Beyond Despair – Global Earth Repair

At the Global Earth Repair Conference May 3-5 I experienced a paradigm shift in the structure of my thinking. I learned a few new things, but mostly it rearranged what I know into a new pattern. Grief about the inevitability of decline, not just of humans but of our kin in the animal and plant queendoms, has been rising in me, revealing a depth of pain I had been denying. The inexorable  CO2 in the atmosphere line on the graph has gone up. As has human population. Toxins. and on and on. As many say, we have already baked our disruption and possible demise as a vigorous species into the CO2 in the atmosphere, the melting ice, the warming ocean. So many of us have worked for 30+ years to avoid arriving here – but here we are. That’s another grief – the heroic effort to shift direction and still going over the cliff.

When I wrote Blessing the Hands that Feed Us I saw a glimmer. Books like The Soil will Save Us and others about rotational grazing, holistic management, no till farming, cover cropping, organic farming and on and on showed clearly that a if not the major “culprit” of CO2 in the atmosphere isn’t burning fossil fuels, it’s industrial agriculture and infrastructure that disturbs living soils.

CO2 in the atmosphere isn’t an evil to be attacked.

It’s a symptom to be treated by restoring soils and reinvigorating ecosystems that by their diversity and interweaving of mutual benefit nourish and heal all members. CO2 is just in the wrong place – the atmosphere rather than the soil held beautifully together and enriched by integrated practices. Wow, we can capture CO2 in plants AND SOILS to heal this earth – but how do we do it at scale? Local food seemed to be a distributed intervention – OWL (organic whole and local) foods as significant parts of every diet everywhere drives building healthy soils and healthy economies.

I did what I could to promote scaling local food laterally (see my TEDx on Relational Eating) but the systemic barriers to local food are great and most people default to long supply chain grocery store food. We have not only lost soils. We’ve lost local food SYSTEMS – distribution, canneries, slaughterhouses, cold storage, commercial kitchens, convenient outlets for eaters, preservation of ag land, support for local farmers through grants/ education/ subsidies/ tax breaks, and legal systems to favor local production. Rebuilding healthy supply chains is a tough go in this distorted capitalist system that discounts nature and outsources problems in the name of freedom. Another too little too late and too weak intervention in this ginormous problem we all face. Good work. Not sufficient.

I did a self-study of permaculture and learned a bit about how moving water through a property to use it all well with no runoff was a key to transforming bare or degraded land into a garden.

Under the banner of large scale eco-system restoration at this Global Earth Repair Conference I arranged all these pieces differently.

“Keep it in the ground” isn’t just about fossil fuels.
It’s also about CO2 and WATER.

Keep the water in the ground to restore ecosystems. Feed the roots of the perennial plants selected for mutual benefit well watered so they dig deeper and deeper, sending more and more CO2 into the ground. This is the healing cycle for climate change.

So far we have only diagnosed the problem and told the people that much of what we love is terminal. Or developed tech to solve the problem – like radiation and chemo for cancer god bless them for what they can do. But we have not approached this as healing the living earth which knows everything about maintaining a healthy balance, it’s about driving in more human created interventions in a linear problem solving manner as is our custom. We attack the attackers – fossil fuel companies – without a healing strategy.

As humans it is so easy to treat nature as a backdrop and food as a production and distribution issue. it’s so easy to not understand that we depend on our mother earth for our health and lives and families.

Of course us hippie/ tree huggers have beens saying this for decades, but these ideas have not crossed the great wall of resistance in our consumer culture – that life is about taking, getting, having, discarding at ever greater scale. (go back to my intent 30 years ago to write Your Money or Your Life!). Unfortunately we have built the edifice of the modern economy and way of life on this destructive foundation so getting back to a different ground will be massive and painful – which healing processes often are.

Along with the Keep it in the Ground Fossil Fuel movement we need a :::Keep WATER AND CO2 in the Ground:::. Along with the divestment movement that is squeezing the life out of the Fossil Fuel industry, we need an investment movement for ecosystem restoration.

Training youth who desperately want to heal the land/ water/ ecosystems of this earth, who would, with training and support and systems, deploy across the planet – white, black, brown and native – to do the work of healing and planting. This needs to scale massively in partnership with the resistance movements.

