Our Best Shot at Cooling the Planet …

September 27, 2016 glenn Uncategorized

A recent article in The Guardian titled “Our best shot at cooling the planet might be right under our feet” gives a reasonable explanation of how to at least take the edge off of global warming, and possibly cool it eventually.

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The article mentions record temperatures and sea ice melting, with the forecast of at least another degree Celsius of melting, and that is considered a monumental challenge. Increases in energy efficiency and renewables and emission reductions are not likely to be enough. Geoengineering offers possible solutions, but without some of the technology needed and carrying significant risks and no guarantees.

In the meantime, nature has been creating life out of carbon, 123 Gt C/year in landscapes, and even storing a bit of it in trees and soil, so much so that CO2 level increases would be double except for nature’s help.

Very recent research concurs with the article in that soil carbon increases can be an important part of the climate solution, and shows that the potential is even greater than the article states. From Teague, etal, 2016, this chart tells the story.

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In this example, best cropping and livestock management practices in the US not only offset the emissions they would produce, but sequester more than double that amount of carbon.

Other research presents even more promising results — more on that at a later date. Interestingly, half of emissions are already sequestered in biomass, soil, and oceans, so so sequestering more than say 6 Gt C/yr, vs 10 Gt C annual emissions, is drawing down atmospheric carbon. This is doable.

Also, the article states, “Of course, regenerative farming doesn’t offer a permanent solution to the climate crisis; soils can only hold a finite amount of carbon.” I would instead say that agriculture cannot provide a complete solution. Forests, wetlands, beavers, insects, phytoplankton, menhaden, etc. all play a part, as well as ending fossil emissions. And of course, there is only a finite amount of carbon, and soil cannot exceed that, but to those who think that soils can only hold 5% or 10%, there are soils in Huron County, Ohio, that contain over 25% carbon. (Image from http://cfaes.osu.edu/ .)

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Topsoil can grow deeper as well. Examples of deep topsoils are increasing and still growing deeper. Degraded lands are everywhere. We need to continue to restore more of our damaged ecosystems. While demand for food, timber, energy, etc. may limit what farmers are willing to do, there are conservation and rewilding programs that can be employed to preserve existing restored lands while new ones are regenerated. There is plenty of room for soil to handle the lion’s share of the carbon excess.

Of course there is a limit, … but I can’t imagine what that would be.


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