Out of curiosity I searched on the web “How to turn grasslands into forests”. I got zero results, instead the only pages I found were titled “How to turn a forest into grassland” or “How to turn forest land into pastures for grazing”.
Some people say that forests are the ‘end-goal’ of a stable well functioning ecosystem. Looking at the great biodiversity in the rainforests of the Amazon, Congo, and Southeast Asia it seems to make sense.
As the readers of this blog may know, my land used to be a sugar cane plantation that I am trying to turn into a forested land. After all the sugar cane was cut down the land turned into a grassland with the small trees that I planted spread between the tall grasses and other weeds.
It is relatively easy to turn a forest into a grassland.. Cut all the trees and within 1 to 2 years wild grasses will start growing tall. But to turn a grassland into a forest takes decades, even centuries of careful management. It is the Seneca phenomenon. “It takes a long time to build something up, a very short time to destroy it.”
In my curiosity and interests about forests I have read that once upon a time most of the Earth was covered in rainforest, even Europe and presumably all of Africa. Most of Australia was presumably rainforest before the last ice age wich we know from aboriginal myths describing how parts of Australia which are now deserts used to be lush jungles. This is also confirmed by radiocarbon dating. The human species has survived more or less 50 ice-ages in the past 3 million years and the vague information about the ancient past still exist in the most oldest tribal myths of humanity.
The rainforests we have today are the living remnants of these ancient rainforests located around the tropic of cancer, centering on the equator. Altho there can also be found a few temperate rainforests outside of this area.
As the climate of the earth changed and started drying up most of the ancient rainforests of the Earth died out. The coal and oil deposits in the Earth are mostly the remnants of the trees of these rainforests. Some of these died out rainforests turned into temperate forests adapted to cold winters; some of them turned into grasslands; while other areas turned into mostly succulent plants like Cacti and Euphorbia and trees such as Acacia that are extremely drought resistant.
As it is today, nearing 2020 CE.. Most if not all forests including the animals that live in it are in danger of extinction from deforestation.
When I started learning and “understanding” (I do not believe any human being alive today truly understands the Earths climate and global ecosystem) climate change and environmental destruction it became quite clear that as deforestation increases it is not only the trees and the animals that are at risk, but humanity might either become extinct in the near future or live in an uncomfortable harsh world of suffering.
The amount of greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide and methane released into the atmosphere by human activity today might prevent the next ice age from happening, some might say this is a good thing as an ice age is a harsh nearly unlivable habitat. But as I said earlier the human species has already survived around 50 ice-ages. Preventing another ice-age might upset the natural long term 100000+ year cold to hot and hot to cold cycles of the planet Earth in ways we can not even understand. We do not know if these extremely long cycles of Earth exist to stabilize ecosystems of the planet. By disturbing these cycles we might cause the destruction of nearly all life on Earth for next billions of years or our planet will turn into the death planet Mars.
For a very long time now, in regards to the crisis we are facing; I have been concerned with mainly two questions:
1. When did things go wrong?
2. How do we go from here?
I thought that surely the first question will give answers to the second question, and the second question will help understanding the first question.
There have been many mass extinction events on Earth before that radically changed Earths biosphere. Considering we are currently undergoing the 6th mass extinction event of the planet it would be reasonable to look for answers of past extinctions and what lead up to them.
After reading up about past extinctions it did not seem to lead to anything useful other than a lot of existential questions. For example if we consider the Earth in its whole a giant living self-regulating ecosystem are mass extinctions then just the planet regulating itself, and are we as humans then just another iteration for another species to come a long?
Then I thought maybe it is better to start with humanity. Supposedly the human species “Came out of the forest”. And this is where the title of my post “The war between grass lands and forests; and the role humans play in it.” really starts off.
The way I learned the story of human evolution in school was simply said that we ‘were’ monkeys living in the trees; then came down from the trees; walked out of the forest; and became humans.
I do not know to what degree this story is true or not, it does remind me of the Adam and Eve story.
From what I have learned so far I can tell you what did really happen..
