We Can ‘Fix’ The Climate Without Destroying Our World
A Climate Counternarrative
Land stewards often grok that topsoil loss is a significant contributor to atmospheric carbon dioxide. Soil emissions dwarf industrial ones, after all. But farmers have been disturbing soil since long before the industrial era, so they’re hard-pressed to explain what changed around then.
Topsoil loss is a concern irrespective of the climate narrative. It matters if you value healthy food grown in thriving ecosystems. It makes sense to promote gardening, urban agroecology, and regenerative farming on that basis alone. Doing so has no downsides and depends on no one.
Prompting climate activists to promote these activities is also a great way to make them (unwittingly) work against the globalist agenda. They’re on board already. Simply tell them that teaching gardening at schools is a very effective way to use fewer fossil fuels. More food sovereignty won’t hurt your community.
At the same time, regenerative farming can build soil without addressing the key reason topsoil ends up in the atmosphere. Research on forestry emissions inadvertently reveals what that is.
Briefly, a cleared forest releases a slow-motion plume of carbon dioxide as forestry waste decomposes. This continues until the new canopy has grown enough to soak that up. By contrast, thinning a forest leaves the canopy intact. That avoids these releases to begin with.
This highlights three things that happen when you clear a field. (1) You remove canopy above ground. (2) You leave organic waste that decomposes behind. (3) Plants soak up the resulting soil emissions.
Land stewards have been removing the plants that offset these soil emissions since the industrial era.
Loggers adopted clear-cutting at the turn of the 20th century. A cleared forest is a wide-open field. The soil fungi, which need plants for sugars, eventually die. The wind takes the soil emissions up in the atmosphere before nearby plants soak them up.
From the 19th century onward, farmers began managing ever larger fields as family farms vanished, land changed hands, and factory farming took off. Gone were the plants in hedgerows that limited tillage erosion while keeping the soil fungi alive, breaking the wind, and soaking up the soil emissions.
Changes also took place in places with little or no tree canopy, to begin with. Settlers moved West just as new plows made it practical to till the Great Plains, for instance. Wide open farm fields and overgrazed paddocks soon replaced large swaths of prairie. Dead waters might also be emitting their soil carbon in shallow areas.
Avoiding these emissions is straightforward. When you clear a field, leave plants around to soak them up. Alley cropping is a simple way to do that. The alleys can be wide enough to not block sunlight. Planting directly into clover and other well-designed intercropping system would work too.
It follows that farmers could stick with planting rows of coppice trees on contour to turn this around. Better yet, they could semi-manage narrow bands around them like roadsides to restore wildlife habitat. There are much better ways to address biodiversity loss, but that is good enough.
You can tell that these emissions are the only ones that matter by auditing the deceitful carbon bean counting.
The salient point to know about the carbon accounting framework is that it mirrors what goes on in a financial statement. Emission sources such as fossil fuels are like the expenses you’d book in a profit and loss statement. Carbon stocks such as forests are like balance sheet entries.
Would-be carbon income sources are a control freak’s wet dream. They’d include allowances, rewards for putting “green” energy on the grid, and carbon offsets (indulgences). Those are chiefly sold by large landowners, the conservancies who run their hunting estates, and fossil fuel giants.
Carbon stocks get little attention beyond the egregious shenanigans that surround green finance. They sport a value that fluctuates over time while keeping what goes on inside them out of scrutiny. The vast majority of carbon emissions occur inside these black boxes.
This creates a double standard. Cherry-picked sources like fossil fuels and cow burps get vilified as reducible flows. Other sources get flatly ignored. Instead, carbon stock changes get tracked as proxies. Those rely on long-term estimate models that mostly capture land use changes.
This arrangement makes sense only if the avoidable carbon emissions that disappear inside carbon stocks are negligible compared to the ones that appear as reducible flows. The contrary is like balancing your household’s budget while ignoring big-ticket items like revenue and rent.
Forestry emissions research shows that these hidden sources of carbon emissions are anything but negligible. A cleared forest emits kilograms of carbon dioxide per square meter until the canopy recovers. A thinned forest produces no such emissions.
Kilograms of avoidable emissions per square meter works out to around 10 tons per acre. Loggers clear over 60 million acres each year. That’s a German economy worth of avoidable emissions that long-term models used to track carbon stocks hide from view. This is sketchy accounting.
The kicker is reduced-impact logging. It proposes to make carbon stocks more effective by reducing such forestry emissions. That is shameless.
Farming emissions are much larger. The plumes are such that you can tell when farmers are clearing or burning fields on NASA visualizations.
Fossil fuels contribute atmospheric carbon dioxide too, of course. 12% of the total, according to a paper that drew an outpour of rage. That is high. Consider that a farm field has little carbon dioxide around it. The number likely comes from sources with no nearby plants, like industrial chimneys.
Curbing that waste is not hard. We could pipe the output of smokestacks towards hemp fields using glorified drip irrigation systems. The plants will know what to do with carbon dioxide and water. Hemp soaks up toxins, so there is little need for filtering. It has many industrial uses, like paper.
Then again, addressing topsoil loss would quickly reintroduce the problem that plants were struggling with before the industrial era. Namely, too little carbon dioxide. So leaving it in the atmosphere makes good sense too.
An intriguing twist is that topsoil loss genuinely affects the climate.
Essentially, soil with less carbon holds less water, as does soil with less cover. Runoffs lead to erosion, bare soil, and ponds, fueling water evaporation. Water vapor is the greenhouse gas that actually matters. But the real concern is rainfall.
Inland water evaporation contributes to inland rain. Water that has run off downstream cannot produce downwind rain. Drying landscapes become drier and drought-prone over time, with intermittent floods tied to runoffs. Droughts and floods fuel yet more topsoil loss. And with it, this cycle.
Climate change is just a sorry rebrand of desertification, in other words. Plantations, overgrazing, and infrastructure that channels water downhill compound all of these issues and habitat loss. Those are unequivocally man-made. So are the shoddy decisions that amplify natural calamities.
Desertification is straightforward to reverse. Harvest water, slow it down to help it soak in, and use a combination of plants, mulch, and windbreaks to limit soil evaporation. That will rehydrate a landscape and can re-green a desert. We can even do this at scale with bulldozers and seed pellets.
Put together, the only emergency is stopping this clown show. Debunking environmental propaganda has yet to stop the heinous control agenda and the neocolonial land theft it is fueling. Pulling the rug from under it might.
The propaganda doesn’t stand a chance in court, so defanging it there makes sense. Rural communities could also make a mockery of it by turning the carbon hockey stick around.
Denis de Bernardy is the author of A Natural Language. His work exposes environmental big lies and puts solutions in front of the actual problems.