The Art of Managing the Carbon Cycle for Sustainability

This entry was posted on June 17, 2013 by McEvoy Ranch.

Notes on Carbon farming, sustainability & the potential of the (global) local food movement by our McEvoy Ranch Agroecologist, Jeff Creque. In recent years, there has been a lot of talk about “sustainability” and “the triple bottom line,” which seems to bring a vaguely quantitative legitimacy to what is a very fuzzy concept indeed. So, we evaluate the “sustainability” of our purchasing and manufacturing practices, and incorporate consideration of worker’s wellbeing into evaluation of our “success,” and so forth. These are all good and laudable ends. But what does this very localized –individualized- idea of “sustainability” mean in a world where Fukushima Daiichispews radiation across the Pacific to our shores, China’s coal fired power plants accelerate the melting of Arctic Sea ice, and Canada’s tar sands are poised to propel us, if James Hansen is correct, to "Game Over for the Climate?" Not only MUST there be a better way, there IS a better way. And it pertains directly to our work here at McEvoy Ranch. sheepunder tree So let’s discuss the Carbon Cycle. There is a finite amount of Carbon on Earth, and it occurs in Five Carbon pools; the Hydrosphere (oceans), the Atmosphere, the Lithosphere (rock), the Biosphere (living matter) and the Pedosphere (soils). (Together the Biosphere and the Pedosphere make up what is called, the Terrestrial Pool). As carbon moves among these 5 pools, it changes form: In the Atmosphere, it is CO2, a potent greenhouse gas that has made our planet remarkably comfortable for our species for the past 600,000 years or so and now, thanks to our efforts, threatens to destroy life as we know it. In the hydrosphere, Carbon becomes, among other things, carbonic acid, which is now increasing to the point of acidifying our oceans and threatening marine life, such as zooplankton, and shell-forming creatures, like oysters. In the Lithosphere (rock), ancient Biospheric carbon is sequestered as oil, coal, and natural gas and it is the combustion of this C, returning it to the atmosphere as CO2, at clearly unsustainable rates, that is driving destabilization of our climate, and undermining any pretensions of sustainability any of us may have. In the Biosphere, Carbon takes the form of carbohydrates: cellulose, lignin, bacon grease, olive oil, etc. We and all living things are largely complexes of carbohydrates. All the carbon in carbohydrates came from atmospheric CO2, through the solar-powered process of photosynthesis. As Galileo is reputed to have said; “wine is light, thickened to liquid.” Farming has always been the art of managing the C-cycle to produce our food, fuel, fiber and flora. At this stage of the Earth’s evolutionary history, the Terrestrial pool, consisting of living things and the soil, is the only carbon pool in which an increase in stored C can result in cascading benefits for Life on Earth; including increased productivity resulting from increased soil fertility and enhanced soil water holding capacity.
IMG_1486 Cover crops, like this Crimson clover, are an essential part of our sustainable farming practices at the ranch.
To be sustainable under current global conditions, farming must become the art of managing for increases in the Terrestrial Carbon Pool; in plants, and most importantly, in soils, to drive decreases in the atmospheric pool. So sustainability can no longer happen only at the local level. It requires a global movement of local efforts. It requires a world-wide response that builds on cooperation in the management of a renewable resource, Terrestrial C, rather than the current dysfunctional competition for a non-renewable resource from the Lithosphere. Here at McEvoy Ranch we are focusing on strategies to maximize Terrestrial carbon capture and storage, particularly as soil organic matter, while working to reduce greenhouse gases from our energy use and farming practices. The (global) local food movement helps make this kind of farming possible, locally and globally.Picture 056 So, as you enjoy your next meal made with McEvoy Ranch Certified Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil, remember, that Good Farming not only produces great food, it holds the key to the solution of our climate crisis. And take time to marvel at the fact that everything on your plate came out of thin air. Jeff Creque McEvoy Ranch 6-1-13