At some point in time groups of human beings started cultivating grasses. Grasses were eaten by humans definitely long before that time (At least 15000 years a go), but cultivation is something different. Cultivation means careful management such as selective breeding, saving seeds, plowing the land and so forth. During this time plowing was probably still done with manual hand tools such as a hoe.
Not all human beings started cultivating grasses. As we know that are tribes and human communities today that live in forests and have done so for the past thousands of years and there is no reason to believe they have been doing anything else ever; grasses do not even exist in their diet.
Soon after the start of the cultivation of grasses there was the start of the domestication of animals. Most notable of these domesticated animals was the cow and the horse. Hoofed animals who live on grasses. The cow was used to plow fields on a greater area with less time. Most of Africa used to by covered in humid forests, it was not the dry desert area it is today.
Interestingly the time period were Africa started drying up, turning into a desert grassland without forest cover overlaps exactly with the time frame of the first domestication of cows. This is around 8000 to 12000 years a go.
Note that the end of the last glacial period was around 12000 years a go which started the inter-glacial period in which we are in now. During the height of each ice age most forests including the rainforests turn into grasslands and deserts, except for a few pockets were forests remain. After each ice age which lasts for around 40000 to 100000 years following the cyclical orbit of the Earth, there is an inter-glacial period in which the climate warms up, the ice-sheets retreat to the poles and the forest cover on Earth returns. As the Earth’s climate slowly warms and the ice-sheets melt the climate should turn from cool and dry to more hot and humid which is the perfect climate for forests. Yet since the last 12000 years in areas were there was a high human population density the climate has turned either hot and dry or cool and dry which is the perfect conditions for desert formation; this change in climate can only be explained by human caused deforestation. As far as I am aware there are currently no known climatic cycles, except for ice-ages which can turn entire regions into deserts in such a short span of time; so deforestation seem to be only plausible answer or at least there is a very strong correlation.
I do not know if this has much to do with human caused desertification, but the oldest megalithic stone circle in the world appeared around 11000 to 11500 years a go, in Turkey which is now a dry desert. The interesting thing is that the stones in this place are carved with art such as snakes, lions or tigers, spiders, cows and trees. This must mean that that region at that time must have been full of life with a variety of animals and plants, because deserts are the epitome of death and building such a huge stone structure would have been extremely difficult without nearby sources of food from animals and plants. The date of this site also corresponds to the timeline of the first animal and plant domestication.
And it was not long after that period that the first proto-cities were started being built around 5000 to 7000 years a go. And since then up to the present day there is a long history of civilizations springing up, forests receding; grasslands and deserts appearing; followed by the collapse of the civilization. Just to give you an overview…
The Indus Valley civilization, one of the first civilizations of India / Pakistan is now a bunch of ruins in a desert with barely any vegetation. There once was ample water and thick forests, but now a dry driver is all that left. The ancient Harappans needed a lot of firewood to fire their stone bricks for houses and other buildings. The resulting deforestation caused the climate to change and region to dry up.
Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq, Turkey, Syria, and Arabia) wich is by many heralded as one of the first great civilizations called Sumer, I would rather call a big failure. Mespotomia was not the arid desert we know of it today. It was once covered by great forests that the ancient Sumerians cut down. The Poem of Gilgamesh describes how the man Gilgamesh cuts down trees and is then punished by the gods and the lands cursed with fire and drought.
Most of England and Ireland was covered by forests. After it was colonized by the first humans to enter there, England and Ireland slowly turned into mainly grasslands with sheeps and horses grazing the lands.
Italy, Spain, Greece, and Judea (modern day Israel) were covered by forests. But with the arrival of the Greek and Roman empires the lands were quickly deforested to have food for fire, houses, ships, and war machines.
Only after the demise of the Roman empire (Wich was partially caused by lacking resources from forest loss) did the forests somewhat recover and return.
Many parts of Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Iceland used to be entirely covered in forests. But then came the vikings chopping down all the woods to build their ships, houses, and weapons.
