects, most of which are destructive to the natural world and disruptive of human life.

     The build-up of heat in the atmosphere and oceans, both from increased trapping by greenhouse gases (water vapor, CO2, methane, nitrous oxides, halocarbons) and especially from increased heat radiation off of land surfaces, has globally catastrophic long-term consequences for humanity as sea levels rise. Some of those effects are beginning to manifest at threatening levels. However, of even more immediate concern, global warming is kicking the climate system into overdrive and producing more and more extreme weather events of flood, drought, fire, and storm. These in turn are causing dramatic and widespread economic losses and societal disruptions that have the potential to provoke the collapse of whole nations.

     The climate system is a complex set of global and regional feedback loops and forcing mechanisms driven by orbital physics, tectonic, biological, atmospheric, and weathering effects. While seen against the backdrop of geologic time, Earth is now in an “Icebox” phase, the past 10,000 years have been a relatively mild and warm period, known as an interglacial - between ice ages - during which all of human history has emerged. From about 7,000 years ago, humans entered the climate equation as early deforestation for farming appears to have deflected a long-term cooling trend, while the application of machinery to farming, the industrial era, and fossil fuel consumption beginning about 1850 led to the current spike in global temperatures. Our signature is written all over the climate change now underway.

     While human influence on the climate began with farming, the changes since 1850, and particularly since the end of WWII, have been decisive. Two global trends converge during the last 70 years: a dramatically increased use of fossil fuels for all economic purposes, and a de-greening and de-forestation of the planet, primarily from the expansion and intensification of agriculture, but also from urbanization. Both have driven and been driven by a huge increase in human population, from about 2 billion to more than 7 billion. The second trend is inextricable from the first. Fossil fuels, while contributing excess CO2 to the atmosphere, have enabled humanity to convert green biosystems into semi-deserts by industrializing agriculture and clearing and paving over large areas for human settlement. That has reduced nature’s ability to absorb the CO2 being released by ever-more numerous smokestacks and tailpipes.

Of importance to policy makers and society at large are three things:

     1. Thoughtless and ignorant human activities have provoked unprecedented warming;

     2. Extreme weather events driven by global warming are already disrupting communities with grave consequences should these trends continue; and

     3. The climate system itself has momentum that makes mitigating action urgent within the next decade.        

     The change of scale from humanity’s infancy 10,000 years ago, to its out-of-control rampage against nature occurred in a short period. Feedback was delayed by the vast size of the climate system, an historically mistaken sense of our impacts, ignorance of the complexity and responsiveness of planetary systems, and self-serving ideologies. We have just begun to learn the lessons of climate change, and have further to go before we can adjust our behavior. Unfortunately, because of earlier delays and the momentum of the system, urgent action is now required.

     The frequency of billion-dollar losses due to storm damage has risen steadily throughout the 21st century. These large numbers mask the reality of human tragedy as millions are displaced, homes and infrastructure are destroyed, and thousands of lives are lost—each year. Flooding was widespread throughout the U.K. for months in 2013-14, exceeding record levels set in 2007 and 2000. Budget-cutting by the climate-skeptical Conservative government that targeted coastal defences was blamed for increasing the damage, as $3 billion was lost from a notional saving of $500 million. Baton Rouge, Louisiana received over 30” of rain in August 2016, driving tens of thousands from their homes, and damaging 146,000 houses and thousands of businesses, churches, schools, and public buildings.

     Heatwaves have begun to shatter nations and whole regions. Drought and failure of the farm sector set the conditions leading to the 6-year Syrian civil war, destroying that country and destabilizing its neighbors. In May 2010, Pakistan experienced all-Asia, all-time record temperatures of 129°F in a 9-day heat wave, and two months later the worst-ever nationwide flooding, as nearly two million homes were destroyed. Russian grain exports were halted when heat (111°F) and fires (500,000 acres) in 2010 suppressed the harvest. Smoke blanketed the huge nation and more than 56,000 died of air pollution-related causes. Radioactive lands near Chernobyl were ignited, threatening to spread radionuclides widely. The grain export ban is thought to have bred food shortages that helped trigger the Arab Spring rebellions.

