Focusing on climate-related disaster mitigation and adaptation, our Feb 2020 Community Call featured Kyle Leach from Sierra Streams Institute (old mining shafts clean-ups and watershed restoration) and Sister Pat Bergen from Sisters of St. Joseph’s with the amazing Mirabeau Water Garden Project in New Orleans.
KYLE LEACH – Sierra Streams Institute
Kyle talked through how Sierra Streams works with abandoned mines with a risk-based clean up plan, that aims to neutralise and nourish the soil back to health. The worst waste is usually dug up and placed in hazardous waste landfills. The rest of the contamination is minimised by ‘activating and consolidating’, followed by being buried onsite. Stabilising and restoring the mine tailings is important so that poisoned sediment eroding into waterways is minimised. Sierra Streams then restore the surface area, to make it erosion-proof, and revegetate it.
Through this work Kyle has been expanding to restoring whole watersheds, where all climate disaster mitigation factors are considered (wildfires, landslides, floods). The low bio-matter status of the mining land means that restoring the soil health is essential to improving wildlife habitats. Bio-solids, a by-product of wastewater treatment plants, are added which increase carbon uptake, improves soil stability and reduces the bioavailability of the metals. Sierra Streams have also started to use ‘biochar’, a by-product of wood-powered plants. Biochar is a higher carbon sink and binds metals like mercury into the matrix of the biochar. The soil is inoculated with soil microbes to increase the biological activity, and the soil is hydro-seeded to stabilise it initially.
If you live in the California area, Sierra Streams welcomes volunteers. It is a nonprofit that uses Citizen/Community-based science approaches. There are volunteer days, like clean-ups, invasive plant removal and plantings. They highly value their volunteer team and keep people informed with what their data is contributing to, so they know the work they are doing is making a real difference. To find out more: https://sierrastreamsinstitute.org
SISTER PAT BERGEN – Mirabeau Water Garden Project
Our second guest was Sister Pat Bergen on our Bloom Community Call, and she talked about the Sisters of St. Joseph’s amazing project in New Orleans. Sister Pat is part of a sisterhood of nuns in the USA who had a convent in New Orleans which was badly damaged in the floods after Hurricane Katrina. They needed to decide what to do with the land. They didn’t want to build houses on the 25 acre piece of land because in the next big flood people would lose their houses… so they held the land, and prayed for years. What could the land do that would serve the New Orleans community in the same way the Sisters had served for so many years?
An architect named David Wagner eventually approached them, with an idea. To turn the land into a giant wetland, a ‘Water Garden’ he called it, which would play a major role in stopping the surrounding area from flooding. This was an answer to prayer!
How it works…
The New Orleans levies are only designed to take 2 inches of rain an hour. Any more than that overwhelms the system, the levies fail, and the city gets flooded. So the intention of the Mirabeau Water Garden design is to take the local flood waters into the garden and slow the water down, so the flood waters don’t overwhelm the city system. The water is filtered and released back into the city system when it can handle it.
The Water Garden will keep a surrounding 3780 acres from flooding completely. It will ‘minimise’ the flooding for 6000 acres from flooding, and 9000 acres will experience a ‘diminishment’ of flooding.
This project has not broken ground yet (tenders are out for construction now), but already it has won a Federal government competition for Water Resiliency in Urban Areas. In 2016 Sister Pat was able to present a check of $143 million to the City of New Orleans, and $93 million to the State of Louisiana, for works in those areas. The $10 million needed to create the Mirabeau Water Garden (without the education centre) is additionally allocated from a grant by FEMA.
A good discussion followed, with amazing offers of help being matched. Kyle will work with Nick from EVO on grants to do watershed restoration on their property. Christopher from Burners Without Borders offered to connect Sister Pat with the BWB volunteer base in New Orleans. Bloom offered to use our networks to help share the designs and story of the Mirabeau Water Garden, as it is now known that if NYC and Houston had these water gardens, much less damage would have been endured from hurricane events. These designs could be built in cities across the world if the message is spread far and wide.
