Culture Shift

Help WantedFor each farmer under 35, there are six over 65. By 2030, one-quarter of America’s current farmers will retire.

La‘amea Lunn, at left, on his Waimanalo farm along with neighboring new farmers Ikaika Rogerson and Adrian Liu.

La‘amea Lunn, at left, on his Waimanalo farm along with neighboring new farmers Ikaika Rogerson and Adrian Liu. YES! Photo by Paul Dunn

Against a backdrop of lush green mountains and swaying papaya trees, La‘amea Lunn readies his crop of carrots, kale, and eggplants for the weekly farmers market. He carefully tends his one-third acre on Oahu, Hawai‘i, preparing produce for a market stall he shares with friends — young farmers like himself, a few of whom he met when they worked neighboring plots on this land owned by the University of Hawai‘i.

Kim Eckart

Kim Eckart is a Seattle-based writer and associate editor at YES!

At 32, Lunn has an office job with a career in restaurant kitchens behind him. He hopes to own a farm of his own, to be part of the local food movement, and to help transform the industrial food system. But taking that on now is a substantial investment, so Lunn is starting out here, in an agricultural incubator program called GoFarm Hawai‘i, where he can share resources, learn from experts, and, perhaps most importantly, join a community.

GoFarm Hawai‘i and other programs, from California to Maine, aim to soften the start for young growers. By providing access to some or all of the farming fundamentals — capital, acreage, and training — these projects try not only to help the individual farmer, but also to sustain and grow a new generation that will allow the local food movement to flourish.

“Doing it with other people helps you along in the hard times,” Lunn said. “I went into this not just for myself, but to network to help other farmers to make it easier to farm. It was a driving force.”

Lunn is among the thousands of people nationwide trying their hands at a career that traditionally was handed down within families. It is a daunting prospect: New farmers often struggle to find affordable land, pay for equipment, pay down student loans, and develop the myriad skills necessary to farm as a career, not just a hobby.

Farming as an occupation has been graying steadily for more than three decades. In 2012, the average age of American farmers was 58, according to the U.S. Census of Agriculture. In the same census, one-third of farmers were age 65 and older; only 6 percent of farmers were younger than 35.

And fewer new farmers are staying with it. In 2012, not quite 470,000 farmers had been on their land less than a decade — a 19 percent drop from the number of new farmers just five years before. About 1,200 growers under age 35 joined the ranks between 2007 and 2012. With more farmers reaching retirement age, a younger generation needs to step in to replace them.

“The numbers tell a very clear story that we need more people in agriculture, period,” said Lindsey Shute, executive director of the National Young Farmers Coalition. “Within that, there’s also a real opportunity, as the American public gets more interested in how food is grown and to have locally sourced food to ensure that there are farmers around the country and that there’s a career path into that field.”

The coalition, which is based in upstate New York, campaigns for affordable farmland and for financial incentives, such as student loan forgiveness, as a way to lower the monetary barrier for young farmers. A 2015 coalition survey of 700 young farmers found that respondents carried an average of $35,000 in student loans, and that debt prevented one-fifth of them from obtaining additional financing for their farms.

A bill introduced in Congress earlier this year would add farming to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which allows government and nonprofit employees the opportunity to make minimum loan payments for 10 years, after which the balance on their loans is forgiven. New York state provides up to $10,000 annually for five years to new farmers who went to college in New York and stay there to farm. It is currently the only loan forgiveness program at the state level.

Not every new farmer carries student loan debt, but farming is an expensive proposition. Simply finding farmland can be challenging, let alone paying for it.

Several programs around the country link veteran farmers with new ones, some to foster mentoring relationships, others to make it easier to pass a farm business to a new operator. Transferring the farm to the next generation used to be, and often remains, a family matter. But some farmers don’t have a relative who can or wants to inherit the farm, while some new farmers come into the field without an agricultural family background.

With an estimated half-million farmers expected to retire in the next 20 years, advocates say the connection between new and old is logical — and necessary.

