Finding Sustainability in Ecosystem Restoration– John D. Liu November 2012
Here's an in-depth article by John Liu, who knows what he's talking about: an insanely ambitious, ongoing attempt to restore China's loess plateau:
In 1995, as the Chinese government and people were beginning an ambitious effort to restore the cradle of Chinese civilization, I was asked by the World Bank to document the “Loess Plateau Watershed Rehabilitation Project”. Originally the Loess Plateau had been fully vegetated with massive forests and grasslands. Resources extracted from the giant forests, rushing rivers, and abundance of the earth in this place blossomed into the magnificence of the Han, the Qin and the Tang dynasties. The accomplishments of the early Chinese dynasties, based in this area, rank among the greatest human scientific and artistic achievements of any age. The Loess Plateau gave birth to the Han race, the largest ethnic group on the planet, and the plateau is generally considered by historians and geographers to be the second place on Earth where human beings began to use settled agriculture.
As bright as the beginning was, the area over time suffered and eventually was almost completely denuded of vegetation. By 1000 years ago the Loess Plateau had been abandoned by the wealthy and powerful and by the mid-1990s was famous mainly for a continuous cycle of flooding, drought and famine known as “China’s Sorrow”. Over the years since beginning this inquiry in 1995 I have witnessed an extraordinary transformation on the Loess Plateau. The changes have been brought about by differentiating and designating ecological and economic land, infiltrating rainfall, terracing, and consciously increasing biomass and organic material through massive planting of trees in the ecological land and using better agriculture methods in the economic lands.
I have been on a very long journey of inquiry since beginning to study China’s Loess Plateau. This article contains much of the journey, the wonder and beauty I have seen along the way and the conclusions that I have come to. My experiences have made me realize that while we live in interesting times, we are not helpless in the face of the many challenges we are grappling with. Biodiversity loss, human induced climate changes, increasing incidence of extreme weather, pollution, food insecurity, desertification, human population growth, financial crisis, racism, war, violence, and migration, are just some of the concerns that we have. What exactly is happening? Why do we seem to be on a downward spiral, leading seemingly toward an eventual catastrophic collapse? Are all these negative outcomes inevitable? Is it “God’s Wrath” directed at us because we have sinned and because of this we have been cast out from paradise? Should we take that literally or could this be a poetic metaphor intended to lead us to understanding? The inquiry that began with a short assignment to document a project in China has led me to every continent on Earth and to cast my thoughts across historical, evolutionary and geologic time. My focus in the beginning was to gain a better understanding of the biophysical aspects of Earth Systems but has more recently turned to how this is related to human activity, work and the economy. Surprising implications are emerging. What was at first distant from current events is now suggesting a new development paradigm that could address the most serious problems we face with profound implications for the present and the future.
Studying the Loess Plateau has proven to be broadly analogous to studying other cradles of civilization on the planet. By reducing biodiversity, biomass and accumulated organic matter the people of the Loess Plateau destroyed the ability to infiltrate and retain rainfall in biomass and organic soils, causing an area the size of France to dry out....Read more...