HARVEST CARBON FROM THE AIR
Carbon is as precious as gold to plants. Working with water and sunlight, carbon makes plants grow. Plants assimilate carbon in the form of carbon dioxide, extracting it from the air to make roots, shoots, and leaves. With the help of soil microbes, the plants then transfer the carbon to the soil through roots and decomposing residue.
The stable storage of this carbon below ground not only builds soil organic matter and improves future crops but also, like a pressure valve, relieves the atmospheric carbon buildup.
The benefits of this plant-driven harvesting of carbon from the air extend far beyond the farm and ranch gate.
“If we were able to increase the carbon in the soils of the world by sequestering 3.6 gigaton of carbon per year [1 gigaton equals 1 billion tons], we could offset or negate the additional effects of climate change that will be caused by future increases in carbon dioxide released by the fossil fuel use of a growing world population,” says Rattan Lal. Lal directs the Carbon Management and Sequestration Center at Ohio State University.
“It is this assumption that was the basis of the 4 per Thousand program initiated at the Climate Summit in Paris in December 2015,” he says. “The strategy of this program is to sequester carbon in soils of the world at the rate of 0.4% per year in the top 16 inches of soil. Implementing such a program would require appropriate policies to encourage farmers to adopt the recommended management practices.
“Globally, the release of carbon into the atmosphere from fossil fuel use is 10 gigaton, and it goes up annually,” says Lal. “The U.S. accounts for about 18% to 20% of that amount. In the U.S., the per-capita rate of release of carbon into the atmosphere is going down but rising globally. Global warming has resulted from the increasing levels of carbon in the atmosphere. This is causing an increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as floods, droughts, and hurricanes.