John Baker started Iowa State University’s Beginning Farmer Center in 1994, not long after the wave of farm bankruptcies and foreclosures in the 1980s. An attorney by trade, he started helping out at the university’s agricultural extension in 1990, advising farmers who called a crisis hotline. The farmers needed immediate business advice, Baker said, but what they really needed was long-term business know-how. With that, they could plan for the future of their farms and find newcomers to take their places.

“Because these are closely held businesses, they’re not always managed as a business the way other businesses are,” Baker explained. “There are few other businesses where you actually live in the business.”

Since its inception, the Beginning Farmer Center has helped 500 farms change hands through its Ag Link service. The program pairs farmers who plan to retire in five to 10 years with new farmers who lack the financial means to buy a farm outright. The new farmer works the land with the veteran farmer, and both agree to an eventual transition plan for the business. Iowa and Nebraska offer tax credits to landowners who rent property to a new farmer; several states offer loans specific to beginning farmers.

We’re trying to attract young people back to our states. How do we do that? Agriculture. There’s farming in every state.
—David Baker, 63-year-old farmer

David Baker (no relation) travels around Iowa to promote Ag Link and other Beginning Farmer Center programs at community meetings. It’s sometimes hard for longtime farmers to let go, he explained, because they’re both financially and emotionally attached to their farms. Consequently, he focuses his efforts on farmers in their 50s and 60s, emphasizing the future of not only an individual farm, but, potentially, an entire town.

“I tell them, ‘If you’re not creating opportunities for the next generation, then you’re a dying community,’” David said.

Ag Link typically receives a dozen new farmer applications for each farm business in transition, he said. The average age of the applicant? Mid-30s.

At 63, David himself is in the process of transferring his 480 acres of corn, soybeans, and cattle to a group of younger growers. He remembers getting out of the military decades ago, writing letters to farmers around his native Iowa to see if he could land a job. He ended up renting a farm and ultimately buying the balance of the business once the time was right — not unlike the vision he has for his farm today.

“We’re trying to attract young people back to our states,” David said. “How do we do that? Agriculture. There’s farming in every state.”

Preservation trusts are a popular way to designate farmland at the community level. These trusts can also be a creative means by which to pair farmers with land.

In Concord, Massachusetts, farm advocates in 2013 helped facilitate a deal between the town and a local housing organization to buy a small plot of agricultural land and convert an existing building to residential space. Two women — both in their 30s — have leased and run a farm on the property for more than a year.

Land is only part of the equation; farming skills and business savvy also are critical to long-term sustainability. That’s where the more than 100 incubator programs around the country play a role. Typically tied to a nonprofit or university program like GoFarm Hawai‘i, farm incubators can give participants training in growing practices and marketing, set aside a portion of land for them to grow their products, and create a built-in network of fellow farmers.

Why We Need New Farmers

Jennifer Hashley, a Concord area poultry farmer and director of the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, called this a “safe place to learn and to fail.”

In a farm incubator, “they can really just focus on production, gaining the skills they need, and taking their product to market,” she said. “People can try this and see if it works.”

Incubators are in various stages of development. Some have graduated participants and are tracking their progress in commercial farming; others are focusing on specific skills or populations.

Michigan’s Greater Lansing Food Bank, also home to a series of community gardens and a food bank network, operates one such incubator, Lansing Roots. Now in its third growing season, Lansing Roots targets immigrant and refugee farmers who work roughly quarter-acre plots and sell their vegetables at local farmers markets and to wholesalers and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscribers.

At first, explained Alex Bryan, director of the food bank’s agricultural programs, many of the growers were involved in the food bank’s community gardens effort. It soon became clear that some of them were serious about turning the experience — whether by building upon farming backgrounds from their native countries, signing up for multifamily plots, or selling produce on the side — into a business.

“We said, ‘We’re well-resourced. Let’s provide the space and make it transparent that we want them to make money and be farmers,’” Bryan said. “In the long term, it helps the food bank and helps localize our food. It’s important that we have a new generation of farmers.”

