Green tree frog © Andrea Westmoreland/Flickr

Our window’s slowly—but surely, with greater and greater haste—closing-up on a inevitably warmer world.  Like a sinking Volvo in the Susquehanna River, we are desperately yearning, searching, fiddling for a way to equalize the cabin’s pressure; we’re beginning to see reality through a much more creative, introspective, morose lense. Do we break the window? (Can a sure-flung keychain even crack tinted glass?) What about pushing out the door? (Not even a steel-enforced femur could support the push-back from that volume of water—ten-feet below the surface.) Or do we fold our hand underneath one another and merely give up?

When collective life—and, by a greater extension, or planet—is at risk, throwing our hands up in a collective gnashing of baby teeth couldn’t be less compassionate. If anything, it’s taking a side with the life-threatening oppressor—in this case, an atmosphere where 400ppm of carbon is the new norm.

Here’s how we as conservationists, wordsmiths, good-doers air (pun intended) on the less-carbon-dense side of future.

Carbon Farming: The Practical Implementations, The Wishful Thinkings

Contrary to what we might think: Carbon-dioxide is a building block of potential energy. Which is another way to say it can be both used and stored; we just so happen to be using it by the pipeline.

Fossorial amphibians, like caecilians and amphiumas, are canaries in the mine for soil health. For example, because they reside, generally speaking, six-inches or so below leaf litter, dense, dry, depleted soils will leave them unable to bury themselves—and leave them exposed to, well, succumb to the elements. Photo © tontanatravel/Flickr.

Carbon farming exists on a spectrum: generally speaking, said landowner or even household owner starts with the idea of carbon neutrality (i.e. having no net-carbon production) and, from there, climb up (down?) the scale to actually have a negative-carbon impact. For the homeowner, this may be as simple as opting for an energy-efficient solar network or other “off the grid approaches,” like rainwater collection and choosing to adopt a vegan household (no leather, no meat products, essentially living off plant-based means). Now, granted, we have to come to terms with the notion that we’re a society rooted in bother consumerism and materialism. There’s no denying those two achilles heels. But mitigation is key—how we go about our day-to-day lives, how we interact with the spaces around us, what we consume in all matters of connotations dictates the world we choose to reside in.

(Quick palatable sequitur: consuming one quarter-pound burger actually, between the shipping requirements  and meat production and man-power needed to slap all of its components together, yields a larger carbon footprint than traveling thirty-two miles in a eight-cylinder Mercedes S-Class. Literally, food for thought.)

In this day-and-age of commercial cash crops and treating top soil as a seasonably dispensable blanket of microbial communities, going forward toward a carbon-neutral future means performing an ideological biopsy: how can we support our infrastructure and human capital without compromising our future. Well, for the sake of our time and read-speeds, I’ll bullet point a few of the more prominent and, in my humble opinion, important practices:

  • Conserving the three-inches of microbe-rich growth (topsoil) by foregoing tilling practices and opting for less-invasive practices like foot-to-shovel planting and livestock herd rotation;
  • Adopting “leave no bare dirt” practices, i.e. allowing cover-crops like clovers and vetch to veil the topsoil, keeping it healthy, intact, and unable to bleed-out absorbed carbon deposits;
  • Decomposing all waste using cold-compost practices; hot-compost practices will be quicker, but at the expense of a loss of nutrients and, actually, releasing what would had been absorbed amounts of both methane and carbon;
  • Rotating both livestock and crop productions to allow soil to recover from certain mineral depletions—and, on the same token, allowing certain minerals to be deposited back into the soil; and
  • Managing the land to be conducive of what it once was pre-development; this is where e soil analysis and ecological surveys come into play.

River frogs, like this California red-legged frog (Rana draytonii) will be especially vulnerable in a carbon-richer environment. Absorbed carbons in river systems acidify those riparian environments to levels that can alter larval health—or, in worst case scenarios—retard all viable spawnings. Photo: California Department of Fish and Wildlife/Flickr

Much in the same way we, truly, can’t yet quantify what losing large amounts of biodiversity will mean for endemic ecosystems, the benefits from carbon farming will trickle down over time. It’ll be gradual, small, almost immeasurable improvements—the, all of a sudden, those incremental changes will amass into a singular goal: a cooler climate.

Or, the way I see it, it’s another tool we can use to break out of that Volvo.

By Matt Charnock