Tag Archives: climate change

A New Vision for Farms, Oceans and Youth

by Laura Parker Roerden

(October 3, 2019) Last week I had the privilege to present at the Wright Locke Farm Speaker Series in Winchester, MA as part of Climate Week.

After an emotional week of watching youth all over the world rise up to simply ask for a livable future, it was heartening to see so many adults filling seats to hear more about climate solutions. The setting could not have been more appropriate in a barn of the same vintage as ours at Jo-Erl Farm overlooking a pasture where Rhode Island Red chickens roamed, much like they had during the time my grandfather kept a poultry on our land about sixty miles south of this one. It was hard to not wonder if these two farm families had ever met.

I’ve long held one foot each in two camps: farms and oceans. I usually quip that “farms chose me, but I chose oceans.” Yet it has become increasingly clear that climate change is asking us to look more inter-sectionally at solutions. Might thinking holistically about necessary changes to farming and ocean conservation be a climate solution that is greater than the sum of its parts?


Farming and Its impact on the Ocean

Oceans have for decades been negatively impacted by conventional farming, where a heavy reliance on inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides find their way to the sea carried downstream by rivers, rain, and flooding and cause increases in algal blooms, dead zones, and red tides. This method of farming strips soil of its living matter, which creates a vicious cycle of needing to increase nutrient loading to simply continue production. As the soil becomes more denuded, this leaves much of our farmland less able to hold water, and more subject to flooding and desertification, which further contribute to sedimentation and runoff entering our oceans.

Additionally, the carbon footprint of conventional farming has many of us wondering how we can continue to feed a growing world and attack climate change at the same time? In addition to contributing up to a 1/3 of the current greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, part of the equation includes the 50-60% of the carbon that conventional farming activities like tillage (plowing) releases into the environment from soil.

The solution appears to be right under our feet: soil! Soil is a natural carbon sink, which means it takes carbon out of the atmosphere. Yet we have degraded soil’s ability to do so by a hundred years of farm practices that takes carbon out of the soil instead.

What if I told you there is a method of farming that requires little to no inputs and helps soil maintain its health, vitality, nutrients, ability to hold water, and capacity to take carbon out of the atmosphere and sequester it into the soil? You might think I was dreaming. But fortunately, it’s true! Known as regenerative farming, this method of farming rebuilds our soils by little to no tillage, the planting of cover crops that fix nutrients into the soil, a reliance on poly-culture and diversity in the community, and the careful management of animal grazing through a method that mimics the bison on the prairie with high density herd management and constant movement and rotation in temporary paddocks.

Project Drawdown rates regenerative farming as number 11 on their list of top climate change solutions.

Furthermore, there is a business case to be made for regenerative agriculture: farmers can expect a pay off in increased yields and less labor. Project Drawdown estimates a pay off of $1.93 trillion by 2050 after an investment $57.22 billion. That’s a pretty enticing investment, without even considering about the impacts related to the ocean and its conservation.

To put this context of the other Project Drawdown climate solutions, regenerative agriculture holds more promise than nuclear or offshore wind turbines.

How Does This Relate to the Ocean?

If we look back at all of the impacts of conventional farming on the ocean: from increased sedimentation to fertilizer runoff to non-point pollution from decreased water retention, regenerative agriculture is positioned through its lack of chemical inputs and water retention to reduce every one of those negative impacts. I have yet to see anyone who has done the science to reconcile the full cross-benefits of regenerative agriculture on ocean conservation, but it stands to reason that these methods could help mitigate many of these chronic and acute impacts to ocean health currently caused by conventional farming.

Ocean conservation matters—but not just for the protein from the ocean that 2 billion people in the world rely on, but as a climate mitigator. The ocean absorbs much of the heat from greenhouse gases, as well as takes 20-30% of the excess carbon out of the atmosphere. However, it is the living biomass in the ocean that makes the ocean impactful as a carbon sink. If we lose this biomass because of overfishing, die-offs and dead zones, we have decreased our ocean’s capacity to perform this critical function.

Whales, for example, can take 190,000 tons of carbon out of the atmosphere a year: the equivalence of 80,000 cars a year being taken off the roads. Their conservation is not just a matter of their charisma, romance or tourism value, but rather that they perform an important service in mitigating climate.

As Aldo Leopold once said, “the first law of intelligent tinkering is to keep all the parts.” Ocean conservation, regenerative farming, flood mitigation, fresh water conservation and our other efforts to create climate resiliency should be part of an integrated strategy, one where all the parts are on the table together.

How to Get Others to Join

Yet, as the millions of marchers across the globe during climate week were asking us to notice, to date we have lacked the political will to act at the necessary scale. What will it take to get others to join with us?


Research shows the single best motivator and predictor of activism is not information, but the degree of connectedness one experiences in community. Furthermore, additional motivators include a sense of place, a sense of meaning, and sense of self within the larger context.

