Carbon Crisis: simply a matter of balance

It is time to simplify the carbon scenario and bring clarity to the confusion. Simply put, the Earth's carbon cycles are out of balance. By aligning with the perfect systems inherent within Nature, simple solutions emerge that bring the carbon cycles back into balance.

The Earth's carbon cycles maintain balance between five carbon pools:
1. Atmosphere
2. Oceans
3. Soils
4. Biosphere
5. Fossil

Removal and burning of stored carbon from the fossil pool in the form of coal, natural gas and petroleum is the catalyst for the out-of-balance state. When burned as an energy source, fossil carbon is transferred into the atmosphere and ocean carbon pools. In addition, common commercial agriculture practices remove carbon from the soil as well as prevent carbon sequestering in amounts necessary to maintain balance.

To date, an estimated 800,000,000,000 tons of carbon is released from the soil and fossil pools into the atmosphere. A portion of the atmosphere carbon is absorbed by the oceans; the carbon dioxide reacts with sea water to produce acid, causing Ocean Acidification with severe implications.

Simply: there is too much carbon in the atmosphere and ocean pools. To restore balance, excess carbon must transfer to the fossil, biosphere and/or soil pools.

Plants serve as atmosphere carbon pumps via photosynthesis. The soil stores the "pumped carbon" as food for its incredible ecosystem, including a wide array of invertebrates and microorganisms. Healthy, well-structured soil produces nutritious food and gains more carbon from plant decay. In addition, healthy soil filters and retains water - up to 40% more water than out-of-balance soil. A positive feedback loop within the carbon cycle restores balance.

Regenerative agriculture is essential to restore the carbon cycle balance. Current soil tilling practices break the carbon cycle and harm the soil ecosystem. Thus, petroleum-based fertilizers are used to grow crops. Yet these crops are devoid of many nutrients provided by the soil ecosystem. Rotating livestock grazing fields augments soil rebuilding. Manure worked into the soil by hooves plays a similar role to field-applied compost. Post-grazing period, the field replenishes itself with native plants. The cycle continues by the plants pumping carbon into the soil via strong root systems.

The Soil Story video explains the Earth's carbon cycles in an easy-to-understand format where soil is the hero for regaining balance.

The U.C. Berkeley Cal Alumni Association California Magazine November 2014 article New Global Warming Remedy: Turning Rangelands into Carbon-Sucking Vacuums documents a carbon sequestering study at a prominent 540-acre west Marin County ranch in the San Francisco Bay area. Owned by John Wick and his wife Peggy Rathmann, Nicasio Native Grass Ranch was a perfect site to document grassland restoration coupled with carbon sequestering.

For the study, cattle were re-introduced to the ranch with rotating grazing patterns similar to the feeding patterns of the long-vanished elk herds. In addition, a single half-inch layer of compost was applied on numerous test plots. Testing confirmed the composted plots sequestered from one-half to three tons of carbon per hectare per year as a result of the single application. Carbon dating tests confirmed most of the carbon was sequestered from the atmosphere; the compost served as a catalyst to re-ignite the soil carbon cycle.

Vast rangelands may serve as carbon sinks - a forest, ocean, or other natural environment viewed in terms of its ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere - and contribute to restoring balance within the carbon cycles. The Nicasio Native Grass Ranch study substantiates compost as a catalyst for carbon sink creation.

Is there an adequate quantity of compost for a half-inch application on the rangelands?

NO! Yet compost recipe ingredients are readily available. Food waste, a nitrogen ingredient in the compost manufacturing process, is an abundant, continually replenished resource generated in urban areas as well as at food processing facilities. Unfortunately, food waste is most often treated as trash, versus a valuable resource.

Food waste compost manufacturing faces two significant challenges: 1> limited state-permitted facilities and 2> contamination within the food waste streams collected. The U.S. Composting Council, an Ei Strategic Ally, is committed to resolving industry challenges and building strong compost manufacturing infrastructure.

In 2015, Ei proclaimed post-consumer food waste collection for compost was the primary focus of the Sustainable Food Court Initiative Pilots (the Atlanta Airport, Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC) and Concord Mills).

To address food waste contamination, Ei announced the Macro Cost of Micro Contamination focus area at the 2016 National Zero Waste Business Conference. Single-use plastic packaging is a major culprit in food waste contamination, especially when fragmented into microplastics. In foodservice operations, Ei promotes the use of BPI-Certified Compostable products for single-use packaging.

In addition to rangelands, Ei is eager to explore creating urban carbon sinks. Common area lands along with corporate, government and university grounds are potential carbon sink sites. Other promising carbon sink sites are roadway system medians, shoulders and buffer zones. Several prominent Atlanta-based entities, including the GWCC, expressed enthusiasm to participate in carbon sequestering pilots using compost manufactured from their campus food waste.

Carbon sequestering via carbon sink creation may serve as the catalyst to shift food waste from landfill destination to compost manufacturing. With strong emphasis on community and corporate carbon footprints, carbon sequestration is a powerful incentive to drive compost demand, which in turn drives supply creation.

Carbon crisis solutions are grounded in simple tactics: 1> align systems within Nature's proven cycles and 2> rely on basic supply | demand economics. Remember the carbon crisis is simply a matter of returning to balance!