The soil-climate connection

“Climate change can be overwhelming.  Yet there is real hope,” says Michael Pollan, a journalist and food advocate in a video on soil and climate, shown at the recent UN Paris climate conference.

And on Dec. 1, the  French government’s agriculture ministry launched  its 4 per 1000 initiative, which calls for an annual increase of carbon content in soils of .4 percent every year for 25 years.4 per 1000 big

In this agreement, part of the Lima-Paris Action Agenda, France is joined by 24+ governments, including Australia, New Zealand, Japan, the UK, Germany and Mexico.  Other organizations such as the UN, and over 50 activist groups like the Organic Consumers Association, its Mexico affiliate Via Organica, and Regeneration International have also signed on.

Participants will implement practical programs of carbon sequestration in soil, including conservation land-use practices and farming methods that increase stable carbon in soils (such as agroforestry and regenerative agriculture).  The goal of the initiative is to foster “a transition toward a productive, resilient agriculture, based on a sustainable soil management and generating jobs and incomes, hence ensuring sustainable development.”

The plan intends to show that even a small increase in the soil carbon will improve soil fertility, maximize agricultural production and contribute to the objective of limiting global average temperature increase below the dangerous level of 1.5 degrees centigrade. For more information about how carbon sequestration in the soil works, check out this column that appeared in the Gazette, and two of my earlier blog posts.

Locally, Jonathan Bates and Megan Barber of Food Forest Farm wrote about how they increased soil carbon in their backyard in Holyoke, Mass. over 10 years at an annual rate that exceeds the 4 per 1000  goal.

The United States is not among the signatories of the 4 per 1000 initiative. And yet the US industrialized agriculture and food system are widely seen as climate bad guys.  They are implicated in the reduction of carbon sequestration in our soil (through tilling, use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides) and in the emissions of methane, a potent global warming gas, from our concentrated animal feeding operations, among other climate crimes.

The concentration, scale and mechanization of our big corporate agriculture system threatens rural communities,  eliminates good jobs, and allows our giant agriculture and food corporations to use their wealth to press for policies that protect their profits and the status quo. (Same story as in so many other sectors of our nation’s economic system.)

There are initiatives afoot, like this petition, to press for the US to get on board with the carbon soil sequestration aspect of climate mitigation.

Reducing the threat of climate change includes changing our system of agriculture.  We know how to do this. So let’s add soil carbon sequestration to our array of goals for climate action going forward.








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