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Down to Earth Global Warming Solution by T. J. Goreau,
LETTER TO THE EDITOR, SCIENCE
Submitted January 1 2014
RE: SHOEMAKER ET AL., 2013, 342:1323-1324
DOWN TO EARTH GLOBAL WARMING SOLUTION
Shoemaker et al. (1) weigh unpalatable short versus long-term trade-offs between reducing emissions of CO2 versus short-lived climate pollutants to minimize future global warming impacts. Supply-side approaches amount to reshuffling Titanic deck chairs if they overlook demand-side solutions. CO2 cannot be reduced to safe levels in time to avoid serious long-term impacts unless the other side of atmospheric CO2 balance is included, by increasing sinks while simultaneously decreasing sources (2,3).
Nearly half the excess CO2 in the atmosphere came from soil carbon loss prior to fossil fuel combustion (4,5). Soil holds around 4 times more carbon than atmosphere or vegetation, and could hold yet more again (5). The dynamic time response spectrum of CO2 sources and sinks shows the fastest way to decrease CO2 is to increase photosynthesis and biomass storage as tropical soil carbon (6), which could resolve the problem in decades, but CO2 source reductions alone will take centuries to millennia to have an effect so impacts will be far worse (6).
Transferring carbon from atmosphere to soil would greatly increase soil productivity, biomass, groundwater resources, and reduce temperature through increased evapotranspiration. Effective methods to greatly increase soil carbon by intensifying natural biogeochemical recycling (7,8) work in agricultural lands (9), in reforesting degraded land (10), pastures, and forests.
“Down To Earth” underground grass-roots Geotherapy solutions (11) to global warming have been ignored by policy makers’ exclusive focus on source reductions and geo-engineering. They need to look at the other side of the Carbon coin, implementing solutions that can work in time to make a difference by removing carbon from the atmosphere, where it does the most harm, and putting it in the soil, where it does the most good. The answer lies at our feet.
Thomas J. Goreau, Global Coral Reef Alliance
37 Pleasant Street, Cambridge
1. Shoemaker, J. K., D. P. Schrag, M. J. Molina, & V. Ramanathan, 2013, What role for short-lived climate pollutants in mitigation policy?, Science, 342:1323-1324
2. Goreau, T. J., 1987, The other half of the global carbon dioxide problem, Nature, 328:581-582
3. Goreau, T. J., 1990, Balancing atmospheric carbon dioxide, Ambio, 19:230- 236
4. Ruddiman, W. F., 2005, Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum: How Humans Took Control of Climate, Princeton University Press, Princeton
5. Houghton, R. A., 2003, The contemporary carbon cycle, p. 473-513 in H. D. Holland & K. K. Turekian (Eds.), Treatise on Geochemistry, Vol. 8, Elsevier, Amsterdam
6. Goreau, T. J., 1995, Tropical ecophysiology, climate change, and the global carbon cycle, p. 65-79 in J. Pernetta, R. Leemans, D. Elder, & S. Humphrey (Eds.), Impacts of Climate Change on Ecosystems and Species: Environmental Context, International Union for the Conservation of Nature, Gland, Switzerland
7. Lal, R., 2011, Sequestering carbon in the soils of agro-ecosystems, Food Policy, 36:S33-S39
8. Lehmann, J., & S. Joseph, 2009, Biochar for Environmental Management, Routledge, London
9. Woolf, D., J. E. Amonette, F. A. Street-Perrot, J. Lehmann, & S. Joseph, 2010, Sustainable biochar to mitigate global climate change, Nature Communications 1:56 doi:10.1038/ncomms1053
10. Myers, N., & T. J. Goreau, 1991, Tropical forests and the greenhouse effect: A management response, Climatic Change, 19:215-225
11. Goreau, T. J., R. G. Larson, J. Campe (Eds), 2014 in press, Geotherapy: Innovative Methods of Restoring Soil Fertility, Carbon Sequestration, and Reversing CO2 Increase, CRC Press, Boca Raton