Episode 528 Ecology and Miyawaki Forests

john Liu witnessed the transformation of t he Loess Plateau in China resulting from the work of the local people who made terraces, enriched the soil, and planted trees. Since then he has been engaged in promoting ecological camps in other parts of the world for people to volunteer their labor. Both Heather Schibli and Joyce Hostyn are Canadians who build Miyawaki forests, often in urban areas. The see their work as part of a larger project of changing culture so that people love each other and appreciate other living entities. For the video, audio podcast, transcript and comments: https://tosavetheworld.ca/episode-528-ecology-and-miyawaki-forests.


John Liu

Heather Schibli

Joyce Hostyn


forest, trees, planting, people, species, soils, carbon, biodiversity, camps, joyce, heather, world, hydrological cycle, restore, community, grow, carbon sequestration, question, project, thinking


Heather Schibli, Robin Collins, Joyce Hostyn, Bill Bhaneja, John Liu, Metta Spencer


        One of the panelists is the American photographer John Liu, whose films documented the restoration of the degraded loess plateau in China through the organized efforts of local communities. It had been a cradle of Chinese civilization but centuries ago became barren desert. Liu showed how increasing biodiversity, biomass, and accumulated organic matter could restore such a landscape to fertility. This led to the creation of ecological camps around the world, which are self-organizing and self-governing.

      In evolutionary succession, says Liu, there is more biodiversity, more biomass, more accumulated organic matter. This continually renews the oxygenated atmosphere, and the freshwater system and the soil fertility. But if you take something out of this functional system, it seeks equilibrium, but at a lower rate. And if you continuously do that, then you’ve reversed evolutionary succession. You lose the regulation of temperature, the hydrological cycle and the climate. But he noticed that where there were projects that worked it was the people who were doing the work.

       Heather Schibli mentions Miyawaki forests, which are a way to recreate ancient forests using indigenous trees. These forests are densely grown with native plants, and the method has been adapted for planting small forests in urban areas. Miyawaki forests can be created in highly urbanized areas. she planted one in her backyard, and Toronto is going to plant one at Fort York. The method fits with the Canadian government’s pledge to plant two billion trees in the next 10 years. The government only offers trees to organizations that take 50,000 trees, which small groups cannot do. So she is applying for a grant and will divide the trees up and give them to smaller groups across the country to plant as Miyawaki forests.

       Joyce Hostyn shares photos of some Miyawaki forests that she has helped to build in Kingston, Ontario. She has been planting three forests per year, and shows us some photos, including of one at an addiction and mental health services center and one near a prison farm. The clients came out and planted trees, and so did the high school students. It creates a sense of community. The minimum is about 100 square meters, but you can do even smaller ones. The high school had an opening ceremony where they were taught to plant. Later the grade nine students came and the grade 12 students taught them how to plant.

       Heather Schibli explains that they plant Miyawaki forests by staggering their layers so there is less competition for light. The trees take on a forest habit, growing upward more than outward, which gives the impression that they are growing faster, though actually they aren’t.  There are three to five woody stems per square meter, resulting in upward rather than outward growth, and they emphasize climax species, such as sugar maple and American beech hemlock, which are slower growing but stronger. Those are the trees that can handle living in the shade for the first, you know, X number of decades, while they wait for a gap to open up in the forest canopy.

       Metta Spencer is tryging to get her condominium neighbors to plant a Miyawaki forest, and notes that some places have entire towns that participate in forest camps.

       John Liu founded the first camp in the US in response to the devastating Camp Fire in Paradise, California, which killed 85 people. He shared his experience of restoring degraded landscapes in China and Africa, which made the people in those areas happier and more satisfied. He showed the demoralized people of Paradise how restoration work can not only improve the resilience of the landscapes but also uplift their spirits. This led to the creation of camps where people work on restoration projects. Similar camps have been created in other countries, including Somalia and Syria, to address food insecurity. Liu emphasized common goals and working together.

       The first urban camp, “The Birdhouse,” was in Hollywood, where many people have fruit trees that came into fruit at the same time, so they volunteered to gather the fruit from the backyards of movie stars and take it to a women’s shelter downtown where people were eating stuff like potato chips, not fresh food. Next the group concentrated on recycling gray water. It’s 10 degrees cooler in the birdhouse than in other parts of Los Angeles.

       Joyce Hostyn says that Miyawaki Forests sequester more carbon than that other style of forest planting. However, some participants expressed doubt about the effectiveness of urban trees in reducing carbon emissions. Liu highlighted the importance of biodiversity and organic material in soils for carbon sequestration, and emphasized that disruptions to ecosystems go beyond carbon disequilibrium, with the moisture content of soils also being a critical factor. Liu focuses on the restoration of ecological systems as a whole, which includes a multi-dimensional symbiotic system.  We need trees to sequester carbon, but the moisture is not being retained in the soil as it should. The organic material in the soil is the second largest sink of carbon, and the first sink is oceans.      

       With 8 billion people on the planet and adding a billion people every 12 years, it is highly probable that the human impact will destroy the ecosystem if we are not balancing the systems. The reason for camps is that many people are not respected and not focused on anything. Shifting the central intention of human civilization away from going shopping and living in harmony with life is the solution to restoring ecological function. In this way, we’ll understand that this is the only planet that has an oxygenated atmosphere, freshwater systems for people, and massive biodiversity. John Liu says it is possible to make dark, fertile soils in 17 days with human consciousness about how these systems work. But if people are ignorant of these things, they won’t fix the problem.

       The cities now are our heat sinks and wind tunnels and they should be re greened in order to maintain, not only carbon sequestration, but the lower this temperatures and to lower the wind speeds and to make it livable.


This transcript has been machine generated using “otter.ai.” Prior to using information from the transcript, please watch the video to catch any obvious errors.

