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GREEN BLOG

This page contains the most recent articles, publications, and media from staff and collaborators. 

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The Fate of Agriculture in the US:

Agriculture, Economics and Shifting Resource Management Paradigms

Jared A. Lewis

Agriculture in the United States, as it has been practiced for the past century is on the brink of renaissance or collapse. The fundamental economic structure which underlies agriculture markets here in the US is tenuous, and has all but forced a restructuring of the US agricultural product. This is evident in the emergence of value added agricultural products such as Organics and "Natural" products, fueled by an intelligent but desperate marketing campaign designed not only to shift consumer perception of the Market place but to restructure the ways in which we grow, receive and deliver food, and other agriculture products.

This effort to restructure has been effective as it has perpetuated the creed and ideology of "New Agriculture". However, in order for this shift to take hold and manifest on a commercial and corporate level, Agricultural will have to redesign many of the entrenched systems which no longer make economic sense, nor support the underpinnings of a sustainable agricultural industry.

Without explicating the entire narrative of contemporary agricultural practice, it is suffice to say that redesign of the edifice of Agricultural, from the soil to the universities that teach us about the soil, must realign themselves with contemporary and proven systems of production. This realignment also requires the reaffirmation of labor; as the fundamental resource which all production hinges upon. What’s more is the reintroduction of Agriculture into the system of education, in order to educate a future Agricultural workforce and to imbue a thoughtful and intelligent agricultural discourse into the general dialectic.

Finally, we must insist that Agriculture not only take steps in the "right" direction, but implement significant and sustainable change, in order to provide healthy, safe and secure food and agricultural products, while stabilizing the economics of agriculture from price, to the wages of agricultural labor and management.

 

 

Post-modern “Enviromentality”

Jared A. Lewis

We are on the frontier of developing new models for interacting within ecological systems. As new strategies emerge from a new found “green ethos” we are left with the question of what it means to be a human animal that is just as much a part of the ecosphere as it is dependent upon it. As the new millennium progresses we have reiterated our attempt to control, contain, and conceptualize natural systems anthropomorphically. These unwitting and often haphazordous attempts to compartmentalize biotic systems and to deconstruct these systems from the top down have manifest an interesting variety of results ranging from productive to ineffectual to counterproductive.

As a response to systems that have been perceived culturally as systems of ecological dominion or systems that we understand as detrimental environmental management practices, a new ecological cosmology based on the idea of non-action or non-management has evolved. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that inaction is not a viable alternative and that positive, proactive, and progressive enviromentality are required to shift our landscapes and ecotones towards health and functionality.

The paradigms that we are beginning to elucidate are those of interconnectedness, that human beings are an integral part of all ecosystems within which they live and derive resources. What’s more, the paradigm of ecological collaboration is reemerging in recognition of the mutually deterministic relationship that exists between human and environment.

We are moving towards certain and inevitable ecological events. And this is because of ideas we perpetuate on an ecological level. The idea that open space and wildlands thrive under conditions of non-management has been disproved time and again. The idea that landscape determines its own evolutionary course regardless of the human component is no longer accepted. We are “the Gardeners of Eden”, and more than the responsibility to manage our resources, as our lifestyles and existences as we know them are certainly and ultimately dependent on availability of resources, we can “now” participate in and actualize open space and resource environments consciously.

Undoubtedly, we are interwoven into the fabric of the living system. Human systems have been integral to other biological systems for millennia. We are revisiting the understanding that human, animal, plant, soil, water, and air are all part of the larger Gaia matrix, which mediates our interactions through an invisible yet highly complex and intelligent biological network.

Consciousness, as it were, is the medium for these interactions to take place. Awareness of our inter-connectivity is manifest externally through the channels of biotic feedback loops, and finally inserted into the collective consciousness via media; this is the dynamic process of communication between the human mind and the Gaian or planetary mind. Although the language and syntax of human and planet are quite different, what is apparent is that humans are able to understand the needs and desires of ecosytems—even at the planetary level. We (humans) are a conduit between biotic systems, as we can act upon and comprehend various layers of interconnectivity. The call to action has never been louder. Gaia is screaming, a battle cry for action on this planet. A call to reevaluate entrenched environmental dogma and to embrace our ability to participate ecologically.

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Sustainability Modeling, The Appropriation of Environmentalism

Jared A. Lewis

 

The late French theorist Jean Baudrillard (1929–2007) described our current “human” dilemma most accurately, specifically in his idea of “simulation” as it relates to the perpetuation of our current social and economic quandary, and how simulations or metastructures of reality, supplant the “real” with a “virtual” or simulated reality, thereby degrading our most precious and rare “commodity” - the real.

