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Plants may be useful tools for sequestering carbon, but if we don’t get started on the process immediately, they might be far less effective than we previously thought. And if we start composting for regions and crops, it may prove to be more nutritious for the land.

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You can go to to learn more and get a $100 60-day credit  on a new Linode account. [♪ INTRO] As the climate crisis rages on, it’s going  to threaten our ability to grow food crops. More than that, it could interfere with a proposed high-tech solution for  capturing and storing carbon.

Since the late ‘90s, researchers have  explored using plant material to that end. But… we might want to get started pretty soon. An analysis published this week in the  journal Nature warns that relying on crops to capture carbon might not work as well  if we wait until after 2050 to do it.

The method, called large-scale bioenergy  with carbon capture and storage or BECCS, involves burning  plant biomass to create energy. Plant matter is burned to release carbon dioxide, which can be captured and permanently stored. Now, BECCS has some drawbacks, like the  amount of water, land, and fertilizer it would use, but using agricultural  waste from food crops like corn and rice instead of purpose-grown  plants can help avoid that.

And because it has the potential  to capture quite a lot of carbon, it’s been kind of an ace up policymakers’ sleeves. The plan for BECCS has been to use it later, when the technology that makes it  possible is more efficient and advanced. It would be a safeguard, for when we really need to start sucking CO2 out of the air.

But it turns out procrastinating  might be a bad idea. In the new analysis, the researchers suggest that waiting to deploy BECCS could  actually make it less effective. Because the warming that  happens between now and then could make it a lot harder to grow crops.

To show this, the researchers modeled how  crop yields will be different in the future depending on when we get really serious  about mitigating the climate crisis. They looked at things like  higher growing temperatures, more available CO2 in the atmosphere,  and changes in the nitrogen supply. Then they modeled how those factors would  affect the growth of crops like wheat, corn, and soybeans depending on when we started deploying BECCS and  other large scale options.

The potential “whens” included  every decade between 2030 and 2100. And they found that delaying the  implementation of BECCS from just 2040 to 2060 could substantially limit its  ability to help fight climate change. This is especially true if  we pass the researchers’ projected tipping point of 2.5  degrees Celsius of warming in 2050.

That’s because it will be harder  to grow crops at that point, which means both food shortages and less biomass available to use for carbon capture. Unless we clear substantially more land to do it, which comes with its own problems. And capturing less carbon with BECCS  could lead to additional warming.

Which means more bad news for agriculture. It could kick off a feedback  loop that again results in less carbon capture and less food on the table. And the shortages could be especially  apparent in areas of the world closer to the equator that are  already scheduled to feel the effects of climate change before everyone else.

Now, BECCS isn’t the worst idea! Despite its limitations, it could work. But the authors of the paper are  clear that there are some pretty serious drawbacks to assuming it’s a get out  of jail free card for later this century, when we’ve failed to decarbonize  quickly enough to meet our goals.

Instead, it’s one tool among  many to put in our toolkit. And we should do it sooner rather than later, if we want to get serious about  stopping the climate crisis. Which brings us to another  potential tool: compost.

It’s satisfying to toss food  scraps in a bucket and know they’ll meet a better end than they  would’ve in a landfill. But unless you compost yourself or  use a community compost service, it’s hard to know exactly what becomes of it. And because industrial compost is produced  from so many different waste products in so many different ways, it’s kind of like a mystery-flavored lollipop of soil enhancers.

It’s hard to know what you’re going to get, and whether it’s going to be the  flavor that you actually wanted. The good news is that researchers  publishing this week in Nature Food have some ideas for how to make composting better. They find that matching compost’s  composition to the soil, crop, and region where it will be  used, and supplementing it with additional nutrients as needed, could  boost the worldwide annual production of key cereal crops by about 4%,  which is a cool 96 million tonnes.

Previous studies of compost  have generally looked at how much of it we need to improve crop yield. But the researchers in this study  wondered what would happen if we matched the characteristics of the  compost to the nutrient needs of the particular region, soil, and  crop where the compost would be used. To find out, they first crunched  the numbers using 2,000 observations around the world of how compost  currently helps agricultural output.

And they confirmed that, unfortunately,  the worldwide effects of compost use on cropland are wildly variable  and pretty underwhelming. So they asked what would happen if instead, you created and supplied composts with  optimal nutrients for a particular region, soil, crop, and application method. They called this precision compost strategy.

And they tried to make their  projections technologically feasible. They found that not only did  their approach boost crop yields, it also had the ability to  help combat climate change. By increasing the value and importance of  compost, the strategy could divert a lot of organic waste from landfills and  sequester the carbon in it back into topsoil.

At the end of the day, industrial  composting has become a pretty popular and accessible solution, so it’s  reassuring to think that this idea might help make it a more effective one. Now, in case you’re wondering  whether composting will make BECCS more effective… well, these were two  separate studies, so we can’t really say. But both of them do show that we’ll  have to think about how to produce food in the coming century, especially  for the most vulnerable communities.

Whether the solutions are something  high-tech, good old-fashioned dirt… or a little bit of both. And if you’re looking for high-tech  solutions in your daily life, Linode Cloud Computing is here for you. Linode is a cloud computing  provider that allows you to build your own online storage, software,  analytics, video streaming sites, online chat forums, and game servers.

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