Here’s what I think everyone needs to know about climate change

Didi Pershouse
18 min readOct 26, 2021


Summary: A bigger picture of climate change, and hopeful news. Farmers, ranchers, and pastoral herding communities can have a huge positive impact on climate change. In the USA and some other countries, conservative and liberal people are successfully working together on a common goal of restoring land — in ways that help mitigate climate change. Other species [non-humans: plants, animals, etc.] do work that is essential for the climate, and we need to understand and support that work.

  1. INTRO

In 2014, I made a decision to change my work, so I could work full time on the intersection of agriculture and climate change as my job. When I made this decision, I was a health-care worker in a small rural town, in the middle of writing a book called The Ecology of Care. I did not have any money saved. Since then, I have found ways to travel and be welcomed into the homes of hundreds of “regenerative” ranchers and farmers all over the US and Canada, (and increasingly in other countries as well) who are managing their land in ways that help to reverse climate change, and make their communities more resilient to flooding, drought, and wildfires. I now work closely with many of these farmers and ranchers, and with scientists and other “soil health” leaders from around the world.

I know that the best way to learn is to teach. I have supported myself by teaching others about what I am learning. I try to explain complex things to many different types of people in simple, understandable ways, and encourage them to ask a lot of questions (most of which I could not answer at first). Because of this process, I wrote a free book called “Understanding Soil Health and Watershed Function: a Teacher’s Manual” that is now being used in over 60 countries. (You can download it here:

In 2017, I was invited to share my thinking and experiences at the United Nations on World Soil Day. This shows how quickly we ALL are capable of learning about the big issues facing us these days. (Don’t give up!)


There is huge and hopeful work happening around the world that we don’t hear a lot about. This work gives us a new, and much bigger, picture of climate change. For example, we have many more options to address climate change than the ones we usually hear about. These options are related to “regenerative” agriculture, the work of plants and other species in cooling; reducing flooding and drought through the soil sponge; and water’s role in our climate.

We should know about this work because we are making climate a priority. However, many of us (even those who have been working in climate change) are comfortable with what we already know and are hesitant to learn new information.

Many of us don’t hear much about this bigger picture because:

  • It doesn’t fit neatly into one political party’s political agenda. In the USA, it is actually bringing liberals and conservatives together, which might be threatening to both political parties.
  • Until recently there wasn’t yet a clear way for big business to make money from these approaches to climate — there was nothing to sell. (That is quickly changing.)
  • Many US farmers who are practicing regenerative agriculture are conservative Christians who don’t necessarily describe their work as climate related.
  • It’s too hopeful. The media doesn’t see a clear way to tap into our anxieties and keep us stuck to the television screen (to sell advertising).
  • Our own discouragement makes it hard for us to believe hopeful news.

We have been shown a view of climate through a very small window that makes it hard for us to feel hopeful, and hard to see allies and solutions that are all around us. I want to change that picture for you.

Here’s what I think everyone needs to know about climate change:


I like to say that other species (plants, fungi, bacteria, animals etc.) are part of the working class, or “essential workers.” I say this because they do work that provides the goods, services, and infrastructure that all of life depends on. Goods include food, fiber, clean water, fuels, and oxygen. Services include our health; protection from floods, drought, and wildfires; and creating a climate that we can live in, including rainfall. The infrastructure is the soil sponge (healthy soil structure) that is needed for life to continue on land. Humans cannot have these things without the work of other species. (I will use the word “biological workers” sometimes in this article.)

Most people do not notice the work of other species. A lot of their work happens quietly, where we can’t see it. This means we don’t understand or value other species as workers, and so we create working conditions that are horrible for other species. These attitudes and behaviors are similar to the way people act out oppression toward the working class.

Many people also try to annihilate other species and take over their land (similar to the way indigenous people have been treated.) This situation has had a HUGE impact on our climate itself, AND on our ability to think clearly about climate change. One example is the buffalo genocide in the USA — which was part of the intentional genocide of native people. The buffalo were an essential workforce in maintaining the health of the land, the carbon in the soil, the natural water systems, and the regional climate in North America. Beavers suffered a similar fate, with equally devastating results that now intensifies wildfires and desertification.

