Lets talk about soil (above)
Here is a set of short videos which bring soil biology to life beautifully. Getting down with soil is one of the first objectives on a permaculture design course, until we have an empathy with this extraordinary matrix beneath our feet we are yet to understand our place on this living earth. Here is how I like explain it; the only new energy coming into our planet is from the sun. You and I could sunbath all day and maybe get beautifully warm but we cannot feed ourselves from this energy, it is not available to us. Plants on the other hand can convert the sun’s energy into sugars and carbohydrates, and this is the available energy just about all other living life forms have to take advantage of. Plants also cannot live on energy alone, so they emit exudates from their roots, essentially plant sugars which soil microbes and fungi trade mineral nutrients for.
The basis of all life on earth is this essential exchange between the plants and soil biota, and much of these translations take place in soil. Soil is the matrix for exchange, it is where dead, digested old organic matter is converted and reassembled into new living matter. It also turns out that soil is the repository of a huge amount of carbon, also trapped by plants and fungi, and understanding and working with this soil carbon seems to be the likeliest route we can take to combat climate change.
The second short video is from Hawai’i, illustrating the essential nature of soil. A foundation point for our latest project idea: “CSU: Carbon Sequestration Uganda”.
The start of a piece evidencing a project idea currently under development.
WHY CSU: Carbon Sequestration Uganda?
All 5 billion hectares of cultivated and grazed lands around the world can become a carbon sink. I am focusing my attention on Uganda as Sector39 has built a network of trainers and projects there. It is a land of farmers and ones which are largely following low tillage and non capital intensive farming methods. The potential for a significant uptake of these ideas and strategies is immense, as methods quickly return benefits and that is re-reinforcing of the correct behaviours. I am working presently on a team to assemble a bid to do more field trials of permaculture techniques and to link this to educational outreach and support into the surrounding communities.
Chronicle – short piece for Tanat Valley Chronicle
It is all about soil.
Is climate optimism still real? Is it not already too late for effective action as the climate is already clearly changing? Add to that the pandemic, the firestorms, the floods, and droughts; our planet seems to be rejecting us. Seriously, just how badly should we be panicking?
Clearly emissions reduction is key, we have the Paris Climate Accord targets as guidelines, and we will have to beat them. This is something that will not go away, and the curve gets steeper with every day of inaction. Fossil fuels must stay in the ground and we must accelerate the move away from their widespread use.
However there is an even bigger problem to be tackled here, the IPCC, NASA and other climate leaders tell us that this situation will keep getting worse so long as atmospheric Co2 levels remain above 350 ppm, and we are currently at 410 ppm, therefore eliminating emissions isn’t enough, we have to go negative.
The calculation looks something like this: To get from 410 ppm – 350 ppm a carbon drawdown of 450 billion tons is required, is this even possible? Current research says yes and that our poor depleted soils can absorb somewhere between 10 t– 20 t per hectare per year, if managed correctly.
I am told there are approx. 5 billion hectares of managed lands, that is all farmland both arable and grazing, so therefore 100 Bn t per year is theoretically possible. Current emissions are at the 40 Bn t mark, so it would take some years to stack away those 450 Bn t but in theory the world could be in a quite different place in say 20 years. To answer my own questions then, yes a return of optimism is possible but not without significant investment in the right areas.
How would we do that? How can we return such massive amounts of carbon to the soils and what kind of effect might that have or the soils themselves? A wholesale move to organic methods is the start, a shift to minimum and even zero tillage and a partnering with the life in the soil is nothing but essential. Mycorrhizae fungi, the fungi that live in the soil and permeate not just the soil but the plants themselves is made from carbon. The mycelium itself is made from a hard form of carbon that stays around in the soil for a long time. Carbon rich soils are open and aerobic, allowing water to enter and oxygen to flow, benefiting the beneficial bacteria over the pathogens and supporting crops over weeds. Re-partnering with the life in the soil is the secret to both the climate and food security
Sector39, the Wales based academy of permaculture is currently proposing agro-forestry research projects in Uganda with partners from Aberdeen and Newcastle university, we are yet to find out if our bid for work will be successful, but researching for the work is filling my mind with the possibilities and potentials of just how we might turn this around. Whether we have left it too late or not is actually a moot point, we have no other recourse than to prioritise climate action, we will find out exactly how late we left it along the way I am sure.