Why We Need To Take Soil More Seriously – PART 2 : AIR
Following natural and sustainable practices has moved from being a choice to a necessity. A resource that needs our immediate attention is soil. There are two very critical angles to this issue – Water and Air
There has been a lot of focus on global warming in the past one year before our attention shifted to COVID 19. Greta Thurnberg with her emotionally charged speeches managed to grab world attention and to a large extent sympathy. Quite a few nations pledged to cut their carbon emissions by significant percentages. However, scientists have been insisting that we have gone past the point where just slowing down is not going to stop our fall off the cliff. We need to start driving the other way. How do we do this? Well it’s quite simple actually, reversal of carbon emissions is by definition, carbon sequestration i.e, pulling carbon out of the atmosphere and storing it somewhere. It is not rocket science, we have machines that do that but they are nowhere as scalable or as efficient as something we find naturally and have ignored for far too long – Our forests.
Recommended reading: Why We Need To Take Soil More Seriously – PART 1 : WATER
Plants are the most perfect systems we know, that suck carbon dioxide out of air and use it to convert it into living tissue i.e, in effect, every ring on a tree is carbon pulled out of the atmosphere. And when these plants die, if the soil on which they fall has organisms in it, then the carbon stored in the tissue is consumed by these organisms rather than getting emitted back into the air. Usually canopy trees grow for several 100 years before they fall, so in that sense the scope of sequestering carbon is immense by just growing forests back. Moreover, forests don’t just die all at once. So the emission, if any, into the atmosphere by a tree dying and rotting is a gradual process and doesn’t just happen overnight. For this mechanism to really work, three things need to happen consistently, there has to be life in the soil, there has to be more plants growing than the ones falling down, the life of any plant that does grow needs to be long. Hence the focus on growing perennial forest systems and not annual crops.
By forests we don’t quite mean national parks. We are only referring to self fulfilling cycles, ecosystems that can support themselves in terms of fundamental requirements like nutrition, water and air. Whether we do food extraction from them is immaterial as long as that balance is maintained. In fact, if all agricultural land on earth were to shift towards food forests, we will be able to not only support 5 times more people but also continuously increase the soil carbon content every year. It is estimated that 1% increase in soil carbon content amounts to offsetting all carbon emissions of the last 40 years.
All said and done, it is easy to see now how a person in Chennai needs to care about the forest systems and the soil in Malenadu, South Karnataka. How a Hyderabadi should care about what is really happening in Adilabad and Nashik. We have to really stop picking apart the ecosystem and stop solving the issues in silos because nature doesn’t work in silos. It is all one giant interdependent set of relationships. Pulling one thread in coorg, would affect a tap in Bangalore. It is time we understood these relationships or at least acknowledged them and moved beyond agreement to action. As we race towards a point of no return, solutions are possible at this stage to reverse it back to a stable equilibrium and we need to seize this opportunity. Anything short of that is just conversation.