     Sixteen of the 18 hottest years on record have occurred in this short century. Over 70,000 people died of heat-related causes in Europe in August 2003 as temperatures soared over 100°F. Chile is presently being overwhelmed by forest fires, not unlike those that have recently raged through the American West. Wildfires burnt almost 120,000 acres in the Southeast this past autumn, including over 700 buildings near Gatlinburg, Tennessee after drought in the summer prepared the way. The Northeast is now in drought, and despite recent flooding, California remains stubbornly below normal levels of moisture, threatening the nation’s most valuable agricultural economy. Fires in Oregon throughout the summer of 2016 made outdoor activity hazardous. Brazil’s largest city, Sao Paolo, home to 20 million, virtually ran out of water in 2015. Ft. MacMurray, Alberta, a city of 88,000, was evacuated last May in the face of massive wildfires.

     These conditions are not normal, and even where studies indicate that similar extremes have occurred in the past, such as 10-year droughts in the Southeast, our modern societies are unprepared for their impacts.

     Ice core data, pollen records, and even historical accounts show that the climate can switch directions abruptly, and that despite its apparent robustness, may be vulnerable to rapid change from forcing or positive feedback loops such as methane releases from melting permafrost, Arctic warming due to reduced snow and sea ice cover (lower albedo), and loss of vegetative cover in semi-arid regions.

     In addition, the oceans are absorbing large amounts of carbon dioxide and much of the heat load imposed by human activity. At some point which we cannot predict, but which could be soon, this will reverse and the curve of heating may accelerate further.

     The immediate dangers of climate change are increasing extremes of flood, drought, fire, and storm. A warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor, increasing the risk of intense rain and snow events. Warmer oceans generate larger hurricanes and typhoons. Disruptions of oceanic currents and the jet stream from Arctic warming have thrown off familiar patterns of rainfall and seasonal temperature, reducing food production. Added heat in the tropical Pacific is increasing the frequency of El Niño events with world-wide effects that include severe drought, high temperatures, and weakening of the Indian and east Asian monsoons.

     A full litany of disasters would require dozens of pages to present, but we should reflect on the scale of recent impacts lest we lose perspective: two storms, Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, cost the U.S. more than $175 billion, over 1% of annual GDP, and claimed more than a thousand lives in New Orleans, New York City, and their surrounding regions. These were fully modern and wealthy cities, both critical to the national economy, but their influence did not spare them. Neither has fully remediated the damage. Both calamities led to permanent out-migration. With already weak underlying economic conditions, it is easy to foresee how the curves of mounting climate disaster and faltering economic growth will cross and fatally undermine our ability to recover.

     Climate scientists have focused for the past 40 years on the growing load of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and the world’s efforts to address the crisis have, heretofore ineffectively, attempted to limit their annual increase. Because of lag effects, momentum in the climate, and vast amounts of CO2 stored in the oceans, even a complete cessation of industrial and agricultural carbon emissions today would not result in turning down the world’s greenhouse gas levels or temperatures for at least 30 years. Given the impacts we are already experiencing, we cannot afford to rely only on this important but wholely inadequate mechanism.

     About half the carbon emissions from human activity are presently absorbed by forests, soils, and the sea, but human demands on the biosphere continue to erode their restorative capacity. If we are to cool the planet in time to mitigate a growing environmental catastrophe, we must greatly amplify the ability of green nature to rebalance the Earth’s heat budget.

     Greenhouse gas trapping accounts for only about a quarter of the heat dynamics of the atmosphere. Of the greenhouse gases impacts, carbon dioxide represents about one-fifth, other industrial gases another fifth, and water vapor at three-fifths the greatest portion. Other effects, mostly related to the water cycle, dominate surface and atmospheric heating and cooling. Human actions have changed this balance detrimentally and we can change it back.

     Land clearance for agriculture and development has reduced forest cover, while industrial forestry has degraded forest age and density. Mechanization and chemical fertilizers have reduced the seasonal length of green cover on farmland by enabling broadscale clear cultivation and by supplanting crop rotations. Tillage and chemical use have dramatically reduced soil carbon content, and with it the ability of landscapes to hold, and thus to cycle water to the atmosphere. When bare of plant cover, soil temperatures under sunshine can spike from a normal 68° to over 140°F. Radiation from a dark surface is proportional to the 4th power of the temperature difference, so these effects are huge. Radiation from urban pavements is the most evident demonstration of these physical laws, but naked farm fields reproduce the same brutal conditions on a massive scale.

