Nature’s Global Warming Fix

Mother Earth has experienced five extinction events, but she’s still standing.

Like a prizefighter, she is the Milky Way Galaxy Grand Champion.

Our tenacious planet is armed to fight and conquer global warming without fancy gadgets or special geo-engineering techniques. She can do it on her own, having proven herself time and again, restoring one extinction event after another, and the rest.

We only have to give her a chance, some elbow room to strut her stuff.

Good news!  There is no reason to go thru another extinction event to see if nature still has “her stuff.” She does!

In large measure, it’s about dirt versus soil:

Absent carbon and critical microbes, soil becomes mere dirt, a process of deterioration that’s been rampant around the globe. Many scientists say that regenerative agricultural practices can turn back the carbon clock, reducing atmospheric CO2 while also boosting soil productivity and increasing resilience to floods and drought. Such regenerative soil techniques include planting fields year-round in crops or other cover, and agroforestry that combines crops, trees, and animal husbandry. ((Judith D. Schwartz, Yale Environment 360, March 4, 2014.))

Granted the reduction of CO2 in the atmosphere, increased crop yields, and diminishing floods and droughts sounds too good to be true, like a fairytale dancing in the heads of scientists, but indeed, it is not just a dream. It’s reality because it has happened before. Paleosol, the study of ancient soils, proves it!

November 2014, Tufts University Restore Ecosystems Symposium

Tufts University held a weekend symposium “Restoring Ecosystems to Reverse Global Warming” all about remarkable resilient Mother Earth, and how she can fix global warming, plus provide spectacular spinoff benefits. It really doesn’t get much better than that. As it happens, it’s not a pipe dream, assuming the world community comes to its senses.

Adam Sacks, Executive Director, Biodiversity for a Livable Climate, “Restoring Ecosystems to Reverse Global Warming”, opened the Tufts’ symposium by saying: “Get carbon out of the atmosphere and into the soils. The key to life on Earth is life itself… restoring biodiversity and a livable climate through eco-restoration is at the very heart of the matter.”

America’s Great Western Frontier Movement

This significant fix for global warming is: Contemplate the Great Western Frontier Movement of the 19th century, in reverse, by going back in time when covered wagon trains rumbled across lush American prairies full of tall swaying grasses. From ridges afar, alienated tribes despondently watched the clumsy-appearing wooden wagons trudge ahead over moist rich soils, interconnecting waterways, sprawling land where indigenous people treated fever with Wild Quinine. This portrait of the American westward frontier movement describes nature’s prescription for fixing global warming.

The great American historian Frederick Jackson Turner’s “frontier thesis” continues to influence historical thinking to this day with his famous treatise, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History” first delivered to a gathering of historians in 1893 at Chicago. According to Turner, every American generation returned “to primitive conditions on a continually advancing frontier line,” thus framing/shaping the fiercely rugged individualism of the people, an unique characteristic to this very day.

The Tufts’ symposium is the pursuit of a renewed “frontier thesis,” backwards in time, rejuvenating the soils back to the 19th century, thereby, returning to Mother Nature the vast paraphernalia nature requires to fix the planet’s global warming crisis.

In order to take carbon dioxide (CO2) back down from 400 ppm to 350 ppm, 200-250 billion tons of carbon must be removed from the atmosphere. If healthy ecosystems are restored, according to the symposium, soil alone can store 320 billion tons of carbon. This remarkable achievement is a natural process, nothing more. As well, the benefits are multi-fold.

Rather than use of artificial fertilizer and pesticides, destroying soil’s natural nutritional components and its capability to absorb, store, and hold carbon and moisture, reconfiguration of farming captures carbon and moisture in soils and adds multiple benefits to farming systems by enhancing productivity, greater crop yield, and increasing water-holding capacity. It’s a wonderful enriching win-win proposition.

As for only one example of many, by employing farming whereby rows of annuals are planted next to rows of perennials in harmony with nut trees, like chestnuts, good things happen. Incidentally, chestnuts outperform corn “by a mile on an acre-per-acre basis” for starch production without pesticides, without fertilizer.

In only four years time, a managed biodiversity program brings revitalized soil, allowing roots to go deeper, retaining much more water amongst twelve inches of new topsoil. After the fourth year of managed ecosystem restoration, soil absorbs 50 tons/acre of carbon. Thus given enough time, nature helps considerably resolve humankind’s biggest bugbear, bête noire runaway global warming.

According to the award-winning paleobotantist Greg Retallack, Ph.D. Dept. of Geological Sciences, University of Oregon, referencing Paleosols, the study of ancient soils, going back in time: “Grasslands cooled the planet once, and they could do it again.”