Metta Spencer  00:00

Hi, I’m Metta Spencer, I have watched a lot of videos in my day. And I’ve seen some that, a few of them have just blown me away. And the thing they have in common, the two that I’m thinking of, are about trees, and about movements in which large numbers of people have come together to work on restoring their ecological environment. And largely by planting trees and looking after the soil and so on. A film made a number of years ago, by an American guy named John Liu, who was a photographer for a TV station was sent to China to document a loess plateau, which is a terribly degraded part of China, a very large portion of China. They used to be a wonderful part of Chinese civilization 1000 years ago, but it hasn’t been for a long time. And so they got the native, the local people together and paid them to plant trees and make terraces and restore the environment. The, the films that he made, were just absolutely spectacular. So it I’ve had that in mind all along. And then I watched a couple of videos about Miyawaki forests and that too impressed me. These are special kinds of forests that have been created. They were originally created by a man named Miyawaki, the Japanese botanist, I believe an old man now, who found he wanted to create ancient forests using the indigenous trees. And so we went to sacred groves around temples, where the trees have been left. On their own for 1000s of years, nobody has been allowed to bring in different kinds of trees or cut them down or anything. So these forests have been the plants living there are the native plants. And they are very densely grown together. So he he’s developed a system for planting small forests all over the place in urban areas. So I found two women who are going to tell us how to do it, because that’s what they, they are Canadians, and they are making Miyawaki forests in Canada. So we’re going to explore the notion of getting people together to improve our environment, by making forests, especially in cities. So let me say hello, first to John Liu. Hi, John.

John Liu  02:54

Hello. Very nice to be here. Thank you for asking me.

Metta Spencer  02:58

Yeah. It’s great to be with you. And you’re in Cyprus at the moment, having taken some people to your one of your ecological camps in Egypt. And from the top meeting, right.

John Liu  03:11

Yes, that was at the Habiba camp, which works with Bedouins and the Bedouin. The Bedouins are not really known for their agriculture or botany or horticulture. They are herders. But the desert is so massively degraded that actually it’s doesn’t work very well anymore. So they have been learning from one of the one of the camps. And it’s a man who was a was in the (inaudible) in the tourism business. And then he created a beautiful Lodge. They told me when I got there, that this was the place where Moses parted the Red Sea. You know, like, right there, I guess, anyway. I wouldn’t know if you know if that’s the spot. But anyway, he has been there for many years. And in 2008, there was a very big disruption of tourism, and also of the economy in in lots of countries worldwide. And so he decided the best thing would be to grow food, and he started growing a lot of food. And then I met him and he, he, I told him that well, actually, productivity follows function. And so if you bring the water back and you have soils, and you have biodiversity, then your agriculture will do better. And he started to do this, and he’s done very well now.

Metta Spencer  04:47

Let’s come back to that. I want to hear about that. Let me introduce our other panelists. Joyce Hostyn is in Kingston, Ontario, and she’s a Master Gardener. She builds permaculture things. And she’s an adjunct professor at Queen’s University, teaching people I guess how to do such things. And I think in Guelph Ontario is Heather Schibli. And Heather is a, a, also a forester, and you call them arborist I think there’s a distinction that I don’t know what the difference is. Anyway, you obviously know your way around the trees. And I, I’ve asked her to actually intervene in in my effort to have a forest planted in instead of the lawn that’s surrounding my high rise condo. So she’s negotiating with the board to see if we can put in a Miyawaki forest. And Robin Collins is a member of the Pugwash group, who is in Ottawa, where he lives, and is going to help me keep track of everybody in this big project that I’m doing, which is with the project with the Pugwash group, we’re evaluating about four different interventions that think we think will help us during this crisis, climate crisis to restore climate to its pre industrial levels. So Robin will no doubt interrogate the three of you, as we talk about how we can maybe motivate or create a project for Canadians to create forests in our cities, let’s say starting in just a year or two. Okay, so John, why don’t you, if you were well along in your narrative about this, these ecological villages or camps that you run, please update us on the whole system. And then I’d like, oh, here we have Bill Bhaneja coming joining us too. He’s another Pugwashites. So, John, tell us about your, what you learned from an experience in China and how you’ve been applying it with these camps.

John Liu  07:19

All right, um, I think, so first I was journalists. So I was trained as an observer. And when I went out to look at the loess plateau, I saw that it was fundamentally degraded. And I was surprised that the cradle of Chinese civilization could be so destroyed. And then I realized that actually, almost all the cradles of civilization have gone in the same way. And so I began to study it. And I found that in evolutionary succession, you always have more biodiversity, always more biomass, and always more accumulated organic matter. And that this is what creates and constantly filters and continually renews the oxygenated atmosphere, and the freshwater system and the soil fertility. And that when you take something out of this functional system, then it starts to try to seek equilibrium, but at a lower rate. And if you continuously do that, then you’ve reversed evolutionary succession. And you have always less biodiversity, always less biomass, and always the less accumulated organic matter, which disrupts the gas exchange and hydrological regulation. And, and so it’s you lose the regulation of the temperature, the weather, the hydrological cycle, and the climate. So when I saw this, we were working on very big scale, World Bank, you know, British government, Norwegian government, German government

projects. And that was kind of interesting, but it was kind of top down. And actually, I noticed that in the projects that worked, it was people who were doing the work. And the people were treated without very much respect and exact sort of, you know, they were like, they were doing the work. And they needed to understand it. And of course, when they did this work, then they did understand it, because they knew what they were doing. They were increasing the biodiversity, the biomass and the accumulated organic matter and it had the result it was causing streams to flow and more vegetation to grow and it lowered the surface temperatures which held the moisture in the lower hydrological cycle. So gradually, I came up well, I started dreaming about it that the. So, I had this dream and I really didn’t feel very confident about the dream. But I dreamed that people were going to be happy and go camping and restore the earth. And I kind of didn’t have faith in it. But I wrote it in an essay. And when I did this 10s of 1000s of people said, well, we want that. So after after that, it was published in permaculture magazine, and all these people started reacting to it. And so when that happened, we had to start the, the camps movement, and we now have 55 camps in six continents after just six years. But I wouldn’t say that they’re my camps. The camps are started by the communities. And they’re all autonomous self self organizing and self governing. And it’s just connected by a big network because it feels good for us all to work together and we’re more effective that way.

