Saving the Climate with Community Consensus

Community and ecology are integral to resolving land, conservation and climate change issues. We must all support one another in our journey to become whole again: earth, ecology, climate, community, and culture. When I first heard this message from Jeff Goebel several years ago it struck a deep cord.

An ecologist, Goebel has been working with ranchers, farmers, tribes, and villagers locally and globally for the past 25 years using a unique approach to solving conservation issues through community consensus. His passion is working to resolve climate issues.

“All environmental problems are people problems. If we can solve the people problems – the conflicts between us, even the conflicts that we have with nature – we can actually figure out how to make things work very effectively very well for us and of course in our relationship with the earth.”

By increasing awareness and expanding human adoption of conservation and holistic approaches to land management we gain more opportunities for sustainable agriculture and more resilient communities.

The question we must ask ourselves is how do we get more people to do this and adopt these holistic methods? Even economic incentives are not working. Goebel believes there is something deeper at work here. “This is not a money problem, but a brain problem.”

This is where community consensus comes in. The type of consensus that Goebel wants us to understand is not the kind where we agree to disagree and then move forward. It’s the kind where we all agree to move forward in the same way – 100 percent consensus. Sound impossible? Yet Goebel has countless examples of how it is possible, and it’s important to keep in mind that “shift happens rapidly.” To create human change we have to help people overcome the fear and paralysis of self-limiting behavior, and move into the world of possibility.

In his short video about the Community Consensus Institute, a program he founded, Goebel asserts that healthy land use is key to stabilizing the climate. Methods such as permaculture, holistic land management, conservation management, and other approaches ensures more effective carbon storage and sequestration.

community consensus

In a short primer on carbon cycling, the video demonstrates the many ways carbon goes into the atmosphere. Photosynthesis provides a major route to pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and stored in green living plants, soils, grasses, crops, and trees.

A famous conservationist named Aldo Leopold was a key figure in creating one of the first wilderness areas in the United States. He wrote several books including A Sand County Almanac, and Game Management.

A quote by Leopold that Goebel has taken to heart and incorporated into his work is this: “Game can be restored by the creative use of the same tools which have heretofore destroyed it – ax, plow, cow, fire, and gun.” In other words, by using these same tools and rearranging the way we use them, we can get different outcomes and see things differently.

“I believe climate stability can be restored by creative use of the same tools. We have tremendous opportunities by doing things differently, “ said Goebel.

The video compared a fence line riparian area in Cody, Wyoming.  Two sides of a stream bank experienced very different fates due to method of cattle grazing used (planned versus overgrazing). With 30 cows grazing for 100 days – 3000 animal days – one side of the stream bank suffered considerable damage due to prolong grazing practices. On the other side however, there was very little damage. Although three times the number of cattle were grazed on this other side – 950 cows coming through at separate times for a total of 10 days – the rotational grazing approach preserved the land health.

“This is what Aldo Leopold was talking about,” said Goebel. “Very few lands are using this approach. If we had a better understanding, we could pull more carbon out of the atmosphere. There are a whole list of things people could do to enhance the land but it’s a small portion of people who do this.”

The video continues with a successful consensus building project Goebel worked on several years ago in West Africa. Seven ethnic groups were known for violent conflicts between them, all having to do with land issues. Through talk, dialogue, and listening in a safe environment, the tribes learned to respect different consensus

He challenged the tribes to increase food production by 50 percent – an amount that seemed impossible to them without western technology. The tribes first examined and then expanded their limiting beliefs and came up with a lot of new ideas to break beyond the impossible. These ideas included rotational grazing, diversifying crops, allowing land to lay fallow for periods of time, planting leguminous trees, intercropping, and building contour barriers.

Fifteen months later, the villagers had increased foodproduction by 78 percent. Benefits were more efficient food production, improved root system growth, and increased carbon capture. After two years of learning to work together, the tribes were able to eliminate violent conflict.

In yet another example using the powers of community consensus, Goebel helped Montana ranchers find solutions for increasing capacity, and bringing young people back to the land. Benefits included increased profitability, improved soil health, increased crop yields, and better water retention.

community consensus

Through the process of building skills relevant to people locally, building capacity (by training the trainers), ranchers and villagers were able to improve land, agricultural health, and community livelihoods. All of this resulted in storing more carbon in plants and soils.

The video closes with an all time favorite climate comic: “What if it’s a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing?”

community consensus

We have everything to gain here. If the result for all this work is more energy independence, clean energy, green jobs, livable cities, sustainability, clean air and water, healthy children, etc. Can that really be a bad thing?

From the Community Consensus Institute video’s overall message, a sense of urgency emerges with these questions: how do we take care of the land, and how do we do it faster? Through this consensus process, we can expand adoption of good conservation all over the world.

The idea for the Community Consensus Institute is very simple yet brilliant. The program would create learning centers all over the world and get people working together to solve conservation, land, and climate issues using community consensus in small groups. Next steps are to turn up the dial and accelerate global change. To find out more about this project stay tuned or visit




Author: Kathryn Thomsen

Founder of Hundredgivers, a nonprofit supporting and accelerating sustainability initiatives benefiting local and global communities. Kathryn is a social entrepreneur, consultant, researcher, writer and urban farmer. She collaborates with individuals, organizations, and businesses to develop climate change solutions, clean energy, and sustainability strategies and programs.

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