Co-evolution of grazes and of grasses, or organisms adapting to other organisms, created a new type of soil, an unprecedented “carbon sink,” which explains the drawdown of CO2 and declining worldwide temperatures into the Pleistocene Age, 2 million-to-12 million years ago.

Grasslands are simply phenomenal at providing moist soil and dry air whereas trees have drier soil and moisture that goes off into the atmosphere. So by definition, grasslands are one of the planet’s greatest natural resources at fighting carbon’s flight into the atmosphere, which, when left unchecked, produces a global warming headache. Additionally, grass is lighter colored than trees, thus, serving as an albedo, reflecting more sunlight back into outer space.

Agroforestry and carbon farming constitute “living soils or a soil food web,” creating a virtual carbon sequester orgy under the ground. In this particular case, “orgy” is precisely as it sounds, an indulgence, feastly dissipating, an orderly bender of CO2 sequestration.

Today, only one percent of the population farms, but only one percent of the one percent are organic; that’s a teeny number. Tufts’ symposium suggests people start to learn a better way to interface with the environment by supporting organizations that do this yeoman-type work.

Large-Scale Restoration of Ecosystems and Soils Needed to Reverse Global Warming

Across the world, people have already figured out this concept, turning barren wastelands into lush paradises full of life. In every instance, nature’s soil was restored, springs sprung, rivers flowed, and flowers emerged.

For example, Floresta da Tijuca in the region of Rio de Janeiro, when 16th century Portuguese colonist-seekers arrived, clearing the forests, decimated to grow coffee, all of the soil was lost, producing barren landscape, dried up springs, and no rivers during the dry season. A hundred years ago, the city of Rio de Janeiro hired laborers to travel, find species and plant them. It took 30 years. Today, a gorgeous man-made forest exists where barren, hardened soils were previously the footprint of environmental degradation. Springs came back and rivers flow once again in beautiful lush forest.

In India, one man spent 30 years rejuvenating a barren, waterless dusty wasteland. He created a 1,360-acre forest, including grasslands, bringing back all wildlife to a richly appointed natural environment.

The Taschen Ranch in Brazil 2001– not a single stick to be found, no springs, no water during the dry season. Three hundred species of trees were added. Today, the springs have come back and fruit is available year round in an environment that enriches the senses by simply inhaling fragrance of purest nature.

In Kroo, South Africa a fence divides a long stretch of flat land with separate ownership on each side of the fence.  A photo of the lengthy landscape depicts a barren, dusty desert on one side of the fence but on the other side, rich, lush grasslands as far as the eye can see. The image is extraordinarily bizarre if only because both sides receive the same annual rainfall.

The desert side is carbon-less and water-less, other than seasonal rains, which quickly run off the hardened soil.

On the other side, grasslands sequester carbon and water in gorgeous rolling fields of purest green intermixed with abundant wildlife.  What accounts for this strange dichotomy?  The grasslands are holistically managed, replicating nature, the desert side is not. This is the only difference.

Wetlands, which are intractably linked to climate and serve as the link between land and water, are the most productive ecosystem on the planet. Unfortunately, global wetlands have been ravaged with impunity, thus, losing a key natural resource that cleanses water like no other resource, artificial or natural.

According to Jim Laurie, a biologist, restoration ecologist and a speaker at the symposium, “Nature does 90% of the work…  Make soil.  End global warming.”

“Restoring Ecosystems to Reverse Global Warming” is a spectacular concept, but one has to wonder whether it has “legs,” or, in short, what’s required for enough of the world community to embrace the concept to make the difference so nature can fix global warming all by herself. By all appearances, it is a herculean task, for sure.

In the spirit of support for restoring ecosystems, William Moomaw, Ph.D. physical chemist Tufts University, said, “It’s absolutely clear that we can no longer continue burning fossil fuels the way we are burning them.”

He went on to say: “Even if we stop putting all of the CO2 into the atmosphere from fossil fuels, we will not have solved the climate problem because we are not removing CO2 rapidly enough from the atmosphere… We’ve degraded forests so rapidly that they cannot pull it out fast enough.”

The key, according to Dr. Moomaw, is restorative development, whereas we’ve been committing destructive development. “Get carbon out of the atmosphere and into the soils.”

Robert Hunziker (MA, economic history, DePaul University) is a freelance writer and environmental journalist whose articles have been translated into foreign languages and appeared in over 50 journals, magazines, and sites worldwide. He can be contacted at: Read other articles by Robert.