For the last few years the war against carbon has been on. All aspects of carbon emissions are being critically examined with an eye to reduction. Vehicle tailpipe emissions, oil and gas production, coal fired power, even commercial agriculture. All of these things are currently carbon intense and can be cleaned up if not stopped altogether.
But carbon itself is not evil. It is just an element and like any element, cannot be corrupted. It just is. Carbon is everywhere; every plant and animal is made almost entirely of carbon. Carbon compounds form the basis of all known life on Earth; it is in soil and trees and animals. It is in almost everything in the natural world.
When people say carbon is bad, what they are really talking about is how carbon is distributed. Since the beginning of the industrial age, humans have released about 1.1 Trillion tons of carbon that was contained in oil and coal, 600,000 tons from trees and forests, and about 700,000 million tons from the soil using traditional agricultural methods like plowing. Of this carbon, 1.1 trillion has ended up in the atmosphere where it causes climate change and about 1.3 trillion in the ocean where it causes disruption to food chain cycles.
It’s really very simple: carbon in the ground is good, too much carbon in the air (or ocean) is bad.
Fossil fuel, forests and agriculture have provided us with huge growth as a species. They have literally fueled our development more than any other time in history, but it has come at a great cost. We are now aware of this cost and have alternatives to the traditional use of natural resources.
Much has been written about the transition to low carbon power, but what about agriculture? It turns out the old style agricultural practices from before the second world war are actually the best way to grow food. Low tillage planting, winter cover crops, crop rotation and the inclusion of animals in food crop farming reduces carbon intensity of operations and lowers or eliminates the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides. This method of farming also costs the farmer less in fuel and chemicals meaning they can continue to farm family land profitably, continuing the tradition for future generations.
Carbon capture is really the focus these days though. Interestingly, farmers hold the unique ability (through the natural process of photosynthesis) to make meaningful sequestration on a global scale. Forward thinking companies like Indigo Ag and their Terraton initiative are helping farmers of all sizes across the globe to profit from the carbon sequestering ability of their farms. Ingigo Ag provides farmers with the tools and knowledge of how to farm in a low carbon way. The Terraton initiative, sells carbon offsets that it then distributes to farmers who engage in this framing practice. The farmer lowers operating costs, produces less pollution and gains a significant income stream. Win/win for the farmers and the planet.
What can you do? Support local organic and sustainable farmers by buying some of your food from a farmer’s market. At the local market near where I live, we can buy not only vegetables, but also breads from locally grown wheat, local meat and sausage from ethically raised animals.
You can grow your own garden – even if you live in an apartment or condo, you can grow delicious tomatoes, carrots peas and leafy greens from planter gardens on a balcony. If you have a yard, you can scale up. I live in a modest north American home in the suburbs. My yard is not huge, but each summer it produces gallons of raspberries, blueberries and strawberries that we freeze and eat in smoothies all winter.
The carbon footprint of my berries compared to the product that comes from southern factory farms is almost nothing. We also produce kale, peas, tomatoes, artichokes, asparagus, potatoes, carrots, pumpkins (that we give away to the neighbors at Halloween) and flowers by the bushel. We have plums, pears and apples from some 60-year-old trees that just keep producing each year. It takes some effort but it’s good, satisfying work; in the spring we plant seeds and seedlings, then we have some minor weeding throughout the early summer, then just regular watering for the rest of the season until the final harvest. Some years we get fresh food right through the fall.
For us, gardening is all upside: we love the food we grow and have a deep sense of satisfaction knowing that it contains no man-made chemicals. When our kids were little, they were free to graze in the garden at any time with almost no restrictions. They ate fresh peas, carrots and berries – as much as they wanted. Even now as teens and young adults they can sometimes be found snacking on veggies in the garden. Veggies raised with love, still warm from the sun.
It’s not just the quality of the food that is beneficial; during the growing season there is an almost meditative quality to the weeding and watering. It just feels good to spend time in the fresh air, exercising rarely used muscles, being around plants and nature; especially those that provide such delicious benefits.
We also now have the additional knowledge that the garden we keep also helps the planet by sequestering a some of our share of carbon. Get outside, plant a garden and reap the rewards. There are few if any downsides.
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