Which begs the question: what sort of experiences give us that sense of place and sense of meaning within the larger context?

Over the 25 years I have been working with youth in environmental education—on both farms and in the ocean—young people have been teaching me the answer.

Sometimes, it looks like this:

Ocean Matters teens removing invasive mangroves in Hawai’i.

Othertimes, it look like this:

Sometimes, it sounds like this:

But it always assuredly feels like this:

A spontaneous moment with Ocean Matters teens from Florida after finishing a coral restoration project.

We might not all come to the table, ready to eat; but just being invited can become the greatest healer of all. And once we are included, we can begin to experience the gifts of belonging, resiliency, and the expansion of our sense of tribe.

It’s the hands-on experiences within our community addressing real need that will make the difference to turn keying others to help with the urgency of climate change. We simply must engage everyone—no matter their political leaning— in understanding how our health and lives are tied to the living biosphere in ways each can appreciate and understand.

We do not need to start with climate change. In fact, perhaps it’s better if we don’t. Simply start with what there is to love about where you live and connect to how the intricately-laced systems sustain us.

Programs growing food on farms like the ones at Wright Locke and engagements with ocean conservation and our watershed like Ocean Matters are critical to this sense of connection. As my dear friend Liz Cunningham, author of Ocean Country, so aptly says, “hope is a verb.”

Climate change might just be asking us to understand our place, not just the place of whales and farms, in that larger whole. So as we reach out to ask others to join with us—our neighbors, our youth, our institutions— let’s remember to break down silos that keep us isolated and to create structures for new connections, including places for each of us to make meaning from the fact that we truly belong.

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Laura Parker Roerden

Laura Parker Roerden is the founding director of Ocean Matters and the former managing editor of Educators for Social Responsibility and New Designs for Youth Development. She has served on the boards of Women Working for Oceans (W20) of the New England Aquarium and Earth, Ltd. and is a member of the Pleiades Network of Women in Sustainability. She lives on her fifth generation family farm in MA.

 

 

A Barred Owl

by Laura Parker Roerden

Several nights this week I have lain in bed
listening to the call and response of three barred owls
outlining each cardinal direction—save for the south—

which is oddly missing in the chorus, as if the baritones
had boarded a bus for Times Square for some dancing
and Christmas lights, while a deadly serious conversation

was happening between the sopranos, altos and tenors.
I do not know why they are calling with such urgency,
but something about it feels like a warning or lit with longing;

there is a sense that something of great value is slipping
away. Yet each evening, as the thick coat of darkness is applied
to the wide open sky, erasing shades of apricot and purple,

I too often rise in dream or prayer,

trying to unwind

the tangled mess

that is living
and seeking

safer shores.

Laura Parker Roerden is the founding director of Ocean Matters and the former managing editor of Educators for Social Responsibility and New Designs for Youth Development. She serves on the board of Earth, Ltd. and is a member of the Pleiades Network of Women in Sustainability. She lives on her fifth generation family farm in MA.

 

A Coming Hurricane

by Laura Parker Roerden

I read today that a flock of seagulls was once trapped in the eye of a hurricane.
The birds had sought refuge in the false calm of fair skies, but didn’t realize they
now flew through a tunnel of destruction, all ways out blocked by certain devastation.

Birds that sense plummeting pressure from an oncoming storm either fly aloft
on waves of wind or hunker down, feet gripped onto lower branches or huddled
together in brush. They risk being blown off course and face the errant bolt

of lavender lightening from the differential of opposing forces sparking a fire.
The winds, which are now stirring, reveal the trees’ lonely bones as perches;
and harbors of strength among the lowest rungs; yet also invites us to rise.

No, hope is not a destination, but instead a way of entering into dialogue
with possibility like a leaf trembled and blown finds its way to the ground.

At Jo-Erl Farm

Laura Parker Roerden is the founding director of Ocean Matters and the former managing editor of Educators for Social Responsibility and New Designs for Youth Development. She serves on the boards of Women Working for Oceans (W20) and Earth, Ltd. and is a member of the Pleiades Network of Women.

 

Cooking With(out) Gas

Best Investments in Sustainability

 

 

 

 

 

by Laura Parker Roerden

What if I told you that there was a cheaper, faster, healthier, safer, less energy intensive, cleaner, and lower carbon footprint way to cook than using an electric or gas stovetop and range? You’d wonder why you never heard of it before, right?

Stephanie Cmar, Top Chef alumna and former chef at Stir of Barbara Lynch Gruppo, demonstrates induction cooking. Photo by Colleen Brannen.

I know I was stunned when recently attending an event put on jointly by Mother’s Out Front and HEET at my dear friend Claire Corcoran’s house to learn about induction cooking, an electromagnet method of cooking that has been around for a decade. My family had just months before bought a new cooktop, but even as long time greenies who have spent the past year buying two electric vehicle cars and converting our house to solar, we did not come across this option in our research. After learning more, I’d say induction cooking definitely meets the criteria for a best investment in sustainability.