     The churning of billions of tires on roads, the plowing of billions of acres, increasing wildfires, and the hubbub of humanity along with our industrial pollution release immense swaths of dusts, smoke, and hazes into the atmosphere where they contribute to capturing heat from sunlight and preventing its release from the Earth’s surface to space. Hazy night skies are particularly damaging to the planet’s ability to cool itself, and their incidence is widespread and increasing. While these haze particles and droplets of moisture can aggregate into rain and snow, to do so, they must nucleate around either salts, ice crystals, or bacteria. Salts dominate over the oceans, ice crystals in polar regions, and elsewhere — most of the inhabited regions of the planet — aerobacter, produced chiefly in the stomata of tree leaves, make the rain and snow.

     As raindrops and snowflakes form in the atmosphere, millions of dust and haze droplets coalesce, clouds amass, and as they do, naturally reflect incoming sunlight high in the atmosphere, preventing it from heating the surface. When saturation occurs, the clouds release moisture to the ground and further cooling occurs. With subsequent clearing of the air, often at night, yet more heat can radiate to the top of the atmosphere and out to space, leaving the Earth system. All these processes are natural and ongoing, but heating and cooling effects, which have been regulated by biosystems for millions of years, are out of balance due to thoughtless human impacts.

     To restore the Earth’s ability to cool itself naturally and safely, we must increase the water-holding capacity of our landscapes, first by a wide array of micro-engineering works, and in the longer term by returning organic matter (carbon) in soils to levels that prevailed before plow agriculture. Although this will move carbon from the atmosphere into stable storage in plants and soils, it is the thermodynamic effects of water that can make the quickest impact on global temperatures and weather extremes.

     Transpiration and evaporation from vegetated surfaces (called latent heat) releases a quarter of the incoming solar radiation without raising temperatures. Extending the length and expanse of green cover on land is the most powerful way we can aid the planet to cool itself.

     As part of this strategy, we must replant, restore, and preserve forests, and do so in a way that ensures continuous forest cover from the oceans toward continental interiors. Studies have shown not only that forests draw in moisture from the surrounding atmosphere — making it available as regional rainfall — but that they are essential in transpiring and transferring rain from moist coasts to otherwise dry interior regions.

     Our farmers must be supported to reduce chemical use and eliminate most tillage so that farm soils can recover their carbon content. This will entail the greater use of cover crops and the introduction of well-tested agroforestry systems. Grazing practices mimicking predator pressures can greatly enhance carbon uptake in pastures and on rangeland. Wetlands and riparian woodlands must be restored along all streams. Green roofs, porous pavements, rain gardens, and other green infrastructure must come to dominate our urban landscapes with the aim of dramatically reducing runoff to waterways.

            Of course efforts must continue to reduce the use of fossil fuels, to de-link economic value from energy consumption, and to make these processes equitable across society, but even more urgent, if we are to avoid crushing burdens from extreme weather events, is to initiate massive programs for land repair, reforestation, water harvesting, and to transform our agriculture to capture carbon. The effects of these efforts will be felt first regionally — so states, provinces, cities, farm communities, and even individuals can take leadership — but they will impact the global situation. The promise of restored biosystems is a more temperate climate, more comfortable and gracious towns and cities, increased employment, a more profitable and productive agriculture, and lower levels of violence, stress, and trauma across society. The alternative is virtually unthinkable.



More soil organic matter makes more rain

Originally posted on

Written by Alan Newport                                             

Some meteorologists say up to half of the rainfall on a continent comes from the evapotranspiration of plants and soil. This implies a huge reward for better soil management.

To be contrarian, I say meteorology has similar problems to economics as a science. Neither discipline can truly control enough variables to make a good measurement of the effects of a single happening, therefore they can only use scientific principles to imply those results. Nonetheless, I'm going to agree in this case that the amount of soil organic matter and therefore the amount of moisture present in the soil has huge effect upon plant health and therefore upon plant transpiration. Therefore, across large expanses it should have huge effect upon moisture put back into the air and upon rainfall.

Another way of measuring all this was drawn to my attention recently. It's a year's worth of satellite data on worldwide soil moisture.