Today, there are 25 farmers working the incubator site, down from 29. Of the four who have left, two found other jobs, one is trying to find land for her own farm, and the other decided farming wasn’t the right fit.

“If someone understands that they don’t want to be a farmer, that’s still a success story to me,” said Bryan, who farms with a friend on 4 acres in Detroit and chairs the board of the National Young Farmers Coalition. Better to make the choice about farming while at the incubator, he explained, than after staking hundreds of thousands of dollars on a farm.

That was the theory behind the phased-in structure of GoFarm Hawai‘i, launched in 2012 by the University of Hawai‘i College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources and Windward Community College. GoFarm starts with a three-hour seminar, which leads to a series of weekend workshops meant to introduce people to what they can expect from life as a farmer. From there, the program gets more intense. For four months, students attend two meetings a week that focus on specific topics, such as soil quality, pest control, crop varieties, and food storage. Participants can then move on to six months of AgPro, in which they grow crops and learn how to start a business. Some graduates of AgPro may then take advantage of AgIncubator, growing and marketing crops on land provided by GoFarm Hawai‘i.

Of AgPro’s first class of 27 graduates, 20 are farming commercially, including La‘amea Lunn.

Steven Chiang, GoFarm’s co-founder, credits the program’s progressive phases with the successful conversion of new farmers. GoFarm focuses on transitioning from stage to stage, on training, and on individual responsibility for a plot of land — surrounded by a cohort of classmates with their own farming responsibilities.

“People have to renew their vows, in a sense. And things get more real as phases continue,” he said. Student cohorts “struggle and work and dream together, [which makes] the prospect of actually doing this farming thing seem more achievable, less lonely.”

Establishing a network of mentors and peers is critical to building confidence and business know-how, Chiang added. It’s not just about the training; it’s about the transition. As the Beginning Farmer Center’s John Baker said, a new farmer also has to learn how to set up and sustain a business.

About 40 miles southeast of Seattle, Abukar Haji surveys his beds of carrots, beans, collard greens, and romaine. Now in his third year with Seattle Tilth’s Farm Works incubator program, Haji has expanded his original one-eighth-acre plot to three-fourths of an acre and hopes to keep growing. A farmer in his native Somalia, Haji came to the United States five years ago and took a warehouse job until he learned about Farm Works at a local community center presentation. He now spends six days a week on the farm and is one of Farm Works’ top sellers in Seattle Tilth’s food hub, which distributes to its CSA, farmers markets, restaurants, and wholesalers.

Through a translator, Haji emphasized the help that Farm Works provided in learning and using new systems of planting and irrigation and in marketing his crops. Going out on his own, though, would be too stressful. “I’m going to stay here and get bigger,” he said with a laugh, gesturing toward the surrounding land.

And with Farm Works’ structure and goals, farmers like Haji likely will be able to do that. The 5-year-old program enrolls between eight and 10 new farmers a year for its classes and incubator plots, but no one has to leave, explained Andrea Dwyer, Seattle Tilth’s executive director. Rather, Seattle Tilth is actively seeking more land throughout the area to allow current Farm Works’ farmers to expand and to sign on new ones.

In the program’s “co-farming” model, subsidies to new farmers for seeds, equipment, and other resources decrease over time, while the land remains leased to farmers who participate in a farmers’ council to make decisions and solve problems and who can contribute produce to the food hub for revenue.

“We’re trying to re-evaluate what it means to be a farmer,” Farm Works manager Matthew McDermott said as he walked a path between plots. “Maybe a co-farming model is the way to be successful and grow a new generation of farmers.”

On an overcast yet mild weekday afternoon, half a dozen farmers tend to their chores. One motions Haji over to ask for advice. A few yards down, three young women work adjacent plots, maneuvering in and out of greenhouse tunnels packed with tomato plants.

Amber Taulbee pauses from her day’s task of removing thistles to pitch to McDermott the prospect of a Farm Works orchard.

That kind of access and support, Taulbee says later, has made all the difference in getting her dreams off the ground. At 37, Taulbee and her husband hope to find their own farmland and start a CSA.

