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It’s Not all About Energy:
Bring Back Natural Ecosystems to Remove Atmospheric Carbon

By Lori Gill-Pazaris

I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute Freedom and Wildness, as contrasted with a Freedom and Culture merely civil, — to regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society.   Henry David Thoreau, "Walking"

When the European Settlers first arrived on Eastern shores of the New World, about half the country consisted of old growth forest. Today, according to author Alice Outwater in her book, “Water: A Natural History”, only 3% remains - all on federally protected land.

As colonists spread across the continent, they saw a land that seemed full of unlimited resources, a land which they could harvest and shape to their needs. But they soon learned that resources could be exhausted, and they were prompted to move across the country to find fresh sources, wreaking havoc on nature from coast to coast. This is how the original inhabitants, the native peoples may have viewed these invaders, whose lifestyle drew strong contrast to their own. Colonists felled trees for logging and agriculture, introduced non-native farm animals such as hogs that rooted out natural wildlife populations, killed animals for sport, and promoted industries that depleted natural habitat, ecosystems, wildlife, and biodiversity, thereby endangering the American Indian’s way of life.   By 1870, says Outwater, over 60% of forestland had been destroyed. Colonists, according to the organization American forests, believed that trees were either a threat that hid enemies, an obstacle to settlement, a resource to be converted to profit, or all the above. In 1807, Irish author Isaac Weld wrote that Americans had an “unconquerable aversion to trees.” .

The Native Americans, on the other hand, lived in greater harmony with the land. There has been controversy over the impact native peoples had on the land prior to introduction of European settlers, but there is general agreement that indigenous people took only what they needed and did not deplete natural resources. They moved from location to location giving forests, waters, ecosystems, wildlife, and habitats time to replenish. Although they viewed the land as something to be used, they depended on a healthy environment for their own well-being and viewed animals and plants as “kindred spirits”, worthy of their respect.

Today, there is a growing trend to return to some of the practices of native peoples. These include rotational farming and herd grazing, minimizing disruption of soil and habitat, and valuing the life of ecosystems. Most importantly, we now understand that by improving the fertility of the land and allowing natural habitats and ecosystems to thrive, we can sequester significant amounts of carbon deep within the earth.

Outwater credits the New England Transcendentalism movement and Concord’s Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, as its chief proponents, with speaking for the wilderness. Concord’s famous authors and naturalists may not have understood our country’s wealth of forests, grasslands, wetlands, healthy soils, and water in terms of climate change, but they, and the Transcendentalists, brought public attention to the beauty of our native landscapes and the need to preserve them.

Thoreau’s and Emerson’s works set the stage for John Muir, who in the 1870’s, in Outwater’s words, “articulated the environmental idea with a fervor and enthusiasm that commanded widespread attention” and helped influence Presidents Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt and others to create our national parks, wilderness areas, and wildlife sanctuaries.

Efforts to address climate change in Concord and surrounding communities have focused on energy conservation and reducing the release of CO2, especially by promoting use of alternative energies. These steps are critical, but how do we reduce CO2 already released from burning fossil fuels and destruction of habitat, forests, ecosystems, habitats, etc.? Our atmosphere, presently, contains more CO2 and greenhouse gases than it can handle. We must reconsider destroying natural areas for the sake of growth and profit, or even, for renewable energy installation.

The Concord community treasures our town’s history. Our natural history, which Thoreau and Emerson highly valued, is a significant component of this. Finding a balance with nature is critical.

Will you join us in honoring Concord’s natural heritage? It is time to shift our focus from serving as landlords and masters to becoming stewards of our life-giving environment!

Lori Gill-Pazaris is a long time member of ConcordCAN’s Steering Committee and works with a local Biodiversity Collaborative, which strives to protect and restore biodiversity and put CO2 back in the earth.


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