When the colonizers cut down the trees in the USA this caused the climate to rapidly dry up and a desert to form which was the leading cause of the dust bowl.
The colonizers in Australia and New Zealand rapidly started deforesting the lands wich is still on going up to the present day, causing the Australian climate to dry up with more intense droughts every year.
And of course with the industrial revolution deforestation rapidly increased all over the world for wood, mines, oil, and higher demands of food. And as a result all over the world the climate is becoming more dry with long periods of droughts.
Today people of the ‘civilized world’ think that those tribes who live in the forests are ‘primitive’. That they of some sorts are still monkeys who got left behind by human evolution to a point that we deny their humanity. Relics of an ancient time that should be forgotten. But the reality is that the way of life of these tribes would have allowed humanity to live for I don’t know maybe a billion years or more. And yet climate scientists are saying that humanity is faced with extinction in the next 50 to 200 years, because of the way we live.
As I see it. Today we do not only have distinction between two ecosystems, namely grasslands and forests. But also two separate ways of thinking, namely grassland thinking and forest thinking. I belief it is partially the environment we live in that shapes our thinking.
Grassland thinking mostly has the characteristics of the modern technological world.
Such as short term thinking. Grasses are usually harvested within one year, while for trees to grow it takes decades to centuries. Especially in the financial world we see short term profits are being favored over long term consequences.
Another characteristic is uniformity. Today nearly everything is mass produced. Everything looks exactly the same. Cities, cars, houses, phones, computers, tvs, and clothing. It is all looking the same anywhere you are in the world. Grasses too all look the same, especially mono-cultured weed-free fields of grasses. Go into a forest and you will find a huge variety of trees, herbs, and weeds. Even 2 trees that are the same species look different with their branches in all different directions.
When tree planting is done with grass-like thinking it usually results in a mono-culture stand of trees of all the same age and height like a field of grass.
Shallow thinking is happening more in the world. Just as grasses have very shallow roots, people no longer think critically and creatively about issues. Politics and government policies are riddled with easy solutions that do not solve the real problem, but are just a band-aid to cover it up. With things like social media, facetune, and autotune it is only the shallow appearance that is appreciated.
Trees have long roots that penetrate deep into the soil pumping up nutrients and water from far below the earth, connecting to a vast network of fungi that helps regulate the flow of water and nutrients.
Aspects of the grass-land thinking can also be seen in the typical American lawns which are supposed to look like ideal grazed pasture landscapes.
The “Food not lawns” movement is the anti-pole of lawn culture and shows more tree-like thinking.
So how do we get out of the mess we created?
When I was a child I would always mess up my room with toys, then my mother would scold me and tell me to clean my room. She said “If you make a mess, you should clean it up too.” But when it comes to our environment we do not do this. We pollute our environments and expect somebody else will clean it up or that it does not matter.
When our house was being constructed on the farm the construction workers left plastic garbage everywhere. They just throw it around like it is nothing. It took us a few days to clean everything up. When I walk near houses of the other farmers here all around their houses and on the paths there is plastic garbage, even children just throw their plastic garbage around the trees and between the plants.
In my own hometown I try to pick up all the plastic garbage of other people around a river once a week. One day after I was done picking up garbage and putting it in the garbage bin, I was eating an apple. When I was done with the apple I threw the apple in between the plants knowing it would decompose and provide nutrients for the plants, but then a police officer suddenly grabbed me from behind. He scolded me that I should throw garbage in the garbage bin and that he could give me a fine for it, but instead let me off with a warning.
It seems like people are totally confused about garbage and organic matter.
Sadly, I do not think we can ever completely restore nature again to its unpolluted form. The damage we have done to the environment is far too great, we have disturbed and unbalanced the global nitrogen, carbon, phosphorus, and water cycles of our planet Earth. The environment is not a messy room of toys you can clean up, but rather a deep cut in flesh; and when flesh heals it leaves behind a scar. And if we ever heal the wounds we have done to the planet we will have to live with the permanent scars that have been created.