Metta Spencer  11:01

Okay, and I should introduce Bill Bhaneja, who has joined us a little late, Bill is also lives in Ottawa as well and is a member of the Pugwash group. So now let’s switch gears because I don’t think it’s big. It’s a big switch. I think that Miyawaki Forests are not incompatible whatsoever with what you’ve just been leading us into John. So Heather Schibli. Tell us a little bit about what a Miyawaki forest is. And am I right in thinking that this is really something that fits beautifully with what John has already been working on?

Heather Schibli  11:45

Yeah, absolutely. Um, yeah, John, I watched a bit of your I watched the documentary and it was really inspiring to see how we can flip that narrative from humans causing degradation, and destroying the habitat to actually improving it and bringing a lot of biodiversity back to the landscape. And so that’s, I have been quite inspired with the Miyawaki forest method, because it’s a methodology that seems to be packaged in a way that many people understand it. And, and it really is a method of restorations. As a as a restoration ecologist, we’ve been doing these kinds of plantings quite some time, but usually on the edges of natural areas or as buffers between a farm field and a new park. But this this method of planting forests where forests once rained, so really sticking to those forested landscapes. So here in Ontario, it was probably, you know, Southern Ontario was primarily forested, and would return to forest if left to its own means. So that’s why we’re just kind of supporting it, along by planting native species in these really dense configurations. So all woody plants, and then with the hopes that the herbaceous species will come in eventually, once once the soils have been built up, and there’s that shade and the micro, the micro habitats that support those species. So what I really love is that these forests can be planted within the urban setting. And that’s really bringing, it’s kind of breaking apart that dichotomy that we have of that nature is over there. If you want to experience nature, you go camping, or you go you know, hiking on a trail, you can bring it in, I mean, we are nature in nature is everywhere. And so this really puts it, kind of brings it to the forefront, you can so I planted one in my backyard, and the City of Toronto is now proposing to plant some in a Boulevard next to Fort York. And then there’s, I mean, they’re they’re kind of popping up in these highly urban spaces where you wouldn’t typically see forests, you would normally see. You know, so as a landscape architect, there is a few species that that that, that we tend to, I don’t personally rely on, but in many landscape architects will so you know, like, there’s like in southern Ontario, it’s typically like some spireas, maybe some burning bush, Karl Foerster reed grass, these are all these typical Eurasian species that had been brought in with the horticultural trade. So instead of those, we’re gonna bring back those native species and put them in these spots that I think it’s going to really shift the paradigm of how we understand urban landscape.

Metta Spencer  14:35

You know, as I understand it, you are you’ve already connected with the Canadian government’s pledge to create to plant 2 billion trees in the next 10 years and they have, you got some role in this operation. So can you can you say what, what the Canadian government has agreed to do, and whether or not it’s something that can be brought into the whole notion of creating urban forests?

Heather Schibli  15:14

Ah yeah, the federal government has committed to planting 2 billion trees in the country. And as a means to counter climate change. 2 billion trees is a is a very big number. I mean, we could do more. But it’s, it’s, there’s some criticism as to whether it’s going to be possible or not. Plus the funding. you can’t rely on on caliper trees, because they’re too expensive, with the funding that is available by the, from the federal government. So that’s the Miyawaki method really supports planting small species. So again, that’s that kind of restoration is a way of of planting the landscapes, you’re looking at quite small stock, it can be started from seed, or it can be around one gallon material and where we had applied with Green Communities, Canada, which is a cross country organization, and Canadian Geographic, to develop some resources for Canadians to be freely available on how to install Miyawaki forest in in urban and peri-urban settings. And then we’ll, we’ll apply again for the next round, where we’ll be able to offer micro grants to communities, because the problem with the 2 billion tree initiative is that they they have minimums in terms of how many trees, any organization who’s applying must plant, and many organizations can’t plant 50,000 trees they are the minimums that they’re requiring, or even 10,000 is a lot. So what we’ll do is we’ll apply for those grants, and then we’ll just we’ll distribute them to smaller groups across the country. And then we’ll keep track of how many trees are actually being planted in each of those communities, but really giving the power to those communities to guide their own Miyawaki forest plantings.

Metta Spencer  17:25

Okay, thank you. Okay, Joyce Hostyn, would you share with us, I think you even have some photos of some Miyawaki forests that you have built. And then I’m going to ask Bill and Robin to just ask the questions that they think the Canadian Pugwash people might want to want answers to. So just butt in and ask questions as spontaneously as you will. But Joyce, say hello, and what you’re doing in Kingston.

Joyce Hostyn  18:00

Hi, I’m Joyce and the flip the narrative I’m like, fully like this is so important to flip that narrative. And that humans are nature we aren’t separate. We aren’t helping nature, we are nature and starting to recognize that. And one of the things I love about little forests, we call them little forests, and Kingston Miyawaki forest is that it’s if we can connect people to trees, especially children to trees, and as Heather said, bring the fact that you don’t have to get in a car and drive out just to like be in a forest that every child can have a forest nearby. That’s where we would like to see things go and so that’s what we’re working for in Kingston. And we see it as kind of like, it’s a movement. It’s shifting that narrative into movement. And that we’re collaborating, we’re collaborating with plants, we’re collaborating with soil, with organisms, with land, with climate with geology. So it’s a collaboration with all the different kinds of species. And we planted, like I said, , met we plant it. Our first year was 2021. And I met Maureen Buchanan and Joanne Whitfield, who are two co founders. And we talked about like Maureen had wanted for language learning activity for Anishinaabemowin, to plant trees and I said we shouldn’t plant trees, we should plant forests, as we have all these lonely trees in cities, and that trees like to live in community. And that community is and humans are part of that community. And so she said, well, we’re going to plant three and we’re going to plant three this year. And so we did and we went around. We didn’t go through the city that first year because we knew we wouldn’t get three planted. And then this year we planted three more and then there was two private little forests that were planted. And then we’re launching, we just had a launch of my work calling them pocket little forest kits for homeowners. And that was there’s a group in Belgium when they, I think in spell Netherlands, that have been planting tiny forests, they call them, and they started doing pocket little forest. And the homeowners are really excited about that, because so many people want to do something, they want to do something, and they’re not sure what to do. And you show them, you know, you don’t have to have a lawn, you can have a little forest. And..

