Could farmers be a solution to climate change?

Here’s a bit of hope amongst the doom and gloom of climate change. Set aside for a moment the massive engineering feat that would be required of pumping CO2 into underground storage tanks. That idea is going who knows where. A potentially viable solution to restoring carbon back into the earth resides with simple changes in the way we farm.

An aerial view of farms in Tansmania. Photo: Freeaussiestock.com

A piece in Discover magazine, Could Dirt Help Health the Climate?, outlines the way agriculture is both a problem and a solution to climate change. Ohio State soil scientist Rattan Lal says in the piece that the world’s soils could soak up 13 percent of the CO2 in the world today — the equivalent of removing every bit from the atmosphere since 1980.

Disruptive farming practices like slash and burn, fertilizing, ploughing, and overgrazing have sent massive amounts of carbon up into the atmosphere. Lal estimates that between 70 billion to 100 billion tons of carbon has been stripped from exposed soil since the advent of agriculture 10,000 years ago. One-third of greenhouse gas emissions come from land use changes like agriculture.

It stands to reason then that changing farming practices could return much of that carbon back to the soil where it belongs. Mixing compost into agricultural soils is one way, so is the planting of perennial grasses to keep the soil covered in vegetation.

Perhaps most importantly is getting farmers to see value in banking carbon, rather than extracting as much productivity as possible from the land. With soil so valuable, farmers can be, in turns out, stewards of the climate.