I also do not belief in the technological fixes to climate change such as electric cars, solar panels, windmills, and dams. Altho such things are good on the surface and it is better than nothing, but to mass produce alternative energy resources we need to consume massive amounts of oil, mine minerals, and pollute the soils and waters with chemical by-products of the manufacturing process. And with the recent news I have read about how companies and governments are cutting down entire forests to replace them with solar panels. And projects of hydro-electrical dams that destroy entire ecosystems I do not see any future in this. Jevon’s paradox also makes me belief any technology that promises that we can reduce our energy consumption because it is more efficient is untrustworthy. For those who do not know.. Jevon’s paradox is the fact that when an inefficient large energy consuming machine is replaced by a more efficient smaller energy consuming machine, the total energy consumption increases. For example when the steam engine was replaced by the more efficient gasoline engine the total energy consumption increased.
These technological fixes are shallow solutions that is akin to a person who has rotting teeth from consuming massive amounts of sugar and wants their teeth to be healed without lessening his sugar intake. Sure such a person can restore all teeth with technology, but without decreasing the consumption of sugar the rest of the body will be destroyed.
We want to get rid of our environmental problems without decreasing our energy consumption, without changing our modern technological society.
It is not that we need more energy-saving machines, we need to actually change our way of lives.
What we need today is tree-like and forest-like thinking. Thinking about long term goals and the future generations; allowing creativity and a wide array and variety of ideas to flourish; and deep critical thinking to penetrate beyond the meaning of the surface.
In the last 10000 years it has been our farming systems that has sown the seeds of destruction we have today. It is the way of grass-like farming.
The philosophies and goals of this grass-like farming is the same goals and philosophies as modern technological civilization: The absolute control and domination of the natural world for the growth of human civilization. In this model farming only exists to feed ever growing cities, and ever growing populations. As cities by themselves do not have any natural resources they must import all resources from outside of the city. The farming systems outside of the city follows the same mentality as the people inside the city.. Speed, efficency, maximum profits, unlimited growth for the sake of growth, and a fundamental disconnection of natural processes.
In this sense grass-like farming is an extension of the city.
The alternative to grass-like farming is natural farming. Natural farming comes in a wide variety of names such as “zero oil farming”, “zero carbon farming”, “conservative farming”, “regenerative agriculture”, “rainforest farming”, “food forestry”, “do-nothing farming”, “no-till/no-dig farming”, “shamanistic farming”, “spiritual farming”, “permaculture”, and so on. All of these have different methods, practices and philosophies, but they all share a general sense of tree-like thinking.
Petro-chemical farming and organic farming do not belong in this category as I firmly belief petro-chemical farming and organic farming are two sides of the same coin of grass-like thinking.
One of the fundamental characteristics in my opinion of natural farming is no or barely no consumption of oil and its derivative products, and consequently barely no artificial production of carbon dioxide, nor methane. Both petro-chemical farming and organic farming consume large amounts of oil.
One of the goals natural farming is the conservation of nature and the integration of human beings into the ecosystem of nature.
Now to end this article with a disclaimer. I do not want to say that if you eat grasses or grow grasses that it is bad, nor am I trying to say that cultivating grasses does not belong in farming (Altho it is possible to sustain onself entirely on root crops, fruits, and veggies for carbohydrates). I myself am trying to grow rice and millet; and I eat plenty of bread, pasta, and rice.
The point is the way of thinking. It is possible to apply tree-like thinking to fields of rice or wheat, such a field would not look or behave the same as an ordinary field cultivated with grass-like thinking. For example I have seen people grow rice and wheat underneath trees. Inter-cropping and no-till are becoming more popular each day because it conserves the soil fertility in the long term. It has also been proven several times that multiple shading trees on cow grazing pastures benefits both the grasses around it and the cows who graze nearby.
Also as I have said earlier.. We need to live with the scars created by our ancestral past. We can never go back, we can only move forward; I just hope we move forward in a way that does not repeat the same mistakes our ancestors made.
Thank you for reading everyone.