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Photo by Sarah Trent

Yes! But How?

Climate change requires closer attention to the changes in our environment.

4 Seasons Are Not Enough. How About 72?

Illustration by Delphine Lee

Illustration by Delphine Lee

It’s a rare person who can’t remember a time when a season’s weather was different. Summers used to be shorter, or longer. Or colder, hotter, wetter, drier. Autumn leaves have been changing later in recent years as a result of higher summer and autumn temperatures. Noticing those changes is good news. A reasonable start for dealing with the climate crisis is first to get people to notice their environment at all, as well as its natural rhythms. How else can you be alarmed at what is not normal?

For the past year, I’ve used a phone app called 72 Seasons to help me see more subtle seasonal changes beyond the basic winter, spring, summer, fall. The app follows an ancient Japanese calendar that recognizes 24 sekki, 15-day seasons, further divided into 72 specific seasonal shifts. Every five days, the app updates me with poetic precision on the changes I could be noticing around me.

A calendar of 72 seasons makes sense for a culture steeped in seasonality and respect for nature. Why limit ourselves to only four when seasonal shifts are constantly occurring, from the way light shines on a mountain in April to the feel of morning air in the second week of September? Of course, a single calendar can’t predict changes and dates everywhere in the world. But the point is that microseasonal shifts happen no matter where you live. By being reminded to watch for them and even to name them, we can train ourselves to live in tune with them. Food seasons are an easy way to notice nuanced shifts. In the Pacific Northwest, I watch for the first Copper River salmon to arrive toward the end of May, and the second week in June is when cherries are ripening. You can redefine your seasons by all their microseasons — wherever you live.

