Earth Partners estimate that there are over 100 million acres of degraded land in U.S.)
Where do we start restoring our soil carbon? Agricultural lands are a huge source of green house gas emissions from the unsustainable management practices of modern farming we've adopted. It has been estimated that there are 2.2 billion hectares (1 Hectare = 2.471 acres) of degraded agricultural lands acting as GHG emissions sources where soil carbon restoration could alleviate emissions and increase sequestration. Even then, there are an estimated 5 billion hectares of "under managed" or "improperly managed" grazing lands, grasslands, savannahs, and agricultural lands worldwide that can benefit from the soil methodology Earth Partners has developed. With every 1% increase in soil organic matter on that 5 billion hectares worldwide, we remove 64 parts per million of C02 out of circulation. Soil carbon is the elemental carbon contained within soil organic matter. Right now we are at 400 parts per million of C02 in the atmosphere, let's say we are heading 550 parts per million before we reach a point in time in which we've stopped raising the parts per million. To get from 550ppm back to 280ppm (pre-industrial levels), 270ppm must be removed. So globally a 4.2% increase in soil organic matter on those 5 billion hectares, would potentially reverse the expected situation. We know now that degraded, mismanaged, marginal agricultural lands are an excellent candidate for soil carbon sequestration, but how else can we....save the world?
Lawn Institute states that there are 46.5 million acres of lawn in America, 20-25 residential)
In a previous blog post I tried my hand at some improvised calculations using listed sources to estimate the carbon foot print of an acre of lawn. I factored mowing emissions, irrigation, fertilizer, and the sequestering abilities of turfgrass. The results were that the way we maintain our lawns in America, the net carbon footprint is around 6,000 pounds of C02 per acre, per year, conservatively. With 20-25 million located in the commercial and industrial sectors, that presumably do not utilize their large lots of lawn as much as the residential is used, we have an opportunity to sequester soil carbon while cutting emissions close to home. As I stated in the blog post, 5% of U.S. annual carbon emissions come just from lawn equipment. That's apart from the fact that we use potable water to irrigate, pumped into our house which has a large carbon footprint also. We potentially cut annual carbon emissions by well over 5% with the elimination of lawn, but lawn has valuable foot traffic resistant green space qualities for recreation within our metropolitans. So instead let's focus on the residential properties with homeowners that do not utilize their lawns and would like less, large lot owners with excess lawn, and the commercial/industrial lots that include schools, churches, and corporations.
The opportunity to restore different types of grasslands (depending on your region) to increase soil carbon sequestration while cutting into that large carbon foot print of lawn within our own neighborhood, is now. These type of restoration projects will reduce maintenance, save land owners mowing/irrigation costs/time, and strengthen local ecology when properly implemented along with the aforementioned sequestration benefits. When the design is well balanced with the prairie wildflowers, the aesthetic benefits and ecological benefits are also numerous. But even 100% grass prairies without wildflowers offer airy, wind animated textures that climax with excellent displays of fall color and winter structure. This post isn't about local agriculture/permaculture, but I'd like to acknowledge that our 20-25 million acres of residential lawn could also play an environmentally friendly role in localizing food sources when using sustainable practices.
Future carbon tax credits, and taxes along with the current cost reducing design of grassland restoration in lawn areas also make this an attractive economic prospect. Look what this church in Tennessee did to save money, and consequently the environment by installing acres of tall grass prairie in replacement of lawn.