It began with the launch in 2015 of a NASA satellite called Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP). It is designed to provide globally comprehensive and frequent measurements of the moisture in the top two inches of soil every two to three days. SMAP’s first year of observational data has now been analyzed and scientists on the project say it is providing some significant surprises that will help in the modeling of climate, forecasting of weather, and monitoring of agriculture.

Apparently, this top level of soil preserves a “memory” for weather anomalies, more so than had been predicted from theory and earlier, disparate measurements. The researchers' use of the word "memory" refers to the persistence of effects from unusually high or low amounts of rainfall. Contrary to most researchers’ expectations, it turns out that these effects persist for a matter of days, rather than just a few hours. They say on average, about one-seventh of the amount of rain that falls is still present in that topmost layer of soil three days after it falls — and this persistence is greatest in the driest regions.

Researchers also say the data also show a significant feedback effect that can amplify the effects of both droughts and floods. When moisture evaporates from wet soil, it cools the soil in the process, but when the soil gets too dry that cooling diminishes, which can lead to hotter weather and heat waves that extend and deepen drought conditions. These things were known true at the micro level, meaning they have been measured with soil thermometers and moisture meters, but had never been quantified on a large scale.

I'll remind you this is from depleted soil, which today is the standard the world over. What if we were dealing with healthier soil, with higher organic matter?

Let's think about what could happen if we raised the organic matter significantly and across large areas. Since science tells us a 1% increase in soil organic matter holds at least 20,000 gallons of water in each acre of soil, that suggests my home state of Oklahoma, containing 44.7 million acres, could hold at least 894,694,400,000 gallons more water in the soil after each rainfall event of one inch or more. We can multiply that by the number of one-seventh from the SMAP satellite data. That means seven days after that one-inch rainfall event, Oklahoma's soil would still have an extra 127.8 billion gallons of water the plants could continue to use for evapotranspiration, thereby further moistening the air and increasing the potential for more rainfall.

This is exciting because it strongly suggests grazing and farming that builds soil is not only directly beneficial to those practicing it for higher yields, lower inputs, more profit and more drought resiliency, it also appears it helps make more rain for everybody.

Which Species Are We Sure We Can Live Without?

Originally posted on

Written by Community Solutions Fellow Kurt Cobb

As a new administration takes over in Washington, both houses of Congress and the presidency will be in the hands of one party. As it turns out, that party, the Republicans, want to curtail the protections of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Many Republicans complain that the act hinders ranching, logging, oil and gas exploration and water projects.

The key question they are not asking is this: Which species are we sure we can survive without? More on that later.

The act has in practice been used "for control of the land," says one congressman, and not for the rehabilitation of species. His statement stems from a misunderstanding about what it takes to revive an endangered species, namely habitat. That means the land, air, water and other species (plant and/or animal) which any particular species depends on in order to survive.

First, it's important to understand how humans and, in fact, all organisms obtain the resources they need. There are basically two strategies, takeover and drawdown. Takeover simply refers to taking over the habitat of other species to extract resources.

Humans routinely take over land with diverse plant and animal species and use it to grow crops of our choosing, tearing out trees and boulders and turning over the soil to kill the remaining plant life. We keep away nutrient-leeching weeds by pulling them out, plowing them under or killing them with chemicals. We also kill and repel insects that can eat part of what we grow.

Drawdown refers to the drawdown of finite resources such as fossil fuels, metal ores and other mineral deposits such as phosphates for fertilizer. Usable deposits of these are not regenerated by the Earth on any timescale that matters to humans.

Ranchers who take over rangeland for grazing livestock don't like it when wolves protected by the ESA decide to assert their desire to "take over" livestock and eat them. Ranchers are in peril if they try to kill protected wolves even to defend their investment. The conflict isn't over whether the livestock will die. It's about who gets to kill and eat the livestock and when.

We humans, it turns out, are in competition with other predators for food. What the opponents of the ESA are complaining about is that we are fighting these competing predators with both arms tied behind our backs. Why be concerned about what other competing species need? The priority should be what we humans need, right?

Now we arrive at the crux of the matter. Are we humans merely in a war of all against all in the biosphere? Don't all species compete with one another for advantage in the struggle for survival?

