What is Climate Repair?

The present needs to be guided by the future. People won’t choose to move unless what they move towards is better than where they came from. It’s very simple.

Olafur Eliasson

Action against the climate crisis has focused primarily on cutting emissions of gas (mostly carbon dioxide) to air; in other words, on “doing less harm”. This has not been enough. We also need to “repair the harm”, and the sooner the better. Climate repair means taking carbon OUT of the air, and storing it so that it cannot return there so easily.

Mother Nature already takes vast amounts of carbon out of the air, though not enough to balance what we have been emitting, and not enough into secure storage. Climate repair aims to help her to do more, and more securely, using only natural processes.

Non-atmospheric stores of carbon are called “carbon sinks”. At an overview level, there are only four categories of carbon sink: green plants, soil, ocean and rock. Rock is slow to change, while oceans are problematic because excess carbon, dissolved into water from air, is harming sea life. Fortunately plants and soil present many opportunities: at a detailed level there are sinks in the form of woodland, hedges and other wildlife habitat, grassland, gardens, wetland, wasteland, organic waste, and many more.

We have two strategies available to help nature in her work. The first is to increase the number and surface area of active carbon sinks: planting new forests is an obvious example. The second, less obvious, is to help nature to keep carbon in sinks and out of air for a longer time, by avoiding events and conditions that typically release it such as erosion, decay, burning, etc; this means that we have to manage carbon sinks in clever ways, and avoid stupid ways.

As you can tell from the earlier list, individual carbon sinks are scattered far and wide, and which types are relevant to us personally will depend a lot on where we live. Hence much climate repair effort needs to be distributed rather than central, and therefore community capability needs to be developed and supported. If this is done, I believe that our collective frustration at being unable to fight this climate crisis is so strong that people will respond magnificently.

Approach to study

The first step is to decide what climate repair means to each of us personally.

Next, a good strategy is to uncover and study what is already being done in our local community and further afield. Even though solitary effort is possible, groups of people can be more effective. Quite a few actions, by their nature, gain extra motivation by being attached to society’s other problems; for example soil restoration can improve food supply.

As we gain knowledge, we will increasingly understand what could and should be done next, for example to scale up small local successes.

After that, for those of us inspired by what we have found, the next step is to put our understanding into practice. Learning by Repairing!

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