Idle Lands, Idle Hands

Idle hands are the devil’s workshop

                                                ~ Proverbs 16:27 

The pandemic seems to have exacerbated a whole raft of social and economic problems. Personally, as a retiree, I find myself limited in the things I normally would do, such as shopping, travel, eating out, visiting friends, and even my volunteer activities. I can’t imagine being a youngster having to socially-distance, and maybe not being able to work or attend classes. As a result, I’m bored and grumpy, and I would assume others are, too.

A recent article in The Guardian about re-wilding unproductive land caught my eye. The idea, as reported by Fiona Harvey, notes, “Restoring natural landscapes damaged by human exploitation can be one of the most effective and cheapest ways to combat the climate crisis while also boosting dwindling wildlife populations …”

Restoring degraded lands actually sounds interesting. I remember as a kid my brother and I helping to build or repair barbed-wire fencing on Texas ranches that belonged to my father’s friends. It was hard work for no pay, but very satisfying, and we got to spend a good day out on someone’s ranch. I’m very sure that we novices didn’t build as good a fence as the old ranch hands that sometimes watched us at work, but I think we were good enough.

As two pretty big brothers, we were often ‘volunteered’ by our dad to help his friends. It helped me learn that hard, physical work can actually be fun — a sentiment that carried over into my adult life.

So, the idea of finding opportunities to help, particularly environment-related, is pretty tempting right now. I’m now about as ‘long-in-the-tooth’ as those old ranch hands were back then, so I guess I’m less likely to spend a day mending fences than I am watching youngsters do so. But the concept of doing something in nature that helps to combat climate change and all the depredations we inflict on our natural world is very appealing.

Harvey states, “… the study found that such ‘nature-based solutions’ were among the cheapest ways of absorbing and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the additional benefits being the protection of wildlife.”

But it’s not just lands that require thoughtful restoration. Harvey quotes marine biologist Richard Unsworth, “Marine habitat restoration is also vital for our planet and arguably more urgent given the rapid degradation and loss of marine ecosystems. We need restored ocean habitats such as seagrass and oysters to help promote biodiversity but also to help secure future food supply through fisheries, and lock up carbon from our atmosphere.”

Researcher Nathalie Pettorelli commented, “This paper provides further scientific evidence that ecological restoration is a sensible and financially viable solution to address the global climate and biodiversity crises. How ecosystems will be restored is however as important as where and how much will be restored. Ensuring that the best science is used to make decisions about how to restore each local ecosystem will be key.”

So, a thoughtful, coordinated effort will be the most effective at addressing climate change and related issues without creating more problems. It sounds like a national program would be best and could mitigate the economic destruction caused by the pandemic (among other factors). There are many ideas about how to do this, as discussed by Daniel Munczek Edelman of YaleEnvironment360, “But this widely shared focus on bringing back the CCC to combat climate change isn’t surprising. American youth care deeply about this fight. Creating thousands or even millions of jobs to restore our natural environment is both romantic and futurist.”

Edelman identifies key points to making such ideas successful. We need to “leverage existing AmeriCorps programs to quickly grow a Climate Corps” because so many people are currently out of work and need the work now. “A Climate Corps is best suited to create certain types of jobs.” This isn’t high-tech work, but does require the training and supervision already available through AmeriCorps. However, work in the Climate Corps will prepare people for other work, not just the specific skills learned. Lastly, the program needs to have “equity at its core” and be accessible to broad participation.

And we’ve done it before to great result. During the Great Depression, President Roosevelt established the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). “The program was extraordinarily popular with the public, but not just because it created jobs. These improvements to federal lands established the national parks system as we know it today, allowing millions more Americans access to the outdoors. Recent research also suggests the original CCC benefited those who served in it tremendously, helping to boost their lifetime earnings and long-term health.”

Hmmm … helps the nation economically, helps the participants financially and health-wise, combats climate change and provides species protection. Sounds like socialism to me …

Additional information:

Daniel Munczek Edelman. How a Climate Corps Could Put Youth to Work in Greening America, October 15, 2020, YaleEnvironment360

Fiona Harvey, Rewild to Mitigate the Climate Crisis, Urge Leading Scientists, October 14 2020, The Guardian

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