Planting a Solution for Climate Change
Real-world problems rarely have simple solutions, and few systems are as complex as the global climate. A one-off, quick fix isn’t going to bring the planet back into balance. It will require a concerted effort across a number of fronts over a considerable amount of time to bring about the level of change needed. The point is—intelligent agriculture can and should play a major role in this worthy undertaking. After all, plants are nature’s air filter. They feed on carbon dioxide and release oxygen, which is what our planet needs right now.
Plant a Trillion Trees
What better way to kick off the effort than to restore forest land? The Trillion Trees movement continues to gather momentum because it’s a straightforward, positive idea that everyone can get behind.
Each tree captures CO2 from the atmosphere, mitigating the effects of climate change by a relatively modest amount on a per-tree basis. How effective could it possibly be to plant entire forests at a time? One study used satellite imagery to calculate that the world had room for just under a billion hectares of additional canopy cover. If filled with new forests, those new trees would be capable of storing 205 gigatons of carbon dioxide. The Paris Agreement sought an annual CO2 reduction of 42 gigatons in 2030, though the United Nations Environment Program argues the target should be 61 gigatons.
To the extent the Trillion Trees initiative has been criticized, the objection has been that the campaign is not enough, or its benefits are exaggerated. Trees take a long time to grow, and though they sequester nearly a ton of carbon dioxide each over their lifetime, the scope of the CO2 problem is much larger than that. Other critics point out there’s not enough space to plant enough trees to solve the climate problem. By their math, the 205 gigaton figure is closer to 40 gigatons.
Regardless of the exact number, the critics have a point. Planting a trillion trees isn’t the solution. It’s an ideal starting point because it rallies everyone around a common goal. As such, it’s part of a solution that restores balance in nature by using nature’s own plant-based mitigation mechanism.
Another way to harness the power of plants to mitigate the effects of climate change is to use farmland as a carbon sink.
The United States is the world’s foremost agricultural force, with nearly 400 million acres of farmland that already are helping mitigate climate change. Plants draw CO2 from the air, which is then converted into oxygen through photosynthesis. The absorbed carbon is stored within the plant’s structure, including the leaves and roots that return to the soil as organic material.
We ought to adopt agricultural management techniques that enhance the ability of farmland to act as a carbon sink. Doubling the soil’s organic content to 0.54 percent, for example, would allow cropland to sequester an extra 1.85 gigatons of carbon per year.
Farmers would have to switch to management practices that minimize soil disturbance, concentrate organic matter and make more efficient use of inputs. Among other things, that means using no-till, cover crops, and precision seeding techniques.
Fortunately, healthy soil is good for crop yields, and that creates an incentive for farmers to improve their techniques. Moreover, yields must rise to meet the food security needs of a growing population. We’ll need more fields, operated more efficiently, to keep pace with the estimated 40 percent increase in demand for farm products. That, too, will increase the capacity of agriculture to absorb CO2.
Sun and wind
Solar and wind energy have a big role to play in the future, but much has already been said about the importance of renewable sources. Solar panels on the roof can charge electric cars and run households without generating air pollutants or emitting CO2 like fossil fuels do.
In the U.S., electricity generation accounts for 39.4 million metric tons of CO2 annually. Gasoline in automobiles produces 1.1 million metric tons. So transitioning our infrastructure to favor renewables will remain elements of the climate change solution package. Realistically, the sun isn’t always shining and the wind isn’t always blowing, which limits how much power these renewable sources can generate.
Through conservation techniques, we can work with, rather than against, nature in an attempt to mitigate man’s negative impact on the climate.
In addition to restoring forests through the Trillion Trees campaign, we must restore the functions of aquatic ecosystems. Freshwater lakes moderate temperatures of their surrounding areas, and they absorb roughly 100 times more carbon dioxide than the oceans. Thanks to the hard work of algae and photosynthesis, carbon is stored in lake sediment where it can stay for thousands of years.
These are some of the steps we can take to plant the seeds of a true climate change solution.
Al Eisaian is a multiple-exit serial entrepreneur; passionate technologist & technology investor; frequent speaker; avid reader & futurist; and a committed servant-leader. As co-founder and CEO of IntelinAir, a Crop Health & Intelligence company with its innovative product, AgMRI, Al is currently 100% focused on transforming global agriculture through bringing full-season crop performance measurability, intelligence, and actionability to growers to significantly reduce waste and increase yields & grower profitability. IntelinAir has been recognized for its industry-leading innovation in 2017 and 2018 by AgFunder, Computer Vision Magazine, and others. Al’s entire career has had a global nature from his very first job working as an application engineer, Product & Business Unit Manager for NMB, a global Japanese company, to working as a strategy consultant at USWeb/CKS, a digital strategy consulting company, and then on to a string of acquired startups, from LowerMyBills (acquired by Experian, 2005), Integrien (acquired by VMWare, 2010), IconApps (acquired by Science Inc., 2014) and now IntelinAir. Al earned his BSEE from Oklahoma State and his MBA from Pepperdine University. Al’s diverse and global network is a source of constant innovative ideas and opportunities to serve.