As bright as the beginning was, the area over time suffered and eventually was almost completely denuded of vegetation. By 1000 years ago the Loess Plateau had been abandoned by the wealthy and powerful and by the mid-1990s was famous mainly for a continuous cycle of flooding, drought and famine known as “China’s Sorrow”. Over the years since beginning this inquiry in 1995 I have witnessed an extraordinary transformation on the Loess Plateau. The changes have been brought about by differentiating and designating ecological and economic land, infiltrating rainfall, terracing, and consciously increasing biomass and organic material through massive planting of trees in the ecological land and using better agriculture methods in the economic lands.
A measure of ecological function has been returned to the region and the general direction of development is now positive and accumulative with the functionality continuing to improve. The changes on the Loess Plateau have been transformational and are contributing to a growing movement to restore all degraded land on the Earth. As my understanding has grown I have presented the Loess Plateau restoration efforts and results of the restoration worldwide through public speaking and in several films including: “The Lessons of the Loess Plateau”, “Hope in a Changing Climate” and “Green Gold”.
I have been on a very long journey of inquiry since beginning to study China’s Loess Plateau. This article contains much of the journey, the wonder and beauty I have seen along the way and the conclusions that I have come to. My experiences have made me realize that while we live in interesting times, we are not helpless in the face of the many challenges we are grappling with. Biodiversity loss, human induced climate changes, increasing incidence of extreme weather, pollution, food insecurity, desertification, human population growth, financial crisis, racism, war, violence, and migration, are just some of the concerns that we have. What exactly is happening? Why do we seem to be on a downward spiral, leading seemingly toward an eventual catastrophic collapse? Are all these negative outcomes inevitable? Is it “God’s Wrath” directed at us because we have sinned and because of this we have been cast out from paradise? Should we take that literally or could this be a poetic metaphor intended to lead us to understanding? The inquiry that began with a short assignment to document a project in China has led me to every continent on Earth and to cast my thoughts across historical, evolutionary and geologic time. My focus in the beginning was to gain a better understanding of the biophysical aspects of Earth Systems but has more recently turned to how this is related to human activity, work and the economy. Surprising implications are emerging. What was at first distant from current events is now suggesting a new development paradigm that could address the most serious problems we face with profound implications for the present and the future.
Studying the Loess Plateau has proven to be broadly analogous to studying other cradles of civilization on the planet. By reducing biodiversity, biomass and accumulated organic matter the people of the Loess Plateau destroyed the ability to infiltrate and retain rainfall in biomass and organic soils, causing an area the size of France to dry out….Read more…