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Green Solutions
How Carbon Farming Can Help Save the Planet

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.

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  • Frank Natoli

    Greens might not be interested in solutions
    Solutions to what problems?
    The “problem” of CO2 expelled by burning carbon fuels and, if it’s OK with you, my own respiration?
    Or the problem of replenishing the soil of farmlands?
    The first “problem” does not exist, so please stop dreaming up “solutions” for it.
    The second problem may be very real, but I suspect infinitely more economically solved by any number of other solutions.
    Sometimes it seems TAI writers want to shut up the crying environmental maniac crowd by the most expensive ice cream cone imaginable. What a waste.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    “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.”

    “Hot” 19 years and counting with no “Global Warming”.
    “Crowded” Declining populations in most advanced countries.
    “Polluted” Air, Water, and Litter pollution are all at multi decade lows in America.
    “Tiny” Greens have managed to steal Trillions of the public’s money in carbon trading, subsidies, loan guarantees, grants, etc.

  • Boritz

    “our ability as a species to think creatively about problems, and to solve them with innovative new solutions.”

    If it doesn’t get in the way of politics, and now that most people in the western world have food and shelter and smart phones politics must always be prioritized higher.

  • DiogenesDespairs

    It is always a good idea to base policy on hard facts.

    Here are somecrucial, verifiable facts – with citations – about human-generated carbon dioxide and its effect on global warming people need to know and understand I recommend following the links in the citations; some of them are very educational. And please feel free to copy/paste this comment wherever you think it will do the most good.

    The fact is, there has been global warming, but the contribution of human-generated carbon dioxide is necessarily so minuscule as to be nearly undetectable. Here’s why:

    Carbon dioxide, considered the main vector for human-caused global warming, is some 0.038% of the atmosphere[1]- a trace gas. Water vapor varies from 0% to 4%[2], and should easily average 1% or more[3] near the Earth’s surface, where the greenhouse effect would be most important, and is about three times more effective[4] a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. So water vapor is at least 25 times more prevalent and three times more effective; that makes it at least 75 times more important to the greenhouse effect than carbon dioxide[5]. The TOTAL contribution of carbon dioxide to the greenhouse effect is therefore 0.013 or less. The total human contribution to atmospheric carbon dioxide since the start of the industrial revolution has been estimated at about 25%[6]. So humans’ carbon dioxide greenhouse effect is a quarter of 0.013, works out to about 0.00325. Total warming of the Earth by the greenhouse effect is widely accepted as about 33 degrees Centigrade, raising average temperature to 59 degrees Fahrenheit. So the contribution of anthropogenic carbon dioxide is less than 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit, or under 0.1 degree Centigrade. Global warming over the last century is thought by many to be 0.6 to 0.8 degrees Centigrade.

    But that’s only the beginning. We’ve had global warming for more than 10,000 years, since the end of the last Ice Age, and there is evidence temperatures were actually somewhat warmer 9,000 years ago and again 4,500 to 8,000 years ago than they are today[7]. Whatever caused that, it was not human activity. It was not all those power plants and factories and SUVs being operated by Stone Age cavemen while chipping arrowheads out of bits of flint. Whatever the cause was, it melted the glaciers that in North America once extended south to Long Island and parts of New York City[8] into virtually complete disappearance (except for a few mountain remnants). That’s one big greenhouse effect! If we are still having global warming – and I suppose we could presume we are, given this 10,000 year history – it seems highly likely that it is still the overwhelmingly primary cause of continued warming, rather than our piddling 0.00325 contribution to the greenhouse effect.

    Yet even that trend-continuation today needs to be proved. Evidence is that the Medieval Warm Period centered on the 1200s was somewhat warmer than we are now[9], and the climate was clearly colder in the Little Ice Age in the 1600s than it is now[10]. So we are within the range of normal up-and-down fluctuations without human greenhouse contributions that could be significant, or even measurable.

    The principal scientists arguing for human-caused global warming have been demonstrably disingenuous[11], and now you can see why. They have proved they should not be trusted.

    The idea that we should be spending hundreds of billions of dollars and hamstringing the economy of the entire world to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is beyond ludicrous in light of the facts above; it is insane. Furthermore, it sucks attention and resources from seeking the other sources of warming and from coping with climate change and its effects in realistic ways. The true motivation underlying the global warming movement is almost certainly ideological and political in nature, and I predict that

    Anthropogenic Global Warming, as currently presented, will go down as the greatest fraud of all time. It makes Ponzi and Madoff look like pikers by comparison.

    [1] Fundamentals of Physical Geography, 2nd Edition

    by Michael Pidwirny Concentration varies slightly with the growing season in the northern hemisphere. HYPERLINK “http://www.physicalgeography.net/fundamentals/7a.html” http://www.physicalgeography.net/fundamentals/7a.html

    [2] ibid.

    [3] HALOE v2.0 Upper Tropospheric Water Vapor Climatology Claudette Ojo, Hampton University; et al.. HYPERLINK “http://vsgc.odu.edu/src/Conf09/UnderGrad%20Papers/Ojo%20-%20Paper.pdf” http://vsgc.odu.edu/src/Conf09/UnderGrad%20Papers/Ojo%20-%20Paper.pdf. See p. 4.The 0 – 4% range is widely accepted among most sources. This source is listed for its good discussion of the phenomena determining that range. An examination of a globe will show that tropical oceans (near high end of range) are far more extensive than the sum of the earth’s arctic and antarctic regions and tropical-zone deserts (all near the low end). Temperate zone oceans are far more extensive than temperate-zone desert. This author’s guess of an average of 2% or more seems plausible. I have used “1% or more” in an effort to err on the side of understatement.

