Hurtling towards climate catastrophe isn’t much fun. In actual fact, it is no longer a distant threat, but something actively happening right here, right now. We just need to simply observe the climatic extremes around the world; flooding, forest fires, typhoons, extreme heat, and our own out-of-whack seasons to know that something isn’t right.
And we’ve had plenty of warning; scientists long ago have already foretold of the dire effects of not curbing our carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, responsible for global overheating. It is now generally agreed that we won’t be able to limit such overheating to the ‘ideal’ scenario of 1.5C. Knowing that warming of 2C or above are already catastrophic (think: double the amount of weather extremes we currently have, and double the amount of difficulty producing food for a growing population), we are now looking into a somewhat grim future, with emissions still continuing to escalate beyond all hope.
Wild solutions: restoring life support systems
While scientists scramble for all manner of technological solutions, inventing machines to capture carbon from the air, the solution is staring us in the face: nature.
Natural cycles, and the vast array of ecosystems within those cycles, have the ability to capture and store carbon. Growing native trees – or rather, allowing native trees to grow again through schemes such as rewilding – is one such solution. Trees capture and store carbon as biomass and in the soil, and would be ideal to grow on landscapes unsuitable for farming of crops, adding biodiversity which brings us additional benefits through much-needed ecosystem services.
A change in farming practises to ones which actually restore and enhance soil – which is a major carbon sink – would also be greatly beneficial. Agroecological and permaculture-based approaches, which do not use or require agrochemicals of any form, could help us sequester 5,000 million tonnes of carbon whilst actively reversing biodiversity loss.
Restoration of coastal habitats such as salt marshes, seagrass beds and mangroves is another hidden gem in the war on carbon. They can store carbon 40 times faster than tropical forests, making them highly efficient. Currently, due to climate change, many coral reefs are now bleached and dying.
Everything in our world is deeply interlinked, and even introduction of lost or diminished species back into ecosystems can result in carbon capture. How? In one US example, if the wolf population were allowed to establish to their natural levels, herbivore populations would be limited, preventing carbon release equivalent to 30-70 million cars. In another, large species such as elephants and rhinos, currently dwindling in numbers, act as tree planters: they swallow seeds from trees and then spread them in their dung.
We need to urgently restore our life support systems, and need to do it now. And regardless of human benefit, the beautiful world we live within, and share with many others, deserves to be restored.