Healthier
Numerous studies have linked gas stoves in homes with increased asthma, bronchitis, and wheezing in children. Additionally, if you live in Massachusetts and cook with gas, there is better than  50% chance that you are using fracked gas, which contains health-threatening chemicals used in the fracking process. Pollutants involved in fracking have been linked to pediatric neurological issues, lower birth weights and increased asthma. So by taking a pass on fracked gas, you are keeping your own family from being exposed and are also helping the communities where fracking has had the greatest negative health and environmental impacts.

Cheaper, More Energy Efficient and Safer
When you turn on an induction burner, an electric current runs through the coil, generating a fluctuating magnetic field, but no heat on the burner itself. Then once you set an iron or stainless steel pan on the burner, the magnetic field induces many smaller electric currents in the pan’s metal, creating heat in the pan. Because there is no transfer of heat from the stove to the pan, 95% of every dollar you spend on energy goes right where you want it – in the pan! Gas delivers only 35% to the pan and traditional electric about 56%. Also, once the pan leaves the burner, the burner goes into standby mode, so no electricity is used in between periods of cooking or shifting pans.

Induction cooking is also faster, (2 to 4 minutes faster to bring a 6 quart pan of water to boil). While the speed isn’t life changing, the energy saved does aggregate over a year significantly.

So what do they cost? Currently, Consumer Reports recommends a Kenmore brand range that is $1,000. But you might consider a 2-burner counter top version for $100-200 to test out if induction might work for you. As consumers and commercial vendors discover the benefits of induction, the prices will no doubt come down.

If induction becomes the standard for cooking, the old adage of “touching a hot stove” will no longer make sense: an induction stove burner is only hot if there’s a pan on it. The potential for leaving a stove on is also lessened, which is an additional safety benefit over gas and electric.

Photo by Colleen Brannen.

Lower Carbon Footprint
Here in New England, many of our homes use natural gas. This gas is mostly methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Because a significant amount of that methane leaks into the atmosphere all along the system from where it’s produced to where it’s used, natural gas damages our climate more than coal. You can always green your electricity source, but you can’t green fossil fuel.

Induction stove tops and ranges are slowly becoming the norm in restaurants and professional kitchens, because of all of the benefits. Though it does take some adjustment to new cooking speeds and settings, it’s probably no more difficult to learn than transitioning from gas to electric or vice versa requires.

Cooking by the animated glow of a fire is deeply encoded in our mythology and DNA. I’m quite sure that’s why I have in the past preferred using gas over electric. But lessening our carbon footprint and energy usage can truly help us feel a different warmth inside: that of knowing we walk gently on our bountiful earth.

Salt from the Shaker Recommended Read about fracking:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Learn more about From the Shaker: Best Investments in Sustainability.

Laura Parker Roerden is the founding director of Ocean Matters and the former managing editor of Educators for Social Responsibility and New Designs for Youth Development. She serves on the boards of Women Working for Oceans (W20) and Earth, Ltd. and is a member of the Pleiades Network of Women.

 

 

The Quest

by Laura Parker Roerden

Photo © Brian Skerry. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

You can find just about anything you could dream
in an ocean. Tiny horses holding on by prehensile tails
to flat vines that float upwards and shimmer in sunlight like cities.

Red squid that fly with vampire wings and shoot out light orbs
to stun predator or prey. A flat ray with a saw. It won’t surprise you
at all then to learn of a swimming unicorn whale: the narwhal.

Swords drawn, several narwhales move as one. It’s impossible
to know what they seek, but something in their quickening suggests
a quest, as strips of Arctic ice fall away around them like sunburnt

skin shedding. They move in now open ocean. There’s no place
to hide from killer whales; no escape from our hand. If we follow them
we’d see: that everywhere we suffer from wounds that need healing.

The Fisher King himself, we are told, guards a holy grail
in a vast wasteland of destruction; where seas now rise. Is it any wonder why
the narwhals are headed there? Or perhaps they have already arrived?

And what will they discover once their journey is complete? Are they trying
to show us that we should come too? For surely their quest is our own:
for a home where towers of ice do not tumble down around us;

where we heed a wild call for full hearts and heroes to wake.

© Laura Parker Roerden. All rights reserved.

Laura Parker Roerden is the founding director of Ocean Matters and the former managing editor of Educators for Social Responsibility and New Designs for Youth Development. She serves on the boards of Women Working for Oceans (W20) and Earth,

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About the Photo by Brian Skerry
Sea ice and ice floe edge around Navy Board Inlet, Baffin Island in the high arctic of Canada. At this time of year (June) the ice begins to break up and wildlife become more plentiful with animals such as seals, narwhals, bowhead whales and polar bears feeding in the rich waters. Climate change is having an effect on this region, with ice melting earlier during many recent years. (Pristine Seas expedition team working/filming documentary)