This ‘Carbon Removal Marketplace’ Will Make Buying Offsets Easier

As companies like Lyft start to invest to make up for their carbon footprints, the world of offset buying needs more transparency and accountability.

Author: Adele Peters | Published: June 14, 2018

On his small family farm in Petaluma, California, Don Gilardi hopes to begin spreading compost over his pastures next year as a way to fight climate change. The technique helps plants pull more carbon from the air and store it in the soil. The farm will also use other “carbon farming” methods, like planting trees on pastures and managed grazing. In doing so, it could sequester an average of 295 metric tons of CO2 a year, more than the emissions of driving a Toyota Camry a million miles. In 20 years, the farm could sequester 32 times as much carbon.

A new “carbon removal marketplace” hopes to make it easier for consumers and businesses to directly support farmers who, like Gilardi, want to shift to climate-friendly practices. It will also later connect consumers to other types of carbon offsets, such as those from tree-planting projects. Called Nori, the new platform, which will launch by the end of the year, will use blockchain to streamline the process of buying and selling offsets.

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Can Farming Save Puerto Rico’s Future?

As climate change alters how and where food is grown, Puerto Rico’s agro-ecology brigades serve as a model for sustainable farming.

Author: Audrea Lim | Published: June 11, 2018

Our climate is changing, and our approaches to politics and activism have to change with it. That’s why The Nation, in partnership with the Food & Environment Reporting Network, is launching Taking Heat, a series of dispatches from the front lines of the climate-justice movement, by journalist Audrea Lim.

In Taking Heat, Lim will explore the ways in which the communities that stand to lose the most from climate change are also becoming leaders in the climate resistance. From the farms of Puerto Rico to the tar sands of Canada, from the streets of Los Angeles to Kentucky’s coal country, communities are coming together to fight for a just transition to a greener and more equitable economy. At a time when extreme-weather events and climate-policy impasse are increasingly dominating environmental news, Taking Heat will focus on the intersection of climate change with other social and political issues, showcasing the ingenious and inventive ways in which people are already reworking our economy and society. There will be new dispatches every few weeks (follow along here).

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Soil Candidates Running for the Climate

Authors: Karl Thidemann, Seth Itzkan and Bill McKibben | Published: May 30, 2018

Across the nation, the first wave of a political movement rooted in agriculture’s role as a climate solution is gathering momentum. Unseen by most city dwellers and suburbanites, a carbon farming revolution is sweeping over the land. Driven by a mix of economic and ecological reasons, a growing number of farmers and ranchers are adopting practices to draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, where it overheats the planet, into soil, where it boosts fertility. Plants have performed this pollution-to-nutrition alchemy nearly forever, with the deep, dark loam found in the world’s breadbaskets attesting to soil’s ability to keep carbon out of the air for thousands of years. Research suggests photosynthesis could “lock up” enough carbon to help civilization avert a climate catastrophe – assuming, of course, emissions from coal, oil, and natural gas are swiftly reduced through the deployment of renewable energy technologies.

Converting agriculture, from a net source of greenhouse gases to a net sink, flips the climate imperative from “do less harm” to “do more good,” a proactive planetary healing that recognizes ecological restoration is climate mitigation. As one sign that so-called regenerative agriculture is going mainstream, Kiss The Ground, a California-based advocacy organization, will soon release a soil documentary featuring cameos by a celebrity couple not known for farm activism: Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen.

The right policies, of course, will be key to hastening a transition to climate-friendly agriculture, and democracy is answering the call. Healthy soil has risen from an obscure topic to a key issue for a small but swelling cadre of candidates able to think beyond the next election cycle.

Audrey Denney, candidate for Congress in California’s 1st District, encourages voters to send her to Washington, D.C. to “fight for the health of our soils, our planet, and our future.” Denney, raised in a farming family, studied Agricultural Education then learned agro-ecology by assisting with projects in El Salvador and Ghana. “At a federal level, I’d work for more funding to increase the staff of the Natural Resource Conservation Service, which does a great job providing technical assistance on stewarding and building our soil health. I’m also committed to an outcome-based system rather than a practice-based system, empowering farmers to find creative and economically viable climate mitigation solutions,” said Denney.

