I apologize for being scarce.
I’ve been busy writing a book titled Carbon Country, to be published by Chelsea Green Press next year! I signed the contract this week. I’m very excited, but the manuscript is due to my editor at the end of September, so I’ve been burning some early morning pixels. While working for Quivira. And writing additional 2% Solutions. And helping to raise puppies at home. And prepping for a ten-day canoe adventure to the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota with my son and his Boy Scout Troop. We leave today.
This blog had languished as a consequence. I’ll try, however, to be more productive and post things over the next few months. In the meantime, here’s a slice of the book’s Prologue, which should give you a sense of what I’m trying to accomplish:
“I sat down one morning at my dining room table and began sketching on a sheet of paper. I drew every joyous, sustainable, resilient, regenerative, land-healing, relationship-building, climate-mitigating, local food-producing activity I could pull from my experience, putting them into a single mythical landscape. I sketched (badly) cattle-herding ranchers, weed-eating goats, bat-friendly water tanks, creek-restoring volunteers, land health-monitoring crews, fish-friendly wetlands, grass-fed beef businesses, no-till farms, and on-site renewable energy projects.
“Then I added cities, schools, farms, beavers, wolves, bird-watchers, kitchen gardens, wildlife corridors, compost piles, and more. I intentionally left out boundaries, including property lines, political divisions, and geographical separations. There was no distinction on my map between public and private land, or between wild country and non-wild. It was all one map, all carbon – all one vision in which wolves, cattle, bats, organic farmers, biologists, artists, foxes, fish, cities, and ranchers all worked together and got along.
“When I was done, I sat back and studied my map. I knew this place. It was the land I had been exploring for years – except it wasn’t. I hadn’t considered it from a carbon perspective before. It felt like a new country, ripe for further exploration. I decided to investigate. But where would I go? What would I discover? Were there actual on-the-ground solutions to the rising challenges of the 21st century? If so, was there an answer to an increasingly anguished question being asked Americans of all stripes: what can I do to help?
“I knew a few things going in: Carbon was key. It’s the soil beneath our feet, the plants that grow, the land we walk, the wildlife we watch, the livestock we raise, the food we eat, the energy we use, and the air we breathe. Carbon is the essential element of life. Without it we die, with too much we suffer, with the just right amounts we thrive. A highly efficient carbon cycle captures, stores, releases and recaptures biochemical energy, making everything go and grow from the soil up.
In the last century or so, however, the carbon cycle has broken down at critical points, most importantly among our soils which have had their fertility eroded, depleted, and baked out of them by poor stewardship. Worse, carbon has become a source of woe to the planet and its inhabitants as excess amounts of it accumulate in the atmosphere and oceans. It’s all carbon. Climate change is carbon, hunger is carbon, money is carbon, politics is carbon, land is carbon, we are carbon.
“We don’t have to invent anything. Over the past thirty years, all manner of new ideas and methods that put carbon back into the soil and reduce carbon footprints have been field-tested and proven to be practical and profitable. We already know how to graze livestock sustainably, grow organic food, create a local food system, fix creeks, produce local renewable energy, improve water cycles, grow grass on bare soil, coexist with wildlife, and generally build resilience on the land and in our lives.
“It’s mostly low-tech. It’s sunlight, green plants, animals, rocks, mud, shovels, hiking shoes, windmills, trees, compost, and creeks. Some of the work requires specialized knowledge, such as herding livestock or designing an erosion-control structure in a creek, and some of it has high-tech components, such as solar panels or wind turbines, but most of Carbon Country can be easily navigated by anyone.
“Lastly, you’re on the map too. Everyone is, whether you live in a city, go to school, graze cattle, enjoy wildlife, grow vegetables, hike, fish, count grasses, draw, make music, fix creeks, or eat food. You live in Carbon Country. We all do. It’s not a mythical land, it exists.
Here it is (color is off a bit):
As if on cue, here’s an article on soil carbon that was published recently by the IPS news service:
REYKJAVÍK, Iceland, (IPS) Soil is becoming endangered. This reality needs to be part of our collective awareness in order to feed nine billion people by 2050, say experts meeting here in Reykjavík. And a big part of reversing soil decline is carbon, the same element that is overheating the planet.
“Keeping and putting carbon in its rightful place” needs to be the mantra for humanity if we want to continue to eat, drink and combat global warming, concluded 200 researchers from more than 30 countries.
“There is no life without soil,” said Anne Glover, chief scientific advisor to the European Commission. “While soil is invisible to most people it provides an estimated 1.5 to 13 trillion dollars in ecosystem services annually,” Glover said at the Soil Carbon Sequestration conference that ended this week.
The dirt beneath our feet is a nearly magical world filled with tiny, wondrous creatures. A mere handful of soil might contain a half million different species including ants, earthworms, fungi, bacteria and other microorganisms. Soil provides nearly all of our food – only one percent of our calories come from the oceans, she said.
Soil also gives life to all of the world’s plants that supply us with much of our oxygen, another important ecosystem service. Soil cleans water, keeps contaminants out of streams and lakes, and prevents flooding. Soil can also absorb huge amounts of carbon, second only to the oceans.
“It takes half a millennia to build two centimetres of living soil and only seconds to destroy it,” Glover said.
Each year, 12 million hectares of land, where 20 million tonnes of grain could have been grown, are lost to land degradation. In the past 40 years, 30 percent of the planet’s arable (food-producing) land has become unproductive due to erosion. Unless this trend is reversed soon, feeding the world’s growing population will be impossible.
The world will likely need “60 percent more food calories in 2050 than in 2006”, according to a new paper released May 30 by the World Resources Institute. Reaching this goal while maintaining economic growth and environmental sustainability is one of the most important global challenges of our time, it concludes.
Urban development is a growing factor in loss of arable lands. One million city dwellers occupy 40,000 hectares of land on average, said Rattan Lal of Ohio State University.
Plowing, removal of crop residues after harvest, and overgrazing all leave soil naked and vulnerable to wind and rain, resulting in gradual, often unnoticed erosion of soil. This is like tire wear on your car – unless given the attention and respect it deserves, catastrophe is only a matter of time.
Erosion also puts carbon into the air where it contributes to climate change. But with good agricultural practices like using seed drills instead of plows, planting cover crops and leaving crop residues, soils can go from a carbon source to a carbon solution, he said.
“Soil can be a safe place where huge amounts of carbon from the atmosphere could be sequestered,” Lal told IPS.
When a plant grows it takes CO2 out the atmosphere and releases oxygen. The more of a crop – maize, soy or vegetable – that remains after harvest, the more carbon is returned to the soil. This carbon is mainly found in humus – the rich organic material from decay of plant material. Soil needs to contain just 1.5 percent carbon to be healthy and resilient – more capable of withstanding drought and other harsh conditions.
“Healthy soils equals healthy crops, healthy livestock and healthy people,” Lal said.
However, most soils suffer from 30 to 60 percent loss in soil carbon. “Soils are like a bank account. You should only draw out what you put in. Soils are badly overdrawn in most places.”
Farmers and pastoralists (ranchers) could do “miracles” in keeping carbon in the soil and helping to pull carbon out of the atmosphere and feed the world if they were properly supported, Lal said.
Here’s the rest of the article: http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/05/peak-water-peak-oilnow-peak-soil/