Metta Spencer  20:34

Can you show us some of the photos of the one’s you have done?

Joyce Hostyn  20:38

Sure, the addictions and mental health services. And this one we just planted in October. And it’s that’s Kelsey, and she’s was a real driver. She’s an occupational therapist with addictions and mental health services. And with COVID and with the connection between trees, forests and mental health, she just thought this was so important for their clients, the residents that live in the building. That’s right, you know, beside this piece of land here. So that’s Kelsey.

Metta Spencer  21:09

Are these houses in the background, it’s like a mental hospital or what?

Joyce Hostyn  21:15

It’s apartments I guess, for people with addictions or mental health challenges. And so some of their clients, they came out to plant and then train different groups of students came out. I mean, this is just at the end of the planting. Were Cathy there. She’s just going around and making sure every tree was planted like is anchored not just in the mulch, because…

Metta Spencer  21:37

What are these little colored flags about?

Joyce Hostyn  21:40

We put the flags beside the trees, one because it makes people ask like, what did you do one of those flags for? And then we have four different colors because a little forest has four layers, canopy, tree, understory, and shrub. And so each of those flags represents a different layer of the forest. And then when we put on the wraps the spiral wraps to protect the trees in the winter, those flags hold up the wraps for when the because some of the trees are very little and so they’re not kind of strong enough to hold up the wrap. So the flag also holds up the wrap.  Okay, good.  That’s why it’s a …

Metta Spencer  22:18

The people, the mental patients or the the people were doing the work themselves, largely?

Joyce Hostyn  22:26

There is a difference there. The clients came out and planted the students that it is right beside a high school, Kingston secondary school, and Molly Brant primary school so both groups of students came out to plant. And so this is this one. So I think when the students are there, the high school students. There’s just a short little video clip of them. You can see how many people are out there planting.

Metta Spencer  22:54

Good. All right, thank you.

Joyce Hostyn  22:57

And then this is from last year Lakeside, where we had music like musicians came out, the poet laureate came out and wrote a poem. This is the Girl Guides. That’s just another so that’s it, like a community garden on the corner of the prison farm here.

Metta Spencer  23:18

That’s a prison farm? Oh.

Joyce Hostyn  23:20

Yes, it’s the corner of the prison farm. And this is Wolf Island, where there was a planting done by the community center right beside St. Mary’s public school.

Metta Spencer  23:29

So that gives you an idea of how small a forest can be?

Joyce Hostyn  23:33

Yes, this is 100 square meters. So the minimum size to do the methodology, it should be 100 square meters, but you can do smaller and the pocket forests are going to be smaller than 100 square meters.


And then highway 15, the Indigenous food sovereignty project, this was the largest one this was 300 square meters. And next year, we’re planting 300 more square meters there. And this one, the trees were the forests, their upland and lowland forests, but also really thinking about the plants, the trees that are really important medicinally for the Indigenous community because this piece of land is being repatriated to the Indigenous community. And what I really love about this one is so many different, but 80% of the people who plant it were kids and in this picture here, the grade 12 students from Kingston secondary school came out. They had an opening ceremony where they had a teaching and then they were taught to plant and then they did their planting. And then the grade nine students came out they had the the initial tree teaching, and then the grade 12 students taught the grade nine students and that’s what this fellow here is doing. He’s teaching these grade nine students on the right. And it was like he was just such an amazing teacher. Just watching him in his came to life teaching the younger ones how to do it.

Metta Spencer  25:05

Now, I understand that they they need to be kept. But these trees are going to have to be weeded and watered for maybe three years, and are these kids going to come out and each each sort of have responsibility for certain trees that they will look after or how we’re going to get these trees handled?

Joyce Hostyn  25:25

Each forest. So each forest, we plant the forest with community. And so like Kelsey is the steward for the addictions and mental health little forest. And for that one she actually Queen’s University, they started a little forest club. And some of the students from Queens came out and did the protections. We, that’s one of our requirements is that you have a strong steward to make this, to make sure that the forests are loved and cared for.

Metta Spencer  25:54

Perfect, okay, well, thank you. I think I will do a little screen sharing of my own. Just to show you some of the the things elsewhere that I have seen. This was made, but this is from a clip from from one of the TED Talks. I’ll get rid of that now. And here’s, this is a Miyawaki forest. These are two year old forests that apparently in Asia, like in two years, they grow this size in India. I don’t think they may grow that quickly, here in Canada, but Heather, can you speak to them? How quickly can we expect our forests to grow?

Heather Schibli  26:41

Um, I think it’s another system claims about how they grow faster. And we did look into where that claim came from. And there was a case where there was one one tropical tree species in particular that grew faster within the Miyawaki or mini forest setting and then out in the open. But I think what happens is when you plant trees, because this method really proposes between three and five woody stems per square meter, it’s quite dense. Now remember, like Joyce did mentioned that there’s four different layers. So you’re, you’re staggering the layers so that they can fill up each each vertical layer throughout the forest. So there’s a bit less competition. But when you have trees growing that closely together, they take on a forest habit, as opposed to an open grown habit so that all that energy is going into upward growth as opposed to outward growth. So in effect, it seems like they’re growing a lot faster, when in reality, they’re really just, they’re just taking on a different form of habit. You’re aiming typically for climax species. So those are the species that would come in to an already forested setting. Those are the trees that can handle living in the shade for the first, you know, X number of decades, while they wait for a gap to open up in the forest canopy. And they’re also typically slower growing species. So in southern Ontario, you’re often looking at as for climax species, sugar maple, and American Beech hemlock. And these are all slow growing, but very strong wooded species. I’m trying to think of like we’re measuring the heights. So we’ve we’ve planted this is quite a new method and in Canada. So I think like with Joyce like we, I think our first we did was in 2021, as well, and that was in Hamilton. So we did take some measures and they were growing where they hadn’t been chewed up by rabbits, they had been growing in about 18 inches or so. So we’re learning as we go, like how to protect these these young trees, I had made the mistake of planting some poplars in my backyard, and those grew about about two to three meters in one year. It was like shocking and a little like a little too much. It’s like a little too happy. So I ended up transplanting them to another spot and replacing them with some slower growing species like Northern red oak. And, …

Metta Spencer  29:24

Mostly I liked the idea of getting neighbors out to get acquainted with each other as they plant trees and look after trees after you know after they’ve been planted for a while. So you’ve had a lot of experience with these camps. And I think you said at one point that the, there are some places where it’s a whole little town that takes becomes a camp.

