Our Vital Role as Keystone Species in restoring Water Cycles

The disparity in attention between water vapour, constituting 60–70% of the greenhouse effect, and CO2 at 25%, prompts a crucial question: why is water vapour seldom discussed in climate discourse? Perhaps because addressing its role requires extensive global reforestation and regeneration efforts across the planet.

Do we even have the imagination needed to restore marshes, mangroves, and perennial pastures with trees, and strategically reforest and revitalise ecosystems?

This approach- the intentional large-scale intervention in the Earth’s climate system to counter climate change, called climate engineering- highlights humanity’s urgent role in environmental conservation and restoration. The call to action is clear.

Thanks to our recent Water Cycles series, supported by The Nest Family Office, we delved into this phenomenon, uncovering its scientific intricacies and profound implications for ecosystems, weather patterns, and human civilization.

Drawing by Alpha Lo

Trees Creating Rain, Not the Other Way Around

There is just so much to learn about water in all its forms, what it does when it’s part of a healthy water cycle or what it does when it isn’t (e.g. massive floods around the world). Alpha Lo physicist and writer of the Climate Water Project and Regenerative Water Alliance emphasises the critical role of water in heating and cooling the planet, advocating for increased attention to water and the water cycle, suggesting it might be more relevant in the climate discussion than carbon.

“If water just flows over the land as runoff, then it flows out all during the wet season, and you don’t have much left for the dry season. But if you can actually slow the water so that it kind of sinks in and goes underground, then it can come out 2, 3, 4 or 5 months later during the dry season so your rivers can keep running. It’s a way to keep your landscape hydrated more during the dry season. […] When the rain comes down, it can flow all the way back into the ocean. But if you slow that water, you have more forest or soil that’s more absorbent and it stays in the land for longer.”

Trees create rain, not the other way around as well as slowing water down is crucial to slow down drought, fire and floods, remarks Lo,

“Let me just explain the connection between the three. So, the drought obviously dries up everything, so that it creates fires is pretty obvious, but that fire-floods is not quite so obvious. So, if your fires get too intense… What happens is that this waxy coating happens on the soil. And so that means that the soil no longer absorbs the rain as much. And so that’s one problem is that then two years later, after you have fire, when the rains come, they’re just going to flow downhill and they’ll cause huge floods below. And then the other thing is that the fires can destroy some of the vegetation that’s holding in the soil. And so, what happens in floods is that there’s so much water, and maybe it’s stopped further uphill, but then it accumulates, and it just creates these landslides, it triggers more, bigger landslides. So, after a fire, it’s really key to go in and remediate the soil moisture, it’s also key to replant.”

Before Lo, Professor Millán Millán’s (Sit tibi terra levis, Millán passed away in January 2024) research emphasised the interconnectedness of weather patterns and water cycles. Trained in Canada, aeronautical engineer who came back to his home land Spain, Millán Millán, director of the Fundacion Centro de Estudios Ambientales del Mediterraneo. CEAM and one of the key researchers in the water cycles space, was tasked by the European Commission to research why the summer storms and rains that used to fall everywhere around the Mediterranean have now disappeared and how this turned out to be connected to massive snows in UK, and massive floods in Central Europe. There is a clear pattern in that shown in many publications and researches, but there is also a lack of action despite decades of knowledge, because as Millán stated we knew it in the seventies, the eighties, the nineties and definitely in the two thousands and, still, we didn’t act.

The Role of Healthy Forests, investing in their own rain:

Anastassia Makarieva, researcher at the Petersburg Nuclear Physics Institute, one of the key scientists who developed the biotic pump theory, underscored the importance of healthy ecosystems in regulating moisture and rainfall. As she asserts, everyone should care about the large remaining healthy forests as they are not only the lungs of the planet, but also its irrigation system. Makarieva’s work highlights the potential for targeted reforestation to restore degraded landscapes and enhance water cycles, as well as the importance of wet spots in a landscape or on a continent. These areas are crucial places where to start working as Makarieva and other researchers found

“that, in the absence of vegetation, precipitation declines by three times over a few 100 kilometres. Even within the desert, you can search for such wet spots. And if we analyse the circulation around, then we could choose the proper vegetation types and try to improve starting from there’.

