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Agriculture As a Key Solution To Carbon Capture?

Anthony Leiserowitz, Director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communications at Yale University posted a short article on LinkedIn in May, 2015.

Mr. Leiserowitz's message was almost startling. "Research," he said, "by David Johnson of New Mexico State University suggests that growing crops year-round can provide microbes with a continuous source of energy--improving the soil and retaining carbon."

He added, "Cover crops, which are grown when fields are usually idle, can also be chopped and lightly worked into the top layer of soil--returning even more carbon to the ground. Johnson says this method can capture almost fifteen tons of carbon dioxide per acre. UPSHOT: According to Johnson, if this approach to agriculture were applied to about 14 percent of the world's cropland, we could capture all human-caused atmospheric CO2."

Up until now, the concept of carbon capture and sequestration was discussed in terms of pushing carbon underground so it could not enter our fragile atmosphere. Geologists would find places below ground to deposit carbon dioxide in formatations within the Earth's massive crust. (See Wikipedia article on carbon capture here and the United States Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) explanation here). Gas fields, saline formations and coal seams below the surface would be capture venues.

According to the EPA, carbon capture "is currently occurring at over 120 facilities in the United States, mainly on industrial processes..." Finding such sites is difficult and time consuming. Under Johnson's approach, rural areas, which are in plain view, may be the answer.

One of the problems with carbon capture, according to Wikipedia, is that it takes massive amounts of energy to move CO2 below ground and keep it there. The Johnson method of carbon capture would have its own costs, in terms of water and fuel to grow fields year-round in warmer climates, but seems much easier than using energy to push carbon below nations while risking leaks. Using agriculture as a means of carbon capture, not just food production, seems a much more natural means of safely geoengineering to address our massive dumping of carbon into the sky.

According to, in 2013, 9.9 billion metric tons of carbon entered the atmosphere. Each minute, we alter the planet's future by pumping additional massive quantities of the gas above our heads. We need as many solutions to unchecked carbon pollution as possible.

That's why farmers and big agriculture, across the globe, may play a much more important role in our fight for survival than previously envisioned. The next time you see a growing field, think of it as an agent in the fight against climate change.

Make no mistake, using cover crops to reduce CO2 is difficult, costly and water intensive. But if there is a more practical way of using carbon dioxide on the Earth's surface, as opposed to below ground, the Johnson research is a potential planetary game-changer which bears further intensive study.


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