Conservation key to prevention of global warming

Travis Reed

One of the best ways to combat the problem of global warming might depend more on conservation than innovation, says Mark Muller.
Muller, a senior associate at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, met on the St. Paul campus Wednesday with about 30 colleagues and community members to discuss the potential of “carbon sequestration” in reducing atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide.
The idea of sequestration is to keep carbon in the ground and out of the air, where it traps heat and contributes to global warming. The primary method of sequestration includes planting crops like alfalfa that stay in the ground longer, have more biomass, cover more area and don’t need to be tilled.
Traditional agricultural methods that are dependent on tilling break up tiny carbon particles in the soil and release them into the air — contributing to the already record-setting levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, Muller said.
“What’s really exciting is that we have such a broad group of people interested in this — from environmentalists, to farmers, etc.,” Muller said.
Scientists attribute the global temperature jumps to increased emissions of greenhouse gasses, most substantially carbon dioxide. Although Muller said soil tillage probably releases less than 5 percent of the troublesome gas in the atmosphere, an approach less dependent on machinery would also reduce many CO2 emissions caused by transportation — a demographic that accounts for 38 percent of CO2 in the atmosphere.
For those who discount the idea of global warming as a natural, harmless or insubstantial phenomenon, Michael Noble has news. The last time the state of Minnesota was 7 to 9 degrees cooler, glaciers covered the planet, Noble says.
At Wednesday’s event, Noble outlined the key commitments in the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that the United States has yet to ratify.
“Would we give up one year’s economic growth in order to save the ecosphere and biosphere?” Noble questioned. He argued in favor of sequestration and tradeable carbon emissions permits, a program designed to reduce harmful emissions that would rewrite pollution in economic terms. Each company or farmer could only release as many emissions of a finite, predetermined amount as they’ve paid for.
Muller said one of the only drawbacks of carbon sequestration is that some environmentalists are afraid it will let fossil fuel companies off too easily and won’t force them to cut back.

Travis Reed covers environment and transportation and welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3232.