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From Sustainable to Regenerative: Bold Business Moves to Transform the Agriculture System

With a new decade comes a new era of sustainability leadership.

The 2020s herald a pivotal chance to deliver on our great climate, environment and development challenges, and the scale and pace of change will require truly transformative thinking. We will need to move beyond efficiency and doing less harm, and base strategies on new goals that ensure business success also meets the needs of people and the planet. It’s time to step up a gear or three on our journey toward a sustainable future. But what does this mean for how we do business?

At the heart of this shift is a move toward “regenerative” rather than just “less extractive” business strategies. With growing public commitments to “carbon zero” targets, businesses are refocusing on how to work in ways that put back more into society, the environment and the global economy than they take out. This sounds like an abstract goal on the surface, but in real terms, it is a powerful reframing of mindset and action.

Organizations taking this approach share an ambition to grow their brands, have strong financial performance, attract the brightest talent and, most important, be future-fit; but these thriving organizations also deliver benefits that align traditional business boundaries of profit margin and shareholder value with wider societal goals.

One of the most impactful areas for intervention is in agriculture. Any business based on agricultural raw materials is vulnerable to increasing insecurity and volatility of supply, as weather patterns shift and natural resources dwindle.

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Un uso apropiado de la tierra podría reducir drásticamente las emisiones globales

El uso de la tierra es ampliamente conocido como un factor importante detrás del cambio climático. Un nuevo documento proporciona una hoja de ruta ambiciosa para los cambios en el manejo forestal, la agricultura y la bioenergía para garantizar que los aumentos de temperatura global se mantengan por debajo del objetivo de calentamiento de 1.5 ° C.

Publicado en Nature Climate Change, el estudio explora medidas clave que pueden reducir a la mitad las emisiones del sector terrestre cada década desde 2020 hasta 2050. Partiendo de modelos climáticos, el estudio sugiere 24 prácticas que pueden proporcionar las mayores reducciones de emisiones y otros beneficios colaterales.

Los autores enfatizan el potencial de seis áreas de acción prioritarias:

(1) reducir la deforestación; (2) restaurar bosques y otros ecosistemas, particularmente en países tropicales; (3) mejorar el manejo forestal y la agrosilvicultura; (4) mejorar el secuestro de carbono del suelo en la agricultura; (5) reducir el desperdicio de alimentos de los consumidores y (6) hacer que una de cada cinco personas cambie a dietas bajas en carnes.

SIGA LEYENDO EN ECOPORTAL

Soil Health Hits the Big Time!

It began at the pivotal UN climate summit in Paris in 2015 (COP21), which I had the honor of attending on the behalf of the Quivira Coalition and Regeneration International as an observer. As you will recall, in an effort to slow climate change delegates from 197 nations negotiated and then signed a landmark Agreement committing their governments to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions starting in 2020 (alas, recent events have undercut the Agreement’s prospects).

This was big news at the time, but there was another important development that did not make headlines. It occurred on December 1st when the French government launched a plan to improve food security and fight climate change with soil carbon called the ‘4 For 1000 Initiative’ – a number that refers to a targeted annual growth rate of soil carbon stocks. “Supported by solid scientific documentation, this initiative invites all partners to state or implement some practical actions on soil carbon storage and the type of practices to achieve this.” (see)

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Sue Lani Madsen: Investing in Soil Health Is an Investment in the Future

We’ve been treating soil like dirt for too long. Dirt needs to be fed in order to produce. Healthy soil contains tens of thousands of microbes pulling carbon out of the atmosphere and turning it into food for themselves and for us.

Investing in soil health is an investment in future generations continuing to eat, according to David Montgomery, a University of Washington geologist. His first book, “Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations,” looked at the consequences of ignoring soil health. He recently published “Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life.”

Focusing on common ground over food is a healthy way to start the new year. It’s a place where government is, as is often the case, both the problem and part of the potential solution.

“Our biggest mistake in 20th-century agriculture is we tried to make the land respond to a single set of practices. We’ve undervalued both the land and the creativity of farmers,” Montgomery said.

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The Key to the Environmental Crisis Is Beneath Our Feet

The Green New Deal resolution that was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives in February hit a wall in the Senate, where it was called unrealistic and unaffordable. In a Washington Post article titled “The Green New Deal Sets Us Up for Failure. We Need a Better Approach,” former Colorado governor and Democratic presidential candidate John Hickenlooper framed the problem like this:

The resolution sets unachievable goals. We do not yet have the technology needed to reach “net-zero greenhouse gas emissions” in 10 years. That’s why many wind and solar companies don’t support it. There is no clean substitute for jet fuel. Electric vehicles are growing quickly, yet are still in their infancy. Manufacturing industries such as steel and chemicals, which account for almost as much carbon emissions as transportation, are even harder to decarbonize.