“Farming is so challenging. I’ve had to become more realistic about how much help I’m going to need,” she said. “Until you start doing it for yourself, you don’t really understand it.”

Kim Eckart

Kim Eckart is a Seattle-based writer and associate editor at YES!

In Short

What's Inspiring Us

Waste Free Kitchen Handbook

Waste Free Kitchen Handbook

Dana Gunders

How often do your leftovers go to waste? What about those greens hiding in the corner of the fridge? Even when food waste hits the compost bin (and only 3 percent of our food waste does), guilt is never far behind. Dana Gunders, author of Waste Free Kitchen Handbook, is well aware of the realities in American households. This easy-to-read, 200-page book includes simple tips on storing food, “sage shopping,” and even recipes for the “crafty kitchen.” The book is perfect for any conscious foodie — especially one looking to cut back on costs and waste.

Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day

Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day

Leanne Brown

What started as Leanne Brown’s thesis project — inspiring low-income people to cook at home — evolved into this useful and visually delicious cookbook, available in print or as a free download. Recipes range from the comfortable (oatmeal) to the surprising (cauliflower tacos). Food banks nationwide are promoting the recipes to their clients; in Asheville, North Carolina, a representative of the MANNA FoodBank called the book “empowering.” Said Kara Irani: “Everyone wants to be able to cook delicious food for little money. So the message is universal, and very human.”

Books + Film + Music

Lost Language of Natural Places Don’t let floral and faunal words go extinct from the dictionary

YES! illustration by Jennifer Luxton

YES! Illustration by Jennifer Luxton

Languages are like species — they evolve, and sometimes evolution leads to extinction. At present we are enduring numerous extinctions, not just of species and subspecies, but extinctions of whole languages and vocabularies. We may be willing to lose, say, the vocabularies of blacksmithing, but many of us are not willing to lose our vocabularies describing nature. Recently, various writers have become alarmed and decided to fight back. Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks is the latest addition to this literature, though many of his assumptions rest solidly on his precursors.

Jack Turner

Jack Turner is a writer. He lives in Moose, Wyoming.

John R. Stilgoe’s modest 1996 book Shallow Water Dictionary: A Grounding in Estuary English is one. Stilgoe, a Harvard professor of the history of landscape, instructs the reader in the subtle distinctions of creek, brook, rill, and stream; gutter (not the kinds perched at the edge of roofs), bore (not the ones at parties), and guzzle (not what you do with beer). It is a learned and elegant read. As Stilgoe says, it is a “sort of salvage operation of words drifting from dictionary language.” Words, left unused, eventually are forgotten. Even in the short timespan of a single generation, an unremembered vocabulary impacts what we see, what we pay attention to, and what we know.

Throughout Stilgoe’s book, two important ideas emerge: that precise language requires attention and discrimination based on direct experience and that entries in American dictionaries of words describing nature have declined in extent and sophistication. This has resulted, 20 years later, (and I think Stilgoe would agree) in the truncated versions that come with our computers. For example, guzzle (“the low spaces on barrier beaches that sometimes allow spring tides or storm tides to pass over the beach into marshes inland from the sea”) is not in my Mac’s dictionary; and similarly, when I started to read about the austringer (a person who hunts with hawks) in Helen Macdonald’s book, H is for Hawk, I discovered that the definition of austringer is not in my Mac’s dictionary either. When we depend on coarser dictionaries, the finer discriminations of nature go unnoticed.

A more recent attempt (2006) to salvage the language of place is Barry Lopez’s Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape, the labor of 45 writers briefly explaining more than 800 descriptive terms, in English and Spanish, of our topography. Nature writers find it a reference work that rewards careful study (yes, guzzle is there), but reading it makes you realize the paucity of your own landscape vocabulary.

