Global Warming and Climate Change

Last month I shared with you a perspective of fossil fuels and carbon sequestering from my perspective as an organic farmer. One of the things that I stated is that "It is important for us to try to be independent thinkers, to research facts for ourselves, and to step back and try to look outside the ‘box’ that everyone is looking in." We hear a lot about global warming and climate change. Billions of dollars are being spent to correct the stated problem. However, one of the things that I noticed when I heard things on the news about global warming and climate change is that they did not state how many degrees that the earth has warmed up. This made me curious to find out the facts. I will share with you what I found.

The National Climatic Data Center of the US Department of Commerce has a chart listing the global temperatures from 1880 to the present. The temperatures listed are in hundredths of a degree Celsius. Note that in the past 107 years the global temperature has changed a little over one half a degree Celsius which is less than the statistical margin of error. According to the statistics, global temperatures have remained stable for the last 10 years. The following is an excerpt from that chart:

1900   -0.0281
1901   -0.0974

1997    0.4615
1998    0.5763
1999    0.3947
2000    0.3629
2001    0.4934
2002    0.5573
2003    0.5565
2004    0.5336
2005    0.6044
2006    0.5428
2007    0.5458
http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/research/anomalies/anomalies.html#anomalies

A similar chart can be found at NASA’s website. Please note, this is the first chart I looked at. At first I thought that there were very significant increases in global temperatures until I realized that the temperatures listed on this chart were not in degrees but in .01 degrees Celsius!

http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/tabledata/ZonAnn.Ts.txt

I never gave it much thought about how difficult it is to measure the actual global earth temperature until I read the following article on NASA’s website. Note, there is no standardized procedure for measuring the temperatures at various locations around the world. I had assumed that there was a standardized procedure. The following article describes how inaccurate a non-standardized procedure for recording the global air temperature can be. Remember, this is on NASA’s website.

The Elusive Absolute Surface Air Temperature (SAT)

Q. What exactly do we mean by SAT ?

A. I doubt that there is a general agreement how to answer this question. Even at the same location, the temperature near the ground may be very different from the temperature 5 ft above the ground and different again from 10 ft or 50 ft above the ground. Particularly in the presence of vegetation (say in a rain forest), the temperature above the vegetation may be very different from the temperature below the top of the vegetation. A reasonable suggestion might be to use the average temperature of the first 50 ft of air either above ground or above the top of the vegetation. To measure SAT we have to agree on what it is and, as far as I know, no such standard has been suggested or generally adopted. Even if the 50 ft standard were adopted, I cannot imagine that a weather station would build a 50 ft stack of thermometers to be able to find the true SAT at its location.

Q. What do we mean by daily mean SAT ?

A. Again, there is no universally accepted correct answer. Should we note the temperature every 6 hours and report the mean, should we do it every 2 hours, hourly, have a machine record it every second, or simply take the average of the highest and lowest temperature of the day ? On some days the various methods may lead to drastically different results.

Q. What SAT do the local media report ?

A. The media report the reading of 1 particular thermometer of a nearby weather station. This temperature may be very different from the true SAT even at that location and has certainly nothing to do with the true regional SAT. To measure the true regional SAT, we would have to use many 50 ft stacks of thermometers distributed evenly over the whole region, an obvious practical impossibility.

Q. If SATs cannot be measured, how are SAT maps created ?

A. This can only be done with the help of computer models, the same models that are used to create the daily weather forecasts. We may start out the model with the few observed data that are available and fill in the rest with guesses (also called extrapolations) and then let the model run long enough so that the initial guesses no longer matter, but not too long in order to avoid that the inaccuracies of the model become relevant. This may be done starting from conditions from many years, so that the average (called a ‘climatology’) hopefully represents a typical map for the particular month or day of the year.

To read the rest of the page go to:

http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/abs_temp.html

After reading the above information, I had to wonder if the children’s story of "Chicken Little" has more relevance than just a story for children. Often one of our hens will get excited and alarmed about a perceived threat and get all the other hens squawking about it too. They make a huge racket. It is amusing to watch. After a while they realize that the perceived threat was nothing and they go on about their business.

Are we destroying the global climate as fast as some would lead us to believe? From the actual statistics it does not appear so. However, that doesn’t mean we can pollute the air, spray chemicals on our ground and pollute our water. We do have a responsibility to be stewards of the earth and care for it. As I pointed out last month, sequestering carbon is important, not to correct global warming, but to build the fertility and nutrient density of our soils so that we can be healthy and live productive lives. Farmers have been depleting the soils for generations and it is important that we change that direction. Organic farming is moving in the right direction. Thanks for your support.

