Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Glad I was wrong

Looks like I was wrong not once, but twice! Maybe you should find someone more dependable to read.... :)

If you look back on this blog you'll find that I've been pretty anti-corn ethanol. I'm not really an expert, but the analyses I've seen have found it to be inefficient (saving little or no carbon on balance) and mostly just a sop for Big Corn. However, there is a really interesting writeup here defending the practice. Honestly, I'd be happy to be wrong: if the agricultural industry can do some good work for the environment without having to put a lot of time, energy, and money into retooling themselves, that would be a good thing. Note that there is a rebuttal posted here. (Thanks to Jane Wolfson for both!)

One point made in the first article has to do with something I do actually know a little more about. Some background: one way that people have come up with to fight climate change is by getting carbon out of the atmosphere and into the ground. This is done a few ways, and one of the more common means is by agriculture. "No-till" agriculture involves preserving the integrity of the surface of the land rather than plowing it up all the time. The idea is that leaving root systems intact will leave some carbon behind when the top of the crop is harvested.

Well, an article my advisors and I published in 2005 found that this doesn't work very well. It looked to us like, "no-till cultivation may store no carbon at all if measurements are taken at sufficient depth." Fortunately for the world, it looks like we were wrong. A more recent study investigated quite thoroughly and found impacts even at depth. So hooray! Farmers' methods do seem to be getting the job done.

So you know what? Looks like it might turn out that I was wrong. And I'm perfectly fine with that!

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