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Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Dr Elaine Ingham saves the world yet again.

Hardly news, but climate change is real. We caused it. What may be news is we could solve it in 3 years. However, we only have 12 years to solve it or the window of opportunity closes, and we all die.
Soil scientists mired in the chemical approach measure soil carbon (C) from conventional farms and conclude that soil does not contain much carbon, and that soil is not much of a carbon sink. That’s what Tim Flannery says. Nothing to see here.... soil won't save us.  Life processes are misunderstood and disregarded by the fellows who are making calculations about climate change. If these supposed experts read the recent scientific literature about what the beneficial soil biology is doing down there, they'd find they are misleading us. Flannery and his ilk say that our burning of fossil fuels is the main cause of the elevated atmospheric C ( the  driver of global  warming).
But LIVING  soil is rare, and it is FULL  of Carbon, and in fact, most of the excess atmospheric Carbon came from agriculture. For as long as the civilization of humans ( about 10,000 years) the ploughing or tillage  done to the carbon rich earth, (by hand , with animals and lately with machines) has been  oxidizing the soil carbon, sending it off to the air as carbon dioxide ( Co2). Only very recently have   CO2 contributions from agriculture massively increased, now including fossil fueled farm machinery, haulage,  packaging, refrigeration and, worst of all, microbe  damaging pesticides and fertilizers.
There is not a lot of consideration either, by same experts, of the microbial life in ocean sediments. Marine mud is not the “lifeless plain” as underwater photos suggest, but is full of algae, bacteria, zooplankton, protozoans, etc, all eating each other, taking up and releasing C by turns.   There are hot spots on the ocean floor where long ago a whale or massive school of fish died, these materials  ultimately became squashed into sedimentary rocks and formed natural gas and petroleum deposits which, millions of years later, we extract  and  burn for energy, putting the old whale's blubber carbon up into the air.
The Basics of Climate Change ( CC) 
Greenhouse gases ( GHG) such as carbon dioxide, methane and Nitrous Oxide act as a blanket which traps the heat coming into our Earth from the sun every day, holding in the  heat and preventing it from escaping back into space. We are holding so much more energy in our atmosphere suddenly , that the energy fluxes from the poles to the equator are huge. These differences in temperature are expressed as savage windstorms, monsoonal rains, droughts, hurricanes, extreme cold and of course record breaking temperatures as being experienced around the world daily. All this is having impact on human beings, to put it mildly. Im trying to be mild. 😌 There will be fuel company trolls who deny all this and will slam Dr Elaine just as they continuously slam Al Gore. They will try to make you question your understanding of the science you learnt in school, they will make out the fires, floods, droughts and cyclones are nothing unusual, when of course they are. Way back when I first heard of the greenhouse effect in school,   no scientist  questioned these facts. But we just hoped it would never happen.We thought the world was a big place and human beings could have no influence on it. When CC finally started to happen, some notorious scientists curiously  piped up, belatedly debating the facts. 



 That terrible Tillage slices and dices the fungi and higher level organisms, taking us back to an earlier stage of succession, leaving just bacteria in the soil.  Bacteria alone do not hold on to CO2. When soil is tilled and the organic matter (OM) is suddenly exposed, a bacterial bloom feeds on it, releasing huge amounts of CO2.We can always measure elevated CO2 whenever we mix, stir, or break up soil.  Bacteria are relatively unharmed by tillage but bigger organisms are often torn apart and become food for the bacteria, in addition to the newly exposed surfaces for the bacteria to grow on. Previously unavailable food such as the bacterial glues which held soil particles together into micro-aggregates add to the foods which make bacterial populations increase. Certain groups of bacteria proliferate in the presence of oxygen and the absence of competition (from say, destroyed bacterial feeding nematodes, ciliates, amoebe and flagellets).  Bacteria will always consume and convert Soil Organic Matter  into CO2. 
To summarize, tillage is the main cause of C  leaving the soil and floating above it. 


