Some environmentalists have been focusing their attention on “dialing down” the amount of carbon dioxide put into the atmosphere by entities like coal-fired steam generating plants as a means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
But others are realizing that reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere must involve more people like farmers, ranchers and timber owners, according to David M. “Max” Williamson, lead attorney at Williamson Law & Policy in Washington, D.C.
Williamson said those who work and live on the land must be part of such efforts to achieve the economies of scale needed to reduce carbon and the effect of global warming on increasingly erratic weather patterns. Williamson was a speaker for the virtual Mid-South Agricultural and Environmental Law Conference.
“Why are we seeing the carbon market starting to turn its attention to farms?” Williamson asked. “It’s because you all have a lot of land, and the proof of the pudding is getting field tested here in the United States.
“There’s a lot of science behind global warming studies that says if we don’t use working lands and what we’re calling natural carbon solutions we’re never going to get the types of reductions of greenhouse gas emissions that we need to meet the international targets for solving global warming.”
What they’re saying, he said, is it’s not enough to “just turn the dial down on power plants” and try to burn cleaner fuels or switch from coal-fired power plants to renewable energy.
“We need to be doing these natural climate solutions that take advantage of the fact that it’s not just that you’re polluting less, we’re actually carbon scrubbers that are taking that CO2 out of the atmosphere and putting it into long-term storage, either in the soil or the tree or the crop.”
Farmers, thus, are starting to see a focus on working lands along with co-benefits, such as watershed quality, nutrient reduction, which ties into water, and practices like no-till, for example, where it makes sense, that can be aggregated together.
“Now you don’t always get paid for them, but you do get paid for the carbon,” he noted. “Sometimes there are water quality credit markets that have developed, but the carbon will be the financing tool to get the additional revenue stream to the landowner or farmer to help implement some of these enhanced practices.”
Williamson was asked why companies like Wal-Mart are purchasing carbon offsets and how that increases its bottom line?
“It’s entirely voluntary at this point,” he said. “There’s no legal requirement they do so, and it doesn’t help their bottom line. When Wal-Mart pays the farmer for the carbon credit, it basically gives Wal-Mart the right to crow about the fact you invested in carbon reductions.”
On the other hand, those companies are facing pressure to be more responsible when it comes to protecting the environment. “They’re not always this blatant about it, but these advocacy groups are saying buy from company X because they’re doing something about climate change, but don’t buy from company Y that is polluting and not doing anything to help the environment.”