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A Call to Large Scale Earth Healing and Lessons from the Loess Plateau (Video)

The world is coming unglued. The world burns. What are we going to do about it?

Map of fires in Russia

As I type, half of Russia is on fire after its hottest summer on record, Pakistan is dealing with the biggest floods in living memory and Australia is still in the clutches of a decade long drought. The last decade, worldwide, was the hottest since records began, and 2010 may break the records of 1998 and 2005 to become the hottest year we’ve ever known. We could spend weeks just examining the extreme weather events going on on a country by country basis.

Today we are crossing thresholds in our destruction of nature that will make all our subsequent efforts at earth healing even harder than they ever should have been. We have removed eco-systems, and their services, to such an extent that dangerous feedback loops are in progress. Climate is fast becoming a runaway train – and we’re its passengers.

Consider the fires in Russia, for example – millions of rain-producing trees are going up in smoke, taking their carbon with it. Trees growing in the ground are a carbon sink. On fire, they’re a carbon source. The Pakistan floods kill trees and plants likewise. These will later dry out and much of it too will end up in the atmosphere. With less trees in place, flooding events will occur even more often, and the soils these plants held in place will be washed away. The arctic permafrost is melting, releasing the powerful heat trapping gas, methane, at unprecedented levels – promising even more temperature increases. Our oceans are acidifying, threatening to turn the world’s largest carbon sink into a carbon source. And so on….

The dominoes are falling. It’s like nature is shouting to us: "If you don’t appreciate the services of these systems, then I’ll remove them all entirely".

We are facing crises on an unprecedented scale. Atop the foundations of an energy crisis, a climate crisis and a soil, water and biodiversity crisis, rests that mother of all crises – a food crisis. Crops are going up in smoke or are being washed away in deluges, our precious soils with them, while world grain stores are at their lowest levels and production is in decline whilst demand is rising. Such a food crisis, in the context of today’s population levels, translates, in turn, to a social/political/economic crisis on a scale that will make the convulsions of WWII look like a walk in the park.

It’s getting ugly, yet many are still not even awake to the perfect storm that is upon us. And of the few who are, many are discussing light bulbs and hybrids, cap and trade and recycling. They’re discussing being a little ‘less bad’, not recognising the urgent need for us – all 6.8 billion of us (and counting, at a rate of 1 billion every twelve years…) – to immediately become a positive element within our biosphere. And we must move fast! (The proverb ‘a stitch in time saves nine’ really rings true when considering these feedback loops….)

There is a solution though! That being a widespread, collaborative effort to assist nature in restoring, at scale, the biological processes that have, until today, kept this world stable for millennia. The solutions are in design, and in the observation and replication of natural symbiotic systems. We don’t need just less cars, we need more biology – more photosynthesis and more life! We might not be able to have rainforests everywhere, but we can certainly have food forests everywhere! The video clips below share a glimmer of hope along these lines. It documents an incredible journey of restorative transition for a 35,000 square kilometre area in the Leoss Plateau in the north of China. It is a journey that begins with completely eroded, overgrazed land where floods were a constant nightmare, and ends in terraced green hills, flood and food stability and prosperity. And, it only took ten years.

Give it a watch, and, as you do, consider what kind of social/political/economic systems would be the most conducive to achieving similar results in other places worldwide. It’s an interesting mix of top-down ‘interference’ (both in terms of blanket regulations and financial investment) combined with land ‘privatisation’, and participatory involvement at all levels. It reinforces for me the need to build resilient, localised, holistically educated and politically engaged communities whose members don’t discard government, but who through greater involvement in the decision-making process (including choosing their representatives) effectively become government and self-determine to build a world based on land stewardship and voluntary simplicity. We cannot act as individuals alone, working in our own self-interest, and achieve the kind of results you’ll see in the video below. We need to work collaboratively, and sometimes sensible, holistically discussed decisions will need to be enforced on individuals who either can’t see the big picture, or who don’t care.

Further reading:



  1. Thanks for Sharing this Craig.

    A few years ago I was able to see John Liu speak at an environmental conference. He is the filmmaker that made most of those above videos. His story that he tells is incredible, and the way the Chinese government has transformed that huge area is incredible!

    As he told it, their main impetus for doing it was economic. It turns out that it is cheaper to do all the above (swales, replanting, hiring thousands to work on huge tracks of land) to reduce erosion, than it is to continue to dredge the yellow river every year.

    I think this is an important point for the story above, because we can sell this kind of work to governments by speaking their economic language. We can replant indigenous forests, providing economic and food security for a huge amount of people, and resources for the future, AND save you money while doing it (on dredging, on flood and other natural disaster relief). The benefits are many, many times the costs.

    I’m ready. Lets do it!

    Christian Shearer
    Terra Genesis

    1. I can’t help but wonder what percentage of the government’s resolve was driven by their immediate experience of sandstorms in Beijing, aside from any economic interests.

  2. I think I’ve heard that old trees of Siberian Larch and pain tree can survive a forest fire, but could not find any source for this at Internet. Can anybody support me with links and information about this subject? F.ex. how old must a Siberian forest be to withstand a forest fire (if it can)?

  3. I take that back now that I listen again. I guess he is doing a pretty good approximation of the original German.

  4. Thanks Craig for sharing this. Very inspiring at the same time while watching the documentary I cannot help thinking about the World Bank’s involvement in this project. It is this same organisation that is funding major dams all over China and the world, and other destructive projects in third world countries. And I hope those corns and crops are not GMO and supplied to them by Monsanto and the likes.

    It would be very sad to rehabilitate the area and then grow monoculture GMO crops. The cycle of poverty will return, eventually.

    Cheers – Zainil

  5. Excellent post. This example of regenerative ag might be the largest and most dramatic that I know of. The documentary itself should have been half this length, at the most though. Painfully slow.

  6. This is just Amazing to say the least! Looking at what Loess Plateau was like before, which took 100’s of years to destroy, and you have turned it around in just 10 years. Well there is hope in the world after all. A brilliant JOB…. The only thing is, the western world need this destruction before they see the FUTURE! Why do we not see these videos on main stream TV, or on the News. We need to get this message out to the everyone before it goes too far…

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