This is the World Organic News for the week ending the 24th of June 2019.
Jon Moore reporting!
Decarbonise the air, recarbonise the soil!
This week we begin with an interesting piece entitled: ‘Recycling Is Like a Band-Aid on Gangrene’ from the Atlantic.com.
I really couldn’t have summed up the nonsense we are being asked to do “for the Planet” any better than that title. It fits in with the “everyone must go vegan”, we must never use a plastic bag to bring groceries home if it’s given free with those groceries and the world must never use incandescent bulbs for lighting.
The piece is really interesting and a little confronting, personally. The title is a quote from Max Liboiron who runs:
The Civic Laboratory for Environmental Action Research (CLEAR), interrogates what Liboiron believes to be systemic problems in science. CLEAR conducts its research on microplastics from a feminist and anti-colonial perspective. This epistemic approach informs the lab’s scientific protocols, ethics, and research designs.
As I said, a little confronting. I understand there is no such thing as bias free research but these scientists state their biases up front so maybe that’s a good thing. We know where they stand. There’s a twelve and a half minute documentary on the link. Have a look. Challenging but useful it keeps us on our toes.
So if recycling, ending “single use” plastic bags and living on a darker environment at night isn’t making a difference, other than a sense of the virtuousness for doing these things, what are we to do?
Around the world and in particular, here in Australia, home rooftop solar PV actually makes a difference and benefits the householder and the climate situation. In other parts of the world, micro hydro systems, micro and maxi turbines and geothermal generation are also making a tangible difference. These things all respond to the “Decarbonise the air”, part of this show’s tagline.
The thing that’s been playing on my mind is: What will have the same effects and benefits, tangible benefits for householders and the climate situation. There are two lines to this to my way of thinking: Food and Land.
Now I know that sounds vaguely Bolshovic but I’m not echoing the calls from the streets of St Petersburg in October 1917. I truly believe we have two, interconnected issues that impinge directly upon the climate situation. Both the food system and the industrial agricultural system have direct effects upon the levels of CO2.
This brings us to our second piece: New research: synthetic nitrogen destroys soil carbon, undermines soil health from grist.org.
“Fertilizer is good for the father and bad for the sons.”
For all of its ecological baggage, synthetic nitrogen does one good deed for the environment: it helps build carbon in soil. At least, that’s what scientists have assumed for decades.
The case for synthetic N as a climate stabilizer goes like this. Dousing farm fields with synthetic nitrogen makes plants grow bigger and faster. As plants grow, they pull carbon dioxide from the air. Some of the plant is harvested as crop, but the rest–the residue–stays in the field and ultimately becomes soil. In this way, some of the carbon gobbled up by those N-enhanced plants stays in the ground and out of the atmosphere.
Well, that logic has come under fierce challenge from a team of University of Illinois researchers led by professors Richard Mulvaney, Saeed Khan, and Tim Ellsworth. In two recent papers (see here and here) the trio argues that the net effect of synthetic nitrogen use is to reduce soil’s organic matter content. Why? Because, they posit, nitrogen fertilizer stimulates soil microbes, which feast on organic matter. Over time, the impact of this enhanced microbial appetite outweighs the benefits of more crop residues.
Assumptions, always the assumptions need to be challenged. The other assumption, not covered in this piece is the nutritional value of crops forced to grow more quickly and possibly larger than they would without artificial N.
But back to the piece: enhanced microbial appetite outweighs the benefits of more crop residues. Let’s think about this on a different scale.
Diet has a fairly direct impact on our own gut microbiota. Those microbiota get out of balance and so too do we. There are good cases for using antibiotics when we have infections. Afterwards we may need to add probiotics to our systems to reestablish balance. I would argue the soil too has its own microbiota and constant dousing of the soil with artificial N throws the soils microbes out of balance.
Hubris is a thing we should always be on guard to avoid. Just because we can create artificial N and use it for short term benefits, doesn’t mean we should ignore any possibility of unexpected side effects even if they are contrary to our assumptions.
The growing body of research actually measuring the things the organic movement said would happen from way back in the 1960s at least gives us a chance to fix the soil, improve soil carbon and grow food that is actually fit for human consumption.
So to my original point: What can we do, where we live to draw carbon out of the atmosphere and place it somewhere safe. After much soul searching, I’ve settled on regen gardening. There are many people out there spreading the regen ag message. I’m running small scale tests in that area too but I think the greatest effect we can have, on the greatest number of people is in the suburban, urban areas of the world. As most humans will be living in urban areas we need to get this sorted. Imagine the effect of the entire suburban areas of the world sucking carbon out of the atmosphere and sequestering it. Just imagine.
So to that effect, my good friend and co-host from Perculture Plus and the Real Food Chain are setting up The RegenEarth Living Soils conference 2019 from 16 – 19 September this year. We’ll be co-hosting yet another podcast, RegenEarth. The trailer episode hit this feed as a bonus episode, a couple of days ago. If you’re interested, have a look at the website: RegenEarth.net, link in the show notes.
We’re still adjusting the website layout, so bare with us.
And on that note I’ll draw this episode to a conclusion.
Decarbonise the air, recarbonise the soil!
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Thank you for listening and I’ll be back next week.
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‘Recycling Is Like a Band-Aid on Gangrene’
New research: synthetic nitrogen destroys soil carbon, undermines soil health