Restoring soil carbon is simple, no-tech, free, has beneficial effects on biodiversity and water cycles, and can reverse global warming (1).
Since the advent of agriculture, we have lost more than twice the carbon to the atmosphere from land degradation and soil loss than by the burning of fossil fuels. It is possible to capture half that carbon in soils to return to pre-industrial atmospheric levels.
To build soils, which store more carbon than aboveground biomass and the atmosphere combined (2), we advocate for an approach to grasslands called Holistic Management (HM), proven effective over 50 years and millions of acres on four continents, primarily in semi-arid and arid areas (3). We maintain that it has the potential to remove excess atmospheric carbon resulting from anthropogenic soil loss over the past 10,000 years as well as industrial-era greenhouse gas emissions.
HM is a low-tech approach that bears minimal risk of the unplanned or unintended consequences that are the norm with technological "fixes" to large-scale environmental problems.
The New England Center for Holistic Management (NECHM) is part of the worldwide network of the Savory Institute in Boulder, Colorado. HM addresses root causes of bare ground, the leading visible symptom of soil degradation. It is mostly the result of human management, primarily from the improper implementation of agriculture and animal husbandry, but also a result of deforestation, industrialization and the spread of urban and suburban land use.
On bare ground there is no photosynthesis, no storage of organic carbon, and dramatically decreased capacity to absorb water. Eventually, over large areas, bare ground leads to desertification. When left to natural processes desertification can last for thousands of years, but appropriate human management can reverse it.
NECHM's mission is to work in New England as part of an international cooperative effort to restore biodiversity and the water cycle, store carbon in the soils, maximize photosynthetic solar energy capture, eliminate bare soils and reverse global warming.
What actions do you propose?
NECHM is a small organization with access to an extensive knowledge base and expertise in practical eco-restoration and soil carbon capture and storage. One of our primary purposes is to seed projects, that is, to serve as a catalyst to educate and assist individuals, groups and communities in developing projects to restore carbon and water cycles.
Examples of such projects are:
- restoring New England soils, including urban soils under paved surfaces and in vacant lots and brownfields;
- building soil depth and storing organic carbon using animal impact in rural areas on pastures and farms
- expanding diverse and high productivity local agriculture so New England can feed itself;
- promoting urban agriculture;
- transforming impermeable surfaces to capture water;
- educating consumers;
- regenerating the gulf of Maine;
- bringing back menhaden, an algae-eating fish critical to the ocean food chain;
- restoring mussels, oysters and freshwater clams to their former local habitats;
- working with universities on research and education.
Our purposes are to raise awareness about the importance of soil carbon and healthy water cycles in the context of whole ecosystems. Our first priority to educate and catalyze a change in thinking about capturing soil carbon as the most effective approach to reversing climate change in contrast to the current narrow focus on carbon emissions.
Who will take these actions?
Adam Sacks has had careers in education, alternative medicine, high tech and politics. Since 2000 he has been a climate activist in the Boston area, and has been studying and writing about HM as a solution to climate change since 2007 (4).
Jim Laurie is a restoration ecologist and futurist. He worked in the chemical industry and built several Living Machines to treat toxic wastewater and studied HM for reversing desertification. He built the Vermont Living Machine sewage facility, worked with wolves in MN, mushroom farming in MD, and redwood/salmon restoration in CA. Since 2007 he focused on soil carbon storage using HM and often speaks to communities, activist groups, and universities in the Boston area.
Karl Thidemann is an expert in electric vehicle technology and marketing, has taught chemistry and spent years as a community activist, organizer and educator. He currently studies how we communicate about climate change and its impact on our activism. He is an active supporter of organic farming and urban agriculture.
Howard Fischer is a graduate of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania with a B.S.E. in accounting and finance. He is currently the CEO of a hedge fund, a passionate environmentalist, avid cyclist.
Helen Silver is an environmental attorney specializing in sustainability issues and climate change. She has represented national and regional nonprofits, advised private sector companies on environmental policy and compliance issues, worked with countries to resolve international environmental disputes, and has appeared before the International Court of Justice. Helen has spent much of her life out west and loves fly fishing.
Seth Itzkan studied HM in Africa, and monitored grazing and improvements in the water cycle. Seth spoke at the TEDx in Somerville, Massachusetts in 2012 (5). He is the founder of Planet-TECH Associates in Somerville, MA, which does future studies consulting.
Where will these actions be taken?
We will be working in urban, suburban and rural areas of New England, in collaboration with national and international groups which are promoting Holistic Management.
How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?
To date emissions reductions have been largely ineffective as a result of conflicting interests among institutions and governments worldwide. Alternatively, eco-restoration can be considerably less divisive and is of clear and often immediate benefit to a broad constituency. Thus NECHM will focus its initial efforts on educating stakeholders and catalyzing implementation of restoration projects, and though we recognize the importance of soil carbon accounting we will not be quantifying soil carbon stored on degraded vs. HM-restored land at this time.
Science demonstrates that sequestering carbon through biodiversity yields the potential to remove all current emissions as well as post-industrial carbon, and return to pre-industrial levels of 280 ppm. NECHM has an important role to play in a growing coordinated international effort, and as NECHM grows it intends to actively engage in efforts to develop an accurate soil carbon accounting system.
What are other key benefits?
- Increased jobs
- Increased food production
- Reduced flooding
- Moderation of temperature and local weather
- Healthy soils leading to healthier plants, animals and people
- Disease resistance
- Reduction/elimination of toxic agrochemical soil supplements
- Local food self-sufficiency
- Cleaner air and water
What are the proposal’s costs?
Because many of the projects seeded and developed by NECHM will produce marketable products (local food) and/or mitigate climate-related damage, the costs of our work will be low. Our primary expense is to fund staff research, outreach and implementation efforts. We expect that volunteers and interns will be making significant contributions to our efforts as well.
Over the short term we expect to build critical mass of public understanding and community projects towards soil sequestration of carbon and restoration of climate-moderating water cycles across New England. Over the long term building on these projects, along with similar projects worldwide, will remove legacy carbon and ongoing emissions from the atmosphere. At each step of the way, NECHM will be collaborating with a global network working towards biological restoration of the ecosphere. For more information on other projects, visit the Savory Institute (6) and the Africa Center for Holistic Management (7).
(1) Adam Sacks, et al., "Restoring Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide to Pre-Industrial Levels: Re-Establishing the Evolutionary Grassland-Grazer Relationship." In Geotherapy, Thomas Goreau, ed. CRC Pubs, 2013 (in press). Available online at http://nechm.org/downloads/Geotherapy_chapter_r.7.7.1.pdf.
(3) Allan Savory, Jody Butterfield, Holistic Management: A New Framework for Decision Making, Island Press, 1999.
(4) Adam Sacks, "Got Cows?" Grist, January 31, 2010, http://grist.org/article/the-climate-solution-got-cows/
(5) Seth Itzkan, "Reversing global warming with livestock?", TEDx Talk, Somerville, Massachusetts, 2012, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lOpoRdpvlh0.