In May 2020 we set a new world record for the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Without getting overly technical, there was 417ppm (parts per million) of CO2 in the atmosphere - more than the estimated highest levels in history of 380ppm almost 3.5 million years ago.
If that doesn’t worry you, then consider this - during this time when CO2 levels were high, temperatures were 5-16 degrees warmer than now, and sea levels were 20-30 metres higher than at present.
As you undoubtedly already know, climate change and the reduction of carbon emissions is a global problem, and will only be solved by a global response.
There is so much literature and research into the ways we can reduce our emissions and help prevent a climate crisis. So many of the world’s industries are at a tipping point, and agriculture is no different.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) acknowledges that “organic agriculture provides management practices that can help farmers adapt to climate change through strengthening agro-ecosystems, diversifying crop and livestock production, and building farmers’ knowledge base to best prevent and confront changes in climate.”
So, how can organic farming help prevent climate change?
Rising sea levels are only one aspect of climate change. Like other species on earth, in many parts of the world, we will have to cope with more wildfires; temperatures beyond endurance; floods; scarcity of freshwater and collapsing ecosystems to name a few.
Like other industries, there are many things that can be done to help mitigate climate change.
Reducing Carbon Emissions
One of the more obvious efforts is to reduce carbon emissions. However, there is a general problem with simplifying carbon pollution in such a way as stating that reducing carbon emissions will stop climate change.
The thing with carbon pollution is it’s a lot like your regular rubbish dump - trash piles up over time. So even when we reduce our emissions, such as we have done during the global coronavirus pandemic, CO2 emissions aren’t changing.
According to SciTechDaily, “if humans were to suddenly stop emitting CO2 it would take thousands of years for our CO2 emissions so far to be absorbed into the deep ocean and atmospheric CO2 to return to pre-industrial levels.”
This was further explained by Andre Leu from Regeneration International who went on to outline how regenerative organic farming can help slow climate change.
Ending reliance on fossil fuels and switching to renewable energy will not stop climate change. Legacy emissions will continue to increase temperatures for another 100 years. We need to draw down 25 billion tons of CO2 per year to stabilise the CO2 levels at 417ppm.
So, what’s the solution?
One of the greatest emitters of carbon emissions in agriculture is from nitrogen fertilisers. In the US, 77% of Nitrogen Oxide emissions come from agricultural soil management.
Organic farming relies on closed nutrient systems rather than fertisiler, so this is one way that organic farming tackles climate change.
Lower Energy Use
Along the same lines as fertiliser, organic farms tend to use less energy through the use of and management practices.
Chemicals such as fertilisers require large amounts of energy to produce, and while this is directly attributed to the farm, by purchasing these products a farm is indirectly increasing energy consumption.
At Jersey Girl Organics, we also try to reduce our carbon emissions footprint and lower our energy output by offering a glass bottle exchange scheme, where instead of continually transporting bottles, rather we send large bladders to stores where customers can refill in-store.
Storing Carbon in the Soil
Soil is the greatest carbon sink after the oceans, and increased levels in the ocean are already causing problems.
2700 Gigatons of CO2 equivalent carbon is stored in the soil worldwide. The biomass which includes all the forests in the world has 575 GT, and the atmosphere has 900 GT. So it’s pretty plain to see the important role of soil in mitigating climate change.
Working with ecology, organic farmers use diverse pastures and regenerative grazing management to create healthy soils. The relationship between plant roots and soil organisms is often minimised but it is critically important in sequestering carbon.
The liquid carbon pathway has been shown by scientists like Dr Christine Jones to be far more effective at forming low cycling soil carbon, with some farms showing increases of 8 tonnes per hectare per year of carbon in the soil. This is equivalent to just under 30 tonnes per hectare per year of atmospheric carbon.
Based on FAO figures, 68% of the world's food-producing area is "rangelands" grazed by animals. If regenerative practices were implemented on this area potentially 98.5 GT CO2 could be removed per year.
While many people around the globe work on ways to combat climate change, based on current evidence, regenerative organic farming systems have the potential to remove enough CO2 out of the atmosphere to reverse climate change in addition to increasing biodiversity and producing higher yields of healthy food with no toxins right now. Imagine what could be achieved if there were some money and Government support for research and development.