Geo-engineering Soil- a new Green Hope

Geo-engineering is a hot topic today. (No pun intended.) People are coming up with all sorts of geo-engineering ideas for ways to cool our planet before it becomes so hot it can no longer support life as we know it.

They want to shoot millions of tons of sulphates high into the upper atmosphere to block out some of the sun’s rays. Or they want to build giant sucking machines that will somehow magically remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere so it can be buried underground.

New thinking in the scientific community suggests the answer could be right beneath our feet-Soil.

Soil is second only to the world’s oceans in its ability to store carbon dioxide. But that ability has been drastically degraded by industrial farming techniques that rely on heavy usage of fertilizers and pesticides (mostly derived from oil), extreme tilling, and an insistence on planting the same crops over and over on the same land.

As soil degrades, it loses its ability to absorb and retain carbon dioxide, which means it is released back into the atmosphere, making an already bad situation even worse. But there is hope- Scientists and farmers around the world say it is possible to restore degraded soils but it will require an end to business as usual for agribusiness.

Less intensive industrial farming means using organic fertilizer and a vast decrease in pesticide use. It also means going back to the age old practice of rotating crops and (gasp!) allowing some fields to lie fallow during the growing season — ideas that were standard farming practice before Dow, DuPont, and Monsanto taught us how to make life better through chemistry. It should be noted that these practices were well known to indigenous cultures for millennia.

Recent research from several sources suggests restoring the soil could play a large role in trapping carbon dioxide. The US National Academy of Sciences claims that regenerative farming can sequester 3% of our global carbon emissions.

The clash comes down to two competing ideas and there is no way for them co-exist peacefully with one another. Agribusiness is consumed by the idea of genetically engineered seeds which will allow it to own the means of food production in perpetuity. A sustainable approach to farming would turn that model in its head. Industry insists it methods are essential to growing enough food to feed the billions of people already on earth with more coming.

Changing attitudes may actually be harder work than inventing the technology needed to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.