Real Carbon Capture And Sequestration

While Australian governments state and federal, past and present, throw vast amounts of money at unproven ‘clean coal’ technology they are ignoring a proven method of pulling CO2 out of the atmosphere and storing it.

A thirty year scientific trial by the Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania (USA) placed conventional, industrial farming systems and organic systems side by side to compare yields and other outcomes. This long term study has not only shown that organic practices give yields as high as industrial farms but also that the organic soil takes up and stores huge amounts of carbon. Industrial farming, on the other hand, removes carbon from the soil and uses greenhouse intensive petrochemical fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides.

Rodale Institute has proved that organic practices can remove about 3,175 kg of carbon dioxide from the air each year and sequester it in an acre of farmland. Thus if all 434 million acres (175 million hectares) of US farmland was converted to organic practices, it would be the equivalent of taking 217 million cars off the road – nearly 88 percent of all cars in the USA today and more than a third of all the cars in the world.

Paul Hepperly, Ph.D., research director at The Rodale Institute states, “We’ve shown that organic practices can do better than anyone thought at sequestering carbon, and could counteract up to 40 percent of global greenhouse gas output.” Hepperly, who is helping other nations implement organic farming systems, explains that using soil-building crops and compost to support cash crops helps to build soil carbon levels while keeping productivity in line with conventional systems.

Andre Leu, the chairman of the Organic Federation of Australia, said “The important point about this ground breaking research is that the amount of CO2 sequestered is based on what has been achieved through current organic farming practices. This is not a theoretical estimate as in some of the tree plantation models or unproven like the millions of dollars being spent on clean coal or mechanical geosequestration trials.”

The Rodale Institute studies were originally published in 2003 and have been completely ignored by governments everywhere.

Why have our representatives been ignoring a simple, cheap and effective means of reducing our carbon footprint? Perhaps it’s easier to throw money and resources at one big, headline project that promises ‘business as usual’ instead of looking at how we need change our damaging ways. The hard facts of Global Warming and Peak Oil mean that ‘business as usual’ is not an option.

“The cost of conventionally farmed food is intimately linked to the cost of oil. Our industrial farming and gardening techniques will not survive the end of cheap and plentiful oil” said Queensland Conservation board member and organics expert, Jerry Coleby-Williams. “We urgently need to lessen our dependence on petrochemical fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides which are becoming more expensive by the day. These proven techniques will have the double benefit of helping our farmers and community food gardeners to transition to post-Peak Oil production while pulling carbon out of the atmosphere much faster than any technological fix currently on the drawing board. ”

There’s even a third benefit. As the Rodale study shows, the amount of carbon sequestered in the soil can be measured. Australian farmers and the horticultural industry who convert to organic techniques should be able to accumulate and trade carbon credits under the upcoming Australian Emissions Trading Scheme.

“Efficiency and renewable energy production will lower our carbon output. A planned and sensible transition to organic farming practices across Australia will begin to sequester the carbon already in the atmosphere, sustain food production while giving farmers and growers a whole new income stream” said Coleby-Williams. “Everybody wins!”

How it works

Artificial or chemical fertilisers, nitrogenous fertilisers especially, accelerate the breakdown of organic matter in soil. Conventional, industrially farmed soils liberate both carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide gases. Nitrous oxide gas is a Greenhouse Gas 310 times more potent than carbon dioxide. As a result, industrial farming generates about one third of Australia’s Greenhouse Gas emissions. Industrially farmed soils have significantly fewer mycorrhizal fungi and are ineffective at carbon sequestration.

By contrast, organic farming and gardening rely on using the natural carbon cycle to increase the amount of carbon stored in the soil. They achieve this by stimulating soil microorganisms to increase soil fertility, defend plants against disease and to improve plant nutrition and soil health.

Organic growers know that mycorrhizal fungi are a critical group of soil microorganisms to cultivate. These special fungi conserve soil carbon by secreting glomalin, a powerful glue, which binds organic matter with clay and minerals to form aggregates. This mechanism allows organic carbon to steadily accumulate in organically farmed soil, rather than being lost as an inorganic Greenhouse Gas to the atmosphere.

*Reference: ‘Organic farming sequesters atmospheric carbon and nutrients in soils’: http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/ob_2
Jerry Coleby-Williams
22nd April 2008