by Marena Gibson
Zoom Out Mycology implements different strategies in urban sustainability, with an ultimate goal of helping to fight climate change. We understand that humans are a part of the natural environment, rather than above or in control of it, and define sustainability as living in a way that doesn’t deplete natural resources--the destruction of which leads to a disruption in ecological balance.
ZOM uses several innovative and progressive approaches to tackle climate change:
In recent years, a coalition of the leading voices in the fight against climate change--composed of scholars, scientists, business leaders, activists, and more--have gathered to form a nonprofit organization, Project Drawdown. The mission of this organization is to research, develop, and present several solutions for climate change, but what sets them apart is that they’ve created a report to describe the global carbon reduction, monetary costs and savings, and societal impacts of these solutions in quantifiable numbers and statistics. They’ve actually ranked these solutions in order of the magnitude of their effect on carbon reduction.
Here are the top 10 solutions on that list:
Food, land use, and women are three major components of ZOM’s mission, and in this post, I’ll show you exactly how our sustainability-centered organization is addressing #3-7 of the 10 best solutions for climate change.
First, we need to understand just how much carbon these different plans are dealing with. Carbon emissions are most often measured in metric tons (1 ton = 2,205 lbs), but there’s so much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, we need to quantify it in gigatons. One gigaton is equal to 1 billion tons. In 2016, 36 BILLION gigatons of CO2 were emitted. The sheer mass of even just a single gigaton is a hard concept to grasp, so I’ll break it down into some equivalents.
A gigaton is equal in weight to:
And if you’re curious about size, check out this picture of what only 1 ton of CO2 looks like. See how massive it is compared to all those people? Imagine that, multiplied by a billion. That’s one gigaton. Multiply that by another 36 billion, and that’s how much was emitted into the atmosphere last year. It’s downright headache inducing.
Thankfully, the gigaton unit makes this a little easier, but only after you understand how massive one gigaton is. The solutions I’ll be discussing in this post will reduce between 60 to 70 gigatons of atmospheric carbon, but other solutions proposed by Project Drawdown reduce less than 1 gigaton. Don’t be tempted to underestimate any of these amounts--remember, a single gigaton weighs the same as 100 million elephants.
SOLUTION #3: REDUCED FOOD WASTE
If you’ve read our previous blogs on food waste or the true cost of food consumption, this won’t be an entirely new subject for you, but hang in there-- this time, we’ll be applying our knowledge to ZOM’s actual efforts.
Food waste directly leads to carbon dioxide emissions (4.4 gigatons per year!), and the food that ends up in landfills emits methane (a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than CO2). Globally, about ⅓ of all food is wasted; however, this average is not uniform. In countries like the US, about 40% of all food is wasted. On the other end of the spectrum, hunger is a condition of life for about 800 million people worldwide.
New Jersey is the Garden State, and ZOM supports our garden and farm ecosystems through teaching citizens in urban environments about composting, zero waste, and sustainable consumption lifestyles. We are also working to enact policies that would prevent food waste from being mixed in with other forms of waste, which closes the food web loop, eliminating any opportunities for organic waste to drop out of the cycle and become lost to landfills.
ZOM offers free educational classes on composting to the public. Our presentations can be held in a wide variety of settings. Come join us to find out what it is, how it helps the environment, and how we can all work together to spread the practice throughout New Jersey! In addition, you’ll learn more about food waste in America, including why it’s wasted, and what we can do about it. Last, but certainly not least, you’ll receive information on nutrition, which brings us to our next topic:
SOLUTION #4: PLANT-RICH DIETS
Healthy for you, healthy for the ecosystem--a diet rich in fruits in vegetables is something we love to encourage, and educate the public about. Some of the most attractive benefits of shifting your diet away from meat include:
Switching to an organic plant-based diet might be one of the most effective, substantial ways in which a single individual can make an impact on climate change, especially if food is purchased locally.
Besides our free, public classes, ZOM hosts a program for young citizens. Our Summer Sustainability Leadership Training initiative is a summer period in which volunteers from ages 18-21 are taught how to become climate champions of their own. Our mission is to empower the participants, providing them with the knowledge they need to spread the message of sustainability, and encourage others to embrace an environmentally friendly lifestyle. The program includes activities like mycogardening at urban farms in Newark, New Jersey.
We’re called Zoom Out Mycology for a reason: We love mushrooms! Though not technically plants, they are still a wonderful addition to a plant-rich diet. An added bonus you might not know is that mushrooms are a source of vitamins, minerals, and even protein. Their inclusion in a balanced diet can help ease off reliance on meat to get protein; plus, they use minimal resources. Mushrooms can be grown on on a wide array of substrates, like fallen trees and wood chips, or even on coffee grounds and t-shirts. Their versatility in growth requirements make them an ideal candidate for urban farming. They can also assist in reducing food waste by helping break down organic scraps even more quickly, and produce quality compost that can be used to grow food. And besides aiding in the production of food for a plant-rich diet, they can be incorporated into that very diet.
