It is starting to feel a lot like spring! Western bluebird pairs visit the bird baths at the community garden, males decked out in brilliant blue and orange breeding plumage. Sweet peas scattered throughout the garden as a cover crop are blooming wildly. And the other day, I watched a male great blue heron bring food to his nesting mate high in the Torrey pine across from the Carpinteria Library.
These sure signs of spring are following quite a dry winter. While I hope for a March miracle of bountiful rainfall to replenish our rivers, reservoirs and groundwater, this winter is an important reminder of the effects of global climate change and a future of increasingly uncertain and dramatic weather patterns.
Our dry winter has provided lots of lovely, sunny winter days. In other parts of the country, people are dealing with too much water or exceptionally cold weather, from flooded riverside farms and homes in the Southeast to incredible snowstorms in the Northeast and dramatic freezing temperatures in Texas. Meanwhile, a new report released by the International Energy Agency reveals that the brief respite in carbon emissions from the shutdown of global economies and travel at the beginning of the pandemic is over. Global carbon emissions have now surpassed even pre-pandemic levels.
As someone who cares deeply about the well-being, health and happiness of both the other-than-human and human worlds, I feel deep concern about the future. Impartial science tells us that unless humans dramatically alter their role within the global ecology, we will create a world that is far less habitable and joyful for future generations of people, plants and animals.
However, there are also many signs of hope, opportunities for change and local inspirations to imagine a different future.
I find a lot of inspiration in the abundant and creative ways that people shift paradigms of farming, urban space and ecological restoration. One of the ways in which activists and environmentalists are creating change is through the work of intersectionality, honoring the reality that economic disparities and systemic racism must be addressed within the context of environmentalism. Healing our planetary ecology must be coupled with increasing equality and access to resources for all.
There are many examples of this concept of intersectionality in practice toward a healthier environment. Turning empty space and depleted land into a community garden in a city creates urban oases for pollinators, foraging birds and biodiversity, while also providing affordable, organic fruits and vegetables to communities located in “food deserts,” areas where access to fresh and nutritious food is limited.
Returning land to tribal control is another way to practice environmental intersectionality. The state of California is built upon a devastating history of dispossessing Indigenous people of their traditional homelands. Since Indigenous people practice traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) such as controlled wildlands burning, planting and pruning to increase biodiversity for food, shelter, medicine and ceremony, landscapes suffer greatly without these co-collaborators. In many parts of the state, national park ecologists, universities and private landholders are recognizing this loss of biodiversity, as well as the opportunity to restore justice and health to wild lands, by returning ecological management to local tribal members.
Within the boundaries of our own ecological community here in Carpinteria, there are currently movements led by Chumash youth to protect both the last undeveloped and unprotected stretch of grassland in the San Marcos Foothills in Santa Barbara and the old growth ridgetop forests of Pine Mountain from clearcutting in our backcountry backyard. Both of these movements reflect the goal of connecting ecological restoration and preservation to movements that restore justice within our human community.
There are also many local farmers and orchardists shifting their growing practices from conventional to organic, or from organic to regenerative and no-till to remove mechanical disturbance and promote the biological health and wellness of soil and our watershed. We are fortunate to be able to support these innovators with our purchasing power at the Carpinteria Farmers Market, Farm Cart Organics and Pacific Health Foods.
Since the pandemic, organic gardening supplies and seeds have soared off shelves. I am so heartened by the interest that people take in growing some of their own food and connecting to nature, especially with their kids. Here at the community garden, spring gardening tasks have begun: building soil fertility by adding rich layers of compost and planting seeds such as root vegetables, leafy greens, culinary herbs, strawberries and potatoes. We are pruning plants and feeding soil in our edible and native plant landscaping all around the garden as well, to ensure that the millions of soil microorganisms, pollinator insects and foraging birds that call the garden home will also be well-fed. You can do the same in pots on your sunny patio, in a raised bed in your tiny yard, or by tucking edible and pollinator-friendly plants into your existing landscape.