It has become increasingly evident that reducing carbon dioxide emissions is not happening quickly enough to prevent runaway climate change and that negative emission techniques will need to be utilized as well. Negative emissions means removing carbon dioxide that is already in the atmosphere.
There are high-tech approaches to the problem that are under development, generally in the category of direct air capture technologies. But there are also low-tech approaches that utilize the carbon capturing abilities of plants to suck CO2 out of the atmosphere.
The most methodical way to accomplish this is by the use of agroforestry, defined as agriculture with trees. Agroforestry involves growing trees, shrubs and vegetables in tight assemblages. It includes trees on farms and other agricultural landscapes, farming in forests and along forest margins, and tree-crop production that includes cocoa, coffee, rubber and oil palm.
Agroforestry as a strategy for removing carbon from the atmosphere is likely to be much cheaper than high-tech approaches. It can simultaneously provide food, fiber, medicines and profit for people, as well as providing habitats for bird, bugs, monkeys, frogs and other species. While agroforests are most easily cultivated in the tropics, they are feasible in most places including across temperate regions in the United States.
Planting more trees is something we already hear about all the time as being desirable for the climate. Agroforestry takes this further by trying to maximize the benefits that trees provide by integrating them into agriculturally productive landscapes. We are likely to still need exotic carbon-capturing technologies in the battle to mitigate the effects of climate change but maximizing the use of agroforestry – a practice that actually goes back centuries or even millennia – makes abundant sense as well.