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Can We Talk “Dirt”

By Lori Gill-Pazaris

Note: This column is a condensation and modification of an article written by Aina Lagor of Transition Wayland, who also attended the Tufts conference. It was previously published, on 12/12/14, in the Wayland Wicked Local.

Imagine a bathtub with water pouring from a faucet. At the bottom of the tub is an open drain. Water flows out, but much slower than the water coming in. The water level in the bathtub is rising fast, threatening to overflow.

In this model, co-developed by Concord’s Linda Booth-Sweeney, the tub is the atmosphere, or air, the tub water the amount of carbon dioxide, CO2, in the air, the faucet the addition of CO2 to the air, and the drain nature reducing CO2 from the air.

Nature has been adding CO2 to and removing CO2 from the atmosphere in a process called the carbon cycle for millions of years and has managed to keep levels of CO2 in the living earth and atmosphere in relative equilibrium.

In recent history, we humans have unleashed more CO2 and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, than our now polluted ecosystem can handle. Atmospheric CO2 has risen to 400 parts per million, well above the 350 parts per million considered safe for humans. The result? Our current climate volatility, the tub is overflowing.

We know how to decrease the flow of CO2 from the “faucet” into the air using energy conservation. How do we increase the flow of water (CO2) leaving the drain to lower dangerous atmospheric levels?

In November 2014, environmental scientists and advocates gathered at Tufts University. The message? To lower atmospheric CO2, carbon must be returned to the soil. Soils have been depleted by decades of agro/chemical use and lack of replenishment. All life consists of carbon structures. The soil must live again if humans are to survive.

Increase the carbon in healthy soil to decrease atmospheric carbon, and the soil will save us from “drowning” in CO2.

Despite bad news on climate change, the conference proved uplifting. As soils were depleted in New England, our ancestors moved across the country in search of new fertile lands. We now understand how to restore depleted soils: fungi and microbes, worms and beetles, deep-rooted perennials, organics, rotational grazing, composted manures, trace minerals, and carbon capture and storage.

Planned grazing of animals on barren lands, like wild herds in past centuries, can turn desserts into lush, green, landscapes capable of storing water and capturing large amounts of atmospheric carbon.

Landscape images, shown at the conference, before and after rotational grazing were stunning. Plants were much healthier and robust after. Even here in Concord rotational grazing of chickens and other farm animals, is occurring on a small scale!

So how can you and I lower CO2 levels in the atmosphere? In addition to energy conservation, we can use non-synthetic natural amendments and fertilizers, start gardens, keep animals such as chickens and goats, and plant more gardens, deep-rooted grasses, native perennials, trees, and shrubs instead of lawns. We can purchase organic foods from local farmers and markets or grow our own. We can avoid buying produce from large, soil depleting factory farms and spread the word to friends and neighbors.

In 2011 Concord residents voted for and selectmen approved four sustainability principles for municipal decision-making. We are fortunate to live in a town that “gets it”. We need to work with our town leaders and residents to seek ways to protect our precious environment and restore healthy soil.

The message from the Tufts conference is simple – Nature is capable of doing 90% of the work of removing CO2 from the atmosphere, but only if it is the earth is alive. Healthy soils in wetlands, grasslands, forests, and gardens can help restore the balance.

Lori Gill-Pazaris is a Concord Resident and member of the ConcordCAN Steering Group. . If you would like to read the full article by Aina Lagor that inspired this column, click here.

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