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Climate Change: Meeting Our Planetary Crisis
04 August 2020
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a greenhouse gas that is a major cause of global warming. While it is all but proven that human activity has contributed greatly to the recent increases in CO2 concentration in the atmosphere; It is less understood how CO2 can be removed from the atmosphere and where it goes. Elementary biology taught us that plants and algae take in CO2 and use it to make sugars via photosynthesis with the help of sunlight and water. This locks up CO2 in the wood of trees. But CO2 can also be locked up in the ocean and in the soil. And this is even more important, but less understood.
For humanity to fully combat the crisis of climate change we should leave no avenue unexplored. And while we should minimize the production of CO2 depicted in the upper part of the image above, we can see that plants, soil and ocean can be a significant sink for removing CO2 as shown in the lower portion of the image.
Humanity should unite in concerted care for the ecosystem upon which we all depend. Around the world Latin America and Asia have a much greater concern about climate change than does North America or China. We should remain vigilant in watching those vested interests who would sow the seeds of confusion in order to preserve their economic supremacy.
Dissolving CO2 in the atmosphere and oceans may be our ace in the hole given that the oceans cover 75% of the surface of the earth. Oceans hold secrets still to be discovered, and much work needs to be done to answer them, which will be covered in future blog articles.
And capturing CO2 in the soil is being progressively understood. And this is what we will touch on today. Sequestering carbon in soil is a relatively natural way of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere with fewer impacts on land and water, less need for energy, and lower costs. Better land management and agricultural practices could enhance the ability of soils to store carbon and help combat global warming.
The Earth’s soils contain about 2,500 gigatons of carbon—that is more than three times the amount of carbon in the atmosphere and four times the amount stored in all living plants and animals.
Earth Institute, Columbia University. Soils have lost 50 to 70% of the carbon they once held. This is due to agriculture and grazing. And this transformation of the soil has produced about 25% of the manmade greenhouse gases that are such a problem today. Agricultural practices and deforestation allow the CO2 to escape from the soil when they expose the carbon to oxygen. Undisturbed soils form clumps or aggregates that sequester the carbon away from exposure. Mycorrhizal fungi assist in forming these aggregates. Surface plant residues may loose carbon in weeks. Deep carbon residue below 1 meter from roots and fungal hyphae may remain stable for centuries. Clearly, caring for our soils is going to be an important part of combating climate change and global warming.
“Humanity should unite in concerted care for the ecosystem upon which we all depend. Around the world, Latin America and Asia have a much greater concern about climate change than does North America or China. We should remain vigilant in watching those vested interests who would sow the seeds of confusion in order to preserve their economic supremacy.”
A study published in Nature Sequestration of Carbon estimated that with better management, global croplands have the potential to store an additional 1.85 gigatons carbon each year—as much as the global transportation sector emits annually. Moreover, some scientists believe soils could continue to sequester carbon for 20 to 40 years before they become saturated.
Cover crops like vetch and winter rye, and compost increase the capacity of the soil to hold carbon. The improved growth and depth of root formation places carbon deeper in the soil. Some towns will drop off fall leaves and wood chips to individual homeowners. These will breakdown as a soil amendment over the winter. And dropping them off saves the town the expense of paying landfill fees, producing a win-win situation.
An article in Science, Reduced Carbon Uptake in Soils, was less optimistic. It suggested that some of the carbon in deep soils was 100’s of years old and that carbon sequestration is therefore a much slower process. More research is being done.
And new discoveries will inevitably come to light. What we must do is to pressure our representatives to support climate healthy agriculture and forestry. And on a worldwide stage we must fight to preserve the rain forests such as the Amazon and the Congo.
Worldwide governing bodies need the active support of the world’s people to move on these initiatives. For, “If the people will lead; eventually the leaders will follow.”