Bob Massie, a social justice activist, ordained minister, and former head of Ceres, an organization working to green the world’s largest companies, is campaigning to be the next governor of Massachusetts on a platform supporting agriculture’s unique role in reversing global warming. “Farmers, businesses, government agencies – even backyard gardeners – can manage land to capture carbon dioxide in soil and improve soil health,” said Massie.

Also in Massachusetts, PhD physicist Gary Rucinski, Northeast Regional Coordinator for Citizens Climate Lobby, is hoping to unseat U.S. Representative Joe Kennedy III in the 4th Congressional District. According to the challenger, the incumbent doesn’t support the bold action needed to address the climate crisis, such as a transition to farming practices that mitigate climate change. “I am encouraged by draft Massachusetts legislation seeking to advance the practice of regenerative agriculture in the Commonwealth. Agriculture that improves soil carbon content is both a climate and a food security measure. As a representative in the U.S. Congress, I would advocate for changes to the federal Farm Bill to promote soil health,” said Rucinski.

Nate Kleinman, well known Occupy activist and co-founder of the Experimental Farm Network, is running for U.S. Congress in New Jersey’s 2nd district. Equal parts organizer and farmer, Kleinman’s nonprofit is devoted to the collaborative breeding of plants resilient to a changing climate, with a focus on long-rooted perennial food crops that sequester carbon in soil. Kleinman promises to “Incentivize regenerative organic agriculture and small family farms, and support farmers who choose to transition to sustainable methods.”

Arden Andersen, a physician, farmer, and regenerative agriculture educator running for governor of Kansas, recently tweeted, “Appropriate farm technology can make Kansas carbon neutral in 5 years due to carbon sequestration into soil humus.” Andersen is credited with coining the term “nutrient-dense,” used to describe food high in minerals and vitamins. Crops raised in carbon-rich soils derive all the nutrition they require for vigorous growth from bacteria and fungi working symbiotically with a plant’s root system, with no need for costly fossil fuel-based fertilizers and pesticides.

Billy Garrett, running for lieutenant governor of New Mexico, wrote recently in the Santa Fe New Mexican that, “Regenerative agriculture and ranching practices – such as shifting from inorganic to organic fertilizer, planting cover crops and applying compost to rangeland – have the potential to substantially increase the amount of carbon sequestered in the soil while increasing yields and enhancing water retention.” Economic revitalization is also promised. “A revolution in regenerative agriculture could mean a new source of income for New Mexico’s rural communities, allowing farmers and ranchers to generate carbon offsets,” said Garrett.

Regenerative agriculture candidates have found a home on social media in the Twitter feed of Citizens Regeneration Lobby (CRL), the political lobbying arm of the 850,000-member strong Organic Consumers Association. Alexis Baden-Mayer, director of CRL, notes that the roster of traditional farm issues, such as the regulation of pesticides and fertilizer runoff, has expanded this political season to include recognition of agriculture’s role as the only sector of the economy poised to reverse climate change. “One of the most exciting aspects of regenerative agriculture is how quickly this climate mitigation tool can be ‘switched on.’ Farmers and ranchers can, within a few years, transition to land management practices that make their farms not just carbon-neutral but carbon-negative, sequestering more CO2 than is emitted. The remarkable potential of agriculture to sequester literally billions of tons of carbon annually offers a much needed glimmer of hope on the climate front,” said Baden-Mayer.

Elizabeth Kucinich, Board Policy Chair for the Rodale Institute, the oldest organic research organization in America, observes that improving degraded land offers economic and health benefits. “Returning carbon to soil boosts the natural capital of farms by helping farmers become more profitable and, by decreasing nutrient runoff, prevents algal blooms linked to human illness and harm to wildlife,” said Kucinich.

Heralded by California’s pioneering Healthy Soils Program, paying farmers to return carbon to soil, and France’s aspirational “4 per 1000” international initiative, encouraging farmers worldwide to enrich soil organic matter by 0.4% each year to stabilize the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, the regenerative agriculture transformation is well underway. It must accelerate, lest the planet bake for millennia.