On the opposite side “healthy forest, natural forest of sufficient size, regulates the moisture transport by motioning the atmosphere, by transpiration”, thus investing in their own rain.

Leading the Way with Stories and Education

Zach Weiss, founder of Elemental Ecosystems and Water Stories, which first on the podcast shed a light on the importance of the water cycle, is on a mission to train hundreds of thousands of people in key water restoration techniques. He highlights how rehydrating landscapes can extend the period of photosynthesis, leading to a cooler environment and balanced ecosystems:

“The plant needs water to break apart into its positive and negative charge to perform photosynthesis, and so plants, as they run out of water, they taper down their photosynthesis and then they actually will go into dormancy, if forced into dormancy. So in a lot of places where we used to have photosynthesis all year long in the growing season, now in a lot of places the landscape is so drained that the photosynthetic period is a month or two after the rainy season. Then all the grass goes brown, then all the trees can’t photosynthesise as much and now you’re ruining the cooling balancing mechanism that’s in place. Now, if we can take those landscapes and rehydrate them, we can go from 100 days of cooling potential to 300 days of cooling potential, and now we can help balance out those extreme heats by that. Essentially, I think one healthy tree is the equivalent cooling power of 10 air conditioners”.

One of the many Water Stories.

Through initiatives like Water Stories, Weiss aims to empower individuals to restore watersheds and promote water abundance, addressing pressing environmental challenges such as drought and pollution.

Imagination at Work — Case Studies from Around the World

Between sustenance and vulnerability, water cycles are crucial for agriculture, which relies on dependable water sources for irrigation, as well as for industries that harness its power for manufacturing and energy production. Many individuals and organisations work tirelessly to restore and preserve ecosystems worldwide.

Among them, Neal Spackman, founder of Regenerative Resources Co, stands out with the RSA Regenerative Seawater Agriculture project. Spackman’s endeavour pioneers the first regenerative on-shore aquaculture system, integrating advanced seafood production with seawater agroecology, mangrove agroforestry, and seagrass groves. Despite facing funding challenges, RSA operates in locations ranging from Mexico to Namibia, delivering not only sustainable seafood, but also fodder for animals, job opportunities, and enhanced local resilience, all without depleting freshwater resources.

While Spackman focuses on rejuvenating land-based ecosystems, The Weather Makers take a broader approach, emphasising the critical role of the biosphere in shaping weather and climate. Founded by Ties van der Hoeven, former dredging professional turned ecosystem restorer, Maddie Ackerman, and Gijs Bosman, this initiative develops long-term, nature-based strategies for terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, translating them into actionable targets and reward systems. With a bold mission to regreen the Sinai Peninsula, The Weather Makers aim to enhance moisture levels in the region, positively influencing larger weather systems that impact areas around the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean.

Meanwhile, in California, Rodger Savory, ecologist, land manager, and ranch owner, spearheads efforts to kickstart regeneration in desert environments, thereby altering local weather patterns. His work addresses the often-overlooked significance of soil as a living organism. As he explains, protecting the top layer of sand from ultraviolet light is crucial for initiating life. Savory’s insights underscore the importance of a biological carpet, where dung from cattle serves as a catalyst for life, nurturing the delicate balance necessary for ecosystems to thrive. His goal is to restore the water cycles and reverse desertification in California, regenerating 150.000 acres with 600.000 cows. As Savory states:

“what we now know is that the life forms that live in the top millimetre only live in the top millimetre, the ones that live in the second millimetre only live there, and the third millimetre only live there. Well, if you take a plough and turn the soil over, the ones from the top are now 10 inches down. And the ones from 10 inches down are now up on top, and they will die. So now we’ve got to jumpstart the lifecycle again. […] As soon as we have a biological carpet protecting that top millimetre from ultraviolet light, then life can at least begin. Now, what is the source of a lot of that life? It’s the dung itself. So it’s the dung from cattle that carries the life that can then start on that top millimetre protected by the dung itself”.

