What Is Carbon Sequestration and Why the World Needs It
From Global Warming to Climate Change
Remember the term ‘global warming?’
It was a staple of the 90s, like pagers, Michael Jackson, or the sound effect of your desktop computer’s internet dial-up.
Scientists called it ‘global warming’ because, according to research, the world was heating up like a garden greenhouse - trapping and radiating heat and altering the earth's temperature. Through continuous research, however, scientists came to their current understanding that 'global warming’ doesn’t just involve elevated temperatures, but also extreme weather events and cooling in some regions. Thus, experts have appropriately renamed ‘global warming’ ‘climate change.’
According to NASA and scientists worldwide, the technological innovations of the Industrial Revolution have caused a severe increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Moreover, organizations like the NOAA continuously monitor CO2 concentration in the earth’s atmosphere and show that since the 1960s, CO2 concentration has been rising dramatically.
The red zigzag line shows the seasonal cycles of carbon increase and reduction and is currently peaking at 420 ppm. The red line’s repeated dip reflects a decrease in atmospheric CO2 levels due to increased photosynthesis in the summers, during which plants absorb, or sequester carbon.
Understanding Carbon Sequestration
Carbon sequestration is the process of reducing atmospheric CO2 by trapping and storing it in other natural resources in a solid or dissolved form. Scientists hypothesize that carbon sequestration and sustainable practices on an international level can reduce the effects of climate change.
There are three types of carbon sequestration: biological, geological, and technological.
Biological carbon sequestration is the naturally-occurring absorption of carbon dioxide into the ocean, grasslands, and woodlands. Through photosynthesis, plants can absorb carbon, store it, and convert it into soil organic carbon (SOC), creating healthier soil. Research shows that 25% of CO2 emissions are absorbed in forests and grasslands, another 25%, is assimilated into the top layer of the ocean thanks to cyanobacteria, and the other 45% of CO2 remains in the atmosphere.
Geological carbon sequestration involves capturing CO2 from an industrial origin, such as large powerplants, processing it into a liquid, and pumping and storing it underground or in porous rocks. While this type of carbon sequestration is still in its developmental stages, it has been used for decades as part of enhanced oil recovery, to dislodge underground oil and gas, and boost oil production.
Technological carbon sequestration, or carbon capture technology, encompasses different techniques, including direct air capture (DAC). This method uses technologically advanced mechanical systems to mimic plant photosynthesis and capture carbon from the air to store or reuse. This technology, however, is currently expensive, unprofitable, and, therefore, impractical.
With limited DAC technology, the international CO2 emission reduction goals set at the UN’s 2015 Climate Change Conference in the Paris Agreement now look unrealistic. The treaty holds all 196 countries accountable for reducing carbon emissions to lower the temperature of the world climate by 1.5 C. And many organizations, including the UN and IPCC , have now admitted that this carbon threshold is unreasonable without proper carbon capture technology.
But carbon sequestration doesn’t have to be all or nothing. There are baby steps we can take.
Why you should care
I’m not suggesting that your farming practices alone will save our world from climate change. Let’s be real here.
But, I am proposing that we take some steps toward intelligent carbon sequestrations.
Hear me out.
While we can’t yet rely solely on technological carbon sequestration methods, we can implement biological carbon absorption techniques. When you use the natural resources you have at your fingertips (soil, agricultural land, grassland, etc.) to sequester carbon you can enhance:
- Soil quality and content
- Certain crop growth
- The immediate surrounding environment
You can also leverage carbon sequestration to reduce your carbon footprint and improve your bottom line.
Through the Paris Agreement, the UN has enlisted governments throughout the world to engage in a carbon credit program to incentivize organizations, individuals, and growers to track and reduce their CO2 emissions.
Though carbon sequestration is a biological process that's been occurring since the beginning of time, it’s now our responsibility to assist this process. By integrating ‘carbon sequestration-friendly’ farming practices, we can make choices that are good for us, our crops, and the environment.
So how do we do it? Stay tuned!
We’ll be coming out with part II of our Grower’s Guide to Carbon Markets, in which we’ll discuss what you can do to integrate carbon farming into your agribusiness.