Once I got that “water is life” and soil will save us and Keep CO2 and Water in the Ground at scale needs to be at least a parallel context for the climate movement i could see a place for all of us to work for the earth at every level of scale.

1. we need to build an eco-system restoration movement at equal scale to the resisting Fossil Fuels movement – a heavy lift unless the leaders of the climate movement take this on as a necessary complementary approach.
2. we need to keep CO2 and WATER in the ground everywhere, on our properties, in our towns and agricultural land and forests and degraded landscapes at the level of a Marshall Plan or Man on the Moon mobilization.
3. we can all study permaculture to understand the healing systems on our planet, even if we never get our hands dirty
4. we need to understand, as ecological economists have been telling us for years, that the economy is a sub system of the living earth, not an expanding enterprise that uses the living earth as resources.
5. and on and on and on, details TK

When I say WE, i mean it. This is everyone’s work, everywhere. Not as a burden but as belonging.

Everything we need to know about earth repair is plenty to get started. Earth repair will create jobs and is inherently local and distributed. Earth repair may not save the generations alive today but will restore the capacity of future generations to thrive. We passed by sustainability goals of not drawing down further capacity, of leaving a fair share for future generations. We’ve spent their inheritance. but we can start, now, SAVING THE EARTH (literally, soil, ecosystems, water in landscapes) for our children’s children’s children.

This is a context shift from resistance to healing. of course we need both, but with only resistance our grief will be unbearable and our helplessness disabling. We need to have somewhere to dig in to make things better – at every level of scale.

In this context of earth repair, there are so so so many scientists and permaculturists and solutionaries and on and on and on at the ready – but we need movement builders to do what we do best… to build the story and public will and funding and on and on and on.

Lord knows how – but thank God for that. Let us pray – and dig.

NOTE: Reposting from Facebook without editing as this is fresh and important to me and I want to invite you on this journey of discovery. Next posts will have more links to follow and ways to learn and participate.

PS – to see the panel that helped me see anew, click here. you won’t be disappointed.


  1. I appreciate what you have offered and outlined here Vicki. I am 51, and I do agree that youth are in desperate need to be supported, to harness their energy, to be trained to deploy around the globe to engage people and communities to “keep it in the ground” and I know you are not ageist, however I do want to point out that we need people of all ages to know that their efforts count. Look at all the silver-haired people using their retirement years as activists on the front lines. As for young people, they not only need to be trained, but they need to be financially supported. A place that includes free housing for such people is imperative because if anyone, youth, whomever, is to be a fulltime activist, they cannot necessarily have their survival income tied to it. It reminds me of the concept of a ‘safe-house’ where someone essentially donates a house to allow activists to live in free, as their homebase. If Boomers and other elders want to be a part of the revolution, I suggest they turn their residences, their properties into manages legacy safe-house communities. Anyway….in reading your statement “Along with the divestment movement that is squeezing the life out of the Fossil Fuel industry, we need an investment movement for ecosystem restoration. ” I immediately envisioned the Yin-Yang, Dao, symbol, the circular directions represented by the ‘keeping it in the ground’ portion pointing downward, and the investment for restoration moving upwards. Movements need symbols to hold the energy and inspire people, look at the Extinction Rebellion and the brilliant time-glass symbol.

    1. Agreed and I am doing just that with the real estate and resources I have and of course being mouthy i am a mouthpiece for what you are saying. At 74 I am not prepared to sleep on the floor and do heavy labor outdoors from sun-up to sun down. I could when I was under 30. But I have wisdom and words and can move spiritual, psychological and social energy – as can you and you did it well in this response. I would dearly love for people with resources to support people on the front lines who are in debt and can’t find paid employment. Patreon is a platform whereby people can ask their networks for financial support. As are indie-logo and gofundme. I think the scale we need involves large landowners or governments to at very least employ these eco-restoration teams to do the landscape healing needed, and we need the kind of funding locked into national budgets at the scale of the Peace Corps. The Catholic Church, for example, had inherited the land estates from many wealthy people worldwide. I don’t know how to do any of this, but i am coming to believe it must be done at this scale – and the boldness of it can hold and integrate efforts down to our gardens.


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