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Mission: Motherhouse Land Contributes to Climate Solutions

Posted on March 1, 2018, by Susan Classen CoL

A tree grows strong and tall in the Loretto Motherhouse woods.
(Photo by Susan Classen)

I am intrigued by what I am learning about the role of land in mitigating climate change. Actually, challenged would be more accurate. I have been actively involved in fighting climate change for years, and my social activism has taken many forms. I resist pipelines, participate in lobby days, attend marches, write letters and sign petitions. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, the land literally under my feet has been quietly capturing excess carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in the soil.

A basic fact about climate change is crucial: The problem is not too much carbon; the problem is that carbon levels in the atmosphere and ocean are too high while carbon levels in the soil are too low. In other words, carbon is out of balance.

That’s where land management and farming practices come in. Good management practices allow plants to do what comes naturally to them – restore balance by removing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in the soil. Every acre of native grasses on Motherhouse land has the potential to store about 22.5 tons of carbon in the soil, which is the equivalent of annual carbon dioxide emissions from about 5 cars. (The Great Plans: America’s Carbon Vault, University of Nebraska; USEPA)

To offset the carbon dioxide emissions from the Motherhouse fleet of seven cars and the Infirmary’s four vehicles takes a little more than two of our 54 acres. But the carbon emissions of these vehicles is just a fraction of the carbon emissions related to daily life at the Motherhouse. For example, few people realize that pollutants from using a gas-powered lawn mower for one hour are equivalent to driving eight cars at 55 mph for an hour. (http://www.peoplepoweredmachines.com/faq-environment.htm) If we could calculate emissions from lawn mowers, delivery trucks, tractors, cars driven to work by employees, travel by other Community members to Loretto, heating and cooling systems, etc., we would likely find that we need at least those 54 acres of native grasses to offset our own carbon dioxide emissions.

(Diagram by Susan Classen)

While our grasslands are busy storing carbon below ground, our woods are storing carbon as biomass and converting carbon dioxide to oxygen. Every acre of forest absorbs approximately 6 tons of carbon dioxide and puts out about 4 tons of oxygen, enough for 18 people per year. (Kentucky Woodlands, vol. 3, issue 9, p. 9, U.S. Department of Agriculture)

Applied to our 300 acres of woods, that’s about 1,800 tons of carbon and enough oxygen for about 5,400 people every year. Like the grasses, the trees are quietly going about their restorative work while I, sometimes peacefully and sometimes frantically, play my own role in fighting climate change.

Farm manager Cody Rakes also is playing an important role by planting cover crops, improving pastures and managing cattle in a way that restores land, provides food and sequesters carbon.

Before I realized what was happening in the ground under my feet, I appreciated that our native grasses and woods contributed to water and air quality, ecological diversity and the aesthetic pleasure that is necessary to nourish the human spirit. I was grateful for the farm and Cody’s role in providing education, raising food and improving the soil. To that significant list, I now add my gratitude for the Motherhouse land as it quietly works to mitigate climate change.

Susan Classen CoL

Susan Classen CoL

Susan has been a Loretto Co-member since 1996. She is the director of Cedars of Peace, a retreat center on the grounds of the Loretto Motherhouse. A passion for transformation is the common thread that weaves its way through her varied interests which include gardening, woodworking, retreat leading and involvement in Loretto’s Farm and Land Management Committee. Previously, she lived and worked in Latin America.
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