Seth Itzkan and Karl Thidemann are co-founders of Soil4Climate, a Vermont-based nonprofit advocating for soil restoration to reverse global warming. Bill McKibben is the Schumann distinguished scholar at Middlebury College and founder of the anti-climate change campaign group 350.org.

Reposted with permission from Soil4Climate.

Farmers Can Save the Planet Before They Destroy It, Australian Climate Scientist Says

Author: Amy Bickel | Published: May 29, 2018

In a room full of regenerative agriculture faithfuls, Australian climate scientist and microbiologist Walter Jehne started the conversation.

Will farmers save the planet before they destroy it?

How the future plays out depends on how well the industry understands, respects and regenerates soils, he said.

Healthy biosystems across the world’s farmland provide stable hydrology, weather, economy and communities, he said during the annual Fuller Field School in Emporia last month. But the current picture of feeding a swelling population with limited resources isn’t rosy.

Jehne noted the growing extremes in global weather patterns, such as droughts, floods and wildfires. Moreover, he said, farmers have borrowed money on the concept to produce as much as they can from the land they have.

“It is really the unpredictability of growing a crop and the gamble of “will I have the season as expected to let me grow that crop, harvest that crop and avoid the diseases on that crop,” said Jehne, who is also the director of Healthy Soils Australia.

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Can Organic Soil Help Mitigate Climate Change?

Author: Ana-Christina Gaeta | Published: May 2018

study published in the journal Advances in Agronomy released findings about the powerful role that organic soil may play in combating climate change.

A collaboration between the National Soil Project at Northeastern University and The Organic Center sought out to compare the carbon sequestering potential of both organic and conventional farming. The study engaged more than 1,000 farmers from across the United States. Organic farmers provided 659 organic soil samples from 39 different states. Conventional farmers provided 728 conventional soil samples from 48 states for testing. The team measured the humic substance of the samples, which is essentially a mixture of naturally occurring decaying organic matter which nurtures the soil. Humic substances are made up of fulvic and humic acids. According to Jessica Shade, Director of Science Programs of The Organic Center, the study “looked at humic substances, which are one of the best measures of long-term carbon sequestration in the soils because they resist degradation and can remain in the soil for hundreds and sometimes thousands of years.”

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Healthy, ‘Climate-Beneficial’ Soil Is the Next Supply Chain Frontier

Armed with millions of dollars and a new understanding of sustainable agriculture, Sallie Calhoun is activating a new frontline in the fight against climate change: regenerative soil.

Author: Risa Blumlien | Published: April 20, 2018

Investor and carbon farmer Sallie Calhoun is on a mission: to change our relationship to the earth beneath our feet. After selling her tech company in 2001, she quickly became the proud owner of 7,600 acres of California grassland called Paicines Ranch — plus enough money to leverage some serious change. Now, along with impact investing guru Esther Park, she co-manages a soil-health portfolio called Cienega Capital with $20 million deployed to-date, and has recently co-founded the No Regrets Initiative to build momentum toward climate-beneficial communities. Why is Calhoun so committed to turning dollars into dirt? We sat down with her to learn more and find out.

Why is regenerative soil important?

In a closed environment (like our planet), matter is neither created nor destroyed. So as atmospheric carbon steadily increases (in December 2017, it passed 410 parts per million for the first time in millions of years), carbon levels must steadily decrease somewhere else — and that somewhere else is our global soils. To reverse climate change, carbon in the atmosphere must return to the soil, a process that green, photosynthesizing plants are already perfectly designed to execute.

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What is Biochar?

Biochar technology shows promise in mitigating climate change and improving soil quality, as well as reducing waste and producing energy as a byproduct. But what exactly is biochar and what is it made of?

Biochar is a charcoal-like substance that’s made by burning organic material from agricultural and forestry wastes (also called biomass) in a controlled process called pyrolysis. Although it looks a lot like common charcoal, biochar is produced using a specific process to reduce contamination and safely store carbon. During pyrolysis organic materials, such as wood chips, leaf litter or dead plants, are burned in a container with very little oxygen. As the materials burn, they release little to no contaminating fumes. During the pyrolysis process, the organic material is converted into biochar, a stable form of carbon that can’t easily escape into the atmosphere. The energy or heat created during pyrolysis can be captured and used as a form of clean energy. Biochar is by far more efficient at converting carbon into a stable form and is cleaner than other forms of charcoal.

