102. Decarbonise the Air – Recarbonise the Soil! | #worldorganicnews 2018 02 05″


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This is the World Organic News for the week ending the 5th of February 2018.

Jon Moore reporting!

Following on from the last few episodes, I’ve changed the motto on the website.

This is now the focus of the written word and the spoken.

The motto is:

“Decarbonised the air, recarbonise the soil.”

I think we can all agree that decarbonising the air is noble virtue but “How?” always remained the question.

All the science pointed to removing fossil fuels from the economy. However that was and is never going to be sufficient.

Given the inertia of the economy and its bizarre connection to conservative, small “C” conservative attitude of small businesses to some extent but large corporations especially, change needs to be pushed with price signals.

The introduction of monthly reporting to stock exchanges means there is a real pressure maintain profitability in the short run. The short run can be a useful measure of things but we are facing a much bigger, I would suggest, existential, threat to our species as well as all the others.

Clearly, the introduction of the Industrial revolution changed our material situation, eventually, in the industrialised West. It has not been so positive for the former colonised nations of the world. Even in places like Australia, Canada, New Zealand, New Caledonia, the French Colonies of North Africa and Indo-China, the indigenous peoples suffered frightfully at the hands of the colonising Imperialists.

I studied Archaeology at University and the for the first half of the twentieth century, the underlying current was the following theme: Everything wonderful originated in Europe. To this end, forgeries were created to support the idea, The Piltdown Man springs to mind as the obvious forgery. Eventually, the physical evidence overwhelmed this notion and so the theme became modified to basically the following idea: Ok, humans evolved in Africa, but as soon as they could, they walked north into the fertile crescent, invented agriculture and civilisation, god revealed himself at this stage and then through a series of Empires, humanity was “perfected” in the industrialised nations of north western Europe where humanity was able to then take their versions of god and civilisation back to the rest of the world.

Complete nonsense but this was the view of the people with the biggest guns. It is worth remembering the views of modern history’s most successful artillery officer, Napoleon Bonaparte, god is on the side of the biggest guns.

Agriculture and industrialisation are the twin pillars of climate change. It took me a little too long to see the agricultural part of this equation.

It is the industrialisation of agriculture which has, in my opinion, from my reading, led, hand in hand with fossil fuel use to the greatest release of CO2 in any time period that has involved life on earth but all this has happened since 1945.

By applying the Henry Ford notions of specialisation and standardisation to agriculture we now grow food by formula. The soil, the growing part of the biosphere between the atmosphere and the bedrock, has been treated as a growing medium, as opposed to a living thing, or at the least, a space full of growing things.

Let me explain, soil science is based upon chemical analysis, pH, nutrients and so on and by the application of physics in a material science sense. So ploughing wet clay soils will cause them to compact, water will run through a sandy soil. The missing element has been the biological.

Taking a birds eye view of science the last hundred to hundred and fifty years has seen the rise of biology and the stagnation of chemistry and physics. Chemistry has been reduced, in many economic fields to the development of different plastics, physics, after Einstein and the quantum physicists to finding physical proofs of the theories developed at the end of the 19th century and the first half of the twentieth century. Biology, on the other hand, received huge boost from Darwin’s work. The next milestone being the work of Watson and Crick on the description of DNA. Indeed molecular biology has had impacts in most fields of endeavour. Think of gene mapping, genetic engineering and so on.

We really need to understand the biology of soil as well as its chemistry and physical structures. However, the extensive use of synthetic chemical fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides has killed off much of the biota in soils. They are a hardy bunch and resilient but not immortal. The major effect of these additions to the farming tool kit, hand in hand with the agricultural revolution’s plough has been the destruction of soil carbon.

Techniques, based mainly on biomimicry have been developed to first maintain levels of soil carbon and then increase them.

As reported a few episodes back, increasing soil carbon in 15% of agricultural land by just 1% will remove from the atmosphere, all the excess carbon added to it since 1850.

Win/win. Why? Because carbon rich soils are geometrically more productive than carbon depleted soils and healthy carbon rich soils can then produce grains on soils suited to grains and produce milk, meat and fibre from soils better suited to that form of production. Instead of growing cereals under subsidy which are then force fed to ruminants, cattle, under factory conditions, leading to salmonella build ups, manure lakes, ruined aquifers and polluted soils, we can graze animals in the manner to which both they and the pastures evolved to support each other.

This has many names and many variations but I’ll go with agroecology. Think this neatly sums up both the philosophy and the practice of using domesticated animals and pasture plants as they evolved. The practice of agroecology sucks carbon from the atmosphere and retains it in compounds in the soil where it supports the soil biota, the fungal networks, bacteria and other lifeforms.

If we combine the move to agroecology with a decarbonising of the energy system, the biosphere will come to an equilibrium closer to one which comfortably supports human and most other life. The technology to recarbonise the atmosphere is extant. Pumped hydro, solar PV, battery storage, geothermal, microgrid supplies, wave energy and etc and etc. We have the energy technology, we have the agroecological techniques. We can do this starting today but there will be fundamental changes we should be aware of.

By its very nature agroecology is not an infinite grow model, the infinite growth paradigm is shared by just two realities I can identify. One: neoliberal economics and two, cancer cells.

The obvious parallels need not be explored, suffice it to say the latter kills individually, the former is taking the idea to global scales.

We will learn to live in a different way. I’m not suggesting a return to the mythical arts and crafts period where we made all our own clothes and grew all our own food but this is a possibility and a is already a reality for some.

I suspect we will discover new ways of being human, perhaps already tried in the past, probably some new way of being. I am hopeful. Once we realise the fruitlessness of the cancer cell model, for all of us, there will be demand for change. After all no amount of money will substitute for breathable air and potable water.

If you know of any individuals, communities, corporations even, who are implementing this new paradigm of living with Nature rather than ignoring nature, let me know. I’d love to have them on the podcast.

And with that I’ll finish for this week. Remember: Decarbonise the air, recarbonise the soil!

If you’d like to learn to podcast drop over to mrjonmoore.com and check out my course. I have been teaching this at Community Colleges around town and have developed an online version. There’s a link in the show notes. The next session starts on the first of March this year, I’d really love to see you there.

A transcript of this episode is available at worldorganicnews.com

Thank you for listening and I’ll be back next week.

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