Simulation is not only disingenuous, but on a more functional level, disallows meaningful and effective action, as we are engaged with the schematic rather than the actual.

The tendency toward simulation is pervasive in the “Environmental Movement” as well. Although many ecologists and progressive “green thinkers” share deep ecological values, the actualization of these deep ecological values, and what is made manifest, is largely simulacra.

There is a certain understandable desperation that drives these simulations. We are acutely aware of our “environmental predicament". Undoubtedly, the concepts, and perhaps even the essentiality of contemporary environmental discourse are based in a “deep ecological reality” - unfortunately, concept and manifestation rarely translate directly, because they are mediated by various cultural, historical and psychological precursors which transform the authentic into something that is at the worst profane, and at best offensive to the spirit of “ecological reality”, which is most important, as it represent something with inherent and tangible value.

Since the early 1960’s, the agencies and stakeholders engaged in the conceptualization of environmentalism have proliferated an eloquent but highly deceptive language designed to generate ecological discourse, on one level, while providing a tool and a language that can also facilitate an economic reality that is ecologically inclusive. Concepts such as “sustainability”, “organic”, “holistic”, and perhaps the most abstract of all - “Green”, provide a basis in which we can discourse about environmentalism, without providing a framework in which to “realistically” perceive, engage, and analyze these ideas. Furthermore, these ideas have been appropriated by all sorts of entities not necessarily interested in or committed to the spirit of ecology. These appropriated ecological ideas have thus become marketing tools that advance “unsustainable” and non-ecological practice—marketing tools that bestow insincere homage to real ecological values.

As a result, we are conferred with simulated environmentalism, which is neither progressive or ecological. Furthermore, “true” environmental action is unrecognized, as it neither accepts or utilizes the doctrinaire which has become the standard of environmental practice.

Fortunately, this odd “bardo-like”, illusory state of simulation, is merely that. All progressive action must reflect this transitory nature of cultural thought, form and ethos - simultaneously acknowledging the historical trajectory which underlies a global dawning of “new” and real sustainable and ecological culture. Success requires us to engage with ecological reality more directly, as any genuine environmental practice will be informed by biological feedback, which is fundamental to our understanding of “ecological reality”.

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A Goat Grazing Primer

Jared A. Lewis

Fire in interface zones has the highest potential for catastrophic consequences. There are a variety of tools and techniques that are available to mitigate wildfire in the wildland-urban interface (WUI). What’s more, in these interface zones fire suppression becomes increasingly more difficult not only because fire fighters have to contend with the fire, but also must contend with the fact that homeowners or city officials may have done little in the way of providing a defensible space near and around homes and structures, so that fire fighters can at the least have some chance at saving or diverting a fast moving wildfire.

So how do goats fight fire?

In order to understand how goats impact the fire environment it is important to understand the conditions that allow fire to spread quickly and to burn for long periods of time at intense heats. The primary factor which effects the intensity of heat, flame height, and the ability of fire to spread and increase is the fuel that the fire must consume to maintain itself. These fuels include most types of vegetation, including grass, trees, shrubs and common weeds. We distinguish between the different types of fuels by their respective reactivity to fire and by their potential to feed and spread fire. Light fuels such as grass and weeds provide a medium for fire to spread quickly, especially in areas where these light fuels have accumulated and formed dense stands of dry and combustible material. Heavy fuels such as trees and shrubs, once ignited are difficult to control, will release toxic fumes into the air (from oils such as the urishol in poison oak), and burn longer and hotter than grass fires. With the understanding of the fuels which give energy and momentum to fire, we can begin to look at how a goat can effectively lessen the potential and destructive capacity of fire. Goats, unlike other ruminant grazing animals (both wild and domestic), are non-selective eaters.

Goats can utilize a variety of forages including the light and heavy fuels that were alluded to above. Goats are also active and explorative eaters often climbing trees in pursuit of food and nutrition. This propensity towards variety coupled with an uncanny ability to consume unlikely feedstuffs such as low lying branches, small trees, grasses, weeds, chapparal, shrubs and a panoply of fire hazardous exotic and invasive species, creates the unlikely but none the less perfectly suited fire fighting tool in the goat. As a goat moves through a fire prone area it will begin to target the light fuels while browsing on the branches of trees and shrubs as high as it can reach (up to approximately five feet). This vegetation is the ladder fuel, the vegetation which allows fire to spread upwards from ground, to tree, to houses. Slowly but efficiently the goat will increase the distance between combustible vegetative materials.

