What if there was a way to mitigate the greenhouse gases warming our planet’s surface temperatures while also replenishing the soil we use to grow our crops? A growing group of researchers and farmers are focused on just such a solution, and it’s called carbon farming. The NYT reports:
[A] growing number of experts, environmentalists and farmers themselves see their fields as a powerful weapon in the fight to slow climate change, their very soil a potentially vast repository for the carbon that is warming the atmosphere. Critically for an industry that must produce an ever-larger bounty to feed a growing global population, restoring lost carbon to the soil also increases its ability to support crops and withstand drought. […]
Since people began farming, the world’s cultivated soils have lost 50 percent to 70 percent of their natural carbon, said Rattan Lal, a professor of soil science at the Ohio State University. That number is even higher in parts of south Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean, he added.
Globally, those depleted soils could reabsorb 80 billion to 100 billion metric tons of carbon, reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide by 38 to 50 parts per million, Mr. Lal said. That does not include the carbon that could be simultaneously sequestered into vegetation, but the numbers are significant on their own, equaling up to 40 percent of the increase in concentrations since pre-industrial times.
Carbon-depleted soils require increasing amounts of fertilizer to keep yields up, so finding ways to sequester carbon from the atmosphere back in the ground not only helps mitigate the greenhouse gas effect, it also could help farmers.
The modern environmental movement has to date focused nearly all of its efforts on painting the bleakest possible portrait of the hot, crowded, and polluted future to which humanity has doomed itself. This pessimism has helped them eke out a tiny space in the national policy dialogue, but that relentless negativity has alienated the broader public from its cause. Diagnosing (and as too often seems to be the case, exaggerating those diagnoses) problems isn’t enough—you need to also be able to look for and identify solutions.
Greens might not be interested in solutions, but the rest of us sure are, and to that end there’s some good news: many of our best and brightest are already exploring promising avenues towards mitigating and adapting to climate change, and to feeding a growing global population in what we’re promised will be more extreme weather. Genetically modified foods are one example, and carbon farming is another. These aren’t the only ones, and they won’t “fix” things all by themselves, but they represent the most powerful force we have on our side: our ability as a species to think creatively about problems, and to solve them with innovative new solutions.