Let’s play a game….Can it be received by the earth?

You are likely sitting in a chair, on a device reading this, at a table or desk, with a pen and paper, cup of coffee, and wearing clothes…or not…we don’t judge. Look around and ask  yourself…can these conveniences be received by the earth when we are finished with them? In other words, can they decompose and transfer their embodied energy into something that will then go on to support other life forms? If not, think about what happens to the material that cannot be received (in other words, transformed) by our mother planet, or more specifically continue through the energy cycle. 

Some discards like plastics can get recycled, but most of those items end up in a landfill, becoming poison, polluting the microbiome (living soils) and waterways, and/or outgassing into the atmosphere. Other discards such as paper, cardboards, organic green waste, and so on can be transformed by the systems from whose bounty we exist. It is fascinating to think of how clever we humans are at extracting from the land and creating modern conveniences. It is equally fascinating to ponder how so much of it inevitably gets sent “away.”  

This blue planet’s systems have been disrupted, and LIFE, more specifically the continuation of life, is at risk.

Our landscape and lifestyles are unquestionably and inescapably intertwined. EveryTHING that comes into our lives has come from the land. It has either been grown or extracted. Everything we want, buy, build, and consume has an impact, a currency, an exchange, but at what cost? The landscapes we design, build, and nurture are a process, just as we are. Together we grow, we intersect, we cycle, and we are meant to let go as well. Why do we, as a species, treat the biosphere as if it were a plethora of products made just for us? And why is it so easy for us to just send it “away” when we are done with it? We can learn a powerful lesson from nature’s processes. 

For about three billion years, since the dawn of single-cell microorganisms, Earth’s life support systems have been functioning on a capture, store, use, and waste cycle. From a less technical and more relationship-oriented perspective, let’s reimagine this energy cycle as what we at Studio Petrichor identify as receiving, embodying, nourishing, and passing on. It is only since the Industrial Revolution has taken place that the fourth of these processes, passing it on, has meant “throwing away.” As humans settled from hunter-gatherers into an agrarian lifestyle, the disconnection from being a part of this energy cycle, to controlling and disrupting has resulted in a snowball effect of disastrous proportions. And that snowball gathered even greater momentum since the start of the industrial revolution.

Let’s examine how we moderns continue to disrupt the energy cycle of capture, store, use, and waste…repeat…cycle. For example, the city of Burbank, CA—which here includes its residents, commercial businesses, government departments, and so on—produces about 18,000 tons of landscape clippings (green waste) per year, all of which are trucked to Lamont, CA, for disposal. It takes 900 loads at 21 tons per semi-truck to drive 95 miles each way, making that 180,000 miles per year driven. This requires some 27,000 gallons of fuel, which in turn creates at least 562,000 pounds of CO2 emissions per year. Additionally, over 1.1 million pounds of CO2 are created between urban and suburban collector trucks and mow-and-blow maintenance. These organic discards, which are inconveniently sprinkled with plastics and other interruptions, are moved (which involves being loaded, uploaded, piled, hand sorted, machine screened, chipped, mixed, turned multiple times, cured, screened, loaded, transported, unloaded, blended, and so forth) up to 17 times before this “waste” is transformed into a usable compost or mulch. Reimagine with us that Burbank, and all other cities, could easily reclaim all these discarded nutrients within its local landscapes to enrich soils, grow fresh food, and restore natural habitats. Imagine that…and consider that it is only one city in a “wasteful” global paradigm. 

So….what is missing that would make a difference? In other words, what if all this “green waste” could instead be returned to and received by the earth locally without creating all of these emissions and requiring equipment built upon massive extractive actions? What if we could curtail or avoid this enormous carbon footprint entirely? 

In the realm of landscape design and gardening, most of our inputs are artificial or intended for fast results, such as chemical formulas out of a bottle, plastic edgings, planting giant trees, isolation planting, and much more. Can we consider interrupting the status quo and tending to the damage? Like dressing wounds for healing, we love and embrace simple, organic solutions that are not rapid, but are long lasting, with enduring results and processes. Imagine if this could be done on a citywide level—from dealing with our discards at home, to parks and public spaces where the soil has been enriched by transformed discards.

Remember when the feel of moist soil, the smell of fresh humus, and the joy of a pill bug called you into hours of play? You can help make those magic moments available to future generations. 

Earlier, we described Earth’s natural processes as consisting of receiving, embodying, nourishing, and passing on. Studio Petrichor wishes to enchant and engage you with examples of how we are embodying the energy cycle: thinking about where materials come from and where they could be going, as well as nurturing these four processes into play and sharing practices that are so simple and so easy you will want to start experimenting immediately. Your children, grandchildren, and friends will learn to embrace and cherish the results. Welcome to the Carbon Culture!

We are planting a seed…a seed that will get us all thinking about our own personal choices, our impacts, and how we can transform the materials we have created as we re-envision a more beautiful future. Are you ready to reimagine everything with us?  Get ready to dream with us….and this begins with asking ourselves, can it be received by the earth?  

Exclaimers:

  • Our practice is a mosaic that includes Indigenous and Ancestral practices, attempts and failures, and deep questioning.
  • We are embodying this intelligence in our work and describing them in our upcoming book.
  • The Burbank data comes from Kreigh Hampel, Burbank’s past Recycling Coordinator.
  • Not all discards are appropriate for this approach, nor is this feasible for everyone.  Further contextual research and information will be shared in the near future to support our practice.  
  • Though Studio Petrichor does not have “scientific” data at this time, we are in the process of testing and working with soil scientists, mycologists, and many more so we may share that data when it is available. Until then we will continue to try, fail, try again, fail again if need be, and successfully learn how these interconnected systems really do work with us…if we invite them to.