Carbonomics: Saving the Earth by Ending Industrial Agriculture

Living Soil

Produced by Soil Health Institute (2018)

Film Review

Thanks to the new field of Carbonomics, more and more US farmers are learning that the carbon content of soil is even more essential to plant health than nitrogen. Largely due to industrial agriculture, the Earth has lost half of its topsoil in 150 years. Fortunately, however, thanks to the increasing adoption of regenerative agriculture across the US, American topsoil is gradually being restored.

Although the primary motivation for the move to regenerative agriculture is to improve soil health, crop yields and the nutritional quality of food, this is also one of the most cost effective ways to reduce atmospheric CO2 by sequestering carbon.*

Increasing the carbon content of soil also helps it retain water. This, in turn, prevents contamination of waterways through fertilizer runoff.

The main regenerative farming practices Living Soil explores are cover cropping and intercropping. Cover cropping refers to alternating food crops with with cover crops designed to replenish carbon and nitrogen (if nitrogen-fixing legumes are used). Intercropping refers to growing cover crops alongside food crops, which can be helpful in diminishing insect pests as well as replenishing carbon and nitrogen.

According to filmmakers, Maryland has the largest cover crop movement in the US. Several years ago, a massive fish kill in Chesapeake Bay (stemming from fertilizer runoff) led to an unusual collaboration between state farmers and the environmental movement. By jointly lobbying the state legislature, they won state subsidies for farmers willing to plant cover crops. As of 2018, 60% of Maryland farms featured cover crops in winter – in contrast to 15% in 1990.

In the documentary’s most interesting segment, the filmmakers visit three farms practicing no-till (ie plow-free). There is growing evidence that breaking up the soil through plowing or cultivation damages delicate fungal networks plants rely on for essential nutrients.   


*According to Dr Zach Bush, the enhanced fungal and bacterial activity of healthy soils also has a positive impact on human health. See The Shikimate Pathway: How Vaccines, Environmental Toxins and 5G Damage Human Immunity

 

Richard Heinberg: How Fast Can We Transition to Renewable Energy?

Our Renewable Future

Richard Heinberg (2016)

In this 2016 presentation, Richard Heinberg talks about his new book (with David Fridley) Our Renewable Future. Both the book and talk focus mainly on the ease with which renewable energy can replace fossil fuels in our current industrial economy. He argues the transition is essential, not only to reduce the impact of catastrophic climate change and ocean acidification, but to address growing global economic and political instability (ie resource wars in the Middle East over dwindling oil and natural gas reserves).

  • Electric power generation – coal and gas-fired power plants are fairly easy to replace with wind and/or solar generation. However Heinberg also argues that homes need to be made more efficient (in terms of heating and cooling) to reduce peak load demand. Renewable technologies are not good at ramping up at short notice. We have had the technical know-how for decades to produce buildings requiring 1/20th of the energy we presently use to heat them. Up until now, we have lacked the political will to change local building codes accordingly.
  • Personal transportation – Heinberg argues that electric cars aren’t a panacea. Because they are so energy intensive to produce, only fairly wealthy people will be able to afford them. He feels there needs to be more focus on increasing public transport and adapting our communities to facilitate active transport, such as walking and cycling.
  • Mass transit – he strongly advocates increased use of rail, by far the most efficient form of transit for both people and freight. For transcontinental travel, high speed trains are much more energy efficient than air travel and are easily electrified.
  • Shipping – ocean freighters are already quite energy efficient compared to air transport. Using kite sails to propel them can reduce their energy consumption by 60%
  • Food production – at present we expend 12 fossil fuel calories for every calorie of food produce. In additions to our chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides (all derived from fossil fuels), we also use fossil fuels in food processing and packaging, to run farm machinery and to transport food halfway around the world. The transition in food production has already begun, with strong organic and buy local movements worldwide. Heinberg also supports the growing movement to use sustainable agriculture to sequester carbon ((carbon farming, aka the 4 per 1,000 initiative – see The Soil Solution to Climate Change).
  • Construction – most of our commercial buildings are made of concrete and steel, which both require intensive fossil fuel input in production. Here he recommends a transition to recycled and more natural building materials and a conscious effort to design buildings to human scale. The splurge in high rise construction of the 20th century was only possible due to a glut of cheap fossil fuel.
  • Manufacturing – most manufacturing has already been electrified.
  • Consumer electronics – Heinberg argues we need to make Smartphones more easily upgradable – enabling each of us to purchase one per lifetime. The pressure to replace Smartphones every year is deliberate “planned obsolescence” to increase profits.
  • Plastics, paint, synthetics – natural ingredients (hemp can be used for all three) tends to be cheaper, more durable and less harmful to the environment.