This continues to play out as many plants, animals and insects that can’t be sold as products — or that are perceived to interfere with production — are targeted for destruction in capitalist society. They are called “weeds” or “pests.” This language is used to sell us chemicals called pesticides. Pesticides are destroying the “biological workforce” of the world.

When humans kill biological workers, and don’t respect the working conditions that other species need, it makes many things go wrong. Soil collapses and can not hold water. Carbon that was in living systems returns to the atmosphere. Ecosystems collapse because the land dries up and alternates between drought and floods. Rain stops falling because the plants and microbes that create the rain cycle are gone. Societies collapse and people are forced to migrate and/or fight for food and water. This has happened already in many parts of the world. We are currently experiencing that collapse on a large scale. Climate change is not just one of the causes of that collapse, climate change is itself a symptom of that collapse (caused by it.) Our recent use of fossil fuels has added substantially to climate change, but it is only part of the story.

People around the world are learning how to work peacefully with other species to create a good climate, bring rain back to deserts and desertified land back to life, prevent flooding and wildfires, and provide abundant clean water and food for everyone. It is not only possible, it is already happening.


Carbon is not bad. Carbon is LIFE. We are made of carbon, and so are all living things (about half of our dry weight). The carbon in living and formerly living things (you, the tree outside your window, the bird sitting in the tree, the food on your plate, wooden furniture, shells, fish, fossil fuels) came from the air in the form of CO2 (carbon dioxide).

The way it came from the air and turned into life is absolutely amazing. Plants use solar energy to take CO2 and water, and turn it into themselves, through photosynthesis. Plants then feed everything that is alive, above and below ground, and in the ocean too, and what they feed us is mostly carbon. Whether you are vegan or carnivorous, on land or in the ocean, food for all life starts as carbon in plants.

In the process of photosynthesis, plants split off the oxygen (the “O” in CO2, and the oxygen “O” in water H2O), and let it back out into the air, giving us the oxygen that all life needs to breathe.

Plants also let a lot of the water back out — in the form of water vapor — and in that process they create both the warming we need and the cooling we need to have just the right climate.

For all these reasons, we need carbon to be circulating through plants for life to continue on the Earth. We can’t get rid of carbon and survive.

Right now there is slightly too much carbon in the atmosphere in the form of CO2, and plants know exactly what to do with it, if we would just let them do their jobs.


The greenhouse effect is not bad either. Without greenhouse gases creating a warm blanket around the earth, the Earth would be frozen!

Right now, for a variety of reasons, the greenhouse layer is holding a little too much heat on the Earth. There are ways to cool the climate right now, and provide climate resilience within just a few years, through plants, soil, and the water cycle, that will also reduce atmosphericCO2.


Water is the biggest factor in keeping the Earth the right temperature. Water in its different forms (liquid, gas, solid) warms and cools our planet at the same time. Some examples:

  1. Water is the primary greenhouse gas. This is a good thing. Water’s enormous role as a greenhouse gas allows this planet to be warm enough for us to live.
  2. Water also cools us in lots of different ways. For example, when plants release water from their leaves through “transpiration (which is a lot like sweating in humans), it cools the plants, but also has a powerful cooling effect on the air around the plants through a process called “latent heat flux.” Latent heat fluxes move heat away from the surface of the Earth, and the heat doesn’t become “sensible heat” (that we can feel) until the water vapor recondenses into liquid water, which often happens higher in the sky as cloud formation. These latent heat fluxes, and the shading and albedo effect from clouds [blocking of sun’s rays, and reflection of heat from light colored surfaces], are several ways that water keeps the planet cool enough for us to live on.

Most climate action is focused on reducing atmospheric CO2 and methane. But the changes in temperature and weather we are experiencing are also very much related to WATER’s properties and cycles.

If we don’t understand water’s role in heating and cooling the planet (and in creating storms, wind, wildfires, etc.) we can’t fully understand global warming or the changes in weather that are happening. By focusing our thinking and strategies only on reducing atmospheric CO2 and methane, we are limiting our thinking, and blocking effective action.

