Avoiding Climate Disaster

Woke up to the wrenching news that city workers, arriving early outside Sekhnet’s home, were well into the process of cutting down a healthy 60 year-old tree that shades the house.   Sekhnet ran out, spoke to the guys busily taking the old tree apart, and saved the tree, or at least the trunk and half of its top.   Turns out, when the workers called in to confirm, that they were cutting down the wrong tree.   Sekhnet got emotional as she told the workers about the day, when she was a young child, she stood next to her father as he put a tire around the base of the seedling to protect it.  One of the guys gave her a hug.   

The planet is losing trees, the lungs of the earth, at an alarming rate.   Much of the Amazon rainforest is currently on fire as the would-be dictator of Brazil, a true fascist, talks about selling off the entire rainforest to the highest bidders.   What does he give a shit?   He’s as smart as Trump, as tough, as much of a winner.

An old friend of mine got so worked up about this mindless destruction of the earth that she went back to school and got a doctorate in how to do her part to save the planet.    She learned about a process of sequestering carbon in the soil that, if practiced globally, would do a significant amount of good.   It would prevent about 13% of the carbon that is currently being released into the atmosphere from leaving the ground.  It turns out that “modern” agricultural practices release massive amounts of CO2 into the air.    Carbon in the form of CO2 is one of the main greenhouse gases responsible for warming the planet.   The catastrophic effects of this warming can already been seen many times every year and the best case scenario gives earthlings twelve years to get CO2 emissions down to zero.   If not, we’re toast, leaving a dystopian horror story to the next generation.

Severe drought leads to massive suffering as crops fail and people become parched and hungry (see, for example, what started the Syrian civil war).   Floods and landslides displace poor people at an alarming rate.   Wildfires are raging in places where there were never fires.   We have earthquakes in areas that never had them (thank you, hydrofracking) and tornadoes in places that never saw them before.  Killer storms that dump oceans of water rage regularly.  Once enough polar ice melts (and it’s going fast) the sea level rise will create new disasters.   Populous regions will become uninhabitable.   Tens or hundreds of millions of climate refugees are no joke.  There will be widespread chaos, starvation and cannibalism.  The US military, armed with data amassed by government scientists, has long been warning about the destabilizing effect of millions of desperate, starving, homeless people on the verge of becoming cannibals, looking for a place to live. 

Armed with her doctorate, my friend is doing her part to prevent this approaching nightmare.   She’s working on a proposal to get food corporations (starting with one that’s already preaching sustainably sourced food) to incentivize farmers to follow a two step carbon sequestration process.   Two tweaks to our current agricultural methods would prevent many tons of C02 and other greenhouse gases from getting into the atmosphere.   This carbon remains in the soil if farmers plant without tilling the soil and plant cover crops in between cash crops.   Turning over the earth, it turns out, releases tons of carbon into the air.   Having a cover crop on the land actually captures carbon from the air.    The best science shows these practices would reduce atmospheric CO2 by 13%.    If humans stopped refining and burning fossil fuels today, that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 75%.   As one scientist pointed out, hair on fire “it’s all hands on deck!”

I tried to do my little part yesterday by helping her tweak the proposal she’s been improving for weeks now.   We spoke for a long time, and I thought of two main points that needed to be emphasized.   One was to put forward the scope of the problem at the top, to kindle a little wildfire of urgency under the proposal reader’s ass.   The other was to emphasize the bottom line — of all the ways to keep carbon out of the atmosphere, this is by far the cheapest, as well as the simplest.   Check it out.  

The increase of carbon in our atmosphere is warming the planet and already causing massive climate disruption: floods, droughts, wildfires, deadly storms, widespread extinctions.  Modifying our agricultural practices can remove a significant percentage of atmospheric carbon, help us mitigate these increasingly common disasters and avoid climate catastrophe.

The monetary cost of implementing no-till and cover crop agricultural practices to sequester carbon is minute compared to other methods.  The price to remove one ton of carbon from the atmosphere has fallen by 300%  since 2011, to an avg. $150/per ton (ballpark figures, she’ll calculate more precise numbers), the price for removing one ton of atmospheric carbon by this method of carbon sequestration is about $13, less than a tenth of that.    More importantly, it is sustainable, the carbon sequestration is ongoing once these changes are implemented.

I urged her to eliminate the “only 13%” language, because a 13% reduction is significant.  If you got a 13% return on any investment you’d be happy.  If you improved your test score by 13%, same thing.   If a .250 hitter improved his batting average by 13% he’d be hitting a very respectable .283.     All hands on deck.   All hands on deck!

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