"Could Dirt Save the Earth?": This article is very interesting, and covers many topics.

The methods of farming described, which include having animals on the land, are probably well worth considering, especially when taking into account the problems with weeds and insects and fungi becoming more resistant to poisons each year. One major challenge with this type of farming is scale. Someone I knew showed me a fruit tree he had just planted. He told me the spot was formerly occupied by a peach tree, thus all the fungi and insects and etc. that liked to eat peaches and peach trees knew where to look for a peach tree, and had moved in. After the peach tree died he replaced it with a different species of tree, which he said would start to bear fruit in 20 to 30 years (he was 93 years old at the time). He pointed some distance away, to the spot where he planned to plant a peach tree. All this and the chickens fertilizing the trees and etc. was working well for him, and provided him and his friends with an abundance of food. But, he had a generous pension from having been a teacher in California. Actually being able to supply thousands of one type of fruit to enough buyers to make a living requires large numbers of trees of the same species, which violates all the principles that he successfully used to minimize pests without the use of poisons. Despite the challenges, I think in the future more farming will be done by methods somewhat closer to what the article describes than what is common now.

As for the idea of storing carbon, there are two main ideas in the article: storing carbon in the form of plants growing above ground with roots in the soil, and storing carbon within the soil itself.

The supposed benefit of storing carbon is to get it out of the atmosphere to stop or reduce global warming. Carbon Dioxide is reportedly differentially opaque to various wavelengths of infrared light - it is more transparent to infrared light at the wavelengths emitted by the sun, and less transparent (more opaque) to infrared light at the wavelengths emitted by the earth. Therefore, the higher the concentration of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere, the greater the amount of infrared radiation that is bounced back from the earth to the earth, causing the earth to warm up. This is what is commonly called "The Greenhouse Effect," which has little to nothing to do with how a greenhouse works. I have no doubt the 2-atom molecules that compose most of the atmosphere (Oxygen in the form of O2 and Nitrogen in the form of N2)are rather transparent to infrared light, while larger molecules (3 or more atoms, including Carbon Dioxide) are not nearly as transparent to infrared light. Having owned infrared cameras from the days when they cost $15,000 gives me confidence that this is true. Beyond that, knowing just how increased Carbon Dioxide levels in the atmosphere influence temperature levels, I do not know - all I can do is listen to various scientists enjoying varying levels of government support.

But, suppose one wonders how to get Carbon out of the atmosphere - for any reason.

Planting a tree is reported as being good for the planet, and also good for removing Carbon Dioxide from the atmosphere. The story goes that trees capture Carbon Dioxide from the atmosphere. This is true as far as it goes. The hydrocarbons that trees and fruits and vegetables are made of are produced by destroying water and combining the resulting Hydrogens with Carbon from Carbon Dioxide in the air. The Oxygen leftover from destroying water and Carbon Dioxide is released from the plants. Yes, the first step in photosynthesis is photolysis - using the energy in sunlight to separate water into its components - Hydrogen and Oxygen. Animals do the opposite: when digesting food (hydrocarbons) we produce new water that didn't exist - we combine hydrogen from our hydrocarbon food with Oxygen from the air to produce water, and we combine Carbon from our hydrocarbon food with Oxygen we breathe to produce Carbon Dioxide which we exhale. The cycle goes around and around - animals producing water and adding Carbon Dioxide to the air, while plants destroy Carbon Dioxide and destroy water and emit Oxygen and produce Hydrocarbons. Around and around the cycles go. But burning oil and gas and coal are a different story - burning them produces new Carbon Dioxide and new water. The new water produced should never ever be mentioned in any discussion of sea levels, as it is a widely agreed scientific fact that the amount of water on the planet is fixed and cannot change. The only result of burning fossil fuel that should ever ben mentioned is the Carbon Dioxide produced, despite the fact that burning fossil fuel produces vast amounts of water that never existed before.

As the story goes, Carbon Dioxide can be removed from the atmosphere by plants. Yes, it can and is. But, what is rarely mentioned is that when plants die, the Hydrocarbons they are made of are soon broken down into Water and Carbon Dioxide - either by animals that eat the plants, or by bacteria that eat the plants, or by fire (fire and digestion are the same basic chemical reaction - the speed of reaction is the difference). So, the harsh reality is that anyone wishing to remove Carbon Dioxide from the atmosphere by causing it to be absorbed in plants is only doing so for the short term - the life of the plant. Any thought that Carbon Dioxide can be removed from the atmosphere long term by use of plants is simply folly with no use other than generating research grants and etc.

I own a few pieces of property with trees and lawns and some areas that are not exactly lawns, and not exactly overgrown. Those trees reproduce whenever I don't stop them. Elsewhere, anyplace nobody stops them, trees grow where conditions allow. When I see that a company says they planted trees to offset their carbon footprint, I laugh, or I feel sad they are wasting time and money. If they plant trees where conditions do not encourage tree growth (the middle of a desert), the trees will not grow, and they are wasting time and money. If they plant trees among other trees in a recently cut forest, they are also wasting time and money, because trees will grow there anyhow. Any soil-erosion-reduction benefits could have been achieved by cutting fewer trees - leave some saplings behind. Wherever conditions allow the trees will grow, as they have for thousands of years, and don't need people's help. most such efforts are simply folly.

As for the other idea mentioned in the article, absorbing Carbon into the soil, I expect the amount that can be absorbed is trivial compared to the amount released when burning the vast amount of fossil fuel burned these days. I think the main impact of this new idea is a new way to generate research funding and to perhaps sign people on to campaigning for new regulations or advertising food grown in a way that allegedly benefits the earth by encouraging storage of Carbon in the soil.

Note to all those who will respond by saying that they disagree with what I said about any connection between increased atmospheric Carbon Dioxide levels and atmospheric temperatures: I never said there is any connection. I said what the common story is, and then wrote about the folly of attempting to remove Carbon from the atmosphere by planting plants. I do not know if the earth is warming up, and if so, what might be causing it.

Disclaimer: I am a supporter, not a dependent. I do not and have never made a living off your taxes, nor do I get laws passed requiring people to purchase any goods or services from me, and do not plan to. I financially support all those supported by research grants, and pledge to do so for the rest of my life.





Speak your mind


Resources & Links