Charles Eisenstein writes about regenerative agriculture, but begins with a false piece of information: Geoengineering has been back in the news recently after the US National Research Council endorsed a proposal to envelop the planet in a layer of sulphate aerosols to reduce solar radiation and cool the atmosphere. [Ed. This isn’t true. See my note below.]
The proposal has been widely criticised for possible unintended consequences, such as ozone depletion, ocean acidification and reduced rainfall in the tropics. Perhaps even more troubling, geoengineering is a technological fix that leaves the economic and industrial system causing climate change untouched.
The mindset behind geoengineering stands in sharp contrast to an emerging ecological, systems approach taking shape in the form of regenerative agriculture. More than a mere alternative strategy, regenerative agriculture represents a fundamental shift in our culture’s relationship to nature.
Regenerative agriculture comprises an array of techniques that rebuild soil and, in the process, sequester carbon. Typically, it uses cover crops and perennials so that bare soil is never exposed, and grazes animals in ways that mimic herd animals. It also offers ecological benefits far beyond carbon storage: it stops soil erosion, remineralises soil, protects the purity of groundwater and reduces damaging pesticide and fertiliser runoff.
But these methods are impractical, expensive and slow in feeding a growing population, right?
Wrong. While comprehensive statistics are hard to come by, yields from regenerative methods often exceed conventional yields (see here and here for scientific research, and here and here for anecdotal examples). Likewise, since these methods build soil, crowd out weeds and retain moisture, fertiliser and herbicide inputs can be reduced or eliminated entirely, resulting in higher profits for farmers. No-till methods can sequester as much as a ton of carbon per acre annually (2.5 tons/hectare). In the US alone, that could amount to nearly a quarter of current emissions. [Continue reading…]
Contrary to Eisenstein’s claim that the NAS “endorsed” geoengineering, its reports were an attempt to assess “the potential impacts, benefits, and costs of two different proposed classes of climate intervention: (1) carbon dioxide removal and (2) albedo modification (reflecting sunlight).” And they reached this conclusion:
Climate change is a global challenge, and addressing it will require a portfolio of responses with varying degrees of risk and efficacy. There is no substitute for dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate the negative consequences of climate change, together with adaptation of human and natural systems to make them more resilient to changing climate. However, if society ultimately decides to intervene in Earth’s climate, the Committee most strongly recommends any such actions be informed by a far more substantive body of scientific research — encompassing climate science and economic, political, ethical, and other dimensions — than is available at present.
Far from endorsing geoengineering, the unfortunately-named Committee on Geoengineering Climate, put its foot firmly on the brakes. They did not, as Eisenstein claimed, endorse a proposal to “envelop the planet in a layer of sulphate aerosols.” On the contrary, they said that such a method of attempting to reduce CO₂ would be “irrational and irresponsible.”