This title may sound contradictory but I’d like to persuade you that it actually makes more sense. Desertification is spreading around the world.
Because the world is turning into a desert, high deserts like those present in Nevada will be less susceptible to the effects of climate change such as wildfires and sea level rise. The world is turning into Nevada, but Nevada itself is already there. This means we can take advantage of the opportunity to build the kind of life that will be possible in the future global desert by starting now in the existing deserts.
Climate collapse is also driving migration in the United States and around the world. This trend will continue to accelerate and grow as conditions worsen. The biosphere is already collapsing. Even if we suddenly change course 180 degrees and get serious about fundamentally changing everything about society and the economy; it’s too late to avert the next few decades of disasters which will themselves speed up the process. Desertification is perhaps the least terrible of the disasters that’s coming, and one of the easiest to embrace now.
Xericulture is not going to make you a rich farmer. It’s not about capitalist profit motives. Instead, it’s about learning to conserve rather than consume and produce enough to thrive and share.
Perhaps the most important reason desert farming is the right place to learn about living sustainably is the fact that being away from readily consumable resources means being forced to consider the inputs and outputs of your community and to use your resources carefully, conserving rather than consuming.
Blue Gold: Water Capture and Reuse
In Taos New Mexico, The Eathship Academy builds permaculture homesteads from recycled materials. In a region that gets just a few inches of rain per year, these homesteads are sometimes constructed like funnels to catch and store that rainwater…
The community’s members have developed techniques to safely store, use, and reuse this limited water supply over and over.
Greenhouse aquaculture allows the earthship residents to grow fish in their homes, using the liquid waste products from fish and humans to feed their food crops. This technique (called aquaponics) also allows bacteria, plants, and fungi to continuously clean and recycle the limited water supply.
Desert Food Crops
There are many food crops that thrive in deserts. One example is Indian Rice Grass, a historical staple food of the high deserts of the Americas.
Less Water + More Food
According to research from Cal Poly, this kind of closed-loop aquaponics system conserves 99.75% of the water. This means it uses 90% less water compared to conventional farming techniques while actually growing more food and allowing all of it to happen anywhere, even in a greenhouse in the desert.
Simple filtration systems allow the water in the fish tanks to be reused as potable once again for showers or drinking water. Using staged mesh filters as described here makes most of the filters permanent and eliminates the need to replace disposable filters. Sediments collected by the mesh fitlers goes into the compost process.
Black Gold: Composting
There are three main inputs for the compost loop. First, human solid wastes. Second, fish solid waste which is automatically filtered using simple techniques. Third, green waste from food crops. Together these three inputs form the next generation of compost. This compost allows future food crops as well as serving as a product to be sold or donated to neighbors and other communities.
Regenerativity Is Built-In
I hope a theme is evolving in your mind while you read this. See how each form of waste becomes useful and is leveraged as a valuable asset rather than something to be discarded? See how these simple techniques and systems manage themselves with very little work from the community members? This is the thesis of closed-loop regenerative design in intentional communities. More than just being a sustainable process, the wastes actually create new value for the community; this means that the community can actually be regenerated rather than burdened by its outputs.
Born of Necessity
Desertification is spreading to cover the globe. The biosphere is collapsing, and it’s going to take with it the economy we rely on to provide for our needs. Even America is seeing the effects, and it’s likely to get a lot worse in short order.
Embracing these techniques and methods now gives us an advantage once society begins to realize it is collapsing along with the biosphere. People say we should be the change we want to see; but beyond that, we can be the survivors we want to see. We can model how to minimize personal impact while also modeling how to survive the collapse of capitalism and the biosphere.
Embracing desert permaculture now will put us in a much better position as things continue to get worse around the world and at home.
Another huge opportunity for Xeriscaping and Xericulture is the fact that all the lessons we learn will apply to human colonization on Mars and beyond. Turning sand into soil and using it to grow food while conserving water and reusing it as many times as possible is exactly what those colonists will have to do. The challenges we face in the desert and during the climate apocalypse are the same challenges that will face the humans who leave the earth.