Start of Spring (Risshun)
Illustration by Delphine Lee

Feb. 4 | East wind melts the ice

Feb. 9 | Bush warblers start singing in the mountains

Feb. 14 | Fish emerge from the ice

Rainwater (Usui)
Illustration by Delphine Lee

Feb. 19 | Rain moistens the soil

Feb. 24 | Mist starts to linger

March 1 | Grass sprouts, trees bud

Insects Awaken (Keichitsu)
Illustration by Delphine Lee

March 6 | Insects emerge from hibernation

March 11 | First peach blossoms

March 16 | Caterpillars become butterflies

Vernal Equinox (Shunbun)
Illustration by Delphine Lee

March 21 | Sparrows start to nest

March 26 | First cherry blossoms

March 31 | First rainbows

Clear and Bright (Seimei)
Illustration by Delphine Lee

April 5 | Swallows return

April 10 | Wild geese fly north

April 15 | Distant thunder

Rain for Grain (Koku-u)
Illustration by Delphine Lee

April 20 | First reeds sprout

April 25 | Last frost, rice seedlings grow

April 30 | Peonies bloom

Start of Summer (Rikka)
Illustration by Delphine Lee

May 5 | Frogs start singing

May 10 | Worms surface

May 15 | Bamboo shoots sprout

Half Bloom (Shoman)
Illustration by Delphine Lee

May 21 | Silkworms start feasting on mulberry leaves

May 26 | Safflowers bloom

May 31 | Wheat is harvested

Grain Beards and Seeds (Boshu)
Illustration by Delphine Lee

June 6 | Praying mantises hatch

June 11 | Rotten grass becomes fireflies

June 16 | Plums turn yellow

Summer Solstice (Geshi)
Illustration by Delphine Lee

June 21 | Self-heal withers

June 27 | Irises bloom

July 2 | Crow-dipper sprouts

Small Heat (Shohsho)
Illustration by Delphine Lee

July 7 | Warm winds blow

July 12 | First lotus blossoms

July 17 | Hawks learn to fly

Big Heat (Taisho)
Illustration by Delphine Lee

July 23 | Paulownia trees produce seeds

July 29 | Earth is damp, air is humid

Aug. 3 | Great rains sometimes fall

Reaching Autumn (Risshu)
Illustration by Delphine Lee

Aug. 8 | Cool winds blow

Aug. 13 | Evening cicadas sing

Aug. 18 | Thick fog descends

Manageable Heat (Shosho)
Illustration by Delphine Lee

Aug. 23 | Cotton flowers bloom

Aug. 28 | Heat dies down

Sept. 2 | Rice ripens

White Dew (Hakuro)
Illustration by Delphine Lee

Sept. 8 | Dew glistens white on grass

Sept. 13 | Wagtails sing

Sept. 18 | Swallows leave

Autumnal Equinox (Shubun)
Illustration by Delphine Lee

Sept. 23 | Thunder ceases

Sept. 28 | Insects burrow underground

Oct. 3 | Farmers drain fields

Cold Dew (Kanro)
Illustration by Delphine Lee

Oct. 8 | Wild geese return

Oct. 13 | Chrysanthemums bloom

Oct. 18 | Crickets chirp around the doors

Frost Falls (Soko)
Illustration by Delphine Lee

Oct. 23 | First frost

Oct. 28 | Light rains sometimes fall

Nov. 2 | Maple leaves and ivy turn yellow

Start of Winter (Ritto)
Illustration by Delphine Lee

Nov. 7 | Camellias bloom

Nov. 12 | Land starts to freeze

Nov. 17 | Daffodils bloom

Small Snow (Shosetsu)
Illustration by Delphine Lee

Nov. 22 | Rainbows hide

Nov. 27 | North wind blows leaves from the trees

Dec. 2 | Citrus tree leaves start to turn yellow

Big Snow (Taisetsu)
Illustration by Delphine Lee

Dec. 7 | Cold sets in

Dec. 12 | Bears start hibernating

Dec. 17 | Salmon gather and swim upstream

Winter Solstice (Toji)
Illustration by Delphine Lee

Dec. 22 | Self-heal sprouts

Dec. 27 | Deer shed antlers

Jan. 1 | Wheat sprouts under snow

Small Chill (Shokan)
Illustration by Delphine Lee

Jan. 5 | Parsley flourishes

Jan. 10 | Springs thaw

Jan. 15 | Pheasants start to call

Big Chill (Daikan))
Illustration by Delphine Lee

Jan. 20 | Butterburs bud

Jan. 25 | Ice thickens on streams

Jan. 30 | Hens start laying eggs

Old Ways Are New Again

Mongolia’s nomadic herders are reinventing a tool from their communist past — cooperatives — to cope with capitalism and climate change.

Mongolian herder Galbadrakh Purevsuren prepares his yaks for milking

Mongolian herder Galbadrakh Purevsuren prepares his yaks for milking, which provides about 40% of his family’s income and a substantial part of their food. The new herder generation says the region’s climate is getting too dry; the grass grows half as high as it used to. In other regions, it has stopped growing. Photo by Sarah Trent

Perched on his motorcycle, Galbadrakh Purevsuren lights his first hand-rolled cigarette of the day and surveys the grassy valley below. Sheep and goats tear at the frosty grass, horses dot the hills, and somewhere, farther down, are the yaks. A few sharp blasts of the horn send the animals running. Galbadrakh, who like most Mongolians is identified by his given name, tosses the last twist of his cigarette and turns the bike back toward camp.

There, a shimmer of heat rises from the stovepipe of the ger — the circular, felt-covered homes that nomadic herders across Mongolia have been living in for centuries, known in the West by their Russian name, yurt. Inside, Galbadrakh’s three children move half-awake in their shared bed, while his wife, Terbish-Ragchaa Galsan, pulls a thick, dripping slab of clotted cream from a bowl of yesterday’s yak milk.

On this quiet May morning, the family has everything they need: The annual income for their yak wool has just been paid; the heavy milking season is just a few weeks away; and, since it’s a weekend, Terbish-Ragchaa and the children are at home. Most days, they live in the provincial center about 9 miles from the summer pasture lands, so the kids, ages 3 to 9, can attend school while Galbadrakh manages the herd.

Most days aren’t this easy.

Across Mongolia, nomadic herders today lead a very different life than just a generation ago. Terbish-Ragchaa’s and Galbadrakh’s parents never owned cars or motorcycles, didn’t have solar panels or cell phone bills, and didn’t need more than two outfits for each of their children — one school uniform and a deel, the traditional tunic. They didn’t even need to pick their kids up from school at the end of the week, or live separately during the school year, because the local negdel — an agricultural cooperative of the Soviet-influenced Mongolian People’s Republic — was responsible for delivering kids to and from their gers.

