Much discussion on CARBON SEQUESTRATION seems to have misunderstood the difference between
short-term carbon-cycles and long-term carbon removal from the ecosphere.
Some hundreds of millions of years ago one of the great die-offs or mass extinctions occurred. The
plant and animal life was killed off in such massive quantities that perhaps 90% of all living
beings died roughly simultaneously. Even bacteria must have been affected, because the remains were
not dispersed by (micro) life but accumlated as asphalt, coal, gas and oil deposits.
Archeologists identify this time with the name "Caboniferous Era", which is a rather appropriate
name. The carbon compounds making up the previously-living bodies of this ecosphere was
"sequestered" out of the cycles of use and reuse of carbon compounds in the remaining living
With mining the Carboniferous compounds, and burning them into the atmosphere, an entire ecosystem
of carbon is being returned into circulation on top of the normal carbon in perpetual cycling. This
fossil carbon plus the perpetually recycling carbon of the living ecosphere is causing the worrisome
"greenhouse" gases accumulation to levels causing climate changing consequences.
The closest approximation we can reproduce of this long-term sequestration is in old-growth forests,
where over 90% of the trees are dead carbonaceous matter covered by a thin venier of living tissues.
Increases in big long-lifespan forest trees is the only meaningful method of sequestering large
quantities of carbon out of circulation from the atmosphere.
What is being discussed as "carbon-sequestration" in no-till agriculture is a meaningless quantity
by comparison of the constant infusion from fossil sources. Ten inches of topsoil cannot sequester
the quantities of carbon that can be impounded by tall trees of mature forests.
The "carbon-sequestering" in soil is the inert residue of "dead humus". The definition of species is
the reproductively successful matching of close DNA parents, but an equally correct definition is
the uniqueness of proteins manufactured by the DNA. DNA, after all, can only make proteins.
Some unique proteins cannot serve as digestible foods by any form of life, and these "skeletons"
accumulate in the soil as "dead humus" of no nutritional value for any form of soil-life. "Living
humus" on the other hand is consumed in faster or slower rates by the decomposers and consumers in
the micro-herd of the soil, and is constantly replenished and consumed.
As opposed to "sequestration", carbon is merely stored for short (or shorter) intervals in the soil
before being returned to the living ecosphere. This temporarily idle carbon is returned to the
atmosphere in time periods of minutes to months, rarely ever in time periods measured as long as
years. Such portion of it as is eroded and lost downstream is not sequestered any more than that
portion remaining tied up in soil particles still on dry land. Both forms are still in the food
chain webs and will find their way back into atmospheric circulation.
Whatever merits or demerits "no-till" agriculture has to offer, "carbon sequestration" is not a
If a non-scientifically inclined lay-person wished to get a better understanding of the long-term,
versus short-term, cycles of the GAIA planetary system they might read James Lovelock's books
[especially HEALING GAIA]. Although he has been severely criticised (mainly because of the hairy
hippies who have adopted "GAIA" as a sort of druid religion) his chemical principles and logic have
never been challenged.
Whatever good Steve Groff is doing with his no-till system, it is not significant in making
contributions offsetting the reductions in forests or the insertion of massive quantities of fossil
carbon. It is time to change the subject away from token and insignificant contributions, and
examine the rates of introduction of carbon, and the rates of long-term sequestration.
If carbon sequestration is a goal to be accomplished, than the progress in reforestation of the
Earth at a rate fast enough to match the introduction of fossil carbon is mandatory. Since trees do
not impound carbon quickly, and they take decades to grow once planted, the goal must be to stay
ahead of the rate of fossil carbon release by decades.
In order to free-up lands for reforestation, agriculture must get very much more productive, so as
to shrink down the amount of space required. Up to three-quarters of the United States is devoted to
Agriculture, and the equivilent of the continent of South America represents the global
Rearranging the chairs on the deck of the sinking Titanic is not going to change the overall large
picture: two whole ecosystems (the CARBONiferous and the modern era) worth of carbon are being
released with no mechanism to sequester the fossil influx at any meaningful rate. The discussion
must leave meaningless token gestures of saving cupfuls of "dead humus" per acre per year. I have no
doubts that Steve Groff sincerely believes that he is doing a good service in no-till agriculture,
but an audit of Steve Groff's farm might show differently.
Most all ammonia-based Nitrogen fertilizers are derived from natural gas or distilled from coal. The
fossil-carbon release byproducts of manufacture of the synthetic fertilizer used on Steve Groff's
farm might easily exceed the teaspoonfuls of carbonized skeletons of dead humus buried in the top
few inches of soil. The mechanized tractors required to no-till the land consume their gasoline or
diesel fuels at rates undoutably larger than is sustainable by the atmosphere or the climate, even
if they might be narrowly sustainable examining only the issue of soil fertility.
I am not accussing Steve Groff of any bad things. As an example he is head and shoulders higher than
most other participants on SANET who actually describe their growing systems. He is even closer to
J.I.Rodale's defintion of a natural organic farmer in the book "PAY DIRT" published in 1947. Rodale,
in that book says such things as "if you do what I am recommending you will not have to spray NEARLY
SO MUCH". [That is not an exact quote: I lost my copy of the book last winter so I have to recall
The problem is: if Steve Groff is the best example of agricultural productivity and TOTALLY
sustainable practices, than we as a species are pretty much doomed, because, as MISHA can tell you,
the ecological footprint of each of us is trodding the life-support system to death. When GAIA dies
we all die. Being sustainable means: making a living, not killing the soil, not harming the
customers, not killing the world. Any single one of these missing spells failure.
Now I am not out to start a feud with Steve Groff. I am not singling him out for criticism. I am not
making myself a target for the hate-filled letter-writers looking for any target of opportunity. I
am trying to get the discussion out of wheel-spinning in the mud where it is stuck, quibbling over
teaspoons of carbon "sequestered" in the soil while actually spilling gallons per hour in the air.
Sincerely, Lion Kuntz
LionKuntz@aol.com, LionKuntz@email.com, LifeSaviors@nav.to
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