As a journalist for CBS news, John.D Liu was accustomed to reporting important world events, such as the fall of the Berlin wall in 1990. However, in 1995 when he was asked by the World Bank to document the Chinese governments´ Loess Plateau Watershed Rehabilitation Project, he discovered a more epic type of event: the collapse of ecological function.
At first, the Loess Plateau had had high levels of vegetation, with large areas of forest and grasslands. According to Liu “The Loess Plateau gave birth to the Han race, the largest ethnic group on the planet, and the plateau is generally considered by historians and geographers to be the second place on Earth where human beings began to use settled agriculture.” However over the centuries the region was degraded through deforestation, which brought about a loss of biodiversity and erosion of soils. By 1990 an area the size of France had dried out because of encroaching desertification.
Liu documented how the Chinese government began to restore the region through a process of large scale re-forestation and education of farmers about more sustainable agricultural practices, for instance slope farming was banned. The project was very successful and the region is now ecologically more productive, as well as economically.
When interviewing Mr Liu, he made it clear to me how important he thinks the restoration of ecosystems is, “I believe that only by valuing ecological function higher than the production and consumption of material goods, will we combat climate change.” He proposes productivity within sustainable ecological parameters.
By researching how and why ancient civilizations degraded their ecosystems, Liu thinks we can better learn how to maintain and restore the biodiversity of our various ecosystems. Today, other areas continue to suffer from the effects of desertification; like the arid Sahel region of North Africa.
The success of the Loess Plateau project serves as an example for the international community of how it is possible to rehabilitate large-scale damaged ecosystems. Liu believes that the most efficient way to mitigate and adapt to the growing threats associated with climate change, is through the restoration of degraded ecosystems. Natural disasters are said to becoming more frequent because of global warming, and by restoring the ecosystem through reforestation, we can decrease these hazards.
One way is by planting trees to decrease the threat of frequent floods – the trees intercept rainfall and in turn increase the lag time of precipitation entering rivers, meaning sudden floods are less likely.
Liu will be giving a talk on his work on ecosystem restoration here in Lima on Oct. 25 at 5pm at La Catolica University, in the Gustavo Gutierrez auditorium.
He has produced two films on the results of the Loess Plateau restoration project, “The Lessons of the Loess Plateau” and “Hope in a Changing Climate.”
Liu is also the director of the environmental media project Over the last 18 years, John D. Liu has been documenting the restoration of ecosystems around the world. On Oct. 25 he’ll be in Lima giving a talk on what he has found.