The call ended with Sister Pat answering our key question…
If you want to geek out and see the full details of the call –
For the past ten years I’ve been researching the things that people can do to restabilize our climate, soil, and water cycles. Lately I keep smiling at realizing a pattern among many of them – they’re sexy! Let me tell you about the awesome things you can do or support that are great for you, great for love, and great for the planet and all life here:
Oysters. They’re sexy, delicious, and nutritious, yum! Oysters are a profitable farming crop and they create beneficial ecosystems for all life. Humans have destroyed 85% of oyster stands in the world, and resuscitating them will help everyone. Oysters clean water by filtering nitrogen and phosphorus – both problematic byproducts of industrial agriculture that end up in our waterways – and by making water more clear which allows more sunlight through, nurturing plant life. Their shells absorb carbon dioxide, and they provide habitats to many other marine creatures, as well as sheltering them from climate change effects. Oysters also can provide seawalls – sheltering cities from sea level rise and storm surges by reducing erosion and growing natural barriers – more economically positive than building concrete barriers. Talk about stacking functions (a Permaculture term that refers to making gardens or other systems so each element in them provides multiple interconnected benefits)! Zooming out a bit, I recommend reading about vertical ocean farming. Greenwave is one organization that makes open source business/technical models for this that entrepreneurs can adopt. And they call it polyculture vertical farming – that’s sexy :).
Sidenote wonderous thing – oysters can change sexes back and forth! (similar but different to nudibranchs, my favorite sea creature).
Caveats – climate change is also making it riskier to eat oysters. If harvested in brackish waters over 68 degrees, they can contain the deadly bacteria Vibrio vulnificus. Changing ocean temperature and acidification can also degrade the nutritional benefits of oysters, and harm the creatures themselves. Scientists are researching specific species of oysters that are hardy to these changes, to advocate farmers to grow them. (Incidentally, scientists are similarly researching resilient coral species to plant, to stave off the estimated 99% die off of all coral we’re likely to experience.) Lastly, oysters can accumulate copper, some species moreso than others. So…….. if you like oysters, there are some incentives for you to reduce your carbon emissions, contribute to carbon drawdown projects, and go zero waste so you don’t contribute to metals ending up in waterways.
Hemp and cannabis. As more places in the world legalize or decriminalize this plant, more research is being done into its health benefits. From relaxation to introspective insights that help your life, and much more, cannabis can be a friend when used in moderation. I’ve known cancer patients who aggressively used it to beat back their diseases. You can grow it in your backyard again now in many places. Its stalks provide fiber for clothing, paper, and building materials. I’m stoked that in my hometown in Montana, which is mostly an industrial agriculture community, there is going to be a hempcrete processing plant! Check out this gorgeous hempcrete roundhouse the folks at Starseed Creative built – it’s a good building material for people who have chemical sensitivities and allergies. There are cannabis lubes to get your lady bits high, cannabis food helps with chronic pain, and many people find their creativity enhanced through the plant. Yums all around. (Sidenote, concrete building is incredibly carbon intensive.)
My friend Will Kleidon, CEO of Ojai Energetics and former local Bloom organizer, was telling me about his research into the coevolution of humans and hemp. He described that humans tended to eat more cannabis during periods of stress, helping us weather the moment, physically and psychologically. I’m convinced that oppression of plants with psychoactive and healing properties is one of the roots of climate change in a strange way. The social inequalities and disconnection from nature that that form of cultural control / colonization has asserted, traps people in cycles of poverty and disease where they have to work in extractive systems designed for inequality. This is one of my motivations for working on Bloom Network, and supporting decriminalization of all entheogenic plants and fungi.
