You know those food scraps you threw in the trash after dinner last night? Well, they might hold the power to help combat climate change.
When John Wick and Peggy Rathmann first bought their 540-acre ranch in Northern California’s Marin County, the soil was badly worn and severely over-grazed. Not knowing how to fix this, they consulted their friend Jeffrey Creque, a rangeland ecology expert. He helped them bring back some grass to the land, which led to a revolutionary idea. Creque knew that by enriching the soil, healthy grass can remove carbon from the atmosphere. Could this, in turn, help slow global warming?
According to an article in Mother Jones, “Carbon that is absorbed by grass can be stored for hundreds of years in the grass’ roots and surrounding soil—a much better spot for it than in the air, where it warms the planet in the form of carbon dioxide. Carbon-enriched soil, in turn, feeds grass so it can grow taller and suck down even more carbon.”
According to the EPA’s overview of greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide (CO2) accounts for about 82 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions from human activities in the U.S. Since the industrial revolution, human activities have been altering the carbon cycle in the atmosphere by adding more CO2 and influencing the ability of “natural sinks,” like forests, to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.
Wick and environmental scientist Whendee Silver put their theory into practice. They bought 31 tons of compost collected from homes in the area, and spread it all over the rangeland. The result? As grass grew, tests showed it absorbed about 0.4 tons of carbon per acre a year. According to Silver and her team, if compost were added to 5 percent of California’s rangelands, 3.2 million acres could eliminate 7.6 million tons of carbon emissions over a three-year period. That’s equivalent to taking about 2 million cars off the roads annually.
If your food scraps go into the garbage, they just end up in a landfill. But, according to Silver, “if we throw it out into a compost bin, it’s going to grow more food—and potentially slow climate change.” You can find out more about their project, Marin Carbon Project, by visiting their website.
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Image Source: Steve Russell/The Toronto Star/Zuma