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Beat the Heat

The North Bay responds to the climate crisis

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President Barack Obama and the leaders of the industrialized (read: carbon emitting) nations of the world have failed to turn the planet away from its plunge off the climate-change cliff. Fortunately, there are people showing them the way.

Here in the North Bay, efforts to combat the climate crisis are in full effect. We profile three of them in this year's annual Green Issue. (Also read this week's Open Mic from the Climate Protection Campaign's Ann Hancock, p6). While none of these groups can save the world on their own—at least not yet—their actions are essential for showing the rest of us and our ineffectual leaders what can and must be done.

The stakes couldn't be higher. The effects of climate change are already upon us—extreme weather, changing ecosystems, mass extinction, failing crops. The doomsday scenarios will continue to unspool.

Is it too late? Maybe. But isn't it better to do what we can? Let those leading the fight against climate change in the North Bay serve as our inspiration. —Stett Holbrook


Most efforts to cool the planet focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and switching to cleaner, more energy efficient technologies. But there's another approach that gets far less attention: carbon sequestration, which involves taking carbon out of the atmosphere and putting it into the ground, where most of it came from.

The Marin Carbon Project (MCP) has been quietly doing that work for the past six years. When the Bohemian first reported on the project in our 2012 Green Issue, they were very much in the proof-of-concept stage. They have since scaled up and taken the show on the road.

"It's better than successful," says co-founder John Wick.

The project began after researchers noticed that dairy ranches with high concentration of manure spread over them had high levels of carbon and organic matter in the soil, greener grass, and greater water retention. Guided by UC Berkeley scientist Whendee Silver, the researchers applied a half inch of compost to a test plot on Wick's ranch in West Marin to see what was going on. They were thrilled by what they discovered underground.

After one year, test plots showed at least one ton of carbon per hectare. A year later, without adding additional compost, they found another ton of carbon in the soil. Same thing the year after that. And on it went.

If adopted widely enough, Wick believes the technique can make agriculture a global carbon sink and bring atmospheric carbon down.

"We can actually do this," he says.

Tory Estrada, who serves on the MCP's steering committee and is policy director for the Carbon Cycle Institute, the nonprofit organization that oversees the MCP, is working with ranchers to show them what compost and a host of techniques like restoring native plants and waterways will do for their soil—and their bottom lines.

CARBON FARMER Nicasio rancher and Marin Carbon Project cofounder John Wick spreads compost over his land. - GREG RODEN
  • Greg Roden
  • CARBON FARMER Nicasio rancher and Marin Carbon Project cofounder John Wick spreads compost over his land.

Not all farmers are concerned about climate change, so he doesn't always lead with benefits to the climate, but ranchers are very concerned about the cost of importing hay during times of drought. According to MCP research, using their techniques results in an average of 50 percent more grass growth because the soil holds more water. And banked carbon in the soil will become a valuable commodity as the cap-and-trade market grows.

Disseminating these practices via local resource conservation districts throughout the country could kickstart a whole new approach to farming—and a cooler climate. Estrada hopes better soil and pasture management will lead to agriculture being seen as an incentivized climate solutions, like electric vehicles and solar power, which both enjoy public subsidies.

"That's when this thing will go viral," he says.

Meanwhile, Wick is working with San Francisco to help nullify the city's carbon emissions to make it the world's first "climate beneficial city." He's also talking with Levi's, the North Face and Patagonia to explore sourcing wool from carbon sequestering farms. Cool stuff for a hot planet.—Stett Holbrook


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