The rush to stay below 1.5ºC is now in overdrive. We only have three short years to get ourselves into the groove of implementing and growing climate mitigation micro habits.
A billion lives are currently threatened by an extreme two-month heatwave smothering India and Pakistan, with temperatures recently reaching as high as 120.2ºF in Jacobabad, Pakistan. A heatwave is defined as a prolonged period of excessive heat with sustained temperatures of 10ºF above normal. According to Inside Climate News, in 2021, Amnesty International deemed Jacobabad “unlivable for humans” due to the heat island effect and lack of greenery and water in the city.
Years ago, millions of the global public began doing “small things” to mitigate the impact of global warming, some climate-aware outliers even began decades ago. Small climate actions like: using LED light bulbs, turning off lights when we leave a room, washing our clothes in cold water only, switching to Energy Star appliances, painting roofs white to lower the heat indoors, walking or biking or taking public transportation whenever possible, eating less meat and dairy, composting kitchen and yard scraps, growing our own veggies, limiting fast fashion by buying clothes from second-hand store, consuming less, downsizing our homes, converting 25-50% of monoculture lawns to native, biodiverse no mow, and many more examples.
Once we grow accustomed to making small changes on a regular basis, and seeing and feeling the benefits in our homes, lives, well-being and wallets, it’s that much easier to weave another small action into our daily routine.
Growing alfalfa and tall grasses should be high on our personal small action climate mitigation lists for 2022 and 2023.
TALL GRASSES TRAP CARBON
Deeply-rooted, native, perennial legumes and grasses are quickly becoming the fastest, most reliable, and most economical way to drawdown the most carbon in the shortest amount of time. With only three years left to save our icecaps, speed matters.
Take for example the biological characteristics of the legume alfalfa and it will quickly become apparent why this is true. Alfalfa roots can grow as deep as 8-15 feet in some soils, while the common alfalfa root depth is 3-5 feet. There have even been findings of alfalfa roots reaching 20 feet below the surface.
Deep roots allow alfalfa to access groundwater way below the soil surface during extreme heatwaves and droughts, while plants with much shorter roots whither and die. Additionally, plants with deep roots stabilize the soil and strengthen its structure, preventing mudslides, which have leveled many communities during torrential rains following the deforestation of mountains and hills.
Additionally, the deep alfalfa roots increase the soil water infiltration rate during heavy rains, which is funneled down to the underground aquifers that the roots can access at a later date when rains are less frequent. This deep moisture also helps keep the soil cool which prevents hot droughts that can degrade and even decertify the soil.
With the ability to access water during high heat and droughts when other plants can’t, tall perennial legumes and grasses provide food and shelter for wildlife, birds and insects, keeping the ecosystem alive and functioning.
But most importantly, during our life-threatening climate crisis, healthy soil (that’s been restored by the significant benefits that tall perennial grasses provide), is able to drawdown and store the billions of tons of excess legacy carbon that is currently loose in the atmosphere, with no place to go, resulting in an overheating the planet. All that’s required is expediting the restoration of soil health by adding microbe and nutrient rich compost, keeping the soil covered with a diverse mix of native plants and crops, and making sure that many of these diverse species are legumes and grasses with very deep roots.
TOP 5 NATIVE LEGUMES and PERENNIAL GRASSES IN VIRGINIA
On average, it only takes a little more than two months (60-70 days) for tall legumes and grasses like alfalfa to grow to full height. Alfalfa can be cut several times between summer and fall, and used as a cash crop.
These legumes and grasses store carbon above ground in the plant itself, but mostly in the roots which carry the carbon into the soil where it’s deposited and permanently sequestered unless disrupted by carbon-escaping activities such as development, plowing, etc.
WHERE TO PLANT TALL GRASSES in SUBURBS
- Along the edge of a forest, pond, stream, or lake
- Forest floor
- Create a small meadow made of alfalfa, grasses and wildflowers
- Empty lots in our communities
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