Amid this technological innovation, we need to ensure that energy is not only clean but also affordable. Millions of Americans struggle with “energy poverty.”

 

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The Essential Element: Carbon is Key to Life and Hope

News Item: Here’s a fascinating story from Politico this week about the shifting attitude among farmers and ranchers toward regenerative agriculture as the effects of climate change become increasingly troublesome. It demonstrates how fast things are changing! (see)

In the previous issues, I discussed the promise of regenerative agriculture, overcoming entrenched beliefs, and working collaboratively in the radical center. In this issue, I’ll discuss the essential element needed to do all these things: carbon. Understanding carbon’s role as part of a natural, planet-wide cycle is the key to hope, in my opinion.

Carbon is the most important element on Earth and the best way to explain its significance is with the terribly essential carbon cycle. The trouble is whenever I see the word ‘cycle’ my eyes start to glaze over. It doesn’t matter if it is the water, mineral, energy, nutrient, or some other cycle critical to our existence, for some reason my attention begins to wander the instant I see the word.

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How Biochar Is Triggering a New Industrial Revolution

In this interview, Albert Bates, director of the Global Village Institute for Appropriate Technology and author of “Burn: Using Fire to Cool the Earth,” discusses how biochar can transform agriculture while simultaneously normalize our climate.

Biochar also has a wide range of other industrial uses that can allow us to radically reduce carbon in our atmosphere. Many believe climate change is a fabrication concocted by political scientists with a vested interest.

But the reality is, we have changed our world with pollution and destructive agricultural practices that are devastating the ecosystem and influencing our global weather patterns. The good news is, adding biochar to soil and building materials of all kinds is a simple and inexpensive strategy that can remediate much of this damage.

 

Moments of Revelation

Bates began his investigation into this issue while working as an attorney. He explains:

“I was doing environmental law and represented a group of plaintiffs who were suing a chemical company for polluting a local water supply … an aquifer, which is federally protected. It was kind of a slam-dunk case.

 

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Soil: The Secret Weapon in the Fight Against Climate Change

Agriculture is on the front lines of climate change.  Whether it’s the seven-year drought drying up fields in California, the devastating Midwest flooding in 2019, or hurricane after hurricane hitting the Eastern Shore, agriculture and rural communities are already feeling the effects of a changing climate. Scientists expect climate change to make these extreme weather events both more frequent and more intense in coming years.

Agriculture is also an important—in fact a necessarypartner in fighting climate change.  The science is clear: We cannot stay beneath the most dangerous climate thresholds without sequestering a significant amount of carbon in our soils.

Agricultural soils have the potential to sequester, relatively inexpensively, 250 million metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent greenhouse gasses annually—equivalent to the annual emissions of 64 coal fired power plants, according to National Academy of Sciences.

But we can’t get there without engaging farmers, turning a source of emissions into a carbon sink.

KEEP READING ON NRDC

 

Saving Oklahoma’s Prairies, a Vital Weapon Against Climate Change

PAWHUSKA, Okla. — The late October morning is so bitterly cold that the vaccine a hardy Oklahoman cowboy is trying to administer to an impatient bison has frozen.

The rancher, Harvey Payne, tries to defrost the liquid against a small heater pumping out hot air in the office that faces the corral, but it’s not working.

“We’ll have to head back in for a couple of hours and wait for the sun to warm up,” Payne says as he squints at the sun rising above the tallgrass prairie. “Can’t vaccinate bison with frozen antibiotics.”

The group that’s gathered at the Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve trudges back to headquarters to wait until the temperature rises.

Oklahoma’s 39,650-acre preserve is the world’s biggest protected remnant of a massive grassland ecosystem that once stretched across 14 states, covering 170 million acres. But the grassland has been decimated, and only about 4 percent of the ecosystem remains, most of which is contained in the preserve in Osage County, home to the Native American Osage Nation.

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How to Save the World: Turning a Big Negative into a Big Positive

Whenever speaking at a conference, I would often get the same anguished question from an audience member: what’s the one thing I can do to save the world?

My answer for many years was a recommendation to vote with your pocketbook for local farms and ranches that provided grassfed food, improved their soil health, reduced their carbon footprints, employed predator-friendly practices, were holistically-managed, or did environmental restoration work on their land.

Starting in 2009, however, my answer became much simpler. That’s because I had become aware of the links between land use and climate change via a report from the Worldwatch Institute (see) that changed my life. If you have a chance, take a look at this publication – it’s still totally relevant.

Normally, healthy soils have a healthy fraction of carbon in them (6-8% typically). When land is disturbed or degraded, however, much of that carbon leaves the soil and enters the atmosphere, contributing to global warming.

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