Well Functioning Ecosystems

Posted October 6, 2012

John Lius, a documentary film-maker and ecologist, has dedicated his life spreading the knowledge and successes of rehabilitating large-scale, damaged ecosystems.

Watch the Green Gold Documentary by John Lius on YouTube. Spoilers below.

The results of the projects covered in the above documentary are astounding. People in Jordan, China, Ethiopia and elsewhere have turned baron, dry, desert-like landscapes back into lush, hydrated, functioning ecosystems. These rejuvenated lands, bring back native species of plants (and even leopards in the case of Ethiopia), as well as open the door to growing foods to sustain local communities.

Interesting, as many of these baron lands were, at some point, fertile and used for agriculture. But, through unsustainable practices — mainly mismanaged water and over-grazing by livestock — these lands were devastated.

John Lius’ documentary contains a wealth of information, but I’d like to highlight three points. (if you don’t like spoilers, watch the documentary first!)

First, Learn from the past mistakes of Agriculture

Like always, we can learn much from the past. Look at places like Jordan, Ethiopia and China. In each of these places, humans have lived for thousands of years. We can directly see the impact of poor agricultural practices on the land. And, how it negatively affects communities today.

Second, Desertified lands can be brought back to life

Hearing about droughts, pollution, starvation etc. one can feel hopeless. Have hope! John Lius has documented, what has been in my opinion, the most profound success humans have achieved in regards to ecosystems: Desertified lands can be brought back to lush, fertile, food-bearing, functioning ecosystems! If this does not astound you. Just repeat it in your head for a few hours.

Even more astounding, the proven technique does not require modern agricultural technologies! So succinctly summarized by Ta Fuyuan:

The objective was to give the hills a ‘hat’ on top, a ‘belt’ in the middle and ‘shoes’ at the bottom. The trees planted on top of the hill form the hat; The terraces form the belt; And, constructed dams at the bottom of the hills form the shoes.

Once the hat, belt and shoes are in place, the once baron lands become fertile. The Hat, Belt & Shoes trap rain, improving the hydrology. This prevents mudslides and loss of rainwater, and increases the ability to sustain food for local communities, presently and for future generations.

Third, Economies should be based on well-functioning Ecosystems

Finally, I can coherently explain why Canada’s current economic stability makes me uncomfortable. Canada’s economy, like many others, puts monetary value on the goods and services that rely on ecosystems. If an ecosystem shows signs of degradation or instability, this does not immediately affect the economies based on it. Only, once you reach a breaking point, and things collapse, do the economies reflect the reality of the failing ecological systems. At which point, rectifying the situation is magnitudes more difficult.

John makes the argument that economies should be based directly on the ecosystems that feed the goods and services. This way, ecosystems could not be exploited (and depleted) for short but large monetary gains. Instead, economies would rely on well-functioning ecosystems, and would experience a more real-time association with them.

Well, something to ponder at least.