The answer to this question is yes and no. Species both compete and cooperate to survive. Dogs have evolved to cooperate with humans. Cooperation has been kind to the household dog population which now numbers close to 78 million in the United States alone.

Compare the ancient relative of the dog, the wolf. As a competitor, the wolf is definitely losing the competition with dogs (and humans). Only about 5,600 remain in the lower 48 states. A far less developed Alaska may have up to 11,000 wolves. But both numbers are minuscule compared to dog populations. Seeking to outcompete other species isn't always the most successful survival strategy (though I wouldn't count the adaptive strategies of dogs and wolves as consciously chosen.)

We have another very recent example of a species the population of which dropped precipitously as a result of unintended consequences of human action. The widespread adoption of the herbicide glyphosate is thought to be responsible for wiping out much of the milkweed in North America, the only plant that monarch butterfly larvae feed on. East of the Rocky Mountains, monarch populations have declined up to 90 percent. We humans didn't know that this would be one of the results of the widespread use of glyphosate. We found out the hard way.

Which brings us to the question of which species we are sure we can survive without. The answer so far is the ones that have already gone extinct while we humans have been around on the planet. We are now in what many scientists consider the Sixth Great Extinction. The main culprit is human activity and our sheer numbers.

As we are learning each day more and more, human survival relies on complex interdependencies with other microorganisms in our own bodies. We are also dependent on the microbiota of the soil that impart the fertility necessary to grow crops. In both areas we are learning just how much we do NOT know about these microorganisms and their interactions with us and with the soil.

If you consider that the broader world with which we interact has millions of species of which we are not aware, it becomes apparent that the Sixth Great Extinction is a rather clumsy and thoughtless way to play Russian roulette with human existence. We could easily cause an organism essential to our survival to go extinct without even realizing it.

The surprising decline of phytoplankton in the oceans comes to mind. The cause is likely rising ocean temperatures due to climate change. Phytoplankton are microscopic plants that form the base of the ocean food chain and produce two-thirds of the world's oxygen. Recent research suggests a rise of 6 degrees C in ocean temperatures "could stop oxygen production by phytoplankton by disrupting the process of photosynthesis." How many other species might pose this kind of outsized danger to our existence if they were to decline, disappear or cease to function in a normal way?

You will now have an answer when a congressman, businessperson or fellow citizen asks, "Why be concerned about what other competing species need? The priority should be what we humans need, right?" Perhaps. But if one of those needs is to prevent our own extinction by keeping other organisms alive, then we'll have to define "need" differently than we do now.

I am under no illusion that the ESA in its current form is somehow the critical firewall to forestalling rapid biodiversity loss. There are too many human activities outside U.S. control and outside the jurisdiction of the act inside the United States that are responsible for the vast biodiversity loss we are experiencing. As a result I have what I believe is a not unreasonable fear that our experiment in species management called the Sixth Great Extinction could lead to the extinction of the one species we think we are saving by killing off so many others.

Framing Audacious Goals

Written by Community Solutions Executive Director Susan Jennings


Early last December, I and three Community Solutions board members attended a three-day seminar with Australian microbiologist Walter Jehne on the Soil Carbon Sponge. Hosted in Vermont by author Didi Pershouse of the Soil Carbon Coalition, the presentations and discussions focused on the perilous state of soils internationally, and the promise of regenerative land use practices to restore their biological vitality. The intersections of healthy soils, healthy people, and restored water cycles were a primary focus.  Coming on the heels of recent international climate goals focused on carbon sequestration in soil, the seminar was a hopeful reminder of the agency that individuals and communities have to repair the planet. On the last morning of the seminar, Walter suggested that we in the United States frame audacious goals around regenerative soils. One suggestion: “Rehydrate California.”

We’ll be discussing the audacious goals we might set at a regional level during our upcoming Healthy Soils Symposium to be held February 24-25 at Antioch College in Yellow Springs.  We’ll be learning about the soil carbon sponge—the ability of soil to retain rainfall, sustain transpiration and cool climates-- from Didi Pershouse, Peter Bane, David Brandt and others.  Farmers, gardeners, and others who tend our community soils will be speaking about their challenges and successes in restorative landuse practices.  Together, we’ll explore the roadblocks and promises of regenerating a healthy landscape.