Landmarks cover


By Robert Macfarlane, Penguin UK, 400 pages

Both books underline a sea change, if not a crisis, in the language of nature. In “Panic at the Dictionary,” a January 2015 essay in The New Yorker, Stefan Fatsis described the “lexicographic kerfuffle” over the elimination of nature words in recent editions of the Oxford Junior Dictionary. Here is a partial list: acorn, almond, ash, beech, blackberry, bluebell, buttercup, dandelion, fern, hamster, heron, herring, holly, ivy, kingfisher, lark, lobster, minnow, otter, ox, oyster, pasture, raven, and willow. These words had been replaced by Blackberry, blog, broadband, bullet-point, chat room, and voicemail, among other familiar designations of digital life.

One group of writers howled and demanded a new edition of the dictionary. They cited data showing that children no longer play much outside and live glued to screens. Their critics harrumphed and replied with data showing that many of the words in question were no longer common and that Oxford’s job was to report usage, not prescribe usage. The head of Oxford’s Children’s Dictionaries, Vineeta Gupta, pointed out that the older editions contained “lots of examples of flowers for instance … because many children lived in semi-rural environments and saw seasons.” They believed that demographics had changed, and the dictionary needed to change, too, in order to reflect the experience of modern life. And so the battle was joined.

Macfarlane, a fellow at Cambridge University, was among the writers outraged by Oxford’s deletions. Along with Stilgoe and Lopez, he is a central figure in a nascent tradition to actively retrieve, “rewild” — he would say — our landscape vocabularies. Landmarks begins bluntly and to the point: “This is a book about the power of language — strong style, single words — to shape our sense of place.”

Macfarlane’s introduction provides the philosophical underpinnings of this emerging tradition; the rest of the book describes his forays into nine different topographies of the British Isles to rediscover landscape words that wander the border between descriptive prose and poetry. In each section, he presents examples of the literature of the place followed by extensive glossaries peculiar to them, and, in doing so, he establishes a new canon of nature writing for Great Britain.

Some of the words are exquisite. Here are examples from only the first page of the first glossary, in Gaelic: bugba — a green bow-shaped area of moor grass or moss, formed by the winding of a stream; caochan — a slender moor stream obscured by vegetation such that it is virtually hidden; feadan — a small stream running from a moorland loch; feith — a watercourse running through peat, often dry in summer, the form of which resembles veins or sinews; lon — a small stream with soft, marshy banks. On the same page, stunningly, is this: eit —the practice of placing quartz stones in moorland streams so that they would sparkle in moonlight and thereby attract salmon to them in late summer and autumn. One marvels that people ever had a practice so grounded in the ecology of a particular place, and it is surely the world’s loss that they no longer do so now. This is light-years — psychologically, socially, and culturally — from Facebook, Wikipedia, and Twitter.

... to defend what we love, we need a particularizing language, for we love what we particularly know.
—Wendell Berry, as quoted by Robert Macfarlane

Landmarks records hundreds of these words — in Gaelic, Cornish, Welsh, Irish, Shetlandic, Old English, and Doric. Their precise discriminations induce enchantment and wonder, a vivid contrast to much of our current writing about nature, writing that now arrives in the sterile, feeble, generic vocabularies of managerial reports, bureaucratic policy, and academic arguments that have colonized vigorous vernacular description. No one is inspired to wonder by an environmental impact statement.

As for the connection between language and successful conservation, Macfarlane quotes Wendell Berry: “…[people] defend what they love, and to defend what we love we need a particularizing language, for we love what we particularly know.” And he presents the efforts of the citizens of the Isle of Lewis to reintroduce the half-forgotten language of their Brindled Moor to defeat a proposed wind farm covering the island’s interior. The people had long ago moved to the cities along the coast and no longer worked on the moors. The moors had been forgotten. To defend them with arguments, people first had to relearn the vocabularies of the moors. They organized field trips and collected poems, literature, and paintings.

The embattled plan called for 234 wind turbines on massive concrete foundations connected by 104 miles of roads, electrical substations, and power lines sending the generated power elsewhere to quench the voracious excesses of industrialization. The advocates of the project described the Brindled Moor in terms familiar to any American conservationist: “a vast dead place,” a wasteland, worthless, a terra nullius, in Macfarlane’s memorable phrase — a “nothing land.” One is reminded of the vast sagebrush ocean of the West and how it was developed virtually unchallenged because few people lived there or knew it intimately. The challenge on Lewis was to change a terra nullius into a beloved place, a place its inhabitants would, in a sense, reinhabit. They won that battle — a conspicuous and optimistic victory for localism. And that’s how the defense of the Earth must proceed: a battle place by place.

