Climate Change and Global Partnerships

Climate Change and Global Partnerships: Part 2, By J B Hoover

Nestor, a farmer in Mindanao, Philippines, had a big problem.  Every year he worked harder but had less profit.  As I interviewed Nestor I began to understand some of the factors that made his life more and more difficult.  Like many others in his area, he grows corn for his cash needs for things like medicine, tools and school fees.  He buys seeds made by Monsanto and Pioneer which are GMO Roundup ready.  Two weeks after planting, when the corn and all the weeds are growing, he sprays his fields with the herbicide Roundup.  All the weeds die and the corn continues to grow since it is genetically modified to tolerate Roundup.  He also buys chemical fertilizer for his fields.  When he harvests the crop, he sells it to local buyers who then sell the corn to others for livestock feed.

At first this system worked but over time it began to break down.  The cost of the seeds, the herbicide, and the chemical fertilizer would go up every year.  However the price of the corn did not also go up.  Rather, the buyers learned to collude to drive down the price at harvest time, so Nestor and the other farmers would get less.  The continued use of chemical fertilizer in his tropical soil also meant that had to add more every year to keep the same yield.

Nestor had to start borrowing money to pay for the inputs, and then he would pay back the debt at harvest.  Then climate change started to create more problems.  The rains became fewer but more intense.  Nestor lost part of his fields to erosion.  Also the rains came late, leading to harvest coming late.  Since Nestor’s loan was due before the harvest, he had to pay an extra penalty.  Now for all of Nestor’s work, he hardly has any money left over after paying his debts.  He works for next to nothing.

Nestor is not alone.  Many farmers in his part of Mindanao are in the same situation.  Perhaps this kind of story is quite familiar to ARI graduates.

From ARI I moved to a large city, Seattle Washington, in the U.S.  I realized I had a big problem.  This was my carbon footprint.  As we read in Part 1 of this story in the last Network, my carbon footprint, along with that of hundreds of millions of others in the U.S., greatly contributes to global warming and climate change.   This results in severe hardship for the kinds of marginalized rural people served by ARI graduates.  Back at ARI I had a rather small carbon footprint.  I didn’t travel much.  I lived on campus.  We ate mostly food grown on campus.  We even had a forest in our back yard.  But in the U.S. my carbon footprint became much bigger.  My house uses more electricity.  I grow some of my food but most of it comes from all over the country and from other countries as well.  I travel much more for my work.  I had to do something.  How could I take responsibility for my carbon footprint?

I saw that I was not alone.  At my church, there are several hundred members who live the same way I do.  We are enjoying the benefits of a carbon intensive lifestyle but we are not taking responsibility for it.

While working with my church, I hit upon an idea that could possibly help Filipino farmers like Nestor improve his livelihood, and urban Americans like me to lower our carbon footprint.  It is called, a carbon offset partnership.   The basic idea is that I could pay some money to farmers like Nestor to plant trees on deforested land in their part of the Philippines.  Ideally these trees could also help these farmers economically.  At the same time the carbon these trees would take out of the air would help reduce my carbon footprint.  This seemed like a nice idea, but how could it work?  I went to the Bishop in my diocese, Greg Rickel, and he invited some others to have a conversation about this.   Our Diocese has a group called the Bishop’s Committee for the Environment (BCE).  He invited the chair of this group, Nancy McConnell to join us.

We needed a partner who was already doing some reforestation in a place where there was severe deforestation.  We needed a partner who could understand what we wanted to do and who we could trust.  Bishop Greg said he had a friend who was the Bishop of the Southern Philippines, which covered all of the island of Mindanao in the Philippines. His name is Danilo Bustamante.  That name was familiar to me and then I realized that he was a 1990 graduate of ARI!  At that moment I knew that this plan could work.

Bp DaniloDanilo Bustamante, 1990 ARI graduate and bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of the Southern Philippines

Bishop Greg asked Nancy and me to go visit Bishop Dan and his diocese.  In 2011 we went and saw the vast deforested lands in that part of Mindanao along with the reforestation work the Diocese was already doing.  Bishop Dan and his staff were very welcoming, active in the field, and asked good questions.  I felt like I was back at ARI.  We traveled around the Diocese and realized that the carbon offset idea could work with Bishop Dan and his staff as partners.

The next year Bishop Greg went to the Philippines and signed an official agreement along with Bishop Dan.  The partnership between our two dioceses was official.

Bishop GregBishop Greg signing the partnership agreement.

Since that time the Diocese of Olympia has collected funds from individuals and churches who want to take responsibility for their carbon footprint.  This money is being sent to the Diocese of the Southern Philippines to construct a large nursery.  In this nursery thousands of rubber, coffee, coconut, fruit and timber seedlings have been nurtured.  These seedlings have then been disbursed to farmers and churches and planted on private and church land throughout the diocese.

Rubber seedlings in the nursery funded by the partnership.

These seedlings are starting to stabilize the deforested hillsides, holding soil and water during heavy rains.  They are also sequestering carbon to help offset the carbon footprint of the donors in our diocese in the U.S.  But what about Nestor and farmers like him?  Can this program help them?

Nestor is actively participating in this program because this can help him to slowly change from his present dependence on corn, which is actually draining him and the soil, to perennial tree crops like rubber, coconut, coffee and other trees.  These trees produce a reliable cash crop, but they do not require expensive inputs.  The only input is the work of the farmer.  Furthermore these trees do not produce a crop all at once, like corn, so the market cannot be easily manipulated.  Farmers can choose the best time to harvest and bring their product to the market.  In this way, farmers like Nestor become independent of corn agriculture which weakens their soil and gives little profit.

nestorNestor (in truck) distributing rubber and coconut seedlings.

There is great demand for the seedlings produced by the nursery of the Diocese of the Southern Philippines.  This diocese has also been cooperating with the local government to bring seedlings to remote areas.  Youth in the diocese are participating in tree planting on church grounds.

One requirement of this partnership is that we in the U.S. giving funds for carbon offsets must, at the same time, decrease our own carbon footprint.  We cannot just buy offsets.  We must also change ourselves and the way we consume.  For example in my church, we have been monitoring our carbon footprint for the last 6 years.  During that time we have replaced our inefficient oil furnace with an efficient natural gas furnace and replaced all of our lights to those that use less energy, along with other activities to lower our energy use.  As a result, we have lowered our carbon footprint by 14%.  However, this is not enough.

Our church went on a campaign to put solar panels on our roof so we could further lower our electricity consumption.  We raised the funds and in February, 2015 we will put a 10 kW solar power unit on the church roof.  This will reduce our electricity consumption by 20% and also our carbon footprint.  In this way we are trying to be faithful members of this carbon offset partnership through funding tree planting in the Diocese of the Southern Philippines and reducing our own energy consumption.  Other churches and individuals in our diocese are doing similar things to reduce their carbon footprint.

This carbon offset partnership shows that we do not need to wait on our governments to take positive action.  I know that many ARI graduates are doing reforestation and other tree planting activities and would like to participate in this kind of partnership.  My hope is that this partnership we have created between the Diocese of Olympia and the Diocese of the Southern Philippines, will be a model that others will follow.  There is great potential in this kind of grassroots’ action.

seedlingsGrassroots partnership in action. The partners expect this to grow and that other such partnerships will develop.