Audacity is threaded throughout our 2017 schedule. At a community organizing conference on March 18th, we’ll highlight how the fierce commitment to community demonstrated at Standing Rock also resides in our local citizenry. In October, at our Economics of Happiness Conference, we’ll collectively explore alternative metrics of community well-being.

You can read and hear from a few of our Healthy Soils speakers here.  We hope to see you in Yellow Springs in February. Registration for the symposium is now open. To register click here



Peter Bane discusses how to cool the planet with natural systems

Originally posted on

Written by Community Solutions fellow Peter Bane

Peter Bane has outlined what Walter Jehne presented about cooling the planet.  I think this has the power to pull us back from a climate collapse if we get acting now.  Here are some concepts that are being talked about:

Walter Jehne at the recent 3 day intense soil seminar offered the concept of “Net Carbon” where starting 1.2.3 years in the future every one must start sequestering the same amount of carbon they are adding.  This would be ramped up over a number of years and would require some to seek carbon offsets while others could change the balance of what they were doing.  It has the advantage of not being a TAX.  Just who would have to comply and how the compliance would work is a work in progress.  Land management sequestration could become highly sought after.  And yes the corporate boys could distort the playing field but they also could help to drive implementation of the system.  Abe Collin’s measurement technologies would be a piece of the puzzle as would Jeff Woolf’s Terrapass which does this now on a voluntary bases for those who feel the need of offsetting their emissions.  All this does not address carbon reduction through efficiency nor cost shifts that might occur to more disadvantaged people but it would send a message to all that externalities must be considered.

Listen to the whole conversation here

Soil Health Profile

Originally posted on USDA website

Written by conference speaker David Brandt

Ohio soil health pioneer forges new frontier in farming

While David and Kendra Brandt like what they see from the soil health system they’re using on their central Ohio farm, everything they do still has to pass muster through the combine’s yield monitor.

They’ve used no-till on their corn, wheat, and soybean operation since 1971, but when David saw a drop in corn yields in 1978, he added hairy vetch and winter peas to the system to get more nitrogen.

“We were using commercial nitrogen then, and I wasn’t really thinking about the health of the soil,” Brandt says. “We saw some improvement in water infiltration at the time, but we didn’t reduce nitrogen inputs until we learned our soils were changing and we didn’t really need it,” he says.

Reducing Crop Inputs

“Cutting back on commercial inputs has been a tough one for me, because we’ve always been taught we need so many pounds of nitrogen, phosphorus and potash to grow a decent corn crop,” Brandt says. “We’re learning now with cover crops that we don’t need to buy those additional nutrients because we can bring them up from deeper in the soil. They just weren’t available to the crop before.”

“In fact, we’ve learned in the last two years that we can go to using almost no purchased commercial fertilizer or herbicide and still produce a great crop of corn and beans.”

“Our nitrogen use in fields without cover crops is 170 pounds an acre. Where we have cover crops and longtime no-till, we’re down to about 20 pounds an acre. That’s more than $100 an acre per year nitrogen savings, and we’re not sacrificing any yield.”

The nitrogen comes from cover plants like hairy vetch, Austrian winter peas, cow peas, and sun hemp. They pick out nitrogen from the atmosphere and translocate it into nodules on the roots, Brandt says.

“Some of those nodules will be as big as your thumb. Soil bacteria break them down, and the nitrogen is released slowly in an organic form that the corn plants can use,” he says.

Every cover crop grown on the farm has at least two species. Brandt is moving toward multiple species in the blend, because some—like hairy vetch, late-planted winter peas, cereal rye, barley and wheat––will stay green and keep growing through the winter.

“If we can keep something green in the ground with multiple species, we can build soil faster. So we like multiple blends better than two species,” he says.

“It will take 6-7 years to change or improve a soil with just no-till, but that time can be shortened to 4-5 years or as few as three years if you also use the right blend of cover crops.”

Covers bring up nutrients

Brandt is trying 8- and even 14-way blends of covers. “I’d like to learn more about which covers can bring up trace elements,” Brandt says. “We’ve seen buckwheat bring up phosphorus and zinc, for instance, and sunflowers bring zinc up too.”

