By Leonard Green Letter to the Editor, East Hampton Star.
WE LIVE IN A MIRACULOUS WORLD.
Take the ground we walk on. A cup of healthy soil can contain more organisms than there are humans on Earth. The soil biome makes plant life possible, and, in turn, plants feed the biome. It’s a complex and mutual relationship. We are part of this mutuality. Without it, we wouldn’t be here.
For millions of years, the soil biome performed invaluable ecological services for the planet. It sequestered carbon underground. Along with the native plant communities it nourished, it promoted biodiversity above and below ground, and it maintained a healthy soil hydrology. We reside in a complex ecosystem that sustains us and makes our lives possible. Biodiversity is the most important measure of how healthy or unhealthy this ecosystem is.
Little by little, we’ve unbalanced this life support system. This summer we witnessed just some of the consequences: floods, forest fires, droughts, famines. It will get worse. We keep pumping carbon into the atmosphere, heating the planet, eliminating biodiversity, playing with fire. We need to stop.
The Town of East Hampton has had the good sense to declare a “climate emergency” and has implemented energy saving measures to reduce its carbon footprint. This is a good start, and we need to add sustainable landscaping to our response to the climate emergency. “Nearly a third of the carbon now in the atmosphere has come from removing the forests and prairies that once covered much of the earth…Soil scientists now tell us that the earth’s soils can sequester up to seven times the total amount of carbon presently in the atmosphere!” (Doug Tallamy, Foreword, Climate-Wise Landscaping)
Every time we clear cut land to build a house, a shopping center, a public building, we decrease the biological services provided by nature. We release carbon from the soil, disrupt bio-diverse habitat, and leave our watersheds more vulnerable. “Our task is to store more and more of the world’s carbon not in the sky (where it disrupts climate) and not in oceans (which it causes to become acidified and damaged) but in soils and vegetation, where that CO2 is the key to beneficial results… .” (Michael Bloomberg and Carl Pope, Climate of Hope, 2017)
The trend on Eastern Long Island is construction of larger and larger unsustainable houses on land cleared of all natural habitat. When we plant native plant communities, plants that have evolved to work together in a functioning ecosystem, we restore indispensable eco-services. Sustainable native landscaping should be required policy on all new public building sites. And the rest of us need to kick our lawn habits, give more space to native plants, and get going on native gardens, mixed meadows, and native grassland plantings.
I remember my family’s Victory Garden. It dated from a time when we pulled together as a nation to fight a common enemy. Unless we enlist our residential, municipal, corporate, and recreational landscapes in the fight against climate change, we will fail to fully confront a looming disaster. Energy efficiency is good. Now, let’s create sustainable landscapes, too.