But if we apply soil health principles and  stop the disturbance, we start to get more fungi back in the soil, then we have the ability of holding and building carbon reserves to MASSIVE levels.  Many enduring tribes of humans, including the Australian Aborigine, practiced humus care, as the name suggests....we humans are "of and for the Earth" deep in our  hearts. But we have lost our way and if we fail to drastically change the current moronic practices, our demise will be swift as the soil goes ever-more anerobic, as the structure-building bacteria and fungi are killed by synthetic fertilizer and pesticides. Resultant compaction and water logging leads to not only salinity and acidification but  production of very potent GH Gases such as Methane and Nitrous Oxide. These get produced whenever improper, anerobic decomposition of plant and animal residues takes place.
Nitrous Oxide is 300 times worse than CO2 as a GHGas !

In addition, if we continue to burn the bush in  ignorant belief   this will protect us from wildfire, we are not understanding Nature and we are sticking loads of CO2 into the sky as well as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, benzene, aldehydes, respirable particulate matter, carbon monoxide [CO], nitrogen oxides [NOx],    mercury, ozone precursors and volatile organic compounds [VOCS]. The pollution coming from 1 acre of bush burning equates to the exhaust emissions from 6000 cars ( running)

Fungi could deal with fuel load, given half a chance.

 Here's the thing. Those same experts think soil only goes down about 100 mms  (4 inches). This  may be true on conventional farms which have strictly bacterial soil. But its perfectly do- able to apply soil health principles and build the soil food web up,  deepening the topsoil. The process of soil building accelerates over time. That 4 inches is going to become 40 inches, in time it could become 40 feet deep or even 400 feet deep. How far down can we go, building soil, holding onto Carbon? Well organisms are found alive and functioning at 12 miles ( 30 kms) deep. Given these facts,  we could accidently store too much carbon in the soil, lower the atmospheric C too much, and bring on an ice age. We have to know what we are doing. 

How rapidly can we store C in the soil?  In one growing season we can store 10 to 20 times more than any of our experts would ever suggest could be held in soil. We have not even begun to take account of how much carbon could be stored in soil or marine sediments. There have been some massive mistakes in calculations on this topic so far.

Soil organisms release Co2 . Live plants release Co2, dead plants give off Co2 as they decompose. Every insect, worm, fungi and protozoa respires Co2. If you are an aerobic organism you respire Co2. During the day time, PLANTS are doing the opposite. They are doing photosynthesis, taking up that CO2 gas and turning it into oxygen and carbohydrate   , pumping half of the latter  underground from whence it came, to feed the biology there at its  roots.
We want to promote the organisms which store bulk amounts of Carbon in the soil.

 How much C  is in soil? We are at less than 0.5 % Carbon  in most farm soil in Australia, down from an average of 8% at white colonization.   If society required that agriculture increase the carbon, every year, by ceasing to till, ceasing to use fertilizer and pesticides,  we would increase the fungal biomass, we would get back the whole soil food web,  we would get better production and better nutrition in our food, we would be keeping loads more water in the soil because of the structure, and every year we would be  increasing the humus present. The carbon compounds that are putting away/locking up 500 carbons for every one Nitrogen are being formed under good management and  the percentage of carbon in soil would go up and up and up.
Climate Change –How Big is the problem?

The Vostock ice cores go back in history 420,000 years. We can see the 100,000 year ice age and warmer period cycles in this graph of what the  ice core tells us.  The amount of CO2 in parts per million ( ppm)  in the air and the global temperature  track along together for half a million years. The graph spans 4 ice age cycles. For most of the last 450,000 years the CO2 has been fluxing between about 190 and 270 ppm, and  temp. has been cycling between minus 8 in glaciation periods and reaching 2 in warm periods. Humanity settled from a nomadic hunter gatherer life to agriculture in the nice warm Holocence era which has been around for the last 12,000 odd years. We should be heading into an Ice Age by now, but in fact the atmospheric CO2 level, as depicted by the blue line  has suddenly  shot up the side of the graph to 400 parts per million, completely off the chart, over 30% greater  than anything seen in the last 3 million years. 

We can safely assume temperature,  which has always followed CO2, is going to continue to do that. Humans were not around 3 million years ago.
We are in deep doo doo.
 Should we be pulling the CO2 back down to 350 ppm? We could still be in danger at that. Could we bring CO2 down to back down to where it was before we burnt fossil fuel and started agriculture, to where we know it is safe?  Elaine is certain we can.