    [4 NIST Chemistry Webbook, Please compare the IR absorption spectra of water and carbon dioxide. ] HYPERLINK “http://webbook.nist.gov/” http://webbook.nist.gov/

    [5] Three quarters of the atmosphere and virtually all water vapor are in the troposphere. Including all the atmosphere would change the ratios to about 20 times more prevalent and 60 times more effective. However, the greenhouse effect of high-altitude carbon dioxide on lower-altitude weather and the earth’s surface seems likely to be small if not nil.

    [6] National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. HYPERLINK “http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/gases.html” http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/gases.html. The estimated 90ppm increase in carbon dioxide, 30% above the base of 280 ppm, to a recent reading of 370 ppm, equates to just under 25% of present concentration, the relevant factor in estimating present contribution to the greenhouse effect.

    [7] Oak Ridge National Laboratory http://www.esd.ornl.gov/projects/qen/nerc130k.html

    [8] New York Nature – The nature and natural history of the New York City region. Betsy McCully http://www.newyorknature.net/IceAge.html

    [9] Global Warming: A Geological Perspective John P. Bluemle HYPERLINK “https://www.dmr.nd.gov/ndgs/Newsletter/NL99W/PDF/globlwrmw99.pdf” http://www.azgs.az.gov/arizona_geology/archived_issues/Winter_1999.pdf This article, published by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency, is drawn from a paper by the author in Environmental Geosciences, 1999, Volume 6, Number 2, pp. 63-75. Note particularly the chart on p.4.

    [10] Ibid.

    [11] Wikileaks: Climatic Research Unit emails, data, models, 1996-2009 HYPERLINK “http://wikileaks.org/wiki/Climatic_Research_Unit_emails,_data,_models,_1996-2009” http://wikileaks.org/wiki/Climatic_Research_Unit_emails,_data,_models,_1996-2009.

    See also HYPERLINK “http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1246661/New-scandal-Climate-Gate-scientists-accused-hiding-data-global-warming-sceptics.html” http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1246661/New-scandal-Climate-Gate-scientists-accused-hiding-data-global-warming-sceptics.html and

    HYPERLINK “http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704075604575356611173414140.html” http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704075604575356611173414140.html and, more diplomatically: HYPERLINK “http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/01/science/01tier.html” http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/01/science/01tier.html. Et al.

    ADDENDUM

    What initially troubled me was the aberrant behavior of the climate research unit at East Anglia University, which had been the main data source for AGW arguments. They initially refused (!) to reveal their algorithms and data on the grounds that they were proprietary(!!). They responded to critics with ad hominem attacks and efforts to block their publication in scientific journals. Now, as I am sure you know, this is not how one does honest science, in which you PUBLISH your data and methodology and invite critical comment to ferret out error or oversights. It took the now-famous Wikileaks “Climategate” to pry loose the data and expose their machinations. Yet despite the devastating blow these revelations should have to their credibility, the AGW “cause” has taken on a life of its own.

    Fundamentally, the argument seems to rest on a logical fallacy, post hoc ergo propter hoc – after this, therefore because of this. We see a rise in temperature and a rise in (principally) carbon dioxide, and therefore conclude one must have caused the other. It does not necessarily follow at all. There can be other causes entirely behind both phenomena, and as you see above, almost certainly there are. Beyond that, I have encountered numerous assertions of fact that cannot add up given the physical properties of water vapor and carbon dioxide that go unchallenged. One-sided arguments proliferate and people arguing the other side are frequently denounced as being employed by business interests rather than rebutted on the merits.

    In sum, I have not come lightly to the conclusion that the AGW argument as it applies to carbon dioxide is largely untrue and certainly does not account for more than a very small, nearly negligible part of the phenomena we are seeing. The implications of widespread assertions of and belief in such an untruth are staggering, and potentially enormously destructive. It is unwise indeed to let oneself be stampeded in this matter, and stampede is clearly what many have been and are trying to induce.

    I can understand politicians behaving this way; a carbon tax or carbon trading regime would allow enormous revenues to fall into their hands. I can understand “Progressive” ideologues; it logically leads to enormous expansion of government power over industry, the economy, and the daily life of individuals, which they regard as a good thing. I understand the environmentalists; they want to shrink the size and impact on the environment of modern civilization. But responsible citizens need to put aside such considerations.

    • Loader2000

      I read the first part of your post. The logic seems plausible, though I’m not an expert in this particular branch of science. One of the most compelling pieces of information is the following, “Total warming of the Earth by the greenhouse effect is widely accepted as about 33 degrees Centigrade, raising average temperature to 59 degrees Fahrenheit.” I was wondering what the source was. I am not doubting it’s veracity, but I’m very interested in this topic and would like to read the article myself.

  • SooperMarket

    The C4 Rice project, funded by the Gate Foundation, is very promising both for more efficient grains production and in regards to carbon farming.

    http://c4rice.irri.org/

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