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growing clothing to sequester carbon  RSS feed

 
r ranson
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Here's an article that talks about a way of growing and making clothing that doesn't just reduce our carbon footprint, it helps sequester carbon in the soil.  This is a good thing!

Climate Beneficial Wool



A significant number of the sheep in our region are moved through and grazed upon the vegetation of California’s rangeland, pasture, perennial and annual cropland systems. Currently alpaca, llama and mohair producers also utilize pasture (managed, grazed domestic forage) and to some degree rangeland (grazed resident vegetation) for their agricultural practices. All of these grass-fed, fiber-producing animals have the potential to graze on managed landscapes where Carbon Farming practices are being implemented, thus creating products that are Climate Beneficial™, by virtue of their integral place in the Carbon Farming system.


So basically, with proper land management, grazing fibre animals are a useful source of carbon farming.  Now they are just starting research into this area, and note, they say that these "animals have the potential to graze on managed landscapes where Carbon Farming practices are being implemented" and that they can have an "integral place in the Carbon Farming system."  I take this to mean, that when taken in isolation, sheep alone don't have as much bennifit as when integrated into a holistic system (so basically, long winded way to state the obvious). 



I'm curious what this system will look like in different locations and in different situations.  Grazing alone sequesters carbon in some locations but is a bit iffy how effective it is in other locations.  I bet trees are involved.  Perhaps grazing under fruit and nut trees?  Perhaps it includes how sheep can take marginal and degraded land and (with proper management) return fertility to the soil, making it productive to grow crops again.  Perhaps changing how we process and use clothing is a vital step. 

This idea of clothing sequestering carbon is great.  I want to learn how to make this happen.

There are some interesting bits about Carbon Farming in a Fibershed context here.
 
Peter VanDerWal
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Sheep are great at converting carbon into methane.  Methane has 30x the global warming potential of CO2.

So while sheep can help sequester CO2, they do it by generating a far worse gas when it comes to AGW.

Not that I'm against sheep, just pointing out that they are counter productive towards this specific goal.
 
r ranson
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Peter VanDerWal wrote:...

Not that I'm against sheep, just pointing out that they are counter productive towards this specific goal.


An interesting idea.  I worry that focusing on one element like Methane misses out on the whole picture.

1. The quality and the quantity of the gas that animals like sheep produce depends on their diet and environment.  I've never seen a study that didn't use a heavy grain-based diet for the sheep.  I suspect that if one did a study of pasture-raised sheep fed on an optimum diet, like in a permaculture setting, the numbers would be far less.

2. Everything I've seen so far suggests that one t-shirt produced in the modern industrial way, produces far more negative environmental impact than the most gaseous of sheep do in their lifetime.  A t-shirt is usually part cotton - massive amounts of water, pesticides, herbicides, and labour issues, then transported several countries during the construction phase, and massive amounts of water pollution.  The other part of the t-shirt is a synthetic substance, again transported to many countries, massive water pollution, dye pollution, labour issues.... ad nausium. 

On the other hand, sheep improve soil, sequester carbon, provide food, and improve ecosystems.  It is a renewable resource.  Wool is usually transported to one or two countries when commercially processed.  When processed on a scale like the article suggests, it has a much shorter journey. 


When we look at it this way, perhaps the sheep aren't so counter-productive.

 
Peter VanDerWal
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r ranson wrote:...
2. Everything I've seen so far suggests that one t-shirt produced in the modern industrial way, produces far more negative environmental impact than the most gaseous of sheep do in their lifetime.  A t-shirt is usually part cotton - massive amounts of water, pesticides, herbicides, and labour issues, then transported several countries during the construction phase, and massive amounts of water pollution.  The other part of the t-shirt is a synthetic substance, again transported to many countries, massive water pollution, dye pollution, labour issues.... ad nausium. 


One could argue that organically grown and locally processed cotton (or flax) could offer all of the same benefits, without the methane.

Also, grass fed sheep produce MORE methane than grain fed.

On the other hand, Merino wool has a lot useful properties that cotton/flax can't match.
 
r ranson
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Peter VanDerWal wrote:

On the other hand, Merino wool has a lot useful properties that cotton/flax can't match.


On the nose! 

Wool is good for things that plant-based fibres simply can't match.  Some land can't support sheep but can grow plant fibres, likewise, some land can't support plant fibres but can support sheep.  They all stack functions differently.  Some build soil, some degrade it.  Some keep it the same.  I like methods that build soil like the sheep mentioned in the article.

It's a matter of choosing the right method and material for the situation.


Whereas the modern industrial systems force cotton and synthetics to be all things to all people - rather like forcing a dog to lay eggs or a tree to grow carrots from its branches. 

Completely my bias speaking here, but I feel so strongly that we do a lot more good in this world reducing our dependence on industrialized clothing then worrying about which of the replacement is the 'best'.  They are all better than what we have now.  It worries me when I look at the numbers (for example, the book Carbon Farming Solution has some great tables and numbers in it), and I see that a 'westernized' person's wardrobe does as much if not more harm to the environment than their diet.  I like the idea of showing people there are positive alternatives. 
 
Travis Johnson
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Sadly peter is right.

While there are many reasons to raise sheep; one of those being to produce a person's clothing, sequestering carbon would not be it. In fact if they pass sequestering carbon requirements, sheep farmers are going to have a very tough time making a go of it.