“They had a decent life in the pastureland even though they had no money,” Terbish-Ragchaa says. Now, herders have more worries. Money is always tight. The climate is getting drier. The pasture is degraded. In their region, Terbish-Ragchaa says, the grass grows half as high as it used to. In other regions, it no longer grows at all. But some of the solutions, they’re finding, might not be so different from their parents’.

Galbadrakh Purevsuren

Galbadrakh Purevsuren’s parents herded on horses, but these days it's common to do it on motorcycles. As a global love for Mongolian cashmere grows, herding is no longer only about subsistence. Photo by Sarah Trent

To make ends meet without selling their livestock one by one, some herders, including Terbish-Ragchaa and Galbadrakh, are beginning to borrow a tool from the past, forming cooperatives so that, together, they can manage the pastureland, sell directly to factories, and form other value-adding businesses. This time, it’s not mandated by the state — herders own the livestock and the cooperatives themselves.

Doing this goes against the ingrained independence of nomads, who trust and rely on few people aside from relatives. It also stirs up memories from the collapse of the Soviet system. But modern economic pressures are making it harder to go it alone, so in villages and districts across Mongolia, herders are banding together.

As a result, many herders’ incomes are stabilizing and growing. They’re developing new businesses and products, and diversifying the food and fiber industry that sustains a significant portion of the country’s economy, people, and national identity. They’re finding a new way, redefining an old system, to do what people in this remote and harsh landscape have always done well: survive.

Terbish-Ragchaa, who was 9 years old when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, looks back on the earlier Communist era as a time of relative ease. Herders of the People’s Republic worked hard, but their income was guaranteed — and since nearly all the animals they raised were owned by the state, Terbish-Ragchaa believes their personal stress then was less than what she’s feeling now.

From the early 1920s to the early 1990s, Mongolia was essentially a Soviet satellite — not formally part of the USSR, but heavily influenced by it. Pastureland and the production of meat, dairy, wool, and cashmere were strictly managed, and herd sizes were maintained near what state officials had agreed was the carrying capacity of the land — around 25 million total sheep, horses, goats, cows, camels, and yaks. Goats — known to be destructive eaters but prized for their valuable cashmere wool — were maintained at less than 20% of all livestock.

In the 1990s, things got more complicated. A year after the Soviet collapse, Mongolia adopted its own democratic constitution and freed its economy from state control. After decades under communist rule, Mongolians had freedom and had regained control over their livestock. For the first time in nearly a century, their borders were open for trade beyond Russia and the former Eastern Bloc.

But as state-owned cooperatives disbanded and industries were privatized, foreign investors came digging for copper, gold, and coal. Widespread unemployment pushed people into subsistence herding. Meanwhile, the world developed a taste for fine Mongolian cashmere.

Terbish-Ragchaa Galsan and her three children live in the provincial seat of Tsetserleg

Most days, Terbish-Ragchaa Galsan and her three children live in the provincial seat of Tsetserleg so the kids can attend school while their father manages the herds. Terbish-Ragchaa joined the Ar Arvidjin Delgerekh Cooperative because spinning yarn there provided a rare chance for her to earn an income. Photo by Sarah Trent

Scientists and economists agree that these changes were as devastating as they were rapid. After decades of stability, the number of livestock skyrocketed. Today, the National Statistics Office reports there are more than 66 million herd animals in the country — 40% of which are goats.

Shombodon Dorlig, an agricultural economist who currently chairs the Rural Investment Support Center, a local nongovernmental organization, says that from the very beginning of the transition, the Mongolian garment industry — which no longer had local cooperatives to gather and deliver strictly planned quantities of fiber — couldn’t keep up with the supply of cashmere or its rising price. Today, government officials report that around 80% of Mongolian cashmere is exported as minimally processed fiber, so foreigners reap most of the profit from its manufacture into finished goods.