The Soil Solution to Climate Change

The Soil Solution to Climate Change

SustainableWorld (2014)

Film Review

This informational film, based on the French 4 per 1,000 initiative, proposes an ancient form of carbon sequestration* as an alternative to risky technological methods of carbon sequestration. There is strong scientific consensus that to prevent catastrophic global warming, atmospheric CO2 levels must be reduced from 400 parts per million (ppm) to 350 ppm.

The 4 per 1,000 initiative encourages all UN member countries to increase the carbon in their soils by 0.4% per year by transitioning from industrial agriculture – which tends to strip soil of carbon – to more traditional practices that tend to replenish soil carbon (and simultaneously increase yields: see Organic and Sustainable Farming Increases Yields by 79% or More).

According to the filmmakers, adopting the French initiatiative would also reverse the planet’s rapid depletion of top soil. At present, 50-80% of the world’s top soil has been lost due to loss of carbon. We continue to lose roughly 24 billion tons of topsoil a year due to heavy plowing and use of chemical fertilizers and synthetic pesticides. All three practices kill important soil organisms responsible for replenishing soil carbon.

This systematic lost of carbon, the fibrous matter we find in soil, also destroys water quality – largely by facilitating run-off of these chemicals into our waterways. Healthy carbon-rich soils absorb and retain water like a sponge, helping to prevent both flooding and drought.

The film finishes by exploring organic farming techniques – increased use of cover cops, plant diversity and planned grazing – that assist plants in sequestering carbon.

For more information about the 4 per 1,000 initiative see Join the 4 per 1000 Initiative


*Carbon sequestration – a natural or artificial process by which carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and held in solid or liquid form.

The Dangers of Policy-Based Climate Science

Climate Change: Triumph and Tragedy in Paris

Kevin Anderson (2016)

In this presentation, Professor Kevin Anderson carefully dissects a number of the conclusions reached at the Paris COP21 climate change conference in December 2015. Anderson is particularly critical of what he refers to as “policy based science.” He also makes an urgent case for scientists to ignore “vested interests” if there’s to be any chance of preventing catastrophic climate change.

Despite all the hype about the COP21 agreement limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Centigrade, a close look at the math reveals all the emission reduction pledges add up to 3.5 degrees of warming (which is incompatible with human civilization).

According to Anderson, the major flaws of the Paris agreement are its reliance on carbon sequestration, an extremely expensive technology that doesn’t even exist yet; its failure to monitor carbon emissions produced by aviation and global shipping; and its failure to call for deep cuts in energy demand.

He also dismisses the fantasy of “green growth” as a public relations exercise. It will require decades to ramp up renewable energy production to support the lifestyles of the 10% of the population who produce 50% of the emissions. By this point,  total atmospheric CO2 will be too high to prevent catastrophic global warming.

Anderson maintains it’s too late to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees (Centigrade) and that we only have a 33% chance of limiting it to 2.0 degrees – provided the developed world cuts energy use by 10% per year for the next seven years.

He calls for a total moratorium on fossil fuel mining and airport expansion, government programs to make homes energy efficient, electrification of all public car fleets and progressive metering tariffs on all CO2 emissions, including aviation, shipping and agriculture.