From the United Nations Climate Summit to the People’s Climate March and the accompanying Flood Wall Street action, all eyes have been on the climate this week.
Amidst heated discussions of global policy change, greenhouse gases, and emissions caps, food and farming–and the impact they are having on our changing climate—were also in the spotlight. After all, agriculture is one of largest contributors of human-caused emissions.
Organic farming research and advocacy organization, The Rodale Institute, was at the head of the line, presenting research on what they call “regenerative organic agriculture” (ROA). According to the group’s white paper on the topic, “these practices work to maximize carbon fixation while minimizing the loss of that carbon once returned to the soil, reversing the greenhouse effect.
At a New York press conference on Tuesday, Rodale’s scientists advocated for the use of ROA in reversing the effects of climate change.
“While we strive over time to wean ourselves off of fossil fuel and decarbonize the world’s economy, let us immediately and confidently reverse climate change now through the available technology of regenerative organic agriculture,” offered Tom Newmark, co-founder and chair of The Carbon Underground, and a close collaborator with the Rodale Institute.
According to Rodale, the hope is to alter the course of climate change conversations–-to convince global leaders to stop talking about reducing emissions and mitigating impact and to start talking about restoring the earth’s carbon balance to its preindustrial state—via healthy soil and organic farming.
Soil is the second largest carbon sink in our environment after the oceans. In contrast to oceans, which acidify as they absorb excess carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, soil can store carbon and nourish carbon-based plants. For years, Rodale–and a whole array of scientists other sustainably minded folks–have been proposing that farmers adopt growing methods that leverage the soil’s capacity to absorb carbon. By doing so, Rodale says that we could sequester over 100 percent of the human-produced CO2 emissions in the atmosphere.
Rodale defines ROA as agriculture that “improves the resources it uses, rather than destroying or depleting them,” using methods that include composting, cover crops, crop rotation, and conservation tillage. Regenerative agriculture stands in stark contrast to conventional practices, of which soil degradation and chemical runoff are just two of many negative environmental impacts.
To critics who say organic growing methods result in lower crop output, Rodale’s 30-year Farming Systems Trial proves otherwise. Their test crops prove equally as productive under regenerative organic practices as under conventional ones. And the regenerative system is more durable in the face of drought, flood, and other extreme weather events than the conventional system.
Rodale’s findings come at a time when experts are eager for climate solutions in agriculture. One ongoing project is the UN’s Global Alliance for “Climate-Smart Agriculture” (CSA). The alliance for CSA–made up of 16 countries and 37 organizations was launched to “enable 500 million farmers worldwide to practice climate-smart agriculture by 2030”–held its first meeting on Wednesday.
CSA is a set of growing methods that sound similar to Rodale’s on the surface; they include various soil and crop strategies to enhance carbon sequestration. However, CSA does not commit to agroecological growing methods or discourage use of genetically engineered (or GMO) seeds, synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.