John Liu  29:49

The first camp that we created in the United States actually was a reaction to the the campfire in Paradise California, which killed 85 people, and the people there were just distraught, you know, they were, they were, you know, just miserable. They were floored, you know. So a young man called me from there he’s a permaculture trainer. And he called me and said, You have to come back to California right now. Because Paradise is lost. And he was actually fleeing the fire when he called me on his cell phone. And it was extraordinary. So if somebody like that calls you, hi, I said, of course. So I went back there. And all the people were just really miserable. And I showed them the work of restoration in other parts of the world, in China and Africa and some other places. And I said, you know, the people in these places were pretty poor and kind of miserable. And when they started to do restoration with one another, it really helped their spirits, and they became much more happy and satisfied, and they could even kind of, because they were trying to trying to fix the heartbreak and the misery that they were in. And by doing this work, it actually helped them not only to get their landscapes more resilient, but also to get their spirits up. So then we said, well, who wants you know, I said, well people who want to do the restoration, they make camps and, and then at the end of this talk, right, we, I was there with Matthew Traum? The the guy who had called me, and we said, Well, who would like to have camps in Paradise, and he was like, unanimously, everybody wanted to have a camp. And so then, with the, with the local community choosing this, then lots and lots of people started coming from other parts of California, to help them because it was so, you know, miserable to think that paradise was destroyed by fires, little beautiful community. And so, you know, that was like a huge impetus to do this. And, like, now we have other places, like we have places in Somalia, we have there are 17 villages, studying permaculture in Syria, and this kind of stuff. So when you see this, and you think, Well, let’s not always talk about our differences. Let’s find out what brings us together. And let’s do what needs to be done. Because we can see that the climate is changing. We have, we have wildfires, we have droughts, and floods, and we have food insecurity. How are we going to deal with these things? I mean, we’re going to talk about it, what will that do, you know, I mean, really won’t do anything. But if we actually restore the soils, restore the hydrological cycle, restore the biodiversity, then it will do something and by doing that, we also heal our relationships with one another and our relationships with other species.

Metta Spencer  33:33

When you make these camps are any of them in what we would go urban areas, along streets, for example, or public, you know, buildings?

John Liu  33:45

Well, the first urban camp that we have is in Hollywood. It’s a little bit special. It’s called the bird house, you should go look it up because they have they started with a real, you know, with an actor, Bill Pullman was getting his he had a lot of fruit trees. And he had a lot of friends who had a lot of fruit trees, and all their fruit trees would would come into fruit as you know, together at the same time. And so he needed a lot of volunteers to go gather the fruit or you’d have a lot of rotten fruit in the backyards of movie stars. So, so they created the the Hollywood orchard, and they came together and they were all gathering the fruit from these these fruit trees. And then they would take it down to the women’s shelter the downtown women’s shelter or to other places were really in some of those kinds of places their food for it, their food, their food deserts, you know, there’s no fresh food, and they maybe they don’t even have grocery stores, they’ve got like, convenience stores with potato chips and you know, candy bars, you know, crap. So, you know, to bring them fresh food is wonderful. And all that fresh fruit would be wasted if they didn’t harvest it. And usually that’s all organic, you know, there’s not using any pesticide. So it was really a good thing. And then, when when they started doing this, they had other places, and they were having droughts for two, you know, like, almost two decades now in California. So they started saying, well, let’s just stop with the, the, the gray water let’s, let’s come together to, to deal with the gray water. And this family gave their home and their their thing to the birdhouse. And it became a community center, where everybody was working to have the greywater recycled. So they if they recycle the gray water.  Suddenly, they have total vegetation, and it’s 10 degrees cooler in the birdhouse than it is in other parts of, of Los Angeles. And, you know, so then it’s 15 degrees cooler, and it’s, you know, really got a huge canopies, and all the people are singing, and they’re doing this stuff. So you know it, it’s like, well, that’s really what we should be doing, you know, we shouldn’t be like walking around angrily saying the world is falling apart, we should, like do what needs to be done.


Metta Spencer  36:40

Well, let’s see if we can get it to happen here. I want Robin and Bill to take over in terms of asking the kinds of questions of you guys that probably most Canadian Pugwashites would be interested in hearing.

Bill Bhaneja  36:56

The hands on involvement actually ended up projects, as we’re very inspiring. But the focus from where I got involved into this area was got interested was about this whole notion of how does it impact the decarbonisation or sequestration? If you know how that is preserved help with that. And more I read about urban trees, I read that they do more on reducing the temperature cooling over the cities, rather any significant sequestration. And Mike, so in our little group there, especially Robin and myself, we have been, you know, always struggle with this. Okay, how much does it, what kind of, how does it impact or will impact on the decarbonisation or is there any? Is there any part of this urban forestry or urban forestry is essentially to, for us to build a good community, a good atmosphere.

Joyce Hostyn  38:25

I think planting near Miyawaki little forests, or Miyawaki forest is a direct act of decolonization. Because, as Heather said, this land we live on here in southern Ontario. Once was forest, we started calling Kingston city of forest. Maureen Buchanan, a co founder, she’s them first nations from Batchewana First Nation. And she even talks about decolonization of the soil. as we, as we bring the organic matter back and preparation for planting the trees that’s decolonizing the soil. She said the forest is here. It just, we covered it up we’ve cut it down, but we’re just gonna let it you know, “be” again. So I think it’s a direct act of decolonization. And there’s a lot of urban Indigenous community now. And they have no land base.

Metta Spencer  39:24

Excuse me, I I think you’re talking you’re speaking to the question of decolonization.

Joyce Hostyn  39:32

Yes. That’s the decolonization question.

