To slow climate change, we must decelerate the carbon “pumps” by transitioning to wind, wave and solar. Simultaneously, we must protect and expand the carbon “sinks,” the rainforest, temperate and boreal forests, the ocean, and soils.
As we know by now, the rainforest is burning, most of the fires caused by humans making way for cattle and soybeans. The ocean, our climate’s best friend, has absorbed so much carbon since industrialization that a chemical reaction with CO2 has reduced seawater pH, which we call ocean acidification.
Soils, particularly agricultural soils, are the last great potential carbon sink, and we’ve got to do everything we can to develop them. The problem is that modern industrial agriculture, with chemicals, tillage and bare ground, is a carbon emitter. But switching to regenerative methods can change this, and change it quickly. Many studies and trials are ongoing, and at Mt. Folly we are bootstrapping a project the Appalachian way. Here is some of the science that led to this effort.
Carbon Sequestration Science
This is a $15 Trillion Opportunity for Farmers to Fight Climate Change
“Indigo Agriculture believes capturing carbon dioxide from agricultural soil is an effective way to reduce global warming on a massive scale. On Wednesday it launched the Terraton Initiative that includes a carbon market that gives farmers incentives to implement regenerative practices that remove carbon from the atmosphere.”
Ioannou, Lori. “This Is a $15 Trillion Opportunity for Farmers to Fight Climate Change.” CNBC, June 12, 2019. https://www.cnbc.com/2019/06/11/this-is-a-15-trillion-opportunity-for-farmers-to-fight-climate-change.html.
These U.N. Climate Scientists Think They Can Halt Global Warming for $300 Billion
“Representatives from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization believe that of the 2 billion hectares of the land on the planet that has been overgrazed or otherwise misused by human factors, 900 million of which could be restored by returning that land to pasture, food crops, or trees. This would convert enough carbon into biomass to stabilize emissions for carbon dioxide for 15-20 years, giving the world time to adopt carbon-neutral technologies.”
Majendie, Adam, and Pratik Parija. “These U.N. Climate Scientists Think They Can Halt Global Warming for $300 Billion.” Time. Accessed November 4, 2019. https://time.com/5709100/halt-climate-change-300-billion/.
Regenerative Organic Agriculture and Climate Change
“Simply put, recent data from farming systems and pasture trials around the globe show that we could sequester more than 100% of current annual CO2 emissions with a switch to widely
available and inexpensive organic management practices, which we term “regenerative
organic agriculture.” These practices work to maximize carbon fixation while minimizing the
loss of that carbon once returned to the soil, reversing the greenhouse effect.”
Rodale Institute. “Regenerative Organic Agriculture and Climate Change; A Down-to-Earth Solution to Global Warming,” n.d. https://rodaleinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/rodale-white-paper.pdf.
Supporting the Soil Carbon Sponge
Walter Jehne is an internationally known Australian soil microbiologist and climate scientist and the founder of Healthy Soils Australia. He is passionate about educating farmers, policymakers and others about “the soil carbon sponge” and its crucial role in reversing and mitigating climate change.His work shows how we can safely cool the climate by repairing our disrupted hydrological cycles. That project requires us to return some of the excess carbon in the atmosphere to the soil, where it belongs. In 2017, he participated in an invitation-onlyUnited Nations Food and Agriculture Organization conference in Paris aimed at bringing soil into the next Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.
Frisch, Tracy. “Supporting the Soil Carbon Sponge.” EcoFarming Daily, June 19, 2019. https://www.ecofarmingdaily.com/supporting-the-soil-carbon-sponge/.
Regenerative Agriculture Could Help Stop Climate Change — Can Tech Help Us Get There?
“Meanwhile, regenerative agriculture also has the potential to open up new revenue streams for farmers. Under the Australian government’s Emissions Reduction Fund, for instance, farmers are presented with credits for adopting emission-reduction methods, which they can then sell. In North America, Indigo has launched its own market where people can donate to support farmers' regenerative farming practices under the Terraton Initiative. According to its website, the initiative is an effort to remove 1 trillion metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and use it to enrich the soil. As more of these programs come online, I expect farmers who make the switch could soon find themselves earning two incomes: one from food they produce and the other from carbon capture.”
Manhas, Karn. “Regenerative Agriculture Could Help Stop Climate Change -- Can Tech Help Us Get There?” Forbes. Accessed November 4, 2019. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2019/10/17/regenerative-agriculture-could-help-stop-climate-change-can-tech-help-us-get-there/.
One Thing You Can Do: Know Your Organic Food
“Regardless of whether they have an organic certificate, Dr. McGee said, small farmers tend to have a lower carbon footprint because they “engage in a deeper relationship with the farm and the land.” That often involves growing a wider variety of crops, and smaller farmers don’t typically package their products in single-use plastics or transport them to buyers hundreds of miles away.
Not everybody agrees. Rodale Institute, a nonprofit group that promotes organic farming, argues that some of these studies fail to properly measure how much planet-warming carbon dioxide the soil can absorb when it is cultivated using sustainable methods. Rodale estimates that organic farmland can potentially sequester more carbon than is currently emitted.
But greenhouse gases are only part of the story. The synthetic herbicides and pesticides used in conventional farming can be harmful to farm workers and wildlife, especially pollinators and birds, while the natural-gas derived fertilizers are responsible for deadly algae blooms and high methane emissions.
The bottom line: Over all, organic food is probably better for the planet, even if the emissions picture is complex. If you can afford to buy organic, try to go small and local.”
Garcia, Eduardo, and Friedman, Lisa. “One Thing You Can Do: Know Your Organic Food - The New York Times.” New York Times, November 6, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/06/climate/nyt-climate-newsletter-organic-food.html.
Enlisting Cows in the Struggle to Reverse Climate Change
The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that livestock is to blame for at least 14.5% of greenhouse gases being released worldwide. But what if there were a better way to produce beef—one that actually reduces atmospheric carbon? Fourth-generation Georgia cattleman Will Harris, owner of White Oak Pastures, believes he has found the answer “by coming full cycle to the way my grandfather and great-grandfather farmed the land,” he told TriplePundit. “We call it radically traditional farming.” Harris said his practices, like grazing small ruminants such as sheep together with cows, have helped keep his animals healthier. The soil has gone from 1 percent soil organic matter to 5 percent. Water retention in the soil is also better, he said. There’s greater biodiversity, he added, including the return of bald eagles.
Brown, Amy. “Enlisting Cows in the Struggle to Reverse Climate Change.” Accessed November 4, 2019. https://www.triplepundit.com/story/2019/enlisting-cows-struggle-reverse-climate-change/83386/.
Organic Farmers Association Final Comments on Climate Change
"The Organic Farmers Association is responding to the Select Committee on Climate Crisis' Request seeking additional, detailed input from stakeholders in the agriculture sector on reducing carbon pollution, maximizing carbon storage, and suggestions on agriculture policies to adapt to the impacts of climate change." You can read the full letter in the pdf below.