Regenerative Organic Agriculture and Climate Change
A Down-to-Earth Solution to Global Warming
We are at the most critical moment in the history of our species, as man-made changes to the climate threaten humanity’s security on Earth. In 2012, total annual global emissions of greenhouse gases were approximately 52 GtCO2e. These emissions must soon drop to a net of 41 GtCO2e if we are to have a feasible chance of limiting warming to 1.5°C, above which point we dare not pass.
The key term in the above paragraph is “net.” Gross greenhouse gas emissions come from numerous man-made sources. The resulting climate chaos has begun to modify our planet in ways that are not fully understood, leading to natural emissions that add to the complexity of the challenge. If we continue to attack the climate crisis solely from the direction of reducing gross manmade emissions, we will be forced to confront all the bewildering complexity of climate chaos. We will also be forced to battle carbon pumps everywhere – industrial, agricultural, the transportation sector – and from every direction on the globe. We will be forced to ask what countries should bear what responsibility, what industries should bear what portion of the blame and burden, and who should pay for the sacrifices we tremble to imagine? This daunting challenge is posed by trying to solve the problem by addressing only the “pump,” and it has led to international bickering, incoherence, and inaction. People are left to pray for a yet undiscovered “technological messiah” to undo the damage, for our political will is paralyzed.
All this flows from the failure to look beyond the source of the problem, namely, the swarming carbon pumps that endlessly contaminate our atmosphere. The purpose of this paper is to redirect the discussion from the “swarm” to the “simple.” We suggest an obvious and immediately available solution – put the carbon back to work in the terrestrial carbon “sinks” that are literally right beneath our feet. Excess carbon in the atmosphere is surely toxic to life, but we are, after all, carbon-based life forms, and returning stable carbon to the soil can support ecological abundance.
Simply put, recent data from farming systems and pasture trials around the globe show that we could sequester more than 100% of current annual CO2 emissions with a switch to widely available and inexpensive organic management practices, which we term “regenerative organic agriculture.” These practices work to maximize carbon fixation while minimizing the loss of that carbon once returned to the soil, reversing the greenhouse effect.
Regenerative organic agriculture for soil-carbon sequestration is tried and true: Humans have long farmed in that fashion, and there is nothing experimental about it. What is new is the scienti c veri cation of regenerative agricultural practices. Farming trials across the world have contrasted various forms of regenerative and conventional practices with special attention to crop yield, drought impact, and carbon sequestration. Some of these studies are in their third decade of data, such
as this Institute’s Farming Systems Trial, and there are important fresh
looks such as in the new Tropical Farming Systems Trial (“TFST”) on
the Caribbean slope of Costa Rica.