Yet, he won’t put in a cover if it won’t pay for itself. “You shouldn’t spend any more for seed on a cover crop than what you can gain in reduced fertilizer costs or increased yields. That’s always been our philosophy,” he says.

Generally for Brandt, cover crops cost from $20 an acre to $35 an acre.

Suppressing pests naturally

The soil health payoff can come in other reduced inputs, too. “We’ve had less weed and pest pressure as we’ve gone along. We see more host insects that will prey on the insects we don’t like to see in the fields,” Brandt says. “We’ve found radishes give off a sulfur smell, for instance, that fumigates the soil and reduces cyst nematodes and slugs in the soil. We’re proud to say we’ve quit using insecticides on the farm.”

Their cover crops suppress winter annuals and broadleaf weeds, and Brandt has cut herbicide use in half.

“We have less sudden death syndrome and less white mold in our beans and less northern corn leaf blight in our corn, too,” he says.

More Microbes a Key

Brandt says he didn’t realize microbes were so important to farming a few years ago. “But I’ve read about how vital they are, and now I see as they increase, we see more good things happening in our soil—more nutrients being released, more water infiltrating into the soil. The more microbial activity we have, the better off we are,” he says.

“I’m really intrigued with the amount of water infiltration we’re seeing with our cover crops. As we go to cover crops with deeper roots, and bigger root masses, we’re seeing rainfall dissipate through the soil better. We don’t have water pockets in our tight clay soils any more.”

Cover crops also moderate soil temperatures. “On hot summer days, with air temperatures over a hundred degrees, our neighbors had soil temperatures of 118 degrees and ours was 86 degrees. Our corn really looked great at those times,” Brandt says.

Sharing the knowledge

Brandt has had to learn about soil health by trial and error on his farm. But he wants others to have an easier road. “I’m trying to pass on what we’ve learned here. I don’t want everyone to reinvent the wheel. I want people to see our failures and our successes,” he says.

“So many farmers have learned to sit on the tractor seat and let an agronomist make their decisions. I like to have farmers come and feel the soil here, dig in it, smell it, and see for themselves how healthy soil should look and feel. That’s when they get excited.”

That includes his banker. “It was hard to get him to understand what we are doing here until we got him out here. Now the quality of our soils and our reduced inputs show up on our balance sheets,” Brandt adds.

“And our landlords are tickled. We can show them how we’ve added organic matter to their soils and made their land more productive, and at the same time kept increasing their crop yields.” 

Any Graphic Designers Out There? A Call Out for Collaborators

Originally posted on

Written by Community Solutions fellow Samuel Alexander

The Simplicity Institute is mobilising for a new ‘culture jamming’ project next year and we’ve started gathering a team of skilled graphic designers (and potentially visual artists more generally) to collaborate. If this sounds like you and you are keen to volunteer some of your time (a few hours or many hours) to creating striking images that challenge consumerism and the growth economy, and advance the visions of voluntary simplicity, permaculture and degrowth, then please leave a message below (I won’t publish any of the messages). I’ll be in touch to discuss. There is an opportunity here to publish some of your work in books, prominent counter-cultural magazines, websites, well as contribute to social change.

If you know others who might be interested, please pass this message on. Contact me at


Is President Trump the reincarnation of President Tyler?

Originally posted on

Written by Community Solutions fellow Kurt Cobb

Many commentators are saying that the election of Donald Trump, a novice who has never held political office, to the presidency of the United States is unprecedented. There have been others who went directly to the White House without first having held other elective office. But the only ones I can think of were previously generals and war heroes; among them were Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The presidential comparison that strikes me as most apt, however, is between Donald Trump and the nation's 10th president, John Tyler. Like Tyler, Trump's party affiliation changed over time. Trump had given most of his political contributions--prior to his presidential run in 2012--to Democrats before joining the Republican Party and running in the 2012 presidential primaries.

Tyler was a Democrat who defected to the Whig Party and eventually ended up on the Whig ticket as vice president in 1840 with presidential victor William Henry Harrison. The campaign was famous for the phrase "Tippecanoe and Tyler, too." Harrison died within one month of entering office elevating Tyler to the presidency.