The rising price of cashmere and unregulated freedom to grow herds as large as the herders want has had serious consequences: All those animals have devastated the landscape. Meanwhile, the climate crisis has hit Mongolia harder than many other countries: Temperatures have risen at twice the rate of the global average, surpassing 2 degrees Celsius since 1940, according to the Ministry of Environment, and local scientists and herders have noted that rainfall is less consistent — coming in deluges or not at all. With less grass to build the animals’ fat reserves, the harsh winters — in which temperatures often drop to minus 40 degrees — can kill whole herds.

The natural response of individual herders is to keep even more animals, triggering a vicious cycle. Research over the last decade has shown that between climate change and overgrazing, Mongolia’s temperate grassland — the largest expanse on Earth — is vanishing. The most commonly cited statistics say more than 70% of the pastureland is affected by degradation or permanent desertification.

While Terbish-Ragchaa and Galbadrakh understand these dynamics — they see the grass is shorter than it used to be — survival takes precedence. But in 2012, they joined the Ar Arvidjin Delgerekh Cooperative, which has an office in Tsetserleg, a city of about 16,000 and the seat of Arkhangai province, which is a six- to eight-hour drive west from the capital Ulaanbaatar on rutted backcountry roads. This led to increased and diversified sources of income — and showed them that switching goats out for yaks benefited both the land and their livelihoods.

Galbadrakh herds about 40 yaks

Galbadrakh herds about 40 yaks, which are widely seen as a sustainable alternative to cashmere goats. Photo by Sarah Trent

“World experience shows that cooperatives are the best tool for overcoming the ‘curse of smallness,’” economists Renata Yanbykh, Valeriy Saraikin, and Zvi Lerman wrote in their 2018 study on the revival of Russian agricultural cooperatives. However, that experience has been slow to reach most former Soviet socialist nations.

A 2017 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization found that “market-oriented scholars accordingly expected to see rapid development of agricultural service cooperatives in the Post-Soviet countries” due to large numbers of smallholders and exploitative buyers. In fact, they found the development of cooperatives in those countries “lags far behind” most of the world.

Quentin Moreau, who lives and works in Ulaanbaatar as the Mongolia representative for French NGO Agronomes et Vétérinaires Sans Frontières, has been helping to promote cooperative development in Mongolia for years. He says there’s a Western idea that cooperatives are a good solution but that it was difficult to translate.

“We went pitching the idea to people — very naively — and it took me some time to understand that the cooperative system they remembered was very different,” Moreau says. And that it fell apart.

Ar Arvidjin Delgerekh Cooperative workshop

Munkhjargal Bat-Ulzii uses a hand-cranked linking machine to put together the knit panels of a cardigan

In the Ar Arvidjin Delgerekh Cooperative workshop, Munkhjargal Bat-Ulzii uses a hand-cranked linking machine to put together the knit panels of a cardigan. She can make about four sweaters per day. Photos by Sarah Trent

Slowly, perceptions are changing, Moreau says. And in Mongolia — as with many post-communist countries across Europe and Asia — the cooperative model is beginning to take hold.

On the first floor of Ar Arvidjin Delgerekh Cooperative’s building in Tsetserleg, a woman works alone at a circular linking machine to sew sleeves to shoulders, collars to neck holes. She carefully slides every tiny end-stitch of the paired panels over a ring of needle-like teeth, then turns a hand crank, sewing the sweater parts together with a nearly invisible seam. She can make about four sweaters a day, linking panels of machine-knit baby yak wool sourced from 2- and 3-year-old animals.

Most of the fiber the cooperative buys is sold to companies in Europe, the center of high-end spinning and textile manufacturing. But by creating their own brand — Baby Yak — and spinning and knitting some of their fiber in-house, they can add value, create jobs, and increase incomes for everyone involved.

Terbish-Ragchaa first joined the cooperative in 2012 as a spinner. Forced to live apart from her husband with her oldest child as she attended school in Tsetserleg, Terbish-Ragchaa had no income or job prospects until she learned of the cooperative. It was through them that she discovered the value of her family’s yaks and saw what their fiber could become. “We never saw the yak wool knitwear,” she says, “and they are so warm!”

So her family sold most of their goats and have since doubled their yak herd to about 40, which in addition to producing wool, has added to the family’s dairy sales, as well. The cooperative also connects herders with tourists interested in paying to stay with nomadic families — a relative boon at $10 per night and more than the income made from selling one kilogram of yak wool for cooperative members whose annual incomes seldom surpass $10,000.

