October 27, 2015
Looking out over 65 acres of green prairie grasses, Robert Scoville, EHS Manager at Caterpillar’s Decatur, Illinois, Earthmoving Facility, knows that supporting the prairie restoration partnership in his community is actually having a much larger impact beyond Decatur’s city limits. In fact, this land reclamation project has the potential to impact global climate change.
Often referred to as carbon sequestration, restoring degraded lands provides a natural option for productively capturing and storing carbon. Acting as a ‘carbon sink,’ the land and plant life offer carbon dioxide – a major greenhouse gas (GHG) – a safe and natural place to return.
“Every day we are bombarded with media coverage and policy discussions about the evils of carbon in our atmosphere. While we are right to be concerned, we should remind ourselves every day that carbon itself isn’t evil. We just need to be smart about how we manage it,” said Caterpillar Global Director of Sustainable Development Tim Lindsey.
If we remember back to our grade school science classes, plants need carbon as part of photosynthesis. Plants absorb carbon dioxide and combine it with water, minerals and sunlight to fuel plant life and ultimately release oxygen and provide habitat for all other life on Earth. Conversely, as lands lose their plant life (as a result of deforestation, desertification, wetland destruction, severe erosion, and/or contamination), the carbon tied up in the plants’ biomass decays and is released to the atmosphere. Land degradation has contributed billions of tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere historically and left about one quarter of the earth’s lands (approximately the size of the North American continent) in highly degraded condition. Unfortunately, the trend continues today.
As the earth’s population grows from 7 billion to over 9 billion in the next few decades, restoring the health and productivity of our natural infrastructure – from forests and prairies to agricultural land, coastal landscapes, estuaries and wetlands – will become paramount for addressing the growing need for food, clean air and clean water. Healthy natural infrastructure has many other co-benefits – including productive fisheries along our coasts, increased biodiversity, improved storm resilience, recreation and tourism opportunities, improved water quality and enhanced scenic beauty. Healthy lands also offer the most productive means for removing carbon from the atmosphere, placing it where it can become a valuable component of soils, plants and ecosystems.
Good for the Environment, Good for Business
It is clear that the restoration of degraded lands makes sense for our resource constrained global community, but it also makes sense for our business. Cat equipment serves important roles in complex restoration projects from reforestation to coastal resiliency to mine reclamation. While some restoration initiatives have achieved small pockets of success around the globe and many regions are setting goals for development, a fully integrated industry has yet to develop. In an attempt to catalyze the industry of natural infrastructure restoration – helping to move it from a strong concept to a sustainable business model – Caterpillar is convening diverse stakeholders for the Restoring Natural Infrastructure Summit in New York City.
“Our deep relationships with a wide range of infrastructure businesses – from traditional construction to sustainable building to agriculture to energy and transportation – put us in a unique position to give this sustainability topic the focus it deserves,” said Karl Weiss, vice president with responsibility for Caterpillar’s Earthmoving Division, who will chair Caterpillar’s November 4 summit of thought leaders on the topic. “We believe this could represent new opportunities for Caterpillar and our customers. But, more importantly, we recognize that preserving and restoring our natural assets just makes sense for our business and our global community.”