The Soil Carbon Pool.
At what rate can we pump Carbon into the soil?
Humans manage 5 billion Hectares world wide. We know we can sequester up to 10 Ton/ha/per year
 ( shown by research of Dr Richard Teague) * 
*While it may not be realistic to assume that we can achieve this on all soils today, this may be a possibility in 3 years, from my experience with the most difficult soil and climate in the world.  But we need  further investment in research.
This equates to a maximum of approx  50 billion tons a year . Current global emissions are approx., 18 billion tons per year.    That leaves about 30 tons /year in additional sequestration ….working toward CC reversal. To sequester 450 Billion tons ( thus getting to “safety”)  would take 15 years. Factor in reductions in emissions and the prospects become a little more optimistic.
SOIL CARBON SEQUESTRATION CAN BE VERY IMPACTFUL. 

How does C sequestration work?
Atmospheric CO2 is absorbed by plants during photosynthesis and is used to produce exudates. The exudates feed microorganisms which then multiply and then, continuing their symbiotic relationship with the plant, form  soil aggregates, and build humus within those aggregates.
We need to be growing forests which are a fungal dominated soil systems. Tree roots go down hundreds of feet, and carbon can be pumped down to grow 25,000 km of fungal hyphae per meter cubed of forest soil. The older parts of the  hypha are often covered in a solid carbon material, forming a pipe which remains for hundreds of years, even if the fungi dies. Imagine the possibilities for CO2 re uptake by the soil!  At a guess, only about  3 dozen scientists know about all this. An Ag Department guy once told me Dr Christine Jones had lovely ideas but they were hopelessly optimistic. I know he was sincerely sad about that, as I was a friend of his daughter. This man believed what he had been told. Turns out his bosses in the Ag department ridiculing Dr Jones had only  factored in the carbon a tree stores in its biomass, not the carbon it sends out into the soil to remain forever as stable humus, once complexed by soil food web critters. He had not heard about the LIQUID CARBON PATHWAY.
We need to be growing Prairies . Let us mimic the grasslands where hundreds of pasture species fed millions of ruminant animals to produce 20 or more feet of carbon rich soil. Got to have the right fungi, got to stop buying fertilizer in order to stop the one of the most polluting industries we do: manufacture of fertilizer. Those factories uses massive amounts of fossil fuel and water in fertilizer production. I know, because the Perdaman urea plant was planned for Collie. The proposal fizzled  because of the  carbon tax introduced by Julia Gillard. I will be forever grateful. And yes, you guessed right, urea fertilizer  kills many fungi when applied.

Elaine's figures go like this:
Pre-industrial safe levels of CO2 .....280 pp million. 
Current annual GHG emissions total approx 19 billion Tons ( net of natural absorption factors)
To get from the current level of 410 ppm down to 350 ppm ( deemed the SAFE level by a consensus of climate scientists) we need to deal with the backlog and sequester 60 ppm, or approx. 450 Billion Tons plus the additional ongoing 18 Billion T /year 
CAN THIS be DONE? 
The amount of Carbon that has left the Earth's soils in 12,000 years of cultivation  is conservatively estimated at  133 billion tons. The soil carbon pool is currently approximately 2,500 Billion tons.
It is perfectly possible to put back at least the 133 BnT into this relatively large Carbon pool, and would be an increase of only 5.2% in the carbon pool. 
 Could we put back the 450 Bn T into soil to get us to that "safe " level? That would represent 18% of the carbon pool. Of course we can! This would be a walk in the park for soil fungi! Better to die trying than not try at all. 

