How Carbon-Smart Farming Can Feed Us and Fight Climate Change at the Same Time
Farmers are the stewards of our planet's precious soil, one of the least understood and untapped defenses against climate change. Because of its massive potential to store carbon and foundational role in growing our food supply, soil makes farming a solution for both climate change and food security.
The Threat to Food Security
Farming is capital-intensive and farmers are at the mercy of volatile global commodity markets, trade disputes, regulatory changes, weather, pests and disease. Factor in climate change and you can include droughts, floods and temperature shifts.
We need to change how we grow our food because:
- climate change will increasingly impact farm yields
- how we farm can help mitigate climate change
- helping our farmers unlock the full potential of soil will help them meet growing food demands while remaining profitable
- restoring the carbon-holding potential of our soil combats climate change.
Soil and Climate Change
Studies show that soil removes about 25% of the world's fossil-fuel emissions each year. This is done through carbon sequestration, a natural way of removing CO2 from the atmosphere through the soil with fewer impacts on land and water, less need for energy, and lower costs.
Soil can take in more CO2 from the atmosphere than it releases, making it a carbon sink. The carbon sink capacity of the world's agricultural and degraded soils is 50 to 66% of what it has been historically. This means our soil can hold 42 to 78 gigatonnes more carbon. Increasing the amount of carbon in soil also makes it more productive for farmers.
Soil can act as a natural "carbon sink." Climate Central, 2019
Soil is also a method for water retention and purification, and returns oxygen to the atmosphere through plants. A single tablespoon of soil contains billions of microorganisms. In other words, the soil is alive. If we care for the soil on our farms it will greatly return the favor by providing us with the fibre, fuel and food we need, all while removing CO2 from the atmosphere.
Farming With Attention to the Soil
- Carbon-smart farming: The amount of carbon sequestered in our soils can be increased by adopting the right management practices. Reducing tillage, planting cover crops and using organic matter amendments such as compost have been shown to increase the amount of carbon stored in the soil. Soil carbon also performs double duty as a resource in ensuring food security. Farmers can harness the power of carbon stored as soil organic matter, which is the fraction of soil composed of anything that once lived, such as decomposed plant and animal matter. Soil organic matter makes farmland more productive, reduces erosion and improves soil structure, which improves the quality of groundwater and surface waters. All of this reduces the negative impact of climate change across the entire ecosystem.
- Reducing food waste at the farm level: Food waste is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, contributing 8% of total global emissions and at least 2.6% of all U.S. emissions. Specifically, a total of one-third of edible produce, or 33.7%, remains unharvested in fields only to get buried under. Furthermore, a significant amount of food waste is attributed to loss in crop production due to diseases – a loss of $U.S.200 billion globally per year.
- Where Science & Technology can help: Our lack of understanding of our soil is hurting us. We need help from cutting-edge science and technology to measure and interpret the physical, chemical and biological properties of soil, which is collectively referred to as soil intelligence. Soil intelligence uncovers information such as which pathogens are lurking. It quantifies beneficial nutrients and determines the carbon-holding potential of soil. This information allows farmers to diagnose the health of the soil prior to planting their crops, enabling cost-saving decisions about what types of compost, fertilizers, pesticides, or other treatments to put in their soil, how to irrigate, or whether or not to switch crops entirely and prevent waste.
Every farm is unique and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. There is more biodiversity below ground than above ground. Carbon-smart farming yields comprehensive soil intelligence, which can help farmers and farm advisors "read their soil," make the right decisions for maximizing profits, and reduce waste. This information can help us better understand what the soil needs to feed our planet while continuing to sequester carbon.
Agriculture can significantly decrease humanity's carbon footprint. We must aid, nurture and care for our soil so that it can play this pivotal role in our fight against climate change. An investment in our soil now is an investment in the livelihood and health of generations to come.
Reposted with permission from World Economic Forum.
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By Victoria Masterson
Using one of the world's problems to solve another is the philosophy behind a Norwegian start-up's mission to develop affordable housing from 100% recycled plastic.
Sustainable Homes<p>UN-Habitat says an <a href="https://unhabitat.org/un-habitat-aims-to-use-plastic-waste-to-support-housing-for-all" target="_blank">estimated 60% of people living in urban areas of Africa are in informal settlements</a>. At the same time, between 1990 and 2017, African countries imported around 230 metric tonnes of plastic, "which mostly ended up in dump sites creating a massive environmental challenge," the agency adds.</p><p>UN-Habitat deputy executive director, Victor Kisob, said the aim of the partnership with Othalo was to "promote adequate, sustainable and affordable housing for all."</p>
Artist's impression of an Othalo community, imagined by architect Julien De Smedt. Othalo<p>Othalo's process involves shredding plastic waste and mixing it with other elements, including non-flammable materials. Components are used to build up to four floors, with a home of 60 square metres using eight tons of recycled plastic. A factory with one production line can produce 2,800 housing units annually.</p><p>Following successful laboratory tests, Othalo's factory in Estonia has started producing components to build three demonstration homes for Kenya's capital, Nairobi; Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon and Dakar, the capital of Senegal.</p><p>Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti has been developing and testing the technology since 2016 in partnership with <a href="https://www.sintef.no/en/" target="_blank">SINTEF</a>, a 70-year-old independent research organization in Trondheim, Norway, and experts at Norway's <a href="https://en.uit.no/startsida" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">University of Tromsø</a>.</p>
Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti. Othalo<p>Almost <a href="https://www.un.org/development/desa/publications/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html" target="_blank">seven out of every 10 people in the world are expected to live in urban areas by 2050</a>. More than 90% of this growth will take place in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.</p><p>"In the absence of effective urban planning, the consequences of this rapid urbanization will be dramatic," UN-Habitat warns.</p><p>Lack of proper housing and growth of slums, inadequate and outdated infrastructure, escalating poverty and unemployment, and pollution and health issues, are just some of the effects.</p><p>Mindsets, policies, and approaches towards urbanization need to change for the growth of cities and urban areas to be turned into opportunities that will leave nobody behind, UN-Habitat says.</p>
Pioneers of Change<p>Reimagining cities and communities for greater resilience and sustainability was a key topic at the<a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020" target="_blank"> World Economic Forum's Pioneers of Change Summit 2020</a>.</p><p>The digital event brought together innovators and stakeholders from around the world to explore solutions to the challenges facing enterprises, governments and society.</p><p>Opening the summit, <a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020/sessions/opening-plenary-8f731cbc65" target="_blank">Stephan Mergenthaler, the Forum's Head of Strategic Intelligence and a member of the Executive Committee</a>, said: "We need to change the way we produce, the way we live and interact in our cities to make this transition to net-zero emissions a reality…</p><p>"And as this year has illustrated so dramatically, we need to make every effort that we keep populations healthy, if we want to avoid jeopardizing all this progress."</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/11/un-africa-recycled-plastic-housing/" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649069252#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
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