In terms of physical attributes, biochar is black, highly porous, lightweight, fine-grained and has a large surface area. Approximately 70 percent of its composition is carbon. The remaining percentage consists of nitrogen, hydrogen and oxygen among other elements. Biochar’s chemical composition varies depending on the feedstocks used to make it and methods used to heat it.

Photo credit: Rob Goodier/E4C

The concept of biochar is rooted in an ancient Amazonian practice

Although biochar technology is considered a more recent strategy for carbon sequestration, the practice of adding charred biomass to improve soil quality is not new. This process is modeled after a 2,000-year-old practice in the Amazonian basin, where indigenous people created areas of rich, fertile soils called terra preta (meaning “dark earth”).

Whether these soils were intentionally made or are simply a by-product of farming and/or cooking practices is still unclear. But one thing’s for sure: The fertility of terra preta is significantly higher than the otherwise famously infertile soils of the Amazon. This explains why plants grown in terra preta soil grow faster, and are more nutrient-dense, than plants grown in neighboring soils. In fact, terra preta soils continue to hold carbon still today.

How to make biochar: A closer look into biochar production

Biochar is produced during pyrolysis, a thermal decomposition of biomass in an oxygen-limited environment.

The quality of feedstocks, or materials burned, have a direct impact on the quality of the final biochar product. Ideally, clean feedstocks with 10 to 20 percent moisture and high lignin content must be used—some good examples are field residues and woody biomass. Using contaminated feedstocks, including feedstocks from railway embankments or contaminated land, can introduce toxins into the soil, drastically increase soil pH and/or inhibit plants from absorbing minerals. The most common contaminants are heavy metals—including cadmium, copper, chromium, lead, zinc, mercury, nickel and arsenic—and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons.

Biochar can be manufactured through low-cost, small-scale production using modified stoves or kilns, or through large-scale, cost-intensive production, which utilizes larger pyrolysis plants and higher amounts of feedstocks. One of the most common ways to make biochar for on-farm use is through pyrolysis using a top-lit updraft biochar machine.

Applications of biochar in agriculture: enhancing soil and compost properties

Soil degradation is a major concern in agriculture globally. To address this burgeoning problem, researchers suggested applying biochar to degraded soils in order to enhance its quality. Some of the ways that biochar may help improve soil quality include:

  • enhancing soil structure
  • increasing water retention and aggregation
  • decreasing acidity
  • reducing nitrous oxide emissions
  • improving porosity
  • regulating nitrogen leaching
  • improving electrical conductivity
  • improving microbial properties

Biochar is also found to be beneficial for composting, since it reduces greenhouse gas emissions and prevents the loss of nutrients in the compost material. It also promotes microbial activity, which in turn accelerates the composting process. Plus, it helps reduce the compost’s ammonia losses, bulk density and odor.

How to use biochar to improve soil quality

Biochar is applied to agricultural soils using a variety of application rates and preparation techniques. The rate of application and preparation of the biochar will largely depend on specific soil conditions as well as on the materials used to make the biochar. It is often recommended to mix biochar with compost or other materials to inoculate it with nutrients and beneficial organisms.

The recommended method for applying biochar will vary depending on how healthy or nutrient-depleted your soil is. Before you use biochar in your own garden or farm, you should first consider the state of your soil. For more information on how to apply biochar on different kinds of soils, check the guidelines on International Biochar Initiative and Wakefield Biochar.

Biochar: an environmental solution

Biochar may seem like a simple material, but it can help solve a variety of global problems simultaneously. For instance, the process by which it’s manufactured may help sequester a billion tons of carbon annually and hold it in the soil for thousands of years, where it’s most beneficial.

During the production of biochar, clean and renewable energy is produced as a byproduct—this can be used as an alternative to burning fossil fuels, which has exacerbated global warming by adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

Some of the other environmental benefits of biochar include decreased groundwater pollution, lower cost of water filtration, reduced amounts of waste and higher profitability for farmers. This technology also contributes to food security by increasing crop yields and retaining water in areas prone to drought.