As with most things, it is not what the article says, but what it leaves out that is most important. In this case sheep produce a lot of methane and it must be calculated in.
 
Jocelyn Campbell
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I visited a cherry orchard where they wanted to use sheep to graze between the trees instead of burning all the undergrowth with flame torches. The husband was the orchardist and the wife loved fiber arts and spinning wool. It sounded SO smart to me in multi-faceted ways!

Though in order to sell their cherries as a commodity to the cherry packer in town, they were not allowed to have livestock in the orchard for fear of e. coli. I really like the idea of having more studies like the ones you mentioned, R, to show the value of healthier systems and hopefully assuage that kind of (perhaps unreasonable?) fear. That particular cherry orchard was working more toward being self-pick and using direct sales to customers, instead of selling to the packing plant/middle man, which I think would help them not only economically, but also perhaps to have more freedom in their farming practices.

Paul and I also visited a farm where they grazed goats, cows, sheep, and chickens in their orchards (which they were making more diverse as time went by through replacing dead or diseased trees with different tree species so it wasn't such monoculture rows). The goats saved a ton of labor by eating the suckers at the base of the trees that they'd otherwise be hiring orchard workers to remove. The grazing of all the different species also saved gas used for mowing, and spread fertilizer along the way. 

As for the methane, IMHO, and from just scratching the surface, I think it's more complicated than right, wrong, or methane production only.

This article, http://www.shapingtomorrowsworld.org/wahlquistmethane.html, talks about a myriad of complexities when trying to look at the carbon footprint of grassfed animals grown for food.

Here's one nugget:

Methane is a potent, if short-lived greenhouse gas. It is given a global warming potential rating of 25 times that of carbon dioxide, though it has a lifetime of 9 to 12 years in the atmosphere, compared with carbon dioxide which can last more than 100.


and another:

When modern day ruminants, cattle and sheep, are removed other ruminants usually move in. When the Maasai tribes and their cattle herds were removed from the Serengeti, to create a national park the native ruminants—buffalo, wildebeest, gazelles and giraffe—replaced them. They bred up and created their own methane.


So while it does seem that feedlot ruminants produce less methane than grassfed (only because they grow them faster by feeding grain, and some times hormones, etc.), the water and soil pollution and degradation from feedlot practices, let alone the poisoning of people using the end products whether fiber or otherwise; I think it is far, far more complicated than just methane when looking at carbon footprint.

I don't know that anyone has done a study with a layered permaculture system where humans gather food from a savanna, meadow, grassland, and/or food forest (there are usually medicinal or edible plants growing mixed in all these systems even when not treed!) where animals also graze or forage, and where fiber animals are also used as food (milk or meat), and where fiber animals assist not only with carbon sequestration by making said eco-systems more fertile, but also serve as helpers reducing chainsaw and fossil fuel use by providing mowing, sucker removal, and even brush removal or bark/limb removal from fuel or lumber crops. And, and, and...

I love that R is an advocate for "slow cloth" and more sustainable fiber and its resultant clothing and linens. This is an inspiring topic!


 
Travis Johnson
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Just for a bit of history here, the reason livestock cannot be grazed in orchards has to do with the Odwalla issue back in the 1990's. It really is a shame because the regulators that be implemented rules for a cause that was unrelated.

In that case, and at that time Odwalla did not pasteurize its fruit juice feeling it affected taste and quality. They even tried to sell their juice to the US Military but their bacteria count was so high (in the millions) that the military refused to buy juice from them. This should have been a red flag to the Federal Government, but needless to say it was not. Too bad, because they had a food contamination issue that killed a 16month old girl, hospitalized 14 kids with lasting kidney issues, and hospitalized 66 people.

Investigations revealed that Odwalla was not pasteurizing their juice and that workers were picking up apples off the orchard ground that was contaminated by deer poo with ecoli in it. I am not sure if this is a Federal Law, or just best management practices for commercial orchards, but taller fences and no pasturing of animals was put into place to stop this. To me it is kind of silly because the answer is DO NOT USE GROUNDERS FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION, and of course pasteurization which would kill the ecoli. But that is why the no grazing rule was implemented. I am not agreeing with it, just saying why and where it started.

Odwalla Outbreak

Sadly the carbon sequestering rules are quite similar because there are many ways to accomplish carbon sequestering, but as the rules as proposed, will make it difficult for livestock farmers and growers to adhere to them. This is no different then the National Organic Standards; what should be very basic, simple rules turned into 900 pages of loopholes so that big agriculture can get into the market. Did you know organic milk can have non-organic cows put into it if the organic dairy farm's production drops by 15%? Sorry, that is non-organic milk no matter what the farmers losses in production are. It could be the same for carbon sequestering. If I make biochar and add it to my soil, the fact that I opened up the soil to incorporate it means I defied the proposed rules. Really? I am adding almost pure carbon to the soil, yet by the rules I am violating carbon sequestering rules. Silly...

Sheep do really well at producing methane however. In fact building sheep housing is a challenge because unlike other livestock it has to be very open so that methane escapes or it will kill the sheep through pneumonia. yet the sheep have to be draft free. It took me 7 years to figure out the ideal barn to deal with this, but when I did, the mortality rate of my sheep dropped from 20% to 4%.
 
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