The scientists who modeled climate change in the 1970s focused on CO2 because they couldn’t figure out how to model water cycles, and they didn’t think humans could change water cycles. It turns out humans have changed the water cycle, and the carbon cycle too. Sometimes our past experiences tell us we are not powerful, but we are powerful enough to have changed two of the biggest forces on the planet! If we let go of our feelings of powerlessness, we can be more aware of how we use our power.

Scientists now are including water in climate models, but the general climate narrative has stayed highly focused on atmospheric CO2 and methane (and even tells us that focusing on water is “climate denying.”)

Without learning about water, our actions will be based on only a small piece of the whole climate picture, and we will miss out on big opportunities for cooling and reducing flooding, drought, and wildfires.

We, as people, are smart enough to think about the whole thing.


If we allow more plants and trees to grow (more leaf area, in more places, for longer each year), we can quickly lower regional temperatures through the “latent heat fluxes” of plant transpiration. This will provide a lot of cooling in places where people live, and might even help lower global temperatures as well, if we can do it on a large enough scale. Here are some strategies:

  1. Using cover crops (instead of bare soils)
  2. Raising animals on perennial grasslands (instead of on annual grains)
  3. “No-till” agriculture (growing food without plowing the soil)
  4. Reforestation
  5. Adding more plants in cities

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC] report has made reference to some of these strategies, but most people are not aware of them. The IPCC suggested that these strategies are much more expensive than they actually are. If we restore the soil, these strategies will become very simple and easy.


The “soil sponge” is a name for the structure and function of healthy, undisturbed soil covered with living plants (in a grassland, forest, etc.). It has a strong, porous structure created by the work of many other species above and below ground. A healthy soil sponge is like bread, or a kitchen sponge: it soaks up rain, and can hold a LOT of water for plants. This prevents flooding and drought.

The soil sponge also filters water to provide clean water for all of life. The carbon that holds the soil sponge structure together comes from living, dead and very dead organisms. These produce slimes and glues and threads that bind [stick together] the little soil particles. As roots, worms, and other living things move through the soil, they help to open up tunnels and holes that water and air can move through.

Regions that have a healthy soil sponge can be cooler than regions with degraded soils, because the sponge provides more water for plants to grow, provides more water for plants to transpire, and holds more water in soils (moist soils are cooler than dry soils).

When we allow the soil sponge to grow, plants can take atmospheric carbon and put it back in the ground as soil carbon. Over time, this can reduce atmospheric carbon, which will help to cool the planet. But the soil sponge also quickly provides local cooling and climate resilience.

Restoring the soil sponge can provide all these short and long term climate benefits:

  1. Cools landscapes
  2. Reduces flood and drought
  3. Reduces sea level rise by holding more water on land
  4. Reduces wildfire risks by providing more water for plants, and moister conditions for fungal decomposition of dead wood.
  5. Provides abundant clean water and fertile soil to grow food for all life forms
  6. Brings degraded and desertified land back to life
  7. Provides more places where people can live, food can be grown, and animals can be grazed — and prevents conflicts over land, food, and water.
  8. Reduces forced migration

For all these reasons, the soil sponge is the basic infrastructure that makes life on land possible. Restoring the soil sponge is the way to provide real climate mitigation and resilience.


We can provide good working conditions for other species so they can regrow a healthy soil sponge. The principles are clear: we can observe them in nature everywhere. Whenever humans get out of the way, nature will use these principles to heal any damage that has been done to the soil sponge. Some of these principles are:

  • Leave the structure of the soil sponge whole and intact. As much as possible, we need to grow food in ways that don’t plow or till the soil (such as no-till farming, raising animals on perennial pastures and grasslands).
  • Keep soil covered with living plants (for example: cover crops, grasslands, agroforestry, etc.).
  • Biodiversity. Allow lots of different kinds of plants, animals, insects, microbes, etc. to participate in building a healthy landscape. (for example: diversified farms, mixed species cover crops, grasslands, holistic planned grazing, agroforestry, pollinator strips, heirloom seed saving, etc.).
  • Allow the whole plant/fungal/microbial/animal/insect system to develop balanced health and relationships rather than killing “pests.” (For example: organic farming, permaculture, beneficial insects.) Eliminate the use of pesticides such as insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, dewormers, antibiotics, etc.

