For the past four summers wildfires have been devasting and damaging property and slow summer travel because of restrictions but there is a bigger problem the fire. Black carbon in our air adds another danger to our environment. While burning forests is a huge source of Black Carbon there is another more preventable source of this air choking substance with crop burning. It is very true that the carbon left behind after a fire helps make growing soil fertile and does aid nature in growing new trees and replenishing forests. The practice of crop burning is not necessary when other ways of fertilizing the soil are available.
An Article and report from the United Nations
People around the world are bracing for what has become known as the season of smog.
With autumn around the corner, many countries are entering agricultural crop burning season, where farmers burn their fields to make way for a new crop, sending up plumes of toxic smoke.
These large areas of agricultural lands set ablaze every year are contributing to the air pollution that, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), kills 7 million people a year including 650,000 children.
“Improving the quality of the air we breathe is absolutely necessary to our health and well-being,” says Helena Molin Valdés, Head of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)-hosted Climate and Clean Air Coalition Secretariat. “It is also critical to food security, climate action, responsible production and consumption – and fundamental to equality. In fact, we can’t talk about the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development unless we are serious about air quality.”
Many farmers consider agricultural burning the most effective and cost-efficient way to clear land, fertilize soil and prepare it for new plantation. However, these blazes and the wildfires that spread from them are the world’s largest source of black carbon, a threat both to human and environmental health.
Improving the quality of air we breathe is absolutely necessary to our health and well-being.
Black carbon is a component of PM2.5, a microscopic pollutant that penetrates deep into the lungs and bloodstream. PM2.5 increases the risk of dying from heart and lung disease, stroke and some cancers, causing millions of people to perish prematurely every year. In children, PM2.5 can also cause psychological and behavioural problems. In older people, it is associated with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and dementia. And because air pollution compromises respiratory health, it may also increase vulnerability to COVID-19.
Black carbon is also a short-lived climate pollutant, meaning that, although it exists only for a few days or weeks, its impact on global warming is 460–1,500 times stronger than carbon dioxide.
A better way
Ironically, far from stimulating growth, agricultural burning actually reduces water retention and soil fertility by 25 to 30 per cent, and thus requires farmers to invest in expensive fertilizers and irrigation systems to compensate. Black carbon can also modify rainfall patterns, especially the Asian monsoon, disrupting the weather events necessary to support agriculture.
“Burned lands actually have lower fertility and higher erosion rates, requiring farmers to overcompensate with fertilizer,” says Pam Pearson, Director of the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative, which has worked with farmers globally to introduce fire-free cultivation.
“The no-burn alternatives, such as incorporating stubble back into fields or even planting right through the stubble, almost always save the farmer money.”
Pearson notes that changing the long-established habit of burning agricultural waste will require education, awareness-raising and capacity-building for farmers. It is a lofty undertaking, but the impacts would be considerable and far-reaching. Reducing air pollution from farms in Northern India, for example, could prevent increased flooding and drought caused by black carbon accelerating the melting of Himalayan ice and glaciers – a life-changing outcome to the billions who depend on rivers fed by those mountains.
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