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The Carbon Farming Solution: A Global…

The Carbon Farming Solution: A Global Toolkit of Perennial Crops and…

by Eric Toensmeier

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Did you know that fully half of global warming emissions come from our food system? Or that only 1.5% of carbon is held within our atmosphere, when soils hold 5% and could hold much more?

How do we adapt our agricultural methods so that they will have a future in an era that will see severe weather volatility, rising sea-levels, and sky-rocketing atmospheric CO2 levels? In his book, "The Carbon Farming Solution," (Chelsea Green, 2016) internationally-renown permaculture scholar Eric Toensmeier presents a deeply stirring and exhaustively researched proposal: shift global production of staple crops over to regeneratively-managed perennials. This elegant solutions solves the two-fold bind we’re in; carbon farming simultaneously is our most promising avenue to sequester carbon where it belongs—in the soil—while moving to an agricultural model that better withstands the hazards of wild swings in temperature and precipitation. Throughout this narrative, Toensmeier deftly weaves a thread of social justice. For those working in food systems in our times, I can’t think of a more vital text.

The book begins with a broad-strokes introduction to climate change and carbon farming. The bulk of the book is dedicated to highlighting specifics crops that hold promise—first in staple crops: looking at starches, carbohydrates, proteins, oils, sugar, and then in industrial crops: biomass, starch, oil, hydrocarbon, fiber, and miscellaneous. All of these are perennial, and non-destructively harvested (allowing for ongoing carbon sequestration and alleviating the need for tillage).

Although all of the book was fascinating, I found the section on industrial crops to be the most interesting. Until the advent of the synthetics industry fueled with petroleum feedstocks, almost all of our industrial feedstocks came from living organisms. Even today, a quarter of pharmaceuticals are developed from plants.

There's no avoiding the fact that, if the civilization project is going to continue for another century or more, we will need to vastly reduce our resource use. If we converted all of our carbohydrate and sugar crops into electricity, we could only meet 40% of global demand. If we were to convert all of our oilseed production into fuel, it would only replace 10% of the diesel we use. 12% of all petroleum production is used directly as feedstocks for plastics, lubricants, chemicals, and other synthetic materials. Ultimately, petroleum is just concentrated biological material from millions of years ago. It's very possible to switch over to real-time production of these resources and still be way into "overshoot," and ecological collapse. In many ways, shifting our industrial production to agriculture will further stress our natural systems, unless we dramatically reduce resource consumption.

Toensmeier reiterates numerous times throughout the book that there are no "miracle" plants. Any species can be used on an industrial scale in oppressive ways, or can be integrate into ecological and just methods of production (via polycultures, cooperatives, decentralization, et cetera). Hopefully his repeated words of warning in this regard are taken to heart by those that read this book with large-scale implementation in mind. Some may want to forget that some of the largest humanitarian disasters in history (such as slavery and cotton in the United States) revolved around agricultural production of commodity crops. We need to scale up carbon farming, but we should also take this opportunity to do so in an ethical way.

Our author has gone on to be the Senior Fellow of Land Use Solutions at Project Drawdown—an amazing initiative and recently-published book—but in many ways, "The Carbon Farming Solution" is a more impressive work! ( )
  willszal | Jul 9, 2017 |
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The term 'carbon farming' is used to describe a suite of crops and agricultural practices that sequester carbon in the soil. If widely implemented, these practices have the capacity to sequester hundreds of billions of tons of carbon from the atmosphere in the coming decades. Combined with a massive global reduction in fossil fuel emissions, it can bring us back from the brink of disaster and return our atmosphere to the 'magic number' of 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide. These practices can also feed people, build more fertile soils, and contribute to ecosystem health.… (more)

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