We may have mentioned it in passing to some of you or maybe even somewhere in the depths of our musing here, but as near as I can figure we can’t say it enough. Signs of human impact on the world’s weather systems seem clear to us from our travels. While our evidence and stories remain anecdotal at best, I think they still need to be shared. Every voice on this issue should be heard.
Two days ago in the NY Times, an Op-Ed piece by a farmer, Jack Hedin, out of Rushford, MN, shared his observations on weather patterns and their detrimental effect of an extreme nature over the past 3 years in a piece entitled ‘An Almanac of Extreme Weather’. This piece hits home here as we work towards opening a store and later small farm ourselves in the coming months to years. I highly recommend his piece if only to provoke some discussion on more thoughts on shaping our food systems here in United States. As conversations in and around the politics of food and sustainability in smaller farms gets more and more divisive with some posing it as a selectively ‘elite problem’ I want to suggest that soon, we may all be at the mercy of far greater issues beyond food price heading right down to food scarcity brought on by increasing extreme weather conditions around the world. Smaller farms that work towards sustainable practices, I’d argue are very much our hope for changing the weather systems to something more positive, if we can grow the base and add farmers that are interested in this.
An unseasonably cool early summer in Northern Thailand
One of our first stops of our travels, landed us in a little known province of Northern Thailand called Isaan. There we were lead by Jo Jandai and Peggy Reents of Pun Pun Center for Self-Reliance on a tour a famers that were working their land by paying attention and working to sustain their local ecological systems and have limited negative impact to these ecological systems they’re a part of and in turn were making positive impacts on their community. In our brief ‘Sustainability Study’ saw evidence of micro-climates that were preserving indigenous plants and animal life on farms such as Paw Jo’s, whose farm stood out in the sun drenched drought stricken fields of the Thai summer like an Oasis in the desert. And it literally was. Paw Jo had noticed that on his land he had a pond, a forest and the cultivated areas of land that he’d been using for a number of years and rather than clearing the land where the pond or forest sit he’d decided to let them stay and instead plant near and amongst these indigenous features. The pond and forest, being on his land, adjacent to his cleared and cultivated area acted as a barrier to pest and disease. At every turn of conversation he would chime in something about his garden and land as his medicine. And his strong hands, healthy body and clear eyes and sense of humor all spoke loudly in support of these claims. Take a look at the man Paw Jo and a few glances at his farmland and gardens.
Paw Jo, watching a few birds fly in over his test ‘dry-season’ red rice crop.
Looking out from the entrance over his pond and into part of his forest.
A look across a neighbor’s farm over to Paw Jo’s in the background.
Paw Jo himself was not an easy convert to this way of life. After many years as a salesman in the big city of Bangkok, faced with economic collapse, Paw Jo, as thousands of others headed back to his native village and turned back to life on the land. In those early years he was a conventional farmer but as time moved on, he faced surmounting debt for feed, herbicides and the like and became curious when a young Jo Jandai returned to their village of Bahn Si Thanh and started an organic farmer’s collaborative and began to recruit nearby farmer’s to his cause. Paw Jo rode out a difficuly year of lower yields and new challenges but has seen ever increasing yields on his farm and changed his local micro-climate such that in the times of the dry season, when the hillsides of Thailand are covered with the fireflies of small forest and brush clearing fires of a conventional and traditional past, he has turned to experimenting with new organic crops in the summer, extending his bounty with minimal effort thanks to the encouraging and hopeful ecology he has nurtured.
But what does this have to do with a changing climate and man’s impact on the weather patterns? Look back at the difference between Paw Jo’s field and his neighbors conventionally farmed (herbicides, fertilizer and flooding) rice field to see the striking difference one man’s actions have exerted on a pin-prick spot on this spinning heated globe of ours. It’s irrefutable evidence of how we can destroy or nurture.
We stayed a mere 20 minutes walk from Paw Jo’s farm on Jo Jandai’s family farm operated by his sister who had become the local advocate and organizer of organic farming in the town of Bahn Si Thanh since Jo had departed to start Pun Pun. Our first few nights on our ‘sustainability trip’ in Thailand’s dry season, renowned for its unbearable heat, was a cold snap that Jo explained was not only unusual, but a potential harbinger of things to come. Several nights temperatures, normally in the 80-90’s at night in March in Northern Thailand, dropped to mid-to-low Fifties. Sleeping in an Earthen hut with no windows and a thin blanket to insulate us from the windy cool nights left us eyeing the cold water pots that we used to bath we trepidation, but also became the usual on our five month journey. Weather was changing and faster than we all are expecting.
