Can Permaculture Reverse Climate Change?

Maddy Harland
Wednesday, 25th October 2017

Maddy Harland explains how we can begin to reverse climate change by reducing CO2 emissions in our children’s lifetime.

Being a permaculture practitioner, I recently visited Sattva Land, a tropical food forest and the Maya Mountain Research Farm (MMRF), both in Belize to learn more about how permaculture design works in tropical climates. Both the projects were built on lands where conventional farming techniques had been used, causing exhausted soils, erosion and a decline in incomes. Today, they are productive and fully utilise renewable energy and off-grid sanitation. I realised that permaculture practices can help achieve so much, including making biochar, sequestering carbon, running farm-based educational enterprises, and growing food, timber, medicinal plants and value added products.

Can food forests mitigate climate change?  

Professor Paul Hawken and his team of researchers think so. According to their project, Drawdown, food forests can be integrated into some existing agricultural systems and others can be converted or restored to it. If adopted on an additional 46 million acres of land by 2050, from the current 247 million acres, 9.3 gigatons of carbon dioxide could be sequestered. This roughly amounts to China’s total carbon dioxide emissions in 2015.

In 2001, the environmentalist and activist began asking climate and environmental experts whether they knew how to reverse climate change. In the absence of research on solutions, In 2013, he gathered a team of research fellows, including postgraduate students and scholar volunteers from across the world. They assessed hundreds of pages of research and mathematical models. They ranked the solutions by net costs, operational savings and benefits to society if these solutions were scaled up internationally and were implemented between 2030-2050. Then they calculated how much carbon would be reduced. They used carbon (CO2) as the ‘currency’ relative to other Green House Gases (GHGs) and calculated them relative to CO2. The gigatons saved became the total GHGs emission.

The project estimates that the increase in regenerative agriculture from the current 108 million acres to 1 billion acres by 2050 could result in a total reduction of 23.2 gigatons of carbon dioxide, from both sequestration and reduced emissions. This is equivalent to 65 per cent of the world’s carbon emission in 2015.

Zero Carbon Britain at CAT

Regenerative agriculture is also the focus of a zero carbon emission by 2030 strategy in the UK, called Zero Carbon Britain (ZCB). Developed by the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT), there are two approaches to ZCB. The first is to include food and land-use to both reduce emissions and sequester carbon by relocalising food growing/supply and transitioning to more regenerative forms of agriculture. The second is to investigate the barriers to change, and offer a tool-box of ideas on how we can overcome them.

Imagine a world where permaculture projects are supported and celebrated so that they could be replicated in every single region of the world, with locally adapted technologies and techniques. Every permaculture designer knows that when elements are placed in a mutually beneficial relationship, the gains are exponential. Imagine the possibilities, if we combine all the best regenerative agriculture solutions, the best of city design, marine permaculture, education, habitat restoration.

If we begin to utilise carbon sequestering and reduction solutions in a designed whole, we can begin to believe that we might just be able to begin to not only stabliseatmosheric CO2 but even begin to reduce it in our lifetimes. This is a long term project and one that possibly will not see any effects at all even in our children’s lifetimes but it is imperative that we do anything we can to progress this agenda globally. To do this, planetary permaculture design needs to be the plan.

Maddy Harland is the editor and co-founder of Permaculture Magazine International and  Fertile Edges: Regenerating Land, Culture and Hope