Everything in conventional agriculture is about killing according to Savory and this has to come to an end:

”Every, and I do mean every, decision in current agriculture is about killing. It’s kill, kill, kill, and kill. I hate conventional agriculture. The mindset of a human is the mindset of a flea. Everything is about poison, kill, burn, pull out by the roots. You know, if you look at every robot that’s in conventional agriculture, every decision is about how we kill it. If it’s a fungus, kill it. If it’s a nematode, kill it. If it’s an insect, kill it. If it’s a bird, kill it. If it’s a rabbit, kill it. If it’s a deer, kill it. If it’s an elephant, kill it. Kill, that is the only thing that happens in conventional agriculture. And then we wonder why we’ve got global human populations with health issues. We wonder why we’ve got biodiversity loss and extinction issues… …] There are other things we can do to stop fire without killing everything. And that’s just a silly, small example. But it makes the point: we’re just programmed for killing. And that’s the biggest thing about regenerative agriculture and this project to fix the deserts and turn them back into functioning ecosystems as they were created, because all our ancestors had that same philosophy. Kill, kill, kill. That’s why there’s no mammoth. That’s why there’s no giant bison. That’s why all these species are gone because all of our ancestors had the same DNA genetic code. Kill. And that’s what we’ve got to bring to an end.”

The Role of (Open Source) Technology while looking back thousands of years ago

How far back can we look at arid landscapes that used to be managed to produce abundance? How did they manage extreme weather events like El Niño, or did they see them as extreme abundance events?

Ichsani Wheeler, PhD and Lenka Danilović of OpenGeoHub Foundation , specialised in remote sensing and ground research, emphasise the importance of open-access knowledge and data sharing in driving effective water management strategies. They advocate for investment in open-source coding and data usage, stating, “This data should be open source”.

OpenGeoHub Foundation’s work offers valuable insights into historical ecosystem management practices, guiding modern restoration efforts. Remote sensing and ground research can, indeed, help us understand how humans a long time ago managed ecosystems in abundance. Wheeler and Danilovic argue that we can look at trends in natural processes that have been going on for more than decades because nature is very old and we can see that very well in sediment tracing while trying to understand this management:

“Arid landscapes are the ones that are really hard to model. They’re the ones that have these hydrographs that we don’t know how to respond to; they’re changing. […] Luckily, there’s knowledge that has been there for 1000s of years that we trace with multiple signals, but we will be working on it trying to distinguish sediment pathways. So whether they have been transported by humans or by a tree. And this is something that we can read from the luminescence of sediments. And we can test it in regions where we know how old geomorphology is”.

Transition Finance

Finally, Marcel de Berg and Tim Coates highlight the need for innovative financing models to support water cycle restoration efforts. By reframing conversations around flood risk mitigation and the cooling potential of green water, they aim to attract institutional investors to support water cycle restoration projects. Their insights underscore the importance of aligning financial incentives with environmental goals to drive meaningful change.

Tim Coast, a third-generation farmer, founded an agriculture focussed bank, Oxbury Bank Plc advocates for leveraging financial mechanisms, such as flood mitigation, to fund water cycle restoration efforts as he suggests to sell flood mitigation, not soil carbon, to institutional players to finance water cycle restoration.

After 25.000 hours of research Marcel de Berg concluded that the cooling potential of green water far outpaces the less heating of CO2 reductions. Yet, barriers persist in mobilising investors and institutions to prioritise water cycle restoration. According to de Berg, by reframing the narrative and offering incentives like free climate insurance while minimising regrets.

From an institutional investors point of view, switching the focus from carbon to water means getting out of the comfort zone thinking that it’s not only about carbon dioxide and look into a minimising regrets approach. As de Berg frames it

”If you have a mix of capital, and so it’s not only pension capital and insurance capital, but also family offices, but also development money, […] So you have a mix of capital. You’ve got governments on board, you’ve got the agricultural sector on board, you’ve got Unilever on board, and we bring those together and say wait a minute, we can minimise our regrets, let’s create a free climate insurance policy”.

Humans as keystone species in water cycles

As stewards of the Earth, recognizing our role as keystone species in water cycles is imperative. By prioritising ecosystem restoration, by using technology and data while value lessons for the past in water management, and by leveraging innovative financing models, we can foster resilience and abundance in our water systems.


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The above references an opinion and is for information and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be investment advice. Seek a duly licensed professional for investment advice.

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