A vocabulary rich with subtle and variegated distinctions found in the flora, fauna, and even sensual properties of the natural world is essential for our perception of its lavish plentitude and fragile status. When that is lost, landscapes tend to be lost, too; flora and fauna are diminished and endangered. What was once beautiful is rendered ugly.

Although some may perceive Landmarks’ archaeology of words to be a simple exercise of indulgent nostalgia, others will embrace it as a path to navigate the labyrinth that entwines the modern and the natural worlds, a path back to the wild, a place both intimate and infinitely rich. The book presents a legacy of our ancestors and a gift to future generations.

Jack Turner

Jack Turner is a writer. He lives in Moose, Wyoming.

Books + Film + Music

As Cities Adapt to Chaos, a Question of Justice Lurks

Weather Gone Wild

Snow in Alberta in May. Melanie Wood / Dreamfilm Productions

Climate change is a global process that plays out on the ground in dramatically different ways based on where, and how, we live on that globe. How human communities will adapt to global warming’s effects will depend not only on geography, but also — like so many things in the modern world — on money.

Robert Jensen

Robert Jensen is a contributing editor for YES! Magazine. He is a journalism professor at the University of Texas. His most recent book is Plain Radical: Living, Loving, and Learning to Leave the Planet Gracefully.

The documentary Weather Gone Wild reports on inventive ways officials and ordinary people are adapting to the predictable unpredictability of the more extreme weather we are experiencing — and will continue to experience, more intensely — due to climate change.

The adaptations, both present and planned, that the Canadian film documents range from the mundane (installing backwater valves to protect homes from sewage backup during floods) to the fantastical (floating cities in which people won’t have to worry about being flooded). The film moves from Canadian cities that have seen record floods in recent years, to New York City and the lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy, to the disappearing beaches of South Florida, with a stop in the Netherlands, ground zero for coping with too much water.

Weather Gone Wild cover

Weather Gone Wild

Directed by Melanie Wood, 2014, 46 min.

It’s only at the end of the film that the narrator reminds viewers that however threatening the effects of wilder weather in the affluent global North, it will be in the poorer global South that the human suffering will be most dramatic. Flooding in Toronto’s streets is a city planning and engineering problem for which we can imagine solutions, but sea-level rise in Bangladesh means large-scale migration and death that we are afraid to imagine.

Near the end of the documentary, the wonky focus on climate-change adaptation gives way — for just a moment — to this moral question. Climatologist Gordon McBean, a geography professor at the University of Western Ontario and president of the International Council for Science, points out that the nations facing the greatest threats have the fewest resources with which to cope with climate change.

“So, where’s our social sense of justice?” McBean says, implicitly questioning whether the affluent will share their resources.

The answer — based on the actions of the wealthiest nations, not their rhetoric — is too painful to say out loud. What’s justice have to do with it? So far, nothing.

“Anyway, I’m getting emotional,” McBean says, pausing ever so briefly, apparently checking an instinct to cry. “Shouldn’t do that. I’m a scientist, right?”

The scene was a missed opportunity to do a community service: allowing viewers to grieve collectively. Weather Gone Wild does a serviceable job of addressing its narrowly defined subject, in this case the planning options and technologies for adapting to the consequences of climate change. It’s a cheap shot to criticize any one film or book for what it doesn’t address, and this documentary isn’t a meditation on moral and political questions. Rather, the documentary’s brief closing reflection on wealth inequality raises the question of what adaptation means, to whom.