Metta Spencer  39:34

Yeah. Well, no, I think Bill was asking about decarbonisation.

Joyce Hostyn  39:40

Oh decarbonization.  On decarbonisation, we there’s actually a group of Queens professors put in an NSERC alliance grant, because they want to study the carbon sequestration, the growth rates, the biodiversity that planting two different methods. to planting the Miyawaki little forest versus the conventional planting, the City of Kingston is going to plant what they call a managed forest for carbon sequestration. And they’re going to be planting yet using around three or four species of conifers. This area is a deciduous mixed forest going more deciduous. So a conifer is not going to be a bio diverse forest is not going to have the same carbon sequestration, as a mixed deciduous forest will. And so they want to look at and compare across that style of planting, which is going to make them with machines with herbicides in rows of conifers, versus the Miyawaki little forest. And that the even the city is who’s a partner in that is saying that they’re pretty sure that the Miyawaki forest like no questions, sequester more carbon than that other style of forest planting.

Bill Bhaneja  39:42


Metta Spencer  41:01

Thank you, now John Liu has something urgently he wants to contribute to this John?


John Liu  41:07

Well, I think having [inaudible] done documented restoration projects around the world for the last 30 years. My, my feeling is that, absolutely biodiversity is critical for the for this, carbon is not the enemy. And that carbon, your carbon, and carbon, we’re all part of it. So we’ve we’ve we’ve created a meme, or I mean, and let’s just say an Inconvenient truth is also a partial truth. And that we have massive disruptions to ecological systems. The, the temperature differentials, when you have solar radiation directly hitting the soils can be, I found 45 degrees centigrade, that bit between below, below the vegetative cover, it’s cooler. And on the direct, where solar radiation directly hits exposed soils, it’s really, really hot. And we easily found 20 degrees centigrade and in Egypt during this last trip, and you have to understand that that’s a change in the physics that that’s taking, making thermic drafts which push moisture into the upper atmosphere where it’s no longer available for for condensation and precipitation. And it’s more of a greenhouse gas both in quantity and effect than co2. So, once you understand, once you understand these things, yeah.

Metta Spencer  42:59

What is more of a greenhouse gas than co2?

John Liu  43:02

High high altitude, moisture is more of a greenhouse gas than it’s more in quantity. And it’s more effective as a greenhouse gas than than co2. So the co2 argument was started in the, in the 90s. And in the time of the Kyoto Protocol, and it was basically trying to control the, the, the flows of money that people were imagining would be needed to restore equilibrium. And

Metta Spencer  43:43

Now hold on now, now wait a minute,I don’t care about the history, what I care about is your argument. Are you saying that you don’t worry about whether or not there’s too much co2 in the atmosphere? And you don’t care whether or not trees are taking it out of the atmosphere?

John Liu  43:59

No, no, no, no, that’s not that’s not what I’m saying at all. We need to have trees we need to have carbon sequestration. And the greatest part of carbon sequestration is in soils. And in organic material in the soil, that’s the second largest sink, and the first sink is in oceans. And so the biomass above ground is a factor of one but the actual organic materials in the soil are a factor of three or four.

Metta Spencer  44:30

Okay, yeah. I think I’ve got it.

John Liu  44:30

So when you understand that’s, that’s just carbon and you have what you have is disruptions to ecosystems. We have symbiotic multi dimensional symbiotic systems. We don’t have just carbon disequilibrium. When we look at what’s happening, then we realize that the moisture is not infiltrating and being retained. And, and you know, the Indigenous people, they were caring for everything, everything was sacred. All living things were sacred. And they weren’t saying like carbon is sacred and nothing else mattered, you know? So

Metta Spencer  45:12

I think Heather has something. Jump in here, Heather, because I want to make sure we’re talking about, on the same plane.

Heather Schibli  45:21

Yeah, no, I actually, I think just bringing this all together, I thought it was interesting. So Bill’s asking about decarbonization. And then Joyce is talking about decolonization. But I actually think they’re really wrapped in together. So it’s not so much the carbon issue, that’s a symptom of something bigger, right. And that is how humans are interacting with the world, so we can bring in, no, we brought up different topics here about feeling disconnected. So our culture, we’re super disconnected, once you start to reconnect with the landscape with other species, you start to reconnect with the sacred, and then you start to realize that there’s a responsibility that we all have, that we all share, which is grounded in love and appreciation for this amazing world. So I think once you start to shift the story, again, with how we interact with this world, the carbon issue will be resolved in a sense. So like, the issue that we have, right now, with, with climate change, and the biodiversity crisis. That is, that’s those are all symptoms of, of how we engage with this world, it’s a symptom of the culture that has predominated the world, it’s taken over, in all places, and as what John was saying, there are so many other cultures where humans were actually, you know, that, like, humans were builders of diversity and, and really good stewards of the landscape and had really good relation with all the various species that we share this lovely world with. And I think it’s, um, you know, it just seems so obvious that like, planting trees, bringing back nature into and recognizing that we are nature that we are totally reliant on this, we are made up of various species ourselves, we’re not just this one organism walking around. We’re a collection of organisms. And as science digs in deeper, we start to realize all of these these truths, and the stories that have been told in other cultures have a real grounding, and that there’s so much more to this world than what we understand Western culture. Like I think we’re we’re all like toddlers just trying to like figure out this place.

Metta Spencer  47:30

I want to connect this to something and experience and I had that baffled me for two or three years, because I did a talk show with Shubhendu Sharma, the guy in India who is promoting Miyawaki forests more than anybody else in the world. He has a business. And so I began to ask him, well, do Miyawaki forest sequester a lot of carbon or not? How much carbon do they sequester? And he wouldn’t answer me, he went off on a totally different angle. He said, That’s not why you build Miyawaki forest, you build me working for us, because they’re beautiful, because they’re good for you.  And like their spiritual, we didn’t use the word spiritual, but sacred. And I and we got into a sort of an argument, but I didn’t know what I was arguing about. And you guys are both on the same team, obviously, because John Liu is just lapping up whatever Heather is saying, you obviously think alike. And obviously you’re thinking the way Sharma does, which completely baffled me before. Okay, John Liu, you can finish whatever it was, I interrupted, you from saying.

