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Cars, not crops, should be chief targets in reducing greenhouse gases

DURHAM, N.C. -- Retiring croplands and switching to no-till agriculture can contribute in a modest way to reducing the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but doubling fuel efficiencies of cars and light trucks would achieve much greater results, according to two Duke University ecologists.

In an analysis to be published the week of Oct. 25, 2004, in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Robert Jackson and William Schlesinger of Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences and Department of Biology examined how far "carbon sequestration" versus increased fuel efficiency would go toward a goal of reducing net U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by 10 percent.

Carbon sequestration steps include adopting no-till agriculture to retain crop wastes in the soil rather than letting them decay after plowing, and retiring croplands by paying farmers to revert them to grassland or forests.

Carbon dioxide has been implicated in global warming because it can trap heat in the atmosphere much like a greenhouse.

"We emit a quarter of the world's carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere, even though we constitute only 5 percent of the world's population," said Jackson, a professor of environmental science and biology who is also director of Duke's Center on Global Change.

"Our goal was to compare two different scenarios biological sequestration and reduced auto emissions to give a sense of what we could do to lessen carbon dioxide emissions."

Said Schlesinger, who is a professor of biogeochemistry and dean of the Nicholas School, "We chose a 10 percent reduction as the basis of our analysis to place it in the realm of possibility."

Their calculations showed that converting all U.S. croplands to no-till agriculture, or even taking the unthinkable step of retiring all croplands, would yield only a reduction of less than 4 percent
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Contact: Monte Basgall
monte.basgall@duke.edu
919-681-8057
Duke University
25-Oct-2004


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