The planet’s getting warmer. Nearly every month we break global temperature records. According to Professor Kevin Anderson, a leading climate change scientist, we’re not going to be able to keep warming below the “safe” threshold of 1.5 degrees. But he does say that we have a chance at staying below the 2-degree ceiling.
Anderson and his colleagues estimate that in order to keep below this threshold, we need to reduce emissions by 8% to 10% per year; however, efficiency improvements and clean energy technologies will only win us reductions of about 4% per year.
How to make up the difference is one of the biggest questions facing us. There’s a number of proposals out there. One is to capture the CO2, liquefy it and store it in chambers deep under the ground. Another is to seed the oceans with iron to trigger huge algae blooms that will absorb CO2.
Others have suggested we put giant mirrors in space to deflect some of the sun’s rays, or that we pump aerosols into the stratosphere to create man-made clouds. Unfortunately, in all of these cases either the risks are too great, or we don’t have the technology yet.
This leaves us in a bit of a bind. But perhaps we may be overlooking a simpler, less glamorous solution…one that has to do with soil.
Our soil is the second biggest reservoir of carbon on the planet, next to the oceans. It holds four times more carbon than all the plants and trees in the world. But human activity like deforestation and industrial farming is ruining our soils at breakneck speed, killing the organic materials that they contain.
Today, about 40% of agricultural soil is classed as “degraded” or “seriously degraded”. In fact, one-third of the world’s farmland has been destroyed in the past four decades, largely due to industrial farming. As our soils degrade, they are losing their ability to hold carbon, releasing enormous amounts of it into the atmosphere.
There is, however, a solution. Scientists and farmers around the world are pointing out that we can regenerate degraded soils by switching from intensive industrial farming to more ecological methods – not just organic farming but also no-tillage, composting and crop rotation. Here’s the brilliant part: as the soils recover, they not only regain their capacity to hold CO2, they begin to actively pull additional CO2 from the atmosphere.
The science on this is quite exciting. A study published recently by the US National Academy of Sciences claims that regenerative farming can hold 3% of our global carbon emissions. An article in Science suggests it could be up to 15%.
And new research from the Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania suggests that if we apply regenerative techniques to the world’s pastureland as well, we could capture more than 100% of global emissions. In other words, regenerative farming may be our best shot at actually cooling the planet.
Adapted from an article that appeared in the Guardian.