Bayarmagnai Batsuuri, director of Ar Arvidjin Delgerekh, believes that this cooperative “can be a model for other herders, because we add value to our raw materials.” Founded in 2010 with support from Agronomes et Vétérinaires Sans Frontières, the cooperative has delivered dividends totaling about $45,000 to about 220 members in six counties in the province, he said. That isn’t much per member, but it has built trust in the cooperative — a first step on the path to resolve pasture degradation in Arkhangai.

Herder cooperatives like Ar Arvidjin Delgerekh are springing up across the country, each with its own flavor, depending on the needs of its members. In Dundgobi province, herders have created a dairy cooperative to make and sell cheese each autumn. This has become an important supplement to herders’ spring cashmere income, improving cash flow before the school year starts and harsh winter hits.

Terbish-Ragchaa Galsan and her three children live in the provincial seat of Tsetserleg

Every spring, herders like Galbadrakh Purevsuren comb soft down from their yaks—fiber the animals would otherwise naturally shed. While not as valuable as goat cashmere, the fiber from young yaks is often softer and more resistant to pilling. Photo by Sarah Trent

In the remote westernmost province, Bayan-Ulgii, a new herder cooperative is depositing the income from livestock exports into a savings and credit union in which the herders share ownership. The cooperative credit union also provides herders with the small loans needed to buy feed and survive the winter — loans they cannot easily or affordably access from traditional banks. “A bank works to make its owners rich,” says Ahai Turdikhan, director of the co-op. “The credit union works for the good of its own members.”

As in most post-Soviet countries, Mongolian cooperatives struggle with the legal and tax systems governing — or impeding — their work. Bayarmagnai, of Ar Arvidjin Delgerekh, wishes he could have the tax-free status many European countries offer cooperatives — a recommendation backed by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

Regardless, Bayarmagnai has plans for growth: expanding the co-op’s small workshop in Tsetserleg to become a proper factory that will bring more benefits to the members and community.

Across town, next to the busy bus station, a “Made in Arkhangai” sign welcomes visitors to a building that opened in April. On the second floor, the Baby Yak Shop’s undyed yak-fiber sweaters, hats, scarves, and more fill the shelves of a small, neat kiosk.

With the help of NGOs and European brands focused on sustainable fiber, the market for yak wool is growing. As the cooperative earns more and turns over more dividends, the incentives to replace goats with yaks will grow, too. And with income streams from tourists as well as yak fiber, dairy, and meat, his members will make a sufficient living with fewer overall animals, Bayarmagnai thinks.

Though the threat of climate change lingers, he says the yaks are resilient. Like the Mongolian people themselves in the hardest of times, they endure.

People We Love

Leveraging White Privilege for Racial Justice

Social justice demands more now than we’re used to giving, and it isn’t only the responsibility of people of color to demand change. These White people are not just checking their privilege, they’re also leveraging it to bring about justice.

Jane Elliott
Jane Elliott

The morning after Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in 1968, Jane Elliott tried something new in her Iowa classroom. “I exposed 26 third-grade students to an exercise in discrimination based on the color of their eyes,” she says. This became known as the Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes exercise, and has been demonstrated as an effective tool to teach children about racism. Racism could be learned, she realized, and therefore could be unlearned.

There was significant resistance to her work. Angry White parents pulled their kids out of her classroom. She was insulted with epithets, assaulted, and, once in the 1970s, received death threats from teachers in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. “I had four children and a lovely husband at home,” Elliott says. “I didn’t want to die.”

She fled Uniontown that night, guided to safety by “three carloads of Black people,” she says, but she persisted in her work and is now a renowned diversity trainer.

Now 86, she has traveled the country visiting schools and colleges, giving talks and appearing on TV, including on The Oprah Winfrey Show and Jada Pinkett Smith’s Red Table Talk. Elliott says the need for deep personal inventory is only increasing. “The anger some White people are experiencing [right now],” she says, is in response to having “a Black man in the White House for eight years.”