John Liu  48:39

Well, we don’t simply have carbon disequilibrium, carbon disequilibrium. disequilibrium is a result of all this other activities that we’re we’re doing. And so we’re valuing materialism higher than we’re valuing ecological function. And basically, this is the only planet that we know that has an oxygenated atmosphere or freshwaters systems and, and fertile soils and amazing biodiversity. And it’s, it’s, it’s, you know, it’s a miracle. So,…

Metta Spencer  49:20

Let’s go back to Joyce, and I know I appreciate the miracle. It’s just that I also wanted to know whether it was going to do something like sequester carbon at a rate that I could measure, but that’s obviously I’m off on a different tangent, Joyce.


Joyce Hostyn  49:38

Say like Heather, just did such an awesome job of like bringing it together and that the focus on carbon, I think, is is kind of distracting us from the real issue. And there’s a wonderful woman at Waterloo she talks and she gives talks to her PhD researchers around relational system’s thinking, Melanie Goodchild. And really we have to start thinking and seeing in systems. And what can we learn from the forest, the forest is a system, we tried to break them up and separate them out and plant trees and these individual little things, and yet, it’s a living system. And in relational systems, living systems thinking, we are all related. We are all like the stones, the trees, the plants, we are all living beings, we are all relations. And so kind of stepping away from that, you know, we are the only ones that are living or have, I don’t know, intelligence, and instead of referring to trees as “it”, trees are relative. And can we start thinking that way? I don’t know. I’m not as awesome. as Heather at summarizing it, but,,,

Heather Schibli  50:57

No, yeah, yeah. Sorry, Metta. I just think it’s, I guess, yeah, what I was trying to get at is that, I think, like, what Joyce was saying, with with bringing children in, I think is really important to kind of like do a reset, so that we become more exposed to the natural world and other species. Because when you become, when you build relationship with other species, you start to appreciate and love it and want to protect it. And so if we had just imagine if we had politicians who had grown up loving the trees that they had, that surrounded them and being familiar with those different or like, maybe like, maybe they recognize some some insects there that that really captured their fascination and an imagination, that they would perhaps support policy that supports those species, and then that shift would happen. So that’s where like the carbon issue, again, only looking at trees as as a tool to collect carbon is yet again, kind of looking at the world in what John says is in solely material gains, and and it’s bigger than that. And so I think if we can, if we can start to bring back like the magical element of this world, into human psyche, I think that there will be more respect in how we treat, like you’ll consider all the species that are being impacted before you propose a dam, for instance, or at least somebody at that or table will consider it, you know, there’s just I agree, though, we need to, we need to capture carbon. And as I think it was, John was saying to like, a lot of carbon is captured in soil. And soils are built by the species that grow in them. So if you have a forest with all sorts of diversity, you’re gonna have all that fungal material in the ground, you’re gonna have, you know, all the micro organisms that, that store and capture carbon as well. And so it’s, I mean, I don’t have the paper here to show that a forest I think I shared some with you some papers that showed that forest soils do hold more carbon than like, grassy covered soils. Actually I could bring that..

Metta Spencer  53:14

I was going to say that you should bring that.

Heather Schibli  53:15


Metta Spencer  53:16

But let’s Robin have his turn.

Heather Schibli  53:19


Robin Collins  53:22

So I’ll bring some more practical questions. I’ll do I’ll do the put my Pugwash hat on here, and see if I can extricate some specific answers to a couple of questions. One, a process question and one a scale question. To John more, mostly, the process question. Some of the critics of the, you know, 1 trillion tree proposal, which was a carbon sink proposal, or at least it was skirting around the issue of massive planting of trees worldwide, could draw down significant amounts of carbon from the atmosphere. Some of the critics of the tree planting that is human tree planting process, noted that human intervention wasn’t necessarily the road to go, or to track that the the natural succession process and I’m bringing this to you, John, because you did mention biological succession, which for those who aren’t aware of it, and then you can give it, you can give maybe a little introduction to what that concept is. But it is basically humans getting out of the way and letting trees, well ecologies to develop through a process of low cover to ultimately climax cover, canopy trees, higher, larger trees and so on, that become stabilized. So, John, in that you, you had mentioned succession. But let me ask you. Well, first of all, what do you mean by this the camps? And secondly, why are the camps useful, more useful than a succession process? So let me let me ask that first question. And I’ll get to the other question too. After maybe that that one.

John Liu  55:37

Okay. Well, I mean, there is a lot of discussion about camps or communities, and it’s kind of going to be it’s becoming camps and communities. But the reason that I started thinking about camps was we are not engaging the mass of people who have the opportunity to restore ecological function. And if they’re not restoring ecological function, it’s highly probable that they’re destroying it. So in, if you think about that, the fact that we have 8 billion people on the planet and we’re adding, we’re still adding a billion people every 12 years. And you realize that the human impact if we’re not balancing these systems, we’re destroying them. That’s what happened in the, in the cradles of civilization. And and what we found out now is, we can restore all degraded lands on the earth. But why aren’t we doing that? Because we know it will sequester carbon, we know it will reregulate the hydrological cycle. We’re not, an of course we have to do that in relationship and in harmony with nature. We’re not trying to like order things to be in a certain way, we’re trying to get back in to relationship and the the types of ecosystems that were here, for instance, in the United States or in North America. They’re the oldest trees were 4000 years old, 400 feet tall. And in less than 200 years, they have been lost. Now, why do you think there’s massive drought in in those areas, there’s mount massive drought, because when you remove that canopy, the solar radiation is no longer interrupted at 400 feet. And it’s directly hitting the surface of the earth. And it causes physics changes, to all the temperatures to the wind speeds, wind direction, the density, there’s less respiration, everything about this is quite clear. Now that’s not scientifically disputed. And carbon sequestration is part of a multi dimensional symbiotic system, and which is enormous in scale. And the the camps, the reason I think that the camps are important, is because we have a lot of people in the world who are now not, they’re not respected, and they’re not their, their life’s energy is not being focused on anything. They’re being said, if you don’t have any money, if you’re not participating in mercantilism, you’re useless, you’re, you’re nothing, you should just die at the edge of a desert or something. Well, I just don’t believe that I think everybody who’s alive, all species that are alive, are a representation of all life since the beginning of time, that the life’s energy which flows through each individual is equal. And we all have an opportunity to live and we have a birthright when we live. And when we say well, why don’t these be? Why are all these people poor? Where are we? Well, we know why they’re poor. It’s because of genocide and slavery and colonization and mercantilism, and all these other things, which have been said to be true, but are really just concepts that some people had to dominate other people. And this has happened over a long period of time, not only dominating other people but dominating other species and the land and trees, you know, all of this stuff. So is that is that a reality? Absolutely. It’s a reality.


