Americans Willing to Ante Up to Fight Climate Change, Hydrogen-Powered Train Debuts in Scotland, Climate Champions—Rattan Lal and the Pedosphere

by | Dec 2, 2021 | Podcasts, The Climate Daily

Americans willing to pay extra if it helps fight climate change, plus first hydrogen-powered train debuts in Scotland. Bonus! Meet climate champions—Rattan Lal and the Pedosphere!



Just in time for COP26 – and for Boris Johnson to eschew his private jet to jump aboard for a photo opportunity at Glasgow’s Central Station,  the UK’s first hydrogen-ready passenger train — made its debut trip from Glasgow Central station on Tuesday, about a kilometre from the climate summit.

Created by UK leasing firm Porterbrook and the University of Birmingham, the HydroFLEX train —The £8.4 million project, started in 2018, included the installation of a hydrogen fuel system aboard an upcycled, 30-year-old train, which has a range of about 480 kilometres.

The train, which has a top speed of about 160 kilometres per hour, can also run on electricity and battery power — making it the world’s first train to be able to run on three different energy sources.

“We started looking at hydrogen because of the climate change emergency and the need to decarbonise the rail industry,” Helen Simpson, the innovation and projects director at Porterbrook, told The National.

The University of Birmingham’s Centre for Railway Research and Education (BCRRE) and rolling stock solutions provider Porterbrook are responsible for the implementation of the HydroFLEX project.

The project is expected to decarbonise the British railway network, which currently accommodates diesel and electric trains, by replacing diesel-only trains with HydroFLEX until 2040. The project also supports the UK Government’s commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 80% before 2050.

DEEPER DIVE: YouTube, Independent, The National News


Okay, pop quiz. What’s the difference between dirt and soil? 

Dirt is unclean matter, especially when in contact with a person’s clothes, skin or possessions. Common types of dirt include dust, filth and grime. Dirt is characterized by being inert or comprised of non-living matter.

Soil is a mixture of organic matter, minerals, gases, liquids, and organisms that together support life. Soil is living and has four important functions:

All of these functions, in their turn, modify the soil and its properties.

Here’s why the distinction between soil and dirt matters: Because understanding the difference between the two clarifies why it’s so important for anybody with a plot of land to make as much soil as possible. Because soil’s composition includes organisms and organic matter, it necessarily includes carbon. That’s because on this planet, carbon is a building block of all life. It’s found in all living organisms.

Scientists in the last 50 years have discovered when soil is tilled—turned over and broken up—it releases carbon into the atmosphere. When carbon releases into the atmosphere and contacts oxygen, it becomes carbon dioxide, that classic GHG we’ve come to love to loathe.

Scientists have estimated that in the 10,000 years of human agricultural land exploitation—overgrazing, tiling, plowing, letting fallow fields lay bare–we’ve released over 100 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere. That’s 100 gigatons. That’s 200 trillion pounds, or the equivalent of one million aircraft carriers…

 For extra credit, what’s another word for the layer of soil that encompasses the earth? The Pedosphere. Too easy.

DEEPER DIVE: Soil, Dirt, Comparison Language, Tilling



Can the climate crisis be solved without addressing soil? That’s the ten billion dollar question, Rattan Lal, Distinguished University Professor of Soil Science at THE Ohio State University set out to answer. Rattan Lal is a soil scientist. Soil is a living matrix and therefore contains carbon. As we learned carbon is a building block of life. Carbon, in its proper place, holds landscapes and ecosystems together.

In 1982, Lal was working at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Nigeria, trying to develop sustainable alternatives to Africa’s traditional slash-and-burn farming. There he encountered another climate champion, oceanographer Roger Revelle. Revelle is credited with publishing the first paper warning that fossil fuel combustion could dangerously alter the climate, way back in 1957. But that’s not important right now.

Lal showed Revelle the soil in his test plots—hard and reddish, like much of Africa’s agricultural land. Then he led the visitor to the nearby forest, where the soil was dark, soft, and wriggling with earthworms. In the forest, the soil’s carbon content was 2 to 3 percent; in Lal’s plots, it had dwindled to 0.5 percent.

According to Lal, it was Revelle who suggested that the missing carbon might have floated into the atmosphere. Lal said, “Since then, I’ve been looking for ways to put it back.”

He returned to Ohio State, where he partnered with OSU, the USDA, the EPA, and a small team of scientists to help discover the connection between soil carbon and climate change.

What they discovered was soil carbon loss was reversible. Although there was a limit to the amount of carbon that soil could hold, they theorized that it would be possible to sequester several billion tons of global CO2 emissions each year for decades before reaching maximum capacity.

They set up projects on five continents to prove their theory. And the concept of carbon farming was born: minimizing tillage; planting cover crops; and leaving residue on fields after harvest. For his efforts Ruttan Lal was awarded the 2019 Japan Prize ‘for the sustainable soil management for global food security and mitigation of climate change.’


DEEPER DIVE: Soil, Dirt, Comparison Language, Tilling



A recent study reveals not only do most Americans support clean energy, they’re also willing to pay $162 more each year in electricity bills if it means more of the country’s power comes from wind and solar power plants. According to an article printed in Good & Upworthy—a social impact company with a mass audience– Matthew Kotchen, one of the study’s three authors, wondered, “What does clean energy actually mean, and is there support for it?”

Kotchen is a professor at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, which also houses the school’s project on climate change communication. The project regularly surveys Americans about their views on climate change. Kotchen and Project on Climate Change Communication director, Anthony Leiserowitz, developed and added questions to the survey about the issue of whether and how much US citizens would ante up to fight climate change.

Survey participants were asked if they supported or opposed a clean energy standard, which was presented in one of three ways: as promoting renewables alone, renewables and natural gas, or renewables and nuclear power. Participants were also told the standard would increase their annual household electricity bill; the dollar figure they were given varied randomly from $5 to $155 per year, in increments of $20.

In almost every combination, no matter how the survey defined clean energy or how much clean energy cost, the majority of respondents supported the clean energy standard. People were more enthusiastic about a standard that supported renewables alone than one that also supported natural gas or nuclear. The researchers found that, on average, Americans were willing to accept a 13 percent hike in their electricity bills, paying $162 more per year.