Mar 30, 2024

USA: We’ve got to start with our forests and lawns

---------- Forwarded message ---------
From: Rob Moir <>
Date: Fri, Feb 16, 2024, 8:25 AM
Subject: We've got to start with our forests and lawns

To combat the climate catastrophe, we have to save our lands – from our massive forests down to our very own lawns.

George Perkins Marsh said that deforestation leads to desertification way back when he addressed the Agricultural Society of Rutland County, Vermont in 1847. He noted that once lush lands had become deserts around the Mediterranean from Morocco across the Sahara to the Steppes of Asia and Mongolia, saying, "the operation of causes set in action by man has brought the face of the earth to a desolation almost as complete as that of the moon."

Temperatures are rising faster than models predicted because our lands are stripped of vegetation and degraded. But if we can work together with activists, governments, and stakeholders, we can change course for future generations.

State parks and other protected spaces popped up all over the country to keep forests timbered and help protect watersheds, but today, the problem is too large to be solved with public parks. We need to harness market forces with a carbon offset fund that pays the value of the timber harvest.

States with forests are obligated by law to raise revenue from timbering. For participating states, the Let Forests Grow Carbon Offset Fund would be matched by local private funds to pay the value not to cut timber on public lands. Private woodlot owners who have registered a timbering plan would also be paid the value at harvest time to leave the forest standing. Market forces reward those who reduce the destructive practice of clear-cutting, let trees pull down carbon dioxide to store more carbon, and let the soil become a bigger sponge to hold more water.

It's important to remember that standing trees provide much more carbon drawdown and water storage than planting new trees. Researchers have found that despite conventional wisdom, an eighty-year-old forest has more than twice the carbon stored annually and wildlife values than a forty-year-old stand of trees. The oldest one percent of trees hold 30% of the stored carbon in the forest.

And these same ideas apply to our lawns as well – the soil beneath our lawns can be massive carbon catchers, but only if they're done right.

Whenever plants use photosynthesis, they draw down carbon dioxide and manufacture liquid carbon in the form of carbohydrates (lipids and sugars). For most plants, two-thirds of the carbon goes to their biomass, and one-third is pushed out of roots to feed the soil. Grasses are exceptional. Salt marsh hay, sea grass, and lawn grasses are the champions. They always exude half of the manufactured carbohydrates from their roots and keep only half for their biomass. Walk on the grass or cut it, and the grass is stimulated to draw down more carbon dioxide to repair itself and provide more for the soil. A New England lawn can put down an inch of soil in one year, weather permitting.

Applied nitrogen burns soil microbes and kills beneficial nematodes unless quick-release fertilizer is spread on the lawn. The grass plants become addicted to food and water from above, and the plants are pushed apart so roots may be at the surface. The bare spots, called sun spills, bake in the sun. The soil compacts and dies, and only the toughest weeds can grow there. The wimpy leaves restricted to a fertilizer diet provide easy munching for pests. The lawn care company comes to the rescue, punching holes, spreading more seeds, and spraying herbicides and pesticides. A chemical lawn has replaced a natural lawn.

If, instead, established residential lawn owners did not apply quick-release fertilizer, the plants would stay closer together, and roots with fungi and bacteria would go down, opening the soil for living organisms, which include mites, springtails, insects, and worms. Bacteria provide enzymes, make accessible minerals, and fix nitrogen. A fertilizer-free lawn supports complex food webs topped by apex predators, foxes, hawks, and owls.

The Slow Water Carbon Offset Fund incentivizes residential property owners to have natural lawns and to add more lawn grass by paying those who pledge not to use quick-release fertilizers and harmful chemicals $1.00 per square foot of lawn up to 1,000 square feet. $1,000 is the maximum amount granted to a property owner for making the lawn care pledge.

The Slow Water Carbon Offset Fund would also pay property owners to slow the runoff by installing green infrastructure with a grant program modeled on Maryland's Stormwater Program and Los Angeles County's Safe, Clean Water Program (SCWP). Granted funds would be distributed to residents installing rain barrels, green roofs, permeable pavers that provide a hard surface that can also infiltrate water, and native plant gardens designed to absorb water.

Our folly is to believe we can fix the climate without addressing what we are doing to the land. Our actions causing climate change resulted in the hottest year on record in 2023, but we could have avoided damage from droughts by taking better care of the land. We have worked against water instead of with it. We strip vegetation, bare the land, and destroy soils. Erosion and sedimentation carve and smother. We dry the land with hardened surfaces and spillways. Then, we blame climate change, extreme weather, and people's use of fossil fuels.

The Let Forests Grow and Slow Water Carbon Offset Funds do much more than offset our carbon footprints. The funds restore the natural cycles of water and carbon to advance responsible stewardship of the land. By acting locally, beginning at home, in our neighborhoods and states, we benefit everyone with a healthier, more verdant, and cooler Earth.

Steady on,


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