Billions have been pledged to a United Nations Green Climate Fund to help so-called developing countries cope with climate change, though the United States and other countries have failed to meet their pledges, and progress is painfully slow. Barring a worldwide revolution that addresses centuries of imperial crimes and the resulting disparities, the world’s adaptation to climate change in the coming decades is going to reflect that inequality. We live in nation-states that are only theoretically accountable to universal moral and legal standards, within a global capitalism that doesn’t take into account the lives of poor people or the health of the ecosphere. Our political and economic systems not only have responded inadequately, but also are designed in ways that discourage the actions necessary to prevent catastrophe.

So, the “we” in discussions of how we can adapt, regardless of whether spoken aloud, really means those of us who live in societies with the wealth that makes talk of adaptation relevant. Referring to most of the nations of the global South, McBean pointed out: “They can’t adapt. They have no resources to adapt. And they can’t reduce their emissions because they’re already trivial anyway.”

If it didn’t seem so monstrous, we would describe as “ironic” this reality that those with the least responsibility for climate change will suffer the most. But the term fails to capture the scope of the failure of our political and economic systems, and our collective moral failure to change them.

There was a time in the environmental movement when people discouraged talk of adaptation, out of a fear that if we moved too quickly to focus on how we were going to cope with climate change, we would give up on mitigation, on reducing emissions. That time has passed; as we continue to work on mitigation, it would be irresponsible not to pursue adaptation strategies. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report released last year concluded not only that sustained reductions of greenhouse gases are necessary to avoid catastrophe but also that even with such reductions, some effects of climate change can’t be reversed and will be felt for centuries. Even the climate-science consensus, typically cautious in prediction, is clear about opportunities already lost.

We know that some human beings will adapt to what is coming. What we don’t know is how many people will have access to the resources necessary to adapt in humane ways. The different fates of affluent and ordinary people (a distinction that correlates strongly with white/non-white) during and after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans gives us a preview. In the somewhat detached language of scholarly research — this from the June 2015 issue of Population and Environment — “Social inequality has been identified as an important contributor to increasing the vulnerability of communities.”

If it didn’t seem so monstrous, we would describe as “ironic” this reality that those with the least responsibility for climate change will suffer the most.

We should abandon any magical thinking that pretends human nature and entrenched political/economic systems will change overnight and lead to global solidarity. But we can continue the difficult work for social justice and ecological sustainability simultaneously, not because we believe in fantasies of a world repaired, but because of the need to hold on to our humanity in a broken world. If we can’t save the whole world, we can commit to accomplishing all that can be accomplished within the limits of the real world.

Captured on film, McBean’s emotional reaction — an urge to cry out — is sensible, for scientists and everyone else. His commitment to pushing on, through the grief, to keep working on mitigation and adaptation also is sensible, for us all.

Robert Jensen

Robert Jensen is a contributing editor for YES! Magazine. He is a journalism professor at the University of Texas. His most recent book is Plain Radical: Living, Loving, and Learning to Leave the Planet Gracefully.

Yes! But How?

DIY Ways to Live Sustainably Bad-Weather Bicycling

Illustration by Jennifer Luxton

Dressing properly is your first line of defense. You should always be cold before your ride begins. Your body will produce heat soon after you start pedaling, and if you’re overdressed, you’ll probably overheat.

That said, layering is important. With two or three layers of clothing to work with, you can always adapt to your surroundings. Avoid cotton: When cotton gets wet, it stays wet. If it happens to also be pressing against your skin, it will keep you cold. Instead, try a base layer of a synthetic fabric like polyester or nylon underneath a second layer of wool or fleece.


It’s important to protect your eyes from the elements, but it’s equally important to maintain visibility. Ski goggles can really help bad-weather commuters. People who wear eyeglasses often find them fogging up during their ride, so here’s a tip for the four-eyed crowd: Apply a light coat of gel toothpaste to your lenses before riding (carefully, to not scratch them) to prevent inconvenient fogging and keep your eyes on the road.


One of bad weather’s biggest biking hazards is the risk of sliding tires. If studded tires are too expensive, you can punch screws or bolts through the rubber. Make sure to tape up the inside of the tire where the homemade studs are to prevent any sharp metal bits from popping your tubes. Another solution is zip ties (if you have disc brakes). Just tie and tighten them all around both wheels so they stay on the outside of your tires.

