Monday, March 3, 2008

What's Compost Got To Do With It?

Hi folks,

I'm just back from Marlborough, MA where I attended the 8th Annual Massachusetts Organics Recycling Summit "The Changing Climate of Composting". Dr. Sally Brown gave a great keynote address on the subject. I'm taking a lot of liberties here, but just trying to sum it up I think she basically addressed 3 ways that compost and climate change intersect.

1. Putting organics (e.g., food scraps and everything else that can composted) into landfills creates methane, a very potent greenhouse gas (GHG). Therefore, keeping organics out of landfills is an important "avoidance" of GHG emissions. That wasn't news to the composters in the room but it was news that this avoidance effect can actually be calculated in tons of methane that is NOT put in the atmosphere! And furthermore, those calculations are how composters can potentially get money for carbon off-set credits (a very confusing matter which we'll definitely cover in a future post!).
2. Putting compost in the ground is a way to "sequester" carbon, i.e., keep it in the ground in the form of humus and OUT of the atmosphere where it would be in the form of a GHG. But this doesn't have nearly the impact on climate change as the "avoidance" thing listed above.
3. Compost is a soil amendment that increases the all-important soil organic matter (SOM, or OM) and feeds the all-important soil food web of soil critters. Compost is like magic. Sally didn't say that, but I get carried away with this subject, in case you haven't noticed. But her point was this: as the climate is changing and as populations are growing we are asking more and more of our soils. We ask them to absorb or withstand more extreme weather events like torrential downpours and to grow more food with less water. And now we also ask soils to NOT ONLY grow our food but to also grow a portion of our fuel in the form of corn for ethanol and canola for biodiesel. The only way to do any of that is to create healthy adding compost.

So, her main points were that A) keeping organics out of the landfill is a very significant way to reduce GHG emissions, and B) using compost as a soil amendment creates healthy soils, which will be increasingly important as we continue to make a bigger mess of things but also strive to create a sustainable world.

Okay, enough of all that. Let's look at some pretty pictures...

The top pictures shown above are (top) an unfurling fern from the latest issue of the Green Mountain Club's Long Trail News (isn't it amazing?!), and (bottom) a really big gorgeous fern that lives at the New York Botanical Garden, taken on my recent fabulous trip to NYC.

The pictures above are from my backcountry ski trip on Sunday. Check out those crazy snow formations!

Be well, do good work, keep in touch, eat, drink, be merry, and for the love of god, turn your compost piles!
the compost maven


1 comment:

Cate said...

glorious pics!!!!