Robin Collins  59:39

To my to my point, though, about human intervention, you if I’m if I’m reading you correctly, human intervention is required, because the natural processes will not of themselves rebound sufficiently or quickly enough, is that what you are arguing?

John Liu  1:00:02

Not exactly, I’m sort of saying that we need to shift the central intention of human civilization away from going shopping, that manifesting the idea that the purpose of life has to go shopping and to gather more and more material things to individuals is ridiculous. And that’s what’s destroying the earth. And if we if we shift and we’re, we live in harmony with life, then we’ll understand that this is the only planet that has an oxygenated atmosphere, freshwater systems were people.

Robin Collins  1:00:41

I think, I think most people would agree with you on that. I’m just I’m trying to draw the connection between your projects. I mean, are you seeing it as sort of a model philosophical position that you’re giving?

John Liu  1:00:54

It’s, it’s not just philosophical, you have if you if you have compacted soils, moisture does not infiltrate and is not retained. And so it flows away. And you have, over evolutionary time, you have a pedosphere, which is a living layer on top of the lithosphere. So if you’ve lost the pedosphere, and now you have bedrock, you could ask, you could ask, well, is that going to work? And can we do anything? Or will evolution take care of that? Yeah, evolution would take care of that if you have another 3.8 billion years. But I’ve just saw here in Cyprus, that in eight years, you can build soils that are infiltrating on top of bedrock. And that you can lower the temperatures and you can recharge the hydrological cycle. And that’s coming from human consciousness about how these systems work. So the people who are ignorant of these things, well, they’re not going to fix it. And they’re going to go on making huge mistakes, and it’s going to be tragic. But if the whole of humanity were to suddenly have a tsunami of understanding and understand that these systems are not magical, their results of it’s, it’s if then it’s logical. If you have a huge amount of organic material, then it’s breathing. That’s what sequestering carbon. sequestering carbon is not a concept that you discuss and you write a policy paper and people with cufflinks are somehow sequestering carbon by writing a cheque. The way that it’s sequestered is when the soils are deep and rich and black. And you can do that we can no we can do that we can make dark, fertile soils in 17 days with massive microbial things. So if we switch our intention away from buying and selling things, or or and especially thinking that speculation between the cost price or interest bearing debt or dominating other people or other species is a good idea. And we say that, no, we should all be focused on restoring the, the atmospheric layers and holding moisture in the lower hydrological cycle and, and building biodiversity. That’s all the same. So there’s no difference between carbon sequestration and infiltration and retention of moisture or fertility in the soil or massive biodiversity. It’s all part of a massive.

Robin Collins  1:03:44

Holistic approach. Yes. And so if I can, if I can segue into my second question.

Metta Spencer  1:03:50

Oh, there is not much more time. We’re over. okay. Well, it’s

Robin Collins  1:03:53

Well it’s a pretty a pretty important question. Pretty important question.


Metta Spencer  1:03:56

Let’s step it up guys, we gotta hurry this up.

Robin Collins  1:03:58

Right, the second question is on the scaling problem or issue of urban and these other projects Miyawaki forests, and let’s assume that that some people believe that carbon, carbon capture is a significant problem needs to be resolved. Unless it let’s assume that the Miyawaki fellow that you mentioned metta is correct, in that that’s not his focus that the scale of the Miyawaki forest and the urban forest are slight compared to the scale of a carbon capture project. What then, what then are the primary? And I don’t mean the philosophical arguments here. I mean, what are the primary outcomes or outputs of these projects that benefit urban populations? And from what I understand there’s a significant number of them, can we get them can get them listed, just so that people know why urban forests are a project that are worth, worth our time and energy.

Metta Spencer  1:05:12

You know what, I think we ought to have almost a whole show on that. Because, you know, air purification and cleaning the water, all kinds of things happen. We have we’re 10 minutes over. So I don’t think we can answer that in any reasonable length of time. But I think we can have another show in which we talk about the services that that are provided by trees, not only in, in forests out in the wilderness, but also in cities. Anybody have a, a one liner that you can, end this with because we have to end.

Joyce Hostyn  1:05:58

I will give you a one liner as to why urban, it’s like imagine our streets and a child wanting to go out in the street and imagine active transportation where we want people instead of biking, we want them out in community on the streets doing things. If it’s all gray scape, people aren’t going to be out there. The buildings already cooking, everyone’s going to be inside with their air conditioning. With forests everywhere they cool the entire city. People will be biking along active transport routes, they will be walking to the parks to play. So it will just bring people outside in a beautiful healthy environment versus what we have right now.

Metta Spencer  1:06:41

Okay, thank you. And John, I’m gonna give you the last word. Make it short.

John Liu  1:06:48

Well, I think she’s correct. The cities now are our heat sinks and wind tunnels and they should be re greened in order to maintain the not only carbon sequestration, but the lower this temperatures and to lower the wind speeds and to make it livable.

Metta Spencer  1:07:11

Okay, thank you so much. Well, look, I told you at the outset that I was really inspired by these two videos that I’d seen about Miyawaki forests  and about the transformation of a large area of China through having the population work together and and so we now see why you will see yourself from listening to these people why these really are inspiring ideas being promoted by really inspiring people. So thank you, all of you very much for this it’s been a treat. And I think we have to put on our work, work clothes and take our shovels and go out and try to implement some of the things that you’ve been proposing.





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