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Monday, March 8, 2021

Urban Carbon Sinks: Rewilding Urban Landscapes

Community gardens are integral to
creating an Urban Carbon Sink
photo credit: Holly Elmore Images
Over the past decade, sustainability moved from a buzz word to a movement to a culture within leading communities, universities, and businesses. Significant strides were made in zero-waste practices, renewable energy technology, and reduced carbon | water footprints. Yet the glaciers continue to melt, the ocean acidification levels are increasing, and desertification is escalating.

The Regeneration in ACTION (RiA) article, Beyond Sustainability: Regenerative Solutions, proposes regenerative solutions in the form of Urban Carbon Sinks to restore the carbon cycles and pending crises. The RiA article, Carbon Crisis: simply a matter of balance, introduces carbon cycles and explains how their out-of-balance state creates alarming scenarios.

A Building Crisis: diminishing food and oxygen supply
The previously referenced Beyond Sustainability: Regenerative Solutions article establishes the building crisis of the diminishing food and oxygen supply.

According to a Global Agriculture Soil Fertility & Erosion Report:

Our most significant non-renewable geo-resource is productive land and fertile soil. Each year, an estimated 24 billion tonnes of fertile soil are lost due to erosion. That's 3.4 tonnes lost every year for every person on the planet. Soils store more than 4000 billion tonnes of carbon.

A dangerous dilemma is brewing with an increasing global population and a diminishing ability to produce food. Healthy soil is necessary to generate nutritious food, whether plant- or animal-based. 

According to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) June 2020 How much oxygen comes from the ocean? fact sheet:

Scientists estimate that 50-80% of the oxygen production on Earth comes from the ocean. The majority of this production is from oceanic plankton — drifting plants, algae, and some bacteria that can photosynthesize. One particular species, Prochlorococcus, is the smallest photosynthetic organism on Earth. But this little bacteria produces up to 20% of the oxygen in our entire biosphere. That’s a higher percentage than all of the tropical rainforests on land combined.

Yet plankton is perishing at astonishing rates due to ocean acidification and warmer water temperatures. Thus, the atmospheric oxygen supply is diminishing and may eventually lead to potential asphyxiation for land-based animals and eventual species extinction.

Holocene Extinction (sixth mass extinction)
According to the November 2019 Science Alert article, Are We Really in a 6th Mass Extinction? Here's The Science, current conditions indicate that the Earth's Holocene extinction, or sixth mass extinction, is well underway. From the article:

A mass extinction is usually defined as a loss of about three quarters of all species in existence across the entire Earth over a "short" geological period of time. Given the vast amount of time since life first evolved on the planet, "short" is defined as anything less than 2.8 million years. 

... The Earth is currently experiencing an extinction crisis largely due to the exploitation of the planet by people. 

The World Wildlife Fund 2020 Living Planet Report states:

A 68% average decline of birds, amphibians, mammals, fish, and reptiles since 1970.

The findings are clear: Our relationship with nature is broken.

Biodiversity – the rich diversity of life on Earth – is being lost at an alarming rate. This loss effects our own health and well-being. Today, catastrophic impacts for people and the planet loom closer than ever.

Though the Holocene Extinction is well underway, a tragic outcome may be avoided by aligning human-created systems with The Principles of Nature. Within Elemental Impact 's (Ei) Nature Prevails platform, The Principles of Nature are defined as:

  • Diversity
  • Dynamic Balance & Nutrition Cycles
  • Necessity of Cover & Ability to Roam
The RiA article, Nature Prevails; an action plan, defines The Principles of Nature and explains how human-made systems are ruled by the principles.

Insect Apocalypse
Insects are integral to the natural ecosystem foundation and essential to supporting the Earth’s life web. At the base of the prey hierarchy, insects are food for fish, mammals, and birds. In addition to recycling soil-system nutrients, insects play an essential role in the decomposition portion of nature’s circular-life cycle.

Multi-generations of milkweed
beetles at a rewilded urban garden
Photo credit: Holly Elmore Images
Since the 1970’s the Earth’s insect population suffered from severe population declines as well as loss of diversity.

The NY Times 2018 article, The Insect Apocalypse Is Here. What does it mean for the rest of life on Earth?, reported: The German study found that, measured simply by weight, the overall abundance of flying insects in German nature reserves had decreased by 75 percent over just 27 years. If you looked at midsummer population peaks, the drop was 82 percent.

According to the November 2019 Somerset Wildlife Trust Insect Declines and Why They Matter Report by Professor Dave Goulson, 41% of insect species are threatened with extinction.

Contributing factors to the demise of insect populations include:

  • Prolific use of pesticides in commercial and residential landscapes, corporate and municipal grounds maintenance, and industrial agriculture.
  • Loss of habitat due to urbanization, transportation systems, farming, and landscape-maintenance practices.
  • Infiltration of non-native plants; insects evolved to thrive on native plants and non-native plants are often not food sources for local populations.
  • Intangible pollution, including artificial light, noise (leaf blowers,) and electromagnetic fields.

