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Can carbon farming with live stock help save us from global warming?

by Dave Riley

I find 'carbon farming' (see below) very interesting as a means to sequest carbon.

I'm no way an advocate of carbon trading for all the reasons we in the green left movement have explored.... but .... carbon farming to me seems a exception to that hesitancy. Given that farms are standalone working enterprises it makes sense to pay farmers to farm a certain way -- and the carbon farmers generally are keen to be paid for the amount they sequester as well as for their farm product.

The logic of this is evident in the way systems like Permaculture manage biomass but it isn't so clear cut when it comes to livestock -- especially because cattle and sheep are enteric fermentators and produce by belching and farting large quantities of Methane Gas.

The irony is that carbon farming would work much better if land was held and used in common rather than being divvied up into so many private properties. This aspect changes the way we need to consider land management and it tallies extremely well with the chronic problem of over-grazing in Australia. To some degree during drought periods 'framers ' touched on that practice as 'ranchers' will move their herds and flocks -- often to feed on road verges -- where there is fodder.

I guess my main concern is that by the time we change the direction of this planet in regard to global warming it may be too late and any numbers of multipliers would have kicked in. But if we were to consider top soil as a tool to reverse or ameliorate the process of CO2 emissions -- then we have a built in means to feed our populations sustainably while doing the good deed of sequestration.

Well here's an excerpt from a longer post from World Changing on the matter as it relates to herding and sequestration:
Carbon sequestration is not a new idea. It figures prominently in the popular carbon off-setting programs in which people pay a firm to plant trees—which absorb atmospheric carbon in their trunks, branches and roots—to compensate for their carbon emissions from air or auto travel. Coal companies and the Bush Administration have also floated the idea of massive engineering projects to sequester carbon underground, which have been greeted with intense skepticism by most environmentalists due to the cost and the unproven nature of the technology.

But initiatives to sequester carbon in soil through growing crops and grazing animals are less common, but perhaps more promising than planting trees since croplands and grasslands cover more of the earth’s surface than forests and they grow at a faster rate.

Scientists agree that organic matter in topsoil is on average 50 percent carbon up to one foot in depth, and bumping that upward by as little as 1.6 percent across all the world’s agricultural land, according to John Wick and Abe Collins, would solve the problem of global warming. Soil scientists studying the issue are more measured in their predictions, but still enthusiastic about the potential of soil sequestration of carbon to reduce the threat of global warming.

The central idea of carbon farming is to move the animals frequently—as once happened with wild herds chased by predators—so grasses are not gnawed beyond the point of natural recovery and plant cover remains to fertilize the land and sequester carbon. The sequestration process works like this: The grass takes in carbon from the atmosphere; the animals trample the grass into the soil, where the carbon is absorbed; new grass sprouts and the process is repeated over and over again, absorbing more and more carbon.

This was the natural cycle before the enclosure of the commons. Bison roamed the great American plains, as did other large herds in wild lands throughout the rest of the world. Even in places where livestock farming prevailed, the grazing lands were still held in common and animals wandered freely under the watch of shepherds or small farmers. With the privatization of grazing land, this ecological system was disrupted to the point where today raising livestock is rightly seen as one of the most environmentally destructive industries.

Carbon farming is an attempt to recreate the natural conditions of a commons even under the structure of private property in order to reverse the effects of global climate disruption.

Quantum Shift.tv --Soil: The Secret Solution to Global Warming - CAN

Canada version: Research by the Rodale Institute reveals that sustainably-farmed soil holds up to 30% more carbon than conventional agriculture. Converting all of Canada's farmland to organic would reduce CO2 emissions by 20%. The extra carbon in the soil also increases food nutrients, which could greatly reduce health care costs. In this Quantum Shift special report, organic farmer Percy Schmeise...

2 Com:

Ben Courtice | August 11, 2008

In the short term this may not be so much use. We need to rapidly phase out ruminant animal farming because of the methane gas mentioned in the blog post above, until we have the world climate on a trajectory of cooling. But methane gas from animals is not from fossil fuels. In a sustainable system there could be some such farming (probably less than now, I suspect). But let's be clear: even though the methane from livestock is merely transformed from gases already in the biosphere, the fact that it is a greenhouse gas up to 70 or so times more potent than CO2 means that for the 10-20 years that it's in the atmosphere, it is a dangerous magnifier of the existing greenhouse effect. We would be better to abandon large scale farming of ruminant livestock for the foreseeable future, I think.

Meat and Milk Eater | August 11, 2008

I agree Ben and I see the point.New Zealand's main source of carbon emissions are our local ruminants.

What about these immunisation programs -- is there some leeway? OR are ruminant livestock our carbon enemy -- more potent than the motor car?

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