All other species on land participate in the continuous creation of the soil sponge. Many human communities have been doing the opposite — destroying the soil sponge — for the last 8,000 years. Each time the soil sponge fails, the society living in that region collapses and people are forced to migrate.

We can choose to stop destroying the soil sponge, and choose instead to participate in creating healthy landscapes in our region. This will involve collaborating with, and even following the leadership of, non-human communities.

Many humans have had a hard time following the leadership of non-human communities, or collaborating with the work of other species, because we have been taught we are the only species that is intelligent. We have been taught that we are separate from and superior to “nature.” We have been taught that nature is there as:

a resource for us to use,

a force that we are at war with,


a victim for us to protect.

(This is similar to the erroneous paradigms through which we all occasionally view groups of other humans.)

There is a lot of evidence that other species and biological communities are strong, resilient, able to learn from mistakes, successfully working together on big projects, and consistently making better choices than humans are about how to deal with climate change. Though not everyone will agree with me, I think we need to spend some time thinking about our definition of intelligence and our place as coworkers within natural communities.


Because humans have not understood or valued the work of other species, we have changed the carbon cycle and local and global water cycles in ways that impact local and global temperatures, as well as weather. For example, we manage land in ways that don’t allow plants to grow everywhere, we leave fields bare much of the year, we cut down forests, we manage livestock in ways that destroy the soil sponge rather than rebuilding it (as natural herds or holistically managed grazing animals can do). We plant monocultures [crops that only have one type of plant] that don’t feed the biological workers that are needed to maintain the sponge. We plow [till] the soil sponge and break it up so it can’t absorb water.

These actions have turned fertile moist green productive landscapes into hot dry deserts on all continents. These deserts include the Sahara and much of the USA.

Degraded or desertified soil is more like flour than bread. It has no structural integrity, so the function is impaired: rainwater runs off sideways, creating first a flood, then a drought. (Flood and drought are usually two sides of the same issue.) Water tables drop and rivers and wells run dry. Without structural integrity, soil erodes, and land loses fertility.

Most deserts became deserts because the soil sponge was destroyed. Soils can no longer hold water, so fewer plants can grow, dead plants can’t decompose, and the region becomes hotter. Wildfires happen for similar reasons. When green landscapes desertify [turn into deserts] or dry plants burn, the carbon oxidizes [combines with oxygen] and goes back into the air as CO2. A desert has less carbon in it because it has less life above and below ground, and less carbon stored in the soil. Deserts impact climate change through the carbon cycle and the water cycle. Most deserts have been created by unaware human actions.


Humans cannot rebuild the soil sponge. Only other species can do that.

What humans CAN do is to respect the work of other species, create the conditions in which other species can do their work, collaborate with other species in managing landscapes, and stop interfering with their work. We can allow conditions that maximize the capture of solar energy and atmospheric CO2 through photosynthesis and then step back and allow plant/fungal/bacterial/insect/animal communities to turn that carbon into healthy living systems that cycle water, carbon, and methane and naturally correct climate extremes.

Because of the complexity of the ongoing relationships we do have, and will need to have with other species (and each other), this approach to climate mitigation and resilience is a big creative project that will need us to collaborate with all living things. This is a very different story than the usual climate story that we hear in the media. The old story tells us that carbon is a problem, that nature is only a victim of climate change, and solar panels and electric cars are the only solution. (We are not told to grow things, or to create conditions for other species to be able to do their work.)

We don’t need to wait for policy changes to increase the amount of green growing plants around us, or to allow a soil sponge to grow. While policy changes will help these kinds of projects move forward, we can start creating these conditions in our own yards, neighborhoods, farms, rooftops and parks.


Farmers, ranchers, and pastoral herding communities are key to climate resilience and climate mitigation (whether or not they agree with liberal views on climate change) because they have the opportunity to manage land in ways that help the soil sponge to regrow.