Increasing the spatial distance between plants exponentially inhibits the speed at which a fire can spread, the heat and intensity of that fire, and its ability to prolong itself. Furthermore, trees which have effectively been pruned by the goat are unlikely to crown. A crown fire - that is, a fire which has spread to the top of the tree - is extremely difficult to suppress, and allows for other trees to crown from the top down. These types of fire are catastrophic and pose a particular risk to fire fighters on the ground. In many ways a goat’s impact on its environment is similar to the low intensity fires which burned cyclically and regularly before modern high-density urbanization. These low intensity fires maintained a healthy balance, and were effective in maintaining overgrown brush and grasses while at the same time releasing nutrients back into the soil. Release of these nutrients relies on decomposition and the fire cycle; otherwise, they are left untapped and unavailable to emerging and existing vegetation. Fire was once an integral part of the healthy ecosystem providing the necessary components for regeneration and self maintenance. Today it is no longer possible or responsible to allow fire in the wildland-urban interface to take its own course.

Modern wildland fires are unnatural and often catastrophic, and no longer serve as the regenerative element of our pre-urban past. Today, we are compelled by necessity and our own self-preservation instinct to find ecological and viable alternatives to fire management that mitigate for catastrophic events and promote ecosystem health, while maintaining the viability of our homes and communites. Nature gives miraculous insight into our problems and more often that not provides the solution to many challenges that human rationale is unable or unprepared to solve. Observation of the natural world's tendency towards equilibrium, managing its whole through its various and disparate parts, allows for solutions to be found that are inherent in the natural system.

Science, and thereby societies, are discovering the perfection of nature in all its intricacies and inter-dependent systems. Fire was once revered and worshiped for its positive nature - providing warmth; used in agriculture; metallurgy; and a multitude of other purposes. In our post-modern world, fire is no longer revered, but feared, and rightly so. It is incumbent upon us to protect and maintain our environment and to find the equilibrium that has long since been obscured through unthoughtful and haphazard attempts to suppress fire. Modern fire suppression activities must address the inevitability of ecological disaster after high intensity catastrophic wildfire, the repercussions of non-managemnent, and begin the discourse about responsible and ecological management of the wildland-urban interface.

Through observation of our environment we find one solution to our fuel and fire management dilemma. We understand the mechanisms that mother nature employs to maintain a homeostatic fire environment. These mechanisms include chemical, mechanical, and meteorogical elements. Some of these mechanisms can be recreated and simulated through human activity or through the introduction of grazing and animal impact into interface zones. Living System's model of Managed Grazing/Browsing for fire suppression and wildland maintenence is based on the modality in which grazing activity reduces potentiality for fire in the pristine environments grazing animals have occupied for countless aeons.

In fact, grazing has always been and continues to be an integral component of the fire system. It is through animal impact, the animals grazing and browsing activity, that fuel loads were kept in check. The carrying capacity for a herd of animals, the amount of food availalbe to the animal, and the type and relative amount of utilizable vegetation for animal and ecosystem, are invariably connected to the location, duration, intensity, and frequency of fire in the wildland.

Natural grazing and fire systems, which native plants and animals rely heavily upon and have adapted certain mechanism of recovery from, have been altered or disallowed in the current state of our political ecosystem - including our human ecosystem, cities, governments and municipalities. These systems are essential to the program of mother nature. Grazing and fire activity are meta-programs which continually work on energy, mineral, soil, and many other overarching biological levels. Without these components and their constituent effects, balance, symmetry, and ecostasis dissolve: a chain reaction of predictable ecological and biological events ensue which ultimately nullify the natural systems ability to maintain itself in a healthy state. And, because we are also a part of this delicate but resilient system - our towns, cities and infrastructures inhabit and share the same space and abide by the same laws of nature as do our plant and animal neighbors - we too are affected by this imbalance.

The complexity of our contemporary fire environment is compounded by economic and political realities which continually effect and alter our ability to moderate and participate in the mitigation of wildfire on many levels. Even on a local level it is often difficult to find adequate, affordable, and sustainable models and techniques to protect our families, homes, communities, and environments from fire and non-ecological fire suppression practices.

We have discovered the link between ecology and fire and science has solidly established the axiom that we can not achieve fire safety without ecological viability, which includes fire resistant native vegetation, proper cycling of dry, dead and decaying matter, as well as the reintroduction or continuation of grazing for fuel management which, by its very nature, promotes these constituent prerequisites.