Most of us go about our lives, with behavior relatively unchanged despite the recent uptick in temperatures. Climate change still seems far away, and contemplation of the trends leads most to pessimism, anxiety, and inertia. There is a tendency, by those paying attention to changes in the ice caps, drought, weather volatility, food security or related issues, to shout FIRE to get people moving.
But yelling FIRE creates problems. Speaking for the collective “we”, we want a real response: not more talking heads and education, but an orderly move to effective and meaningful action.
Meaningful action on climate change will follow 2 paths: 1) reducing the amount of greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere, and 2) sequestering carbon to remove carbon. Since you are on this website, you know our bias: Agriculture offers the best approach to reducing large amounts of atmospheric carbon. It has been estimated that if every farm in America converted to biological farming or regenerative agriculture, 50 times the carbon emissions of the United States would be sequestered annually. (Watch for news about a paper supporting this assertion, to be presented shortly.)
This is worth repeating:
We can sequester 50 times the carbon footprint of the United States while growing food.
That’s a very different message, than Will All Humans be Extinct by 2026?, which is the emotional equivalent of yelling FIRE in a crowded theater. In a fear inducing, worse-case scenario, the polar ice caps melt, as shelf ledges break free and glaciers move at a faster rate.
This rapidly becomes self-reinforcing through the albedo effect, where the white ice reflects the solar energy back off the planet. Truth is, the polar ice mass is shrinking, and at a rate that is too fast for comfort.
Consider Antarctica, which typically get 6 inches of snow per year and is effectively a polar desert. The coastal regions get a bit more, about 8 inches per year, but it will take a century or more to replace ice that has melted in the last few years. (Random factoid: Antarctica is colder than the Arctic region, as much of the continent is over 9,000 ft above sea level, so air temperatures are colder at the South Pole than the North.) Those who call FIRE often focus on rising sea levels due to the reduction of ice caps near the poles.
A bigger concern than rising sea levels, is as larger quantities of cold water drop to the ocean floor and release methane at a rate faster than ocean biology can offset, and the methane triggers more warming than the same volume of carbon dioxide. These methane plumes, from the ocean floor, were first seen in 2012. In 2020, it was estimated that Antarctica contains as much as a quarter of earth’s marine methane.
While these methane releases could become larger at any time, to date they have not created a calamity. This very scary chart, while offering some insights, was created in 2012.
To return to the theater analogy: There is a “fire” in the theater. Stop watching the movie and start moving toward the exits. Now is not the time to panic, there is no need to create a stampede. We’ve all done fire drills, and now is time for an “orderly exit.”
We now know that soil fungi is the key to soil-based carbon sequestration. Fungi are neither plants nor animals, and breathe oxygen like we do. As they grow, their hyphae sequester carbon 2 ways – directly, with carbon-based cell membranes, and those filaments quickly get covered with a bacterial slime, glomalin. The bacteria, glomalin and fungi hold the carbon in the soil, and create the texture that retains water and allows plant roots to grow. The bacteria have a symbiotic relationship with fungi using the glue that is so critical to building soil aggregate.
Bottom line? Each of us can fall into fear, inertia and worry about things that will happen in the future without action. Or we can move forward, with taking actions that will make those catastrophes more unlikely to occur.
SymSoil believes that reseeding the soil microbiome, helping farmers grow more soil fungi, for example, will sequester carbon, reduce farmer costs, improve the drought tolerance of plants and increase the flavor of food.