Our original plans had us heading over to Laos and then up the Mekong into China. We had wanted to ride a riverboat and start our China journey from the West, in Sichuan Province and make our way to Fujian Province. The weather did not let us. Well, weather and human needs that is. By the end of March we were making plans for our next stop and came to find that the riverboats weren’t running on the Mekong because it was dry. ‘Come again, the Mekong is dry?’ I said in disbelief to Tracie one day as we sat in our hostel in Chang Mai perusing our options on our handy-dandy netbook. Here’s a post from a few days ago about the current situation of the Mekong Delta. Now, the Mekong is most directly affected by the demand created by it’s neighbor to the North, China and its insatiable appetite for water, but where lay the ramifications for the handful of tropical climate, water driven economies to the South. If the water is diverted from these lands how will the micro-climates be affected? Not only are these water-supply issues, but they are life threatening issues that are inextricably linked and prima-facie evidence that man has an immutable affect upon our world.
Istanbul: Landing amidst lightning, flash floods and torrential rain
Thailand was the most obvious example of extreme weather fluctuations and abnormalities on our trip. Right up until we landed in Istanbul, Turkey. I’ll never forget those first few hours post arrival in Istanbul. It was a bumpy turbulence filled landing that made my grip on the seat arm rests draw my hands white from lack of blood circulation. After decrypting the way way to get back to the city-center we hopped aboard a modern bus, better than anything in the states, and lurched off into the night for our hour ride journey to the city center to Taksim Square. The whole ride lighting cracked across the clouds and dropped down to earth dropping down a eerie backdrop onto the approaching trip towards Istanbul. We hopped off to torrential rains the likes I haven’t seen since high-school when we were all sent home do to sideways rains that foreboded tornados and bad things for our fearful Texas administrators. We were rushed off the bus in such a hurry out into the poring rain that we left a bag (only to be recovered the next morning) and made the first dumb choice of Taxi drivers the entire trip.
After surviving that first night coming out only with our clothes damp, our eyes tired and our egos bruised from being ripped off by an unusual con of a driver, we marched into one of the best 10 days of our trip in the heart of mystery and intrigue in the incredible beautiful city of Istanbul. But those rains would visit us time and again over the next week only opening up to puffy cloud blue skies a few times in our stay there. Every Turk we encountered shared a similar conceit, these were very unusual weather patterns for Istanbul. ‘Storms such as these are not around this time of year.’ ‘This is the first I can remember.’ ‘It’s crazy.’
One day, after a nice visit to the Istanbul Modern, we stepped off the tram onto an outdoor platform filled with passengers crowding underneath bench shelters as a torrential flash flood ripped through the city in the span of 8 minutes. We watched water washed down with such volume and force as to tear down sand-bag embanked barriers and fill first levels of buildings at the base of the hills with 7 inches of water in that time. Day in and out these rains came. ‘Unusual.’ ,’Never seen it.’ ,’Global warming?’ were all remarks made by residents of Istanbul of over 15 years.
Some of the grayest days on record have bound to be held in Ireland or somewhere in the UK. During the course of our stay, one of our hosts, Paul, a native of Cork (Corcaigh) County, Ireland, in the South West of Ireland proclaimed, “Lucky, you guys are lucky. It’s what my mom would term it ‘insufferably hot, unbearable…” when he told us about how unusual the weather had been the first few days we were there. We had to take our jackets off on numerous occasions it was so ‘unbearable’. Jokes notwithstanding, there is something to be said here. Even in West Cork, where “It probably will rain today”, is a common remark, no matter the time of year, we had some extremely beautiful sun-filled days. We were lucky, but how long will this luck last?
On the Flight Home
Heading back, we flew Iceland Air and inevitably flew over Greenland. The last time we’d flown over it was sometime back in 2002, on a return flight from London. Unfortunately cloud cover prevented us from seeing down back then, but this time, this time all was clear for a large stretch of the cut across Greenland Land and Ice mass. From up high, those glacial massess sure did seem to be filled with an unusual array of dark blue waters. But my human eyes have not seen much history of Greenland form the air, so what the hell do I know right? Maybe not. We return to the states and what’s one of the first things I read in catching up on news and tidbits that happened over the 5 months we were gone, besides the many month oil spill in the gulf? How about this ‘Biggest ice island for 48 years breaks off Greenland’ ?”
Or how about the day before this over in Pakistan ‘Pakistan’s flooding sweeps south‘.
Worst monsoon rains in 80 years…
If Climate Change were a fiction then we must be dreaming up the seeming correlation between all these events and our impact on the world. Sure, that must be it right? We all want to live in times of fear and uncertainty, right? Isn’t that why we do stupid things like believe in Banks that can never fail and economies of scale that make businesses to big to fail and oh…wait, maybe that’s a poor analogy. Or maybe we’re on to something, maybe we need to take heed of all of these stories and records and take individual action towards creating our own positive impacts on the small scale? Perhaps we can all be Paw Jo’s of the world, maybe not in turing back-to-the-land per se, but in paying attention and nurturing the ecology around us and taking care of the nature of which we are.