Mitigating Climate Change through Food and Land Use
Report Offers a Ray of Hope

It sometimes seems there is no good news regarding atmospheric carbon dioxide. A significant majority of scientists  agrees  that we have pumped enough carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (passing the critical 350 parts per million threshold in 1988 and continuing beyond that since) that even under cautious estimates there are significant environmental impacts already underway (most notably the rapid disappearance of polar ice cover and glaciers throughout the world) and varying degrees of environmental, economic and social catastrophe heading our way in the not too distant future.

Most solutions proposed to palliate, slow or reverse this trend are capital intensive, require national mobilization and are exceedingly complicated. (Quick, someone explain how “cap and trade” works.) For many of them it seems true that “for every solution there is a problem.” While fixing one thing, they break another.

A ray of hope has appeared for a more workable solution in the form of a recent Worldwatch Institute  report , Mitigating Climate Change through Food and Land Use. The report proposes five low-tech and relatively affordable strategies that authors say could use improved agricultural practices to potentially offset up to 25% of global emissions from fossil fuels each year.  Importantly, the practices are highly local in their nature and wouldn’t require treaties, international negotiations or enormous capitalization.

The five proposed strategies (described more fully in the site linked above) are:

Enriching soil carbon.

Farming with perennials.

Climate-friendly livestock production.

Protecting natural habitat.

Restoring degraded watersheds and rangelands.

The theme of global warming and land management practices to combat it also surfaces in the Summer issue of the Land Trust Alliance’s Saving Land magazine. The magazine features an article in its Conservation News section entitled “Sobering Research.”  The sobering news references studies by the Audubon Society indicating a majority of bird species wintering in North America have moved their range northward over the past forty years, with around a quarter of the species studied having moved over 100 miles north.

Another study referenced, by the USGS Forest Service, indicates that death rates in old growth forests in the west have doubled “over the past two to three decades” due to higher temperatures and water shortages. (The die off of old growth forests is both a symptom and a cause of global warming, as the old trees sequester tremendous amounts of carbon that is released as they decompose.)

The article’s hopeful conclusion centers on a new program that encourages ranchers to maintain their grasslands in ways that enhance the storage of carbon, noting that rangelands in the American West naturally absorb about 190 million tons of carbon dioxide a year. Financial incentives through the Rangelands Soil Carbon Management Offsets Program are helping get the project rolling, with Montana’s Sun Ranch receiving $30,000 after its carbon sequestration efforts become the first to qualify for the program.

It seems that the retention, recovery and effective stewardship of productive and ecologically significant lands being one critical and achievable step to reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide could be a boon to the land trust community. After all, our core mission is to try to make sure that all of these things are undertaken to the greatest extent and that where possible, the protection of these lands and more beneficial land use practices will be made permanent. It should give us all a greater sense of the importance of our mission to think that we might literally have a hand in saving the world.