There are many wonderful, BRILLIANT farmers, ranchers, and pastoral herding communities around the world doing extraordinary things to help create resilience to flooding and drought, restore water cycles, bring back biodiversity, and store carbon in soils. They do this through their land management decisions. There are many names for this work — and these names rarely include the word “climate” or even “carbon.” It is often called Regenerative Agriculture, Agroecology, Holistic Planned Grazing, and the Soil Health Movement. Much of this work is not recognized, not valued, and is done quietly by poor and working class people who don’t talk about it.

In the United States, Australia, and some other places, many of those brilliant farmers and ranchers who are doing so much for the climate (and most of their farming community who aren’t doing things yet, but who could be allies) identify as conservative Christians and (in the USA) vote as Republicans. The usual liberal climate talk does not resonate with them at all.

These farmers and ranchers are important climate leaders even if they aren’t talking about climate change.

Regenerative agriculture (called the Soil Health movement by many US farmers) is a place where people who identify as conservatives and liberals are successfully working together in ways that impact climate change. They are working together with profound respect for each other, and a sense of zest, hopefulness and camaraderie. People are mentoring each other, spending days learning together outdoors, and laughing and crying together at conferences without any concern for political or religious differences, because they know how critical this work is to our survival. They do not need to agree on the cause of climate change, on politics, religion, etc. in order to do this work well together. I don’t know a single person in this movement who would turn down a chance to work with someone based on any of these differences. This sort of unity is incredibly powerful.

(I am going to write with the word “WE” in the next few paragraphs, because I was raised in a liberal culture, though my own views don’t always match those of liberal culture these days).The tendency of many activists in the United States to only bring liberal friends into their work has given liberals a huge blind spot. We are missing an opportunity to participate in a unified approach — and to act and think in bigger systems. This has created a rigidness in our ability to think about climate change, and to think about people with more conservative views. People who identify as liberal criticize conservatives and adopt a superior tone. If people don’t agree with our view of climate change, we often call them “climate deniers.” We insist on using our language, rather than learning theirs. We often want to “educate” them as if they are stupid, rather than listen to them. Rather than participating in respectful dialogue, we make jokes about political leaders we don’t like (which is disrespectful to those who voted for them). Many of us are confused about agriculture and cows, and where they fit into climate change. We are often asking the wrong questions, and trying to lead without recognizing the leadership that is already there.

Many climate groups now realize that to make change, we need to have more respect for relationships and the complexity of natural systems. But instead of that, we are told to:

  • Stop doing things: drive less, turn off lights, stop eating meat.
  • Buy things (especially technology): electric cars, new light bulbs, solar panels for our houses, often made with labor that is oppressive.
  • Fight with people who don’t agree with us: meat eaters vs. vegans, liberals vs. conservatives, protesters vs. pipelines, etc.
  • Escape through technology: find alternate planets, or build machines that pull CO2 out of the air and put it in the ground (which is exactly what plants do naturally!).

These approaches on their own cannot work. If we ask people to follow these approaches (without thinking about the larger picture of how life on this planet works) we are asking them to act out the same passive, consumer, human-centric, competitive and escapist behaviors (sometimes referred to as “fight, flight, freeze, appease, and play dead”) that have brought us to the edge of planetary collapse. These approaches also ignore the potential contributions of the largest and most important workforce on the planet — other species.

We can think bigger than this.


We need fresh thinking that isn’t driven by profits, political factions, or fear. We need strategies that show our true selves. Underneath our unhealed hurts, we are creative intelligent mammals, and we are deeply connected to, and dependent on everyone around us — not just other humans, but all species. We can create working conditions that will help us all move forward by:

  • Acknowledging the work of other species
  • Taking our place beside them as co-workers
  • Asking better questions about how the Earth’s climate is created by that work
  • And listening to people whose views we assume don’t match our own.

We may not know yet how this work together will unfold, but we do know that we are capable of working closely and collectively with other living beings as part of the larger whole, toward goals that benefit all of life.

Let’s approach climate change from that place.


Didi Pershouse



Didi Pershouse

Author of the Ecology of Care: Medicine, Agriculture, Money, and the Quiet Power of Human and Microbial Communities. Founder of Land and Leadership Initiative.