A side benefit with cannabis legalization that is sexy, is the creative product packaging, and the cultural changes that will come about with its more widespread and open usage. (Also, cannabis packaging is ripe for an ecological overhaul, as so much about it is wasteful. I will blog about this in the future.) I used to live in Grass Valley, CA (haha, I know), one of the capitals of cannabis growing in the U.S. It was really incredible to see what a local cannabis culture engendered in the community there – prior to legalization and the expensive permitting, families had time to explore other arts, healing traditions, and making music. People were more likely to buy clothing that used natural fibers and dyes, participate in local economies, and inspiring approaches to education – there are many public charter schools and options for homeschooling. My neighbor’s daughter was studying ecology and politics in her last two years of high school, including studying abroad. Another neighbor kid was in a wilderness skills afterschool class – he showed me that you can eat blackberry leaves (they grow in delicious abundance all over there) – he was so cute showing me to be careful to check the underside because some of the leaves have spikes. For a time there was a whole store there dedicated to what used to be called witchcraft – herbalism for people to make their own remedies for common problems such as colds, pain, and the transition of menopause.
Similar to what I said about oysters and copper, heads up that hemp is also a bioaccumulator of toxins, absorbing heavy metals and toxic chemicals from soil. If you’re eating CBD for health, it’s wise to check your source’s soil health.
I’m going to toss being gay in here as a sexy thing that’s good for the planet. We (mostly) don’t add babies, and as a broad generalization we make more love around us, if only because we know how much it hurts to not be loved by society for who we are, so we often tend to be gentler and empathic to those around us. And more diverse ways to express sexuality = more love to go around :).
So there you have it, just a few of the sexy things that are good for humans and good for the planet. I sometimes view climate change as an invitation to come into deeper relationship with nature again. While nature can be ferocious, I’ve mostly found that connecting with her brings infinite joy, learning, relaxation to my body, awe, and respect for all the interconnected forms of life that exist here. I hope this article encourages you to walk toward that and connect with nature in the sexy and good feeling ways that you want to.
List in progress! Is there a movement you’d like to see listed here? Contact us here.
Our intention with Bloom Network is not to circumscribe people into one movement or into our “brand”, but to help people find regenerative spectrum activities and groups they can participate in and contribute to, and to boost the visibility of initiatives that are doing wonderful work for all of our well-being on this planet <3.
Voices of Amerikua – collaborative documentary and multimedia lab featuring Indigenous- Native American- First Nation communities of North, Central and South America and their efforts to protect their Culture, Land and Rights
Fibershed – how to produce clothing in a regenerative way
Restorative Justice – Instead of putting people in prison, a mediator guides all parties involved in and impacted by a crime into a process to decide together how to best restore community well being and safety. It always(?) has better outcomes and is way cheaper than putting people in jail or prison.
It’s not yet widely known that the construction industry is a huge source of pollution and waste. Additionally, chemical sensitivities are increasingly common. Many of the fibers and materials people use in business buildings and homes offgas chemicals. The transport and packaging of these materials also creates a lot of waste.
“According to new research by construction blog Bimhow, the construction sector currently contributes 23% of air pollution, 50% of the climate change causing waste products, 40% of drinking water pollution, and 50% of landfill wastes. In separate research by the U.S. Green Building Council, the construction industry accounts for 40% of worldwide energy usage, not including ongoing energy use.” (via The Abundant Edge)
Natural building methods and regenerative building reference traditional building techniques used in place-specific cultures. Cobb building, hempcrete, and bamboo construction are three examples of this. Mycelium-based insulation from mushrooms is another example. Whatever building materials are used, it is also possible to design buildings that are net zero and net positive in terms of energy useage.
This wiki article is an index of techniques and resources for further information, as well as organizations that focus on this space.
International Living Future Institute – This website has a glossary related to what they call living buildings: certifications, labels, and initiatives, as well as case studies of zero energy buildings and living communities.
This is the start to an entry on mycoremediation: basic information, trainings, and companies or collectives that specialize in it.
What is It?
Mycoremediation is generally the practice of using fungi (mushrooms) to decontaminate the environment. It can often be done cheaply on a DIY scale. Common applications are oil spills and soil containing contaminants from synthetic dyes.
Wikipedia’s entry has a high level overview of the various kinds of pollutants that mushrooms can transform or accumulate.
Corenewal – ecosystem restoration in the Amazon rainforest. Current needs: local community relationship building and financial capacity
Female and Fungi – Through
mycological education and community organizing, Female and Fungi
explores how lessons from the fungi can teach us to strengthen our local
and global communities by connecting deeply with nature and working
towards a holistic and healthy future.