 If we manage 5Bn hectares world wide, and we know we can sequester up to 10 T/ha/yr when just considering the top 100 mm,  think what could be absorbed all the way down desert tree roots 80 meters long. 50 (Bn Tons) becomes 500 at one meter, 40,000 Billion tons at 80 meters. 
 If Elaine's calculations are correct, and assuming all arable land goes organic tomorrow, within one growing season we could put one third of the elevated CO2 back down in the soil. Within 3 years, if we can mobilize human beings to grow forests on all the steep land and perennial pastures on the flat and low lands, we could get all that carbon excess back in the soil.   Dr Ingham is no fool.  She holds enormous knowledge of soils and is one of the great minds of our time.  Cell grazed grasslands, are determined to sequester carbon even faster than forests by another great -brained and  lovely person Dr Christine Jones.  Allan Savory agrees and says we can only do this with the help of grazing animals.
 Oh, btw, another little mission, we must also treat the polar ice caps with fungal compost tea to prevent the thawing organic matter from going anaerobic , to build the structure as the permafrost melts, so catastrophic amounts of nitrous oxide and methane are not produced in stagnant, poorly drained, thawing peat.

A few weeks ago I would have felt all this was idealistic to the max. As steward of the worst non- wetting dirt in the world, in a region experiencing 30 years of rainfall decline and extremes of temperature thrown in,  I would have believed the task of growing forests and perennial pastures to be impossible in the short time we have left ( 12 years on the current path before we reach the point of no return, according to Ingham ) . I couldn’t even grow weeds in some places over winter. That is shocking.
However a Phenomenon has occurred. There I was struggling to keep cactus alive with daily watering in what we are now calling “Little Egypt”, but I decided to have a go at planting some Chief Seattle Corn, which was in danger of losing its viability, in an area previously grazed every afternoon by chooks. I also dreamed I might grow some pepita pumpkins with it, as I had been able to germinate a few of some organic ones I bought. Beans would make it the traditional “3 sisters” of Native Americans. So I went into the dusty dry patch we call pink locker, and made some furrows in the dry, grass- covered soil. The dry grass mulch was there because I had allowed the bulky winter cover crop rich in legumes, to dry off and die there.  I placed the mixed seeds in furrows, covered them with a cm of very nice MBOFDV compost, watered and waited.We put a misting of compost tea on a few days after the first photo was taken. 
Wow, the 3 sisters have grown! In gutless sand with only a cm of compost placed over the seeds in the furrow, out in the fierce sun all day, limited water, one misting with compost tea. Im sure this soil is storing the carbon being pumped underground by this  happy polyculture plants. 




I dug a hole in the kikuyu to show the soil is bone dry, although the kike is lush and the sprinkler reaches this area.



Carbon Neutral  is a company buying up farms and selling them to business people very cheaply who are planting trees all over the farms, and in so doing are obtaining $ carbon credits.  I met a couple who have purchased 3 such farms in a planned wildlife corridor. Their trees are growing well, some were direct seeded, others were planted as seedlings.
Would be ever so grateful if you could look in to how you can build topsoil by growing plants. It is going to take a lot of  growing plants to save our bacon. Towards this grand goal of saving the human race we have volunteer jobs aplenty here:  seed collecting and saving, composting,  watering , nursery construction, potting, planting, tree guard install, rodent trapping and animal care to name a few. Please talk to 10 friends about this and work out a plan or hook up with  someone else’s plan. I don't know about you, but I'm galvanized. Elaine's leadership could  Save  the World yet again.
 
Matilda looks electrified not because of the climate change implications of being able to grow big healthy green solar panels pumping carbon underground in any crap dirt with a wiff of compost after growing winter cover crops with compost tea for 2 prior years, but because i have a pinecone in my pocket and i promised to throw it after the photo shoot .



5 comments:

  1. Very interesting & quite feasable, but it will be just like politics! Nearly half will stay with the same old habits,while most of the other half will try for a change, but the change wont be significant enough to make much difference! Only the micro organisms ( small parties & independents) will be busy trying to keep everything viable!

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    1. Hi UNKNOWN, yes its touch and go all right. I like to think that the half that accept the mission of growing forests will put their all into it and have a big influence. Question is, what half do you b=come into?

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    2. Hi, I think more and more people will join in as things get tougher...but this is why we have to work hard now to provide models and help for this process. Let's hope SOME of it IS in time and I always believe it is better to be positive..

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  2. By the way, this looks wonderful. Keep up the great journey

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  3. Thanks Lizpify, you sound intelligent and wise and you encourage us to go faster. Thanks

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