Robin DiAngelo
Robin DiAngelo

Consultant, trainer, and former professor of education, Robin DiAngelo coined the term “white fragility” in a 2011 academic paper to define the “defensiveness that surfaces for so many White people when our racial perspectives, positions, and advantages are named or questioned.”

It’s this defensiveness, she says, that reinforces racial inequality. DiAngelo’s latest book, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, deeply examines that dynamic and how it hinders cross-racial dialogue.

DiAngelo, 62, has devoted her career to understanding how racism is lived and experienced, particularly by White people, who have been socialized into racism. “To remain silent about that is not acceptable,” she says. Her training sessions, run with co-facilitators of color, help White people to change their outlook, from asking if they had been shaped by racism to how they have been shaped by racism.

“No White person is exempt,” DiAngelo says, “no matter how nice or well-intended.”

Erin Monahan
Erin Monahanr

Erin Monahan calls herself “a settler on Chinook, Multnomah, Molalla, Kathlamet, Tualatin-Kalapuya territory, so-called Portland, Oregon.”

Growing up, she was always justice-oriented and concerned about human rights. She often wondered why some people had resources while others didn’t. “The disparities were glaring,” she says.

But she’s transparent. “I entered this work in a very problematic and messy way, completely engulfed in my White feminism,” Monahan says. But, with credit to Black women disruptors of injustice, she is becoming “dedicated like a gardener,” constantly pulling up the weeds of her White supremacist conditioning.

In vulnerability and humility, Monahan, 29, has embarked on a public journey of her own unlearning, and it’s through her service as founder of and “co-conspirator” at Terra Incognita Media that she’s been truly awakened. Terra Incognita is a feminist media organization responding to issues of race, class, and gender in the outdoor industry while elevating the work of marginalized women and co-laborers in anti-oppression initiatives.

Monahan also leads “Detaching From the Commitment to Whiteness,” an online course that encourages White people to deepen their antiracism practices and heal from internalized Whiteness.

The Page That Counts

The Numbers That Define Our World

The U.S. Department of Defense’s share of federal government energy consumption in 201777% 1

Estimated metric tons of greenhouse gases emitted by DOD operations, 2001–20171.2 billion

Estimated metric tons of DOD greenhouse gas emissions in 2017 alone59 million 2

Metric tons of greenhouse gases emitted by the nation of Portugal in 201756.8 million

Emissions ranking of the DOD among the world’s nations if it were a country55 3

Per capita consumption of soft drinks in the United States in 201638.5 gallons

Per capita consumption of bottled water in the United States in 201639.3 gallons

Per capita consumption of soft drinks in the United States in 201737.5 gallons

Per capita consumption of bottled water in the United States in 201742.1 gallons 4

Minimum number of particles of microplastic the average person eats and breathes in every year, according to a 2019 study50,000

Particles per year consumed via bottled water by a person who drinks only bottled water130,000

Particles per year consumed via tap water by a person who drinks only tap water4,000 5

Total family unit (individuals traveling with at least one family member) apprehensions by the U.S. Border Patrol in 201321,218

Total family unit apprehensions by the U.S. Border Patrol in 201467,684

In 201554,025

In 2016101,255

In 201750,886

In 2018163,282

Family unit apprehensions by the U.S. Border Patrol on the southwest border in May 201984,542

Total family unit apprehensions Jan–May, 2019257,194 6

Democrats and Democrat-leaning independent voters who say the best age for a president is in their 40s or 50s, according to a recent survey by Pew Research Center72%

Those same voters who say the best age for a president is “in their 70s” 3% 7

2020 Democratic presidential primary candidates (as of June 27, 2019)24

2020 Democratic presidential primary candidates who will be in their 40s or 50s at the time of the election13

Number of these candidates currently polling above 5%1

Number of Democratic candidates polling above 5% who are over 703 8

Average age of a president at inauguration since 196056.5 9

Age Donald Trump will be on Inauguration Day74

Sources: 1. U.S. Energy Information Administration 2. Brown University, U.S. Department of Energy 3. European Commission Emissions Database For Global Atmospheric Research 4. International Bottled Water Association 5. Environmental Science and Technology, via The Guardian 6. U.S. Customs and Border Protection 7. Pew Research Center 8. Politico/Morning Consult polling 9. USA Today

Click to read more about these facts