Don’t forget this low-maintenance trick: Let out some air from your tires before starting your commute. This will make the tires flatter as they come into contact with the road, increasing the amount of rubber on the ground and making slips less likely.


After a long workday and terrible weather, the last thing you probably want to do is work on your bicycle. But safety requires checking out your bike immediately after use. Wipe it down, dry the chain to prevent rust, and make sure everything is still working properly. If you take proper care of your bike, your bike is more likely to take proper care of you.

One last tip: When it’s freezing out and you’re between commutes, keep your bike indoors in an unheated room. Sudden extreme temperature changes can adversely affect a bike’s performance.


In a Season of Abundance, Remember the Honorable Harvest

In this season of harvest our baskets are full, rounded with fragrant apples and heaped with winter squash. So too are the steel shopping carts that clatter across the parking lot, plastic bags whipping in the wind. How do we even name such abundance? Are these commodities? Natural resources? Ecosystem services? In the indigenous worldview, we call them gifts.

Robin Wall Kimmerer

Robin Wall Kimmerer is the founding director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

We are showered every day with the gifts of the Earth: air to breathe, fresh water, the companionship of geese and maples — and food. Since we lack the gift of photosynthesis, we animals are destined by biology to be utterly dependent upon the lives of others, the inherently generous, more-than-human persons with whom we share the planet.

If we understand the Earth as just a collection of objects, then apples and the land that offers them fall outside our circle of moral consideration. We tell ourselves that we can use them however we please, because their lives don’t matter. But in a worldview that understands them as persons, their lives matter very much. Recognition of personhood does not mean that we don’t consume, but that we are accountable for the lives that we take. When we speak of the living world as kin, we also are called to act in new ways, so that when we take those lives, we must do it in such a way that brings honor to the life that is taken and honor to the ones receiving it.

The canon of indigenous principles that govern the exchange of life for life is known as the Honorable Harvest. They are “rules” of sorts that govern our taking, so that the world is as rich for the seventh generation as it is for us.

The Honorable Harvest, a practice both ancient and urgent, applies to every exchange between people and the Earth. Its protocol is not written down, but if it were, it would look something like this:

Ask permission of the ones whose lives you seek. Abide by the answer.

Never take the first. Never take the last.

Harvest in a way that minimizes harm.

Take only what you need and leave some for others.

Use everything that you take.

Take only that which is given to you.

Share it, as the Earth has shared with you.

Be grateful.

Reciprocate the gift.

Sustain the ones who sustain you, and the Earth will last forever.

Though we live in a world made of gifts, we find ourselves harnessed to institutions and an economy that relentlessly ask, “What more can we take from the Earth?” In order for balance to occur, we cannot keep taking without replenishing. Don’t we need to ask, “What can we give?”

The Honorable Harvest is a covenant of reciprocity between humans and the land. This simple list may seem like a quaint prescription for how to pick berries, but it is the root of a sophisticated ethical protocol that could guide us in a time when unbridled exploitation threatens the life that surrounds us. Western economies and institutions enmesh us all in a profoundly dishonorable harvest. Collectively, by assent or by inaction, we have chosen the policies we live by. We can choose again.

What if the Honorable Harvest were the law of the land? And humans — not just plants and animals — fulfilled the purpose of supporting the lives of others? What would the world look like if a developer poised to convert a meadow to a shopping mall had first to ask permission of the meadowlarks and the goldenrod? And abide by their answer? What if we fill our shopping baskets with only that which is needed and give something back in return?

How can we reciprocate the gifts of the Earth? In gratitude, in ceremony, through acts of practical reverence and land stewardship, in fierce defense of the places we love, in art, in science, in song, in gardens, in children, in ballots, in stories of renewal, in creative resistance, in how we spend our money and our precious lives, by refusing to be complicit with the forces of ecological destruction. Whatever our gift, we are called to give it and dance for the renewal of the world.

Robin Wall Kimmerer

Robin Wall Kimmerer is the founding director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.