Carbon Sinks
Simply, a carbon sink is an area of land where plants drawdown more carbon via photosynthesis - the process plants use to convert carbon dioxide and sunlight into sugars for energy - from the atmosphere than is released from the soil into the atmosphere. The oceans are technically carbon sinks as they currently absorb more atmospheric carbon than is released. 

By re-establishing abundant land-based carbon sinks, the carbon cycles may return to balance via atmospheric carbon returning to the soils. Once a threshold of lowered atmospheric carbon is reached, the oceans will release their stored excess carbon into the atmosphere. Thus, ocean acidification will reverse, and marine plant life may revive back into healthy oxygen-producing states.

Urban Carbon Sinks
As well documented in the previously mentioned article, Beyond Sustainability: Regenerative Solutions, regenerative agriculture is a viable solution for restoring weakened soil ecosystems and drawing significant carbon from the atmosphere back into the soil. Thus, regenerative agriculture creates carbon sinks. 

Cover crops on a certified organic farm that uses
regenerative agriculture practices.
Photo credit: Holly Elmore Images
Regenerative agriculture practices include no-till farming, diverse crops, and use of cover crops and are void of “cides” usage (herbicides, pesticides, insecticides, and fungicides.) For livestock farming, herds are rotated among fields allowing the animals’ excrements to serve as natural fertilizer instead of potentially toxic waste. The 2018 RiA article, Regenerating a Bright Future for Planet Earth, delves deeper in the regenerative agriculture principles and showcases several regenerative farms.

Regenerative landscape and grounds-maintenance practices incorporate applicable farming practices into urban environments.

In 2017 Ei announced intentions to create urban carbon sinks via integrating regenerative landscape and grounds maintenance practices on corporate complexes, college | university campuses, highway medians | shoulders, airport land surrounding runways, parks, and other available urban lands. Collectively, the regenerative landscaped areas are destined to serve as urban carbon sinks and aid in restoring the carbon-cycle balance.

Rewilding Urban Landscapes

Nature Prevails: rewilding is a natural process 
Photo credit: Holly Elmore Images
Beyond regenerative landscape practices, rewilding urban land restores the natural ecosystem that evolved over thousands of years. Rewilding land requires the restoration of native plants and cultivates food for indigenous insects. Strong insect populations are the foundation for restoring healthy predator/prey hierarchies that once thrived prior to urban development.

Inherent within rewilding urban landscapes are three primary benefits: 

  1. Restoration of vibrant soil ecosystems.
  2. Drawdown of carbon from the atmosphere into the soils via plant photosynthesis.
  3. Establishment of food-secure neighborhoods within a community.

In his New York Times bestseller, Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in your Yard, Doug Tallamy encourages citizens to rewild their yards via replacing toxic lawns with native plants that support local insect populations. Caterpillars are a primary food source for many birds and other wildlife. According to Doug, Carolina chickadees must catch 6,240 – 9,120 caterpillars to raise one clutch.

With more than 40 million acres of lawn nationwide, there is tremendous potential to reverse the diminishing food and oxygen deficiency crisis simply by rewilding lawns!

Rewilding Lawn Pilot

A vacant lot naturally rewilds.
Photo credit: Holly Elmore Images
A first step in the Urban Carbon Sink-Development Template is the rewilding of a private-home lawn. With private ownership, controlled documentation of the soil-health baseline as well as pilot challenges, lessons learned, and success is easily facilitated. The intention is to partner with the state agriculture university along with local government, a seed co-op, gardening clubs, schools, and other engaged organizations.

Below is an outline draft of the various pilot stages:

  • Stage One – establish the yard base line & begin soil restoration.
  • Stage Two – create a “wild” garden.
  • Stage Three – prepare a template for rewilding lawns, parks, and other common areas.
  • Stage Four – apply the rewilding lawns template.

Individual Action is Key
If each individual takes regenerative action that works within their life, the collective impact will prove staggering and alter the current destructive path humanity created over the past millenniums. 

According to Nature's Best Hope, there are 599-million acres available in the nation via public utility and transportation ROWs (right-of-way,) golf courses, airport grounds, residential developments, and urban centers available for potential rewilding. Rewilding urban landscapes is a simple, inexpensive solution available to individuals, governments, educational institutions, and the business community. Rewilding urban landscapes may avert the diminishing food- and oxygen-supply crisis. 

The time to take individual action is NOW!


About Elemental Impact:
Elemental Impact (Ei) is a 501(c)3 non-profit founded in 2010 as the home to the Zero Waste Zones, the forerunner in the nation for the commercial collection of food waste for compost. In June 2017, Ei announced the Era of Recycling Refinement was Mission Accomplished and entered the Era of Regeneration. Current focus areas include Nature PrevailsSoil Health | Regenerative Agriculture, and Water Use | Toxicity.

To work with industry leaders to create best regenerative operating practices where the entire value-chain benefits, including corporate bottom lines, communities, and the environment. Through education and collaboration, establish best practices as standard practices.

Ei’s tagline – Regeneration in ACTION – is the foundation for Ei endeavors.

The following mantra is at the core of Ei work:

Ei is a creator, an incubator.
Ei determines what could be done that is not being done and gets it done.
Ei brings the possible out of impossible.
Ei identifies pioneers and creates heroes.

For additional information, contact Holly Elmore at 404-261-4690 |