Tyler rejected the Whig platform and vetoed many of the bills his party sent him. Trump has yet to take office, but we already know that he and Congressional Republicans do not agree on Trump's $1 trillion infrastructure spending proposal, his desire to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border, or his stand against existing and pending trade agreements. On the other hand, Democrats are already trying to forge an alliance with Trump on infrastructure spending and trade.

After Tyler's vetoes, the Whigs expelled him from the party. Then, almost all of Tyler's cabinet resigned. Trump is still awaiting his turn at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but already there is intraparty turmoil at his transition headquarters in New York City's Trump Tower. Trump has purged some Republican party stalwarts in favor of outsiders and family members as his suspicion grows.

The Whig Party leadership never contemplated that Tyler might become president just as the Republican Party leadership never believed that Trump had a chance at the nomination. Once he had won the nomination, they believed he could not win the presidency.

Tyler was recruited to be Harrison's running mate to balance the ticket by attracting Southern voters. But Tyler's states' rights views ran counter to the Whigs' desire to use to the federal government to modernize the economy and the infrastructure, a program known as the American System. Hence, Tyler's disagreement with the plans of Congressional Whigs. He felt the states should remain responsible for infrastructure.

Of course, in contrast, Trump wants the federal government to engage in a long and costly program of infrastructure improvements, a program not favored by Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan. On the other hand, Trump's focus in a globalized economy on "making America great again" is reminiscent of Tyler's focus on states in the era of an emerging national economy.

Those hostile to Tyler nicknamed him "His Accidency." It is fairly clear from the reaction to Trump's victory that few people expected him to become president. While it wasn't an accident, it may have seemed that way to a Republican establishment whose primary system was supposed to crown an establishment choice early on and make that candidate impossible to catch.

In fact, it's possible that Trump did not at first intend to run a serious campaign. In that respect his success may have seemed like an accident to him. Trump may have started out intending only to raise his public profile in order to enhance the Trump brand. Trump nemesis Michael Moore claimed that he had direct confirmation (though the source remained anonymous) that Trump was merely trying to get more money for his reality television show, "The Apprentice." And, an insider from the nominally independent pro-Trump Make America Great Again PAC (which was eventually closed down) said that she was told Trump was merely trying to make a good showing. But then Trump became enamored with his own success.

In the end even statements and actions by Trump which Moore and others characterized as self-destructive only seemed to draw more supporters to him. Was Trump intentionally trying to self-destruct only to be caught off guard by the appeal of his supposedly self-destructive words and behaviors? Only he can tell us.

There is already talk that Trump could be impeached based on possible illegal activities that surface from his past. The standard response to such an assertion is that Republicans control both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. But the claim is that Congressional Republicans will soon tire of having someone in the presidency who though nominally Republican cannot be counted upon to enact their agenda. The successful removal of Trump from office would, of course, make Vice President Mike Pence president. Pence is a seasoned politician who is aligned with the Republican agenda.

Tyler differs from Trump, of course, in key ways. Tyler was a lawyer who came from a political family and held several elective offices before ascending to the vice presidency and then the presidency. But it's worth noting that the fractiousness of the Tyler presidency was a prelude to the dissolution of the Whigs--which by the early 1850s had disintegrated due not only to internal disagreements over slavery, but also lack of a coherent, unified message.

Republicans face internal divisions among those who voted for them as well. The traditional Republican coalition of business interests, libertarians, and social conservatives was augmented this year by an influx of white working-class voters feeling besieged by economic globalization. Of course, many white working-class voters had already been voting Republican for a long time because of their discomfort with what they perceived as the liberal social agenda of the Democratic Party. But it was the new and crossover working-class voters who proved decisive.

Those voters oppose the free trade agenda of the Republican Party and are skeptical of the party's corporate ties. Moreover, social conservatives can hardly find Trump's embrace of same-sex marriage comforting. And, the business lobby hates Trump's opposition to so-called H-1B visas, the kind that allow foreign high-tech workers to work in the United States. Scarier yet for the business-oriented globalist Republicans, Steve Bannon, Trump's closest advisor, is calling for what he dubs "an economic nationalist movement."

Will these internal tensions cause the Republican Party to go the way of Whigs? At the very least, the road ahead for the Republican Party and Donald Trump does not look like a smooth one, and Trump's unpredictable style is likely to keep the public and the pundits guessing every step of the way about what comes next.