Earth Day has come and gone, but I haven’t stopped worrying about the greatest challenge our ecosystem has faced since the beginning of human history: global climate change.
It’s easy to feel helpless when confronted with a problem of such a huge scope. But recently, the folks at NOFA (the Northeast Organic Farming Association) reminded me that as a gardener, I can play a role in addressing global climate change. In fact, according to NOFA’s calculations, we stewards of the soil could be the solution
NOFA has been promoting to its 5,000 members – farmers, gardeners, and land managers – a style of farming and gardening called “regenerative agriculture.” This has many aspects, but the essential aim is to restore the health of the soil. The foundation of this is to rebuild the soil’s organic content, which means boosting its carbon content. This carbon derives from carbon dioxide gas, extracted from our atmosphere by photosynthesizing plants. Because carbon dioxide is the principal greenhouse gas and the driver of global climate change, reducing its level in the atmosphere is generally viewed as the key to controlling global warming.
How much impact could changing our style of growing have? A lot, according to a white paper published by NOFA. In fact, much of the increase in carbon dioxide levels since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution can be traced to trends in farming; land clearing and increased tillage and cultivation have released 136 gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere, considerably more than the amount of carbon that experts say must now be extracted from the atmosphere if we are to escape the worst effects of global warming.
If all farmers, ranchers and growers worldwide were to practice regenerative agriculture, then, the NOFA white paper estimates, the necessary reduction in carbon dioxide could be accomplished in 5 years.
Will this happen? No, at least not on that time scale. But it gives growers like you and me something to aim at, and an incentive to become leaders and exemplars. Many of the necessary changes in our gardening style, such as the rejection of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, you may already have made. Some, such as keeping the soil covered with plant growth at all seasons and eliminating (as much as possible) tillage, are likely to require considerable adjustments, especially from older gardeners of my vintage.
I urge you to read NOFA’s white paper, “Soil Carbon Restoration: Can Biology Do the Job?” It can help us all to garden up to our fullest potential.