There has been lots of talk lately about the recent announcement of the coming implementation of a carbon tax. The purpose of a carbon tax is to add the social and external cost of a product to the actual cost of that product. This corrects for a market flaw which doesn’t account for these costs, so they then become social costs, as evidenced by climate change. It’s easy to see how our consumer society ignores these social costs. Price is king while quality is rarely considered. Nearly everything we buy is packed in plastic and our landfills are filled with wasted food. Hopefully by allocating costs to these practices, our society will become less wasteful and more aware of these external costs.
I have also heard some recent rumblings about the impact of plowing grasslands on release of carbon. It is estimated that prairie grasslands hold about 80 tonnes of carbon per hectare; most of which is held in the soil itself. By using the land for cropping, 25- 30% of this carbon is released into the atmosphere. Estimates are that for every tonne of carbon decomposed, 3.67 tonnes of CO2 are released to the atmosphere. At a price of $15/tonne for CO2 equivalent, the value of this stored carbon is over $1100/ hectare (or just under $450/acre). (Full disclosure, I found these figures online and am not a climatologist, so cannot be certain they are correct). And yet there is little incentive for producers to convert marginal crop land back to grass, or to keep that marginal land in grass production. As soil becomes degraded, it loses its ability to store carbon, while methods such as grazing, crop rotations, no-tillage and composting help to regenerate the soil and improve its sequestration abilities. One of the overlooked ways to combat climate change may be a combination of using ecological methods on productive land to produce grains, oilseeds and legumes for human consumption, and maintaining other areas in grass to produce meat for human consumption.
As put by Jason Hickel in a recent article in The Guardian:
“Ultimately, this is about more than just soil. It is about something much larger. As Pope Francis put it in his much-celebrated encyclical last year, our present ecological crisis is the sign of a cultural pathology. “We have come to see ourselves as the lords and masters of the Earth, entitled to plunder her at will. The sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life are symptoms that reflect the violence present in our hearts. We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the Earth; that we breathe her air and receive life from her waters.”
Maybe our engineers are missing the point. The problem with geo-engineering is that it proceeds from the very same logic that got us into this mess in the first place: one that treats the land as something to be subdued, dominated and consumed. But the solution to climate change won’t be found in the latest schemes to bend our living planet to the will of man. Perhaps instead it lies in something much more down to earth – an ethic of care and healing, starting with the soils on which our existence depends.”