Bringing carbon back to earth

Co-founder of The Diggers Club and The Diggers Foundation, Clive Blazey, says soil is the easiest and quickest solution.

Vineyards by Dan Meyers on UnSplash. 
 
Chemical agriculture is destroying our planet via our soils.

Not only does it destroy the living biota that creates fertile soils, it is also the major contributor to our rising CO2 levels. The NASA images on page 19 show the rise of CO2 that happens in March and April (see red clouds) in the Northern Hemisphere when bare soil is ploughed before planting crops. However, once the seeds germinate they bring that carbon in the atmosphere back to earth, hence the yellow and green clouds in the second image, taken in June when crops are in active growth. 

If all our soil was covered in trees and perennial plants, they would sequester carbon for twelve months rather than six, which would be the quickest and most effective solution to climate change, just by reverting back to natural processes. 

Roundup™ (glyphosate) is the world’s most present agricultural chemical. Three pounds of chemical are sprayed for every person in the U.S. – all the while it kills microbes in the soil and our bodies, as it is also found in nearly every food product in every country.

The quickest solution

If our farmers went organic like us gardeners, we would naturally bring CO2 back to earth. The Kiss the Ground documentary (available on Netflix) explains that this one change in the production of food could be the quickest solution to climate change. 

The greatest store of carbon is actually not in the atmosphere, the plants or the oceans, but in the soil under our feet. This carbon store evolved as soon as plants began to trap CO2 by photosynthesis about 450 million years ago. Today’s soil is the accumulation of eons of slow processes. As animals digest grass and leaves they create manure, trees fall and decompose, and rocks weather to provide minerals – these are all the elements that create the organic soil we depend upon for our food. But what you cannot see is the most important element – the microbes that digest these materials, creating organic carbon-rich soils. 

When humans began to practice agriculture about 10,000 years ago, soils were fertile enough to provide all the nutrients for growing wheat, rice or corn for a population of about 3 million. The air, the sun and our energy sources were all free. But about 60 years ago everything changed. The high input agro-chemical companies took over. 

It was the advent of the modern tractor, ploughing and compacting our soils whilst spreading high nutrient fertilisers and weed killers, that destroyed our soil’s living biota – their natural fertility. Planet Earth used to run on free carbon. 

We humans breath in oxygen and breathe out CO2. Plants breathe in CO2 and, coupled with water, nutrients and the sun’s energy via photosynthesis, plants combine these elements to grow leaves, roots and stems. 

Modern agriculture is not designed for the betterment of the soil. Before the advent of high nitrogen fertilisers, farmers would raise cattle and their manure would be used for next year’s growth. But modern farming separates crop growers from livestock producers, so intense cropping is now used to fatten feedlot cattle for months before slaughter so their byproduct is now a toxic waste, instead of building soil fertility in pastures.

From mixed recycle farming to dead soils

In just 60 years of ploughing we have already lost 30% of our top soil. “Damaged soil releases carbon and water and so soil dries out”, says biologist Alan Savory. It behaves like dust. 

Bare soil leads to evaporation so our plants then need more irrigation. By cutting down trees and ploughing 50% of the world’s most fertile land, two thirds of our fertile soil is desertifying. The United Nations now estimates that our remaining top soil will be depleted in 60 years! 

If we revert back to managing the sun’s free energy and free carbon by using plants, we can sequester enough carbon to increase soil organic matter by 1% which will draw down ten tonnes of carbon per acre, helping bring carbon back down to earth to ensure the future of our planet. 

 

 

The Netflix documentary Kiss the Ground is the source of this article. It explains how our planet works and contains the holistic work of Alan Savory, Gabe Brown, Paul Hawken (author of Drawdown), Andre Leu and Regenerative Agriculture. 

INRA, a French agronomic research institute, is the initiator of the European drive of the ‘4 per 1000 initiative’, i.e. reversing climate change by burying the same amount of CO2 as we emit each year. 

Our Diggers gardens feature plants that are the fastest accumulators of carbon a gardener can use:

• Giant Miscanthus (C4 grass) (Miscanthus x giganteus)

• Abyssinian Banana (Ensete ventricosum)

LEFT: CO2 levels rise in the Northern Hemisphere when bare soil is tilled is March and April.
RIGHT: The germination of seed two months later brings much of the CO2 back to earth.

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