April 25, 2011
The Dirt on Climate Change
Discover recently highlighted a new (and old) tool to combat climate change - dirt. The article, titled "Could Dirt Help Heal the Climate?," details new research demonstrating that better stewardship of agricultural soils "would have the potential to soak up 13 percent of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today - the equivalent of scrubbing every ounce of CO2 released into the atmosphere since 1980."
The research is focused on the benefits of "regenerative agriculture," which boosts soil fertility and moisture retention by increased use of composting, keeping fields planted year round and increasing plant diversity. Not only do these methods have the potential to combat climate change, but they also can rejuvinate farmlands upon which a variety of developing societies depend for subsistence.
Agriculture has been one of the most disruptive forces interfering with the planet's carbon soil building process, both with respect to the planting of crops and grazing of animals. Land use changes associated with agriculture have "stripped 70 billion to 100 billion tons of carbon from the world's soils and pumped it into the earth's atmosphere, oceans, and lakes since the dawn of agriculture."
In one case study, the researchers determined that by adjusting agricultural methods to achieve 1.5 additional tons of carbon dioxide absorption a year - a task certainly within reach of agricultural practices - 28 million acres of California grazing lands could absorb nearly 40 percent of the state's total yearly carbon emissions from electricity generation.
This research further demonstrates the important role that land use practices play in combatting climate change. States and private actrors could certainly be more proactive in guiding agricultural practices on the nation's farmlands. Given that states are the primary arbiters of land use, however, the federal government and states should also be more proactive in seeking cooperative approaches to adjust land uses associated with agricultural soil retention and enhancement. When a few modifications to such a simple resource as dirt could have such profound impacts on carbon sequestration capabilities, failure to act should leave our governments and private actors feeling, well, down right dirty.
- Blake Hudson
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