Fossil Fuels – From a Pasture Based Farmer’s Perspective

Global warming and the need to reduce the use of fossil fuels is often in the news. There are two main camps, those who are concerned about the damage to the environment from the use of fossil fuel and those who think that global warming is all hype and not really an issue. It is easy for us to become puppets of the opinions of what we hear from everyone around us, especially from the media. It is important for us to try to be independent thinkers, to research facts for ourselves, and to step back and try to look outside the "box" that everyone is looking in.

One day as I was thinking about fossil fuels, I suddenly realized what the words "fossil fuel" means. "Fossil fuels" means that it is a fuel that came from fossilized plants and animals from years gone by. In other words, oil is soil fertility buried under the earth! The Middle East, which has had some of the richest supplies of oil, is largely desert. Their soil fertility is buried underground! The Middle East at one point must have have had very, very fertile soil (the Garden of Eden?).

Until recently, I had the impression that fossil fuels, being a non-renewable source of fuel, were like a foreign chemical that we shouldn’t be burning, and that we are contaminating the earth with it. However, when fossil fuels are burned, matter is not destroyed. It is changed into a different form. One form is carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is necessary for plants to live. Plants take in carbon dioxide and create oxygen. The carbon that existed in the carbon dioxide is stored in the plant tissues and in the roots.

Now, as a pasture based farmer, carbon is a very important element in soil fertility. It holds many times its weight in water. Increasing the carbon in the soil is like making the soil into a giant sponge. The more water that the soil is able to hold means that there is less runoff during a rain storm. That means less soil erosion. It  means that soil nutrients are held in the soil and are not as readily leached out. The more carbon that exists in the soil, the more drought resistant the soil is. Carbon is also important to the many microbes, bacteria, and fungi in the soil.

On a pasture based farm such as ours, carbon is sequestered into the soil from the grasses in the pasture. The grass that we see is only half the plant. The roots are equal in size to what we see above ground. When grass is cut, an equal amount of roots die back. For example, if grass in the pasture is one foot high and the animals eat it down to 3 inches high, 9 inches of roots die off. When those roots die off, the carbon in the roots is sequestered into the soil. Therefore, allowing grass to grow and then mowing it off (preferably with animals)  a number of times throughout the year is an important part of sequestering carbon in the soil.

In observing our farm this year, I noticed that there were two one acre plots where the grass grew the best. One was the chestnut orchard, the other was the broiler pasture. Both of those were mowed the most often last year. This year we are increasing the number of times that we mow the laying hen pastures. First we run the sheep and cows in a pasture. Then, after they are moved to the next pasture, we mow off the weeds and any remaining tall grass. This process increases the amount of carbon sequestered into the soil and increases the soil fertility.

Conventional crop farming releases a lot of carbon back into the air. Conventional no-till is better in that it does sequester some carbon into the soil. However, organic is even better at sequestering carbon. Rodale Institute Research Farm has found that organic crop farming will sequester 1000 lbs of carbon per acre per year, which is about 4 times the amount of conventional no-till.

We are facing a global food crisis. From my perspective, after understanding that fossil fuels are really the soil fertility from years ago buried in the earth and knowing the importance of carbon in the soil, I believe that it was a blessing to mankind that oil was discovered so that we can produce more food now when we need it the most. Much of the oil reserves are in places that can’t be farmed – under the ocean floor, Alaska, and in the deserts of the Middle East. We need that buried soil fertility so that we can feed the world. There may be a better way of transferring the soil fertility from fossil fuels to the soil than by burning them and then trying to sequester the carbon through plants. That is for us to discover. However, there is already a lot of soil fertility that we have put up in the air (carbon dioxide) that needs to be sequestered so that we can clean the air and increase the soil fertility of our farmlands. This is just one more reason why organic and pasture based farming is the better way to go than conventional chemical farming and the confinement rearing of animals and chickens.

The answer to many of our environmental concerns – air pollution, soil erosion, the contamination of our water supplies from farm chemicals and animal manures, the polluting of the Chesapeake Bay, etc. is in developing better ways of sequestering carbon into our farmlands and in making the soil a bigger sponge with greater fertility. As you hear all the negative environmental news, remember, all is not doom and gloom. There is a better way of farming and you are supporting it!