“One of the best-kept secrets in the world today is that the solution to global warming and the climate crisis (as well as poverty and deteriorating public health) lies right under our feet.”
— Ronnie Cummins, International Director of Regeneration International and the OCA
Do you ever really think about how we could solve climate change? The answer may be right beneath your feet — soil. Soil is vital to life on earth. And its importance extends far beyond growing our food (though that is very important). Did you know that soil is home to a quarter of the world’s biodiversity, with one tablespoon of healthy soil containing billions of living organisms and bacteria. Although soil is something that we may take for granted, it has the potential to be the biggest hero in our fight against climate change.
How? Soil holds more carbon than the atmosphere and all vegetation combined. And as it turns out, carbon isn’t always the villain in this climate change story.” Without carbon,life wouldn’t exist. The problem is where carbon is stored. Yes, too much CO2 in our atmosphere is a bad thing, but if we reallocate it to where it is most needed and advantageous – like in soil – it can actually help create a more sustainable future!
Soil is the unsung hero of climate change. It is the solution that is literally right beneath our feet. That’s because soil is one of the biggest “carbon sinks” on the planet. We talk a lot about the atmosphere and oceans storing carbon, but soil holds more than any of these other “carbon sinks” combined!
Sequestering carbon in soil doesn’t just reverse the heating effect of excess CO2, it also expands soil’s water-holding capacity, which creates more drought-resistant lands for our farmers. It also keeps carbon from falling into our oceans causing ocean acidification and harming precious marine ecosystems. Plus, carbon sequestration feeds soil bacteria and other microbes that create a thriving environment for plants to grow. Moving carbon from the air to the soil is a win, win, win!
Unfortunately, the health of our soil is threatened by the industrialized world. Mono cropping, chemical fertilizers, pesticide and herbicide applications, deforestation, and urbanization all degrade soil’s ability to store carbon. Conventional agricultural practices rely on toxic inputs, which reduce soil nutrients over time and leave large plots of land useless. And with over 40% of the earth’s land already cleared for agriculture, many of the world’s soils have already lost 50% of their original carbon stocks.
But soil is starting to make its mark in mainstream climate change conversation. As written by Paul Hawken in “Drawdown Project”, no other mechanism known to humankind is as effective in addressing global warming as capturing carbon dioxide from the air through photosynthesis. Soil is powerful! To harness its power, regenerative agricultural practices need to be employed to restore degraded land. Regenerative agricultural practices include no tillage, diverse cover crops, rotational farming, and composting of course! There are many solutions for getting carbon back in the soil and leading organizations like The Rodale Institute are working to advance research on soil health and promote these agricultural practices globally.
By nourishing our soil, we not only create a thriving planet, we are able to reverse some of the harm that has already been done. It is a key example of taking the bad (carbon) and turning it into something great.
When we consider climate change, soil is often left out of the conversation. But we are missing a big opportunity by doing so. Soil ties so many features of environmentalism together. As an activist and environmentalist, it is important to understand the intersection of soil, carbon, and climate change and the solutions available right under our feet.
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As you know by now, soil is a complicated topic. So now it’s time to dig a little deeper to see what else you can find and start to share the information you are learning about. Below are a few recommendations for resources, but feel free to explore on your own to find the information that is most interesting to you.
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Now that you’ve put together a lesson plan on a complex and important topic – it’s time to put it to use! Get creative about how you want to convey this information to your peers. Think beyond PowerPoint and consider interactive, video, or graphically charged lessons. How can you make a tricky concept go viral? You’ve got 5 minutes to make an impact, how can you be most effective?
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