The Earth is warming at a faster rate than ever before, and natural disasters from climate change such as prolonged droughts, flooding, and bushfires are becoming uncomfortably frequent and the new norm. Excess carbon emissions released by humans into the atmosphere has upset the Earth’s natural carbon balance, and to stave off the worst effects of climate change, we need to reduce the carbon emissions going into the atmosphere. This blog will help you understand how carbon projects, such as the ones Go Netural supports, work to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the air.
Carbon in the atmosphere
When we talk about carbon in the atmosphere, the term “carbon” primarily refers to the gas carbon dioxide, which is the main greenhouse gas (GHG) that causes global warming and climate change. Carbon does exist naturally in the atmosphere in the form of CO2, a gaseous form, and carbon stored in plants via their leaves and stems is converted into carbohydrates.
Carbon is an essential building block for all life on Earth. The planet does a pretty good job of naturally storing carbon in the earth. Most of the carbon stored on earth is actually in rocks and sediments. Carbon is also stored in the oceans, soils, plants, trees, organisms, and other sinks like wetlands and permafrost as well as in the atmosphere. These natural storage systems are called reservoirs. When carbon is moved from reservoir to reservoir, it constitutes the carbon cycle.
How does carbon get removed from the earth?
Carbon can be naturally captured in soil, plants, trees, shrubs, wetlands, and even microorganisms, and many of these natural carbon sinks are able to hold carbon for years when left undisturbed.
However, one of the main ways carbon is released from these carbon sinks is through industrialized agriculture, which releases about one-fifth of global GHGs. Farming practices such as tilling the soil to prepare for the crop planting can release carbon into the atmosphere and reduce its ability to sequester carbon in future.
Additionally, agricultural practices have removed trees to make way for crops and grazing animals, leaving the land bare and losing carbon. The global food system as a whole contributes as much as one-third of GHGs.
Carbon leaked from the soil combines with oxygen to form carbon dioxide. As farmers clear more land for agriculture and animal grazing, more carbon is released into the atmosphere. As CO2 is a heat-trapping gas that causes global warming, the expansion of industrial farming practices further perpetuates climate change. But with a growing global population, we need to keep farming, which is why working with farmers and incentivising changes in land management is crucial to delivering both a sustainable environment and food supply.
Why is extra carbon in the atmosphere bad for the climate?
Maintaining the carbon balance in the environment is critical for our survival. The Earth is a closed climate system that is supposed to have certain levels of carbon in the atmosphere—an amount that is kept at normal levels via natural processes. Despite carbon being healthy for plants and soils, too much carbon in the atmosphere has caused and will continue to cause climate change.
Climate change and global warming are often used interchangeably but have slight differences in their terminology. Global warming refers to a long-term trend of the planet’s average temperature increasing, whereas climate change is a long-term change in weather patterns that have defined the Earth’s local, regional, and global climates. The changes noted in the Earth’s climate system have been documented as being primarily driven by human activities, also referred as “anthropogenic” climate change.
Before the Industrial Revolution (about 1750), the Earth went through natural cycles of warming and cooling. However, when humans released billions of tons of extra carbon dioxide into the air, primarily from the burning of fossil fuels and unsustainable farming practices, the planet wasn’t able to cope as usual. Oil, coal, and natural gas were burned to operate vehicles and run power plants in addition, forests and grasslands were destroyed to make way for industrial agriculture. The additional GHGs couldn’t be absorbed by plant life, oceans, or soils fast enough to balance out the extra CO2.
Too much carbon released by humans into the atmosphere caused the greenhouse effect, where the extra CO2 acts as a thermal blanket around the planet that traps heat that would otherwise be released into space. Because the carbon cannot be absorbed fast enough by carbon sinks, the planet’s temperature increases.
The carbon project solution: what it is and how it works
Policymakers have noted that carbon sequestration practices (also referred as “carbon drawdown”), which remove carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and store it in soil, vegetation, and even rocks, will be crucial for our society reaching “Net Zero” by 2050. While historic agriculture practices may have played a part in releasing carbon emissions into the atmosphere, modern agriculture plays an important role in creating opportunities for carbon drawdown now and in the future.
Carbon projects, like those supported by Go Neutral, are an excellent method to mitigate climate change. These agricultural practices help retain carbon in the soil, as well as prime the land and increase its ability to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. By regenerating native trees, grasses, and other plant life, they enable the soils to obtain, keep, and build more carbon for healthier dirt. Plants can do this through photosynthesis, which acts as the lungs of our planet. Plants “breathe” in CO2 from the atmosphere to make carbohydrates or sugars. These sugars are then moved through the roots into the soil to feed other microorganisms. In turn, the microorganisms use the sugars to build soil. The video on the right by Kiss The Ground explains this process well.
Additionally, regenerative agriculture uses compost to infuse more carbon into the soil, setting up a positive feedback loop that continues to store carbon for years. Farmers can plant cover crops and trees, plan the grazing of animals, refrain from tilling soil every season to keep more carbon in the soil and maintain healthy soils. They can also help maintain or restore ecosystems and reverse biodiversity loss by protecting native vegetation and restoring natural processes as well as reintroducing animal species that may have been threatened by extinction.
Nature, in fact, is one of the best allies in the fight against climate change. Investing in nature is a win-win for the ecosystem, the farming community, and the planet. More carbon in the ground benefits everyone—healthier soils, a more stable climate system, and reducing global warming. Technology and science is here and available to change our agricultural system to embrace carbon farming practices, and carbon markets are the way that we value and fund this essential change.
How can the average person get involved? That’s where the power of your wallet and consumer choices comes in. No need to buy a farm! You can invest in carbon projects on agricultural lands by purchasing Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCUs). Check out Go Neutral to view our 100% Australian carbon projects and see how you can offset your carbon footprint and support farmers around Australia who are actively making changes to the way they manage their land in support of reducing climate change.
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