Shining cities in vibrant landscapes

What can be done to alleviate our planetary concerns and build a sustainable future?  What are our planetary concerns? These are 9 so called planetary boundaries from the Stockholm Resilience Centre.  They are useful in delineating what is known from unknown – and where people are making changes to nonlinear Earth systems that are sensitive to small changes.  Populations of 1000’s of  animals have crashed over the last 60 years.  There  are many millions more unknown.  Runoff from farms and cities change ecologies in wetlands, rivers, estuaries, coasts and oceans.  Regenerative farming and water sensitive cities reduce nutrient loads.  Conserving and restoring soils and vegetation tips the balance to more abundant life.   Modern energy innovation delivers cheap, abundant and safe energy alternatives to dwindling oil, gas and coal.


These are all knotty problems that can only be redressed grassroots up at catchment scale.  Science can inform.  Environmental science is a team based multidisciplinary discipline integrating science, economics, culture and values to resolve knotty issues.  Small teams of 5 or 6 of diverse specialists – with community and expert input.

The top post – is a work in progress exploring problems and solutions.

We are making changes to Earth systems biologically, radiatively, chemically – in an Earth system that is sensitive to small changes.  At the same time there is a need for strong and resilient economies.  Optimistically there is a chance for both.

I am a big fan of economic freedom and fiscal discipline.  Economics to target inflation and encourage stable growth.  Washington thinktank The Heritage Foundation claim to ‘measure economic freedom based on 12 quantitative and qualitative factors, grouped into four broad categories, or pillars, of economic freedom:

  1. Rule of Law (property rights, government integrity, judicial effectiveness)
  2. Government Size (government spending, tax burden, fiscal health)
  3. Regulatory Efficiency (business freedom, labor freedom, monetary freedom)
  4. Open Markets (trade freedom, investment freedom, financial freedom)’

Pillars of democracy? Mainstream economic guidelines for stability and long term growth?

Capitalism can generate great wealth.  Conscious capitalism aims at just and sustainable great wealth.  Iriai is a Japanese word meaning to enter into the joint use of resources. There are ways to a bright future for the planet, its peoples and its wild places – and these evolve in a broad context of economics and democracy, population, development, technical innovation, land use and the environment.

My goal has always been shining cities in vibrant landscapes.

Global warming can be solved.  Electricity is 25% of the problem of greenhouse gas emissions.  We need 4 times that to replace fossil fuels.  And 4 times that again at the end of the century with population and high economic growth.  Efficient mitigation needs a broad multi-gas and aerosol strategy – CFC’s, nitrous oxides, methane, black carbon and sulfate. Along with ongoing decreases in carbon intensity and increases in efficiency and productivity. And technical innovation across sectors – energy, transport, industry, residential and agriculture and forestry.

Some of the answer is under our feet.  Rattan Lal – 2021 World Food Prize winner – estimates that some 500 gigatonne carbon (GtC) – compared to 350 GtC modern era emissions – has been lost from terrestrial systems over 10,000 years.  Caused largely by poor agricultural practices.  Exhaust soils and move on.  We don’t have that option.  We fill our our planet to overflowing.

“Soil is like a bank account” – says Rattan Lal – “we must replace what we have removed.”

This soil carbon store can be renewed by restoring land. Holding back water in sand dams, terraces and swales, replanting, changing grazing management, encouraging perennial vegetation cover, precise applications of chemicals and adoption of other management practices that create positive carbon and nutrient budgets and optimal soil temperature and moisture. Atmospheric carbon is transferred from the atmosphere to soil carbon stores through plant photosynthesis and subsequent formation of secondary carbonates. Rattan Lal – 2021 World Food Prize winner – estimates 150 ppm CO2 sequestration by 2100 is remotely feasible.  Professor Lal says that we should see what is possible.  

Carbon sequestration in soils has major benefits in addition to offsetting anthropogenic emissions from fossil fuel combustion, land use conversion, soil cultivation, continuous grazing and cement and steel manufacturing.    Restoring soil carbon stores increases agronomic productivity and enhances global food security.  Increasing the soil organic content enhances water holding capacity and creates a more drought tolerant agriculture – with less downstream flooding.  There is a critical level of soil carbon that is essential to maximising the effectiveness of water and nutrient inputs.  Global food security, especially for countries with fragile soils and harsh climate such as in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, cannot be achieved without improving soil quality through an increase in soil organic content.   Wildlife flourishes on restored grazing land helping to halt biodiversity loss.  Reversing soil carbon loss is a new green revolution where conventional agriculture is hitting a productivity barrier with exhausted soils and increasingly expensive inputs.

Increased agricultural productivity, increased downstream processing and access to markets build local economies and global wealth.  Economic growth provides resources for solving problems – conserving and restoring ecosystems, better sanitation and safer water, better health and education, updating the diesel fleet and other productive assets to emit less black carbon and reduce the health and environmental impacts, developing better and cheaper ways of producing electricity, replacing cooking with wood and dung with better ways of preparing food thus avoiding respiratory disease and again reducing black carbon emissions.  A global program of agricultural soils restoration is the foundation for balancing the human ecology.