Carbon Sequestering Just a Dream Now on Canadian Farms

I got a call the other day from my good friend and co-author Dr. A.K. Enamul Haque.  I was out on my farm and he was in Kyoto Japan.  It happens often.  In fact with the advance of communications technology he might as well be over the fence.  My cell phone often tones in with a text message from the other side the world.

Being in Kyoto made me think about global warming.  Yes, he is there giving a presentation on some type of global environmental problem in the third world.  Yes, he is probably trying to “lower the world’s temperature” just like a few other of my friends.

I say that because surprise, surprise, another friend of mine from graduate school is doing exactly that.  Except he is back here in Ontario trying to make us more environmentally friendly and yes, once again “lower the world’s temperature.”  It would seem the spectre of global warming has never been so real.

On Canadian farms many of you have been waiting for the same thing.  Many of you have been thinking carbon, carbon, carbon.  While you sleep you’re dreaming of “sequestering carbon” from those no-till fields.  In fact carbon in many of your minds might be the new oil of the 21st century.  Hurrah for global warming.

The only problem is something has happened on the way to the forum.  It would seem that many people think this is a very good idea, but nobody really wants to live in a mud hut and freeze in the dark.  As I get ready to pay my nitrogen bill I surely wish there was a better way to reduce our energy use.  It would not only save us a lot of money, but maybe at the end of the day the world would be a better place.

Having said that John Deere will be releasing a new line of tractors this fall with one of the features being a cleaner burning engine.  When I heard that I wondered who cared about that.  I just wanted to see the many other features it might offer.  However, it has been mandated by government.  Even in farm country pollution is an issue.  Seeing how society juggles this in the future will surely affect us.

It’s a long story and one that most of us have had a hard time getting around on.  Global warming in a country that redefines cold for five months of the year can be a tough issue.  However, the former Chrietien government signed onto Kyoto but could come nowhere to meeting its commitments.  Stephen Harpers government seemingly is being more honest.  Environment minister Rona Ambrose has said we can’t meet our commitments and are looking for another way.  They are now looking toward Australia and some of the ASEAN countries for their model on global warming.

For Canadian farmers this may mean the end of those carbon sequestering dreams.  Even your loyal scribe chimed in with how much the price of a tonne of carbon would be.  Yes, that’s right.  I actually did a cost of production analysis way back when.  But now, I think it is all for not.  This type of environmental hocus pocus goes nowhere without government involvement.  With the Conservatives looking to ditch Kyoto, the price of carbon should become increasingly irrelevant on Canadian farms.

Look at it this way.  According to the Washington Post, from 2003 to 2050, the world’s population is projected to grow from 6.4 billion people to 9.1 billion, a 42 percent increase. If energy use per person and technology remain the same, total energy use and greenhouse gas emissions (mainly, carbon dioxide) will be 42 percent higher in 2050. But that’s too low, because societies that grow richer use more energy.  Simply put with those types of population and economic growth projections, the world will grow warmer regardless.  There is not much we can do about it.

Western governments will surely change there strategies and our carbon farming future will surely dry up.  The Kyoto protocol gave preferential treatment to developing countries because they didn’t want to discriminate against development.  Case in point is my colleague from Bangladesh.  I commented to him on the phone that things must be getting better in Bangladesh, much better than when I was there in 2003.

He retorted that yes they were.  Economic growth rates are about 5% and incomes are rising.  This means they are burning up much more energy.  Dr. Haque even commented that he was switching his car over to natural gas, in abundance in Bangladesh.   Clearly, with this poor nation getting richer energy use is bound to increase exponentially.

Where does this leave us on Canadian farms?  It leaves us looking for ways to conserve energy but not looking forward to carbon sequestering.  Yes, North American agriculture seems to have captured the “gold rush” mentality of ethanol, but carbon is in the rear view mirror.  Add a few degrees of inevitable warmth and we’ll have more challenges.  At the end of the day, getting through all the global warming jargon and hype might end up being the greatest challenge.