The role of biochar in sequestering carbon and mitigating climate change

Biochar production is a carbon-negative process, which means that it actually reduces CO2 in the atmosphere. In the process of making biochar, the unstable carbon in decaying plant material is converted into a stable form of carbon that is then stored in the biochar. When biochar is applied to the soil, it stores the carbon in a secure place for potentially hundreds or thousands of years. To put it simply, the feedstocks that were used for making biochar would release higher amounts of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere if they were left to decompose naturally. By heating the feedstocks and transforming their carbon content into a stable structure that doesn’t react to oxygen, biochar technology ultimately reduces carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Biochar also contributes to the mitigation of climate change by enriching the soils and reducing the need for chemical fertilizers, which in turn lowers greenhouse gas emissions. The improved soil fertility also stimulates the growth of plants, which consume carbon dioxide. The many benefits of biochar for both climate and agricultural systems make it a promising tool for regenerative agriculture.

Read next: Why Regenerative Agriculture?

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California Is Turning Farms Into Carbon-Sucking Factories

Author: Nathanael Johnson | Published: May 11, 2018

In a grand experiment, California switched on a fleet of high-tech greenhouse gas removal machines last month. Funded by the state’s cap-and-trade program, they’re designed to reverse climate change by sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. These wonderfully complex machines are more high-tech than anything humans have designed. They’re called plants.

Seriously, though: Plants breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen. They break open the tough CO2 molecule and use the carbon to build their leaves and roots. In the process, they deposit carbon into the ground. For years people have excitedly discussed the possibility of stashing carbon in the soil while growing food. Now, for the first time, California is using cap-and-trade money to pay farmers to do it on a large scale. It’s called the California Healthy Soils Initiative.

In April, trucks full of fertilizer trundled into Doug Lo’s almond orchards near Gustine, California, and spread composted manure around his trees. He then planted clover to cover the ground between the trunks. In theory, these techniques will pull 1,088 tons of carbon out of the atmosphere every year. Lo’s is one of about fifty farms getting money from the state of California to pull greenhouse gas from the air. California is paying him $50,000 to try it out.

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Climate Change, Human Impacts, and Carbon Sequestration in China

Authors: Jingyun Fang, et. al. | Published: April 17, 2018

The scale of economic growth in China during the past three decades is unprecedented in modern human history. China is now the world’s second largest economic entity, next to the United States. However, this fast economic growth puts China’s environment under increasing stresses. China can be viewed as a massive “laboratory” with complex interactions between socioeconomic and natural systems, providing an excellent opportunity to examine how environmental changes and intensive human economic activities influence natural systems. This special feature explores the impacts of climate change and human activities on the structure and functioning of ecosystems, with emphasis on quantifying the magnitude and distribution of carbon (C) pools and C sequestration in China’s terrestrial ecosystems. We also document how species diversity, species traits, and nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) stoichiometry mediate ecosystem C pool and vegetation production. This overview paper introduces the background and scientific significance of the research project, presents the underlying conceptual framework, and summarizes the major findings of each paper.

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With New Carbon Farming Project, Boulder County Could Become Massive Greenhouse Gas Sponge

Author: Will Brendza | Published: April 12, 2018

The education room of the Boulder County Recycling Center filled up quickly for the Research Conservation Advisory Board meeting. People trickled in, shaking the wet spring snow from their jackets.

It was a mixed bag: city officials, scientific researchers, agriculturalists, local residents and environmental activists. This assorted crowd had convened to discuss phase I of Boulder County and the City of Boulder’s joint carbon sequestration pilot project — an initiative that could drive a new era of sustainability along Colorado’s Front Range.

Carbon sequestration, or “carbon farming,” is a process that draws carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and stores it in land-based systems; mitigating emissions and increasing soil fertility at the same time.

Interest in this agricultural practice is blossoming throughout the U.S. and many local farmers, land owners and land managers are already using carbon farming techniques. In places like Marin County, California, large-scale projects are already underway to amplify carbon sequestration among rangelands, farmlands and forests by assembling a consortium of independent agricultural institutions.

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