SOLUTION #5: TROPICAL FORESTS
In addition to the health benefits listed above, urban farming indirectly helps tropical forests. Instead of huge expanses of land, food (like mushrooms!) can be grown in backyards, urban farms, local parks, or even our own apartments. It eliminates the need for tropical forests to be cleared for agriculture, which has devastating consequences:
Forest soils--including tropical forests--have very shallow layers of topsoil, and are not a good choice for agriculture. Their soils can be thought of as young, because the organic matter is constantly being replenished. Agricultural harvesting means that little to no organic matter is returned to the soil, so it will quickly be depleted of minerals and nutrients, and therefore become unusable. Bulldozing tropical forests for their soil will provide land that can only be farmed for a short time. So if we can’t cut down any more forests for agriculture because of the harm to the environment, and the land we use for agriculture now isn’t being used sustainably, what do we do when we need to grow food?
Soil & Mushrooms:
Beyond food use, the properties of mushrooms make them ideal candidates for our organization to utilize. Our founder, Bashira, studies a special combination of mycology and soil science. Mushrooms are keystone species that have existed for well over a billion years. Without them, ecosystems would be extremely disrupted, because fungi are what turn their environments into systems.
“Fungi govern the transition between life and death in addition to the building of soils, while fueling numerous life cycles.” -- Paul Stamets, Mycelium Running
She works with two types of fungi: saprophytic and mycorrhizal. Simply put, saprophytic fungi are decomposers-- they recycle dead organic material by breaking it down and transferring it into the soil. Mycorrhizal fungi are symbionts-- they intermingle with the roots of plants, and benefit their host by capturing water and nutrients, and delivering these resources back to the plant. Both of these fungi work to promote healthy plants and soil, which are vital for a stable ecosystem.
The population of people living in cities only continues to grow. To address our organic food insecurity and inaccessibility crisis, ZOM feels it is important for urban farmers to engage these types of mushrooms, and recognize their potential for healing the ecosystems we live in, and so desperately rely on.
Implementation of mycogardening in urban farming therefore leads to:
SOLUTIONS #6 & #7: EDUCATING GIRLS/FAMILY PLANNING
This never fails to both amaze and excite me: Improving the quality and quantity of girls’ education is one of the most important and effective methods to fight climate change. If all nations adopted this solution, and worked to achieve 100% enrollment in primary and secondary schools, by 2050 there would be 843 million fewer people than if current enrollment rates don’t change.
However, always remember:
“Family planning is not about governments forcing birth rate down (or up)...Nor is it about agencies or activists in rich countries, where emissions are highest, telling people elsewhere to stop having children. It is most essentially about freedom and opportunity for women and the recognition of basic human rights.”
-- Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming
The impact on climate is just one of the many amazing side effects of prioritizing education for our girls and women. Women with more years of education:
ZOM & Female Education:
Through our free classes for the public (which, of course, includes girls and women), the organization contributes to improving quality and quantity of female education. The classes also pack a double punch-- they indirectly help the environment by providing education to girls and women, who then have the knowledge to help the environment on their own!
So far, all the members of the Zoom Out Mycology team are women. Though all are welcome to join, of course! The point is, the inclusion of women in the organization has its advantages. We are always on the search for programs and projects that will be useful for women, or specifically choose female-related topics for our educational blog posts--like female leaders in environmental science, or the relationship between gender and environmental health, or feminine hygiene products.
Putting it All Together
From mushrooms, to farming, to educating women, it might seem like Zoom Out Mycology is all over the place when it comes to trying to fight climate change. The truth is, these solutions are all connected and related to each other (like all the members of an ecosystem!), and any effort made to help our environment will have ripple effects. That’s another reason why it’s so important for individuals to understand that they can make a difference--and ZOM is here to help.
Hawken, Paul. Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming
Green Education Foundation
National Science & Technology Center Bureau of Land Management
Plant and Soil Science eLibrary
Mooney, Chris. The Washington Post, "To truly grasp what we're doing to the planet, you need to understand this gigantic measurement." July 2015.
Paul Stamets, Mycelium Running
New Zealand National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research Ltd., "How can carbon emissions be weighed?"
Goodland, Robert & Anhang, Jeff. "Livestock and Climate Change: What if the key actors in climate change are...cows, pigs and chickens?" WorldWatch. 2009.
Hickman, Martin. "Study claims meat creates half of all greenhouse gases". Independent. 2009.
Hyner, Christopher. "A Leading Cause of Everything: One Industry That Is Destroying Our Planet and Our Ability to Thrive on It". Georgetown Environmental Law Review. 2015.
WiseGeek, "What is Topsoil?"
Zoom Out Mycology’s Environmental Awareness blog strives to explain and expose environmental topics and concerns to a wide audience. Our team consists of a diverse group of scientists, policy experts, and engineers that help describe the science behind environmental issues that you see in the news and experience in your daily life. We hope that this knowledge will help all of our readers embrace a healthy and sustainable lifestyle! If you are interested in being a guest contributor, please email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org