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“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
Soil is vital to life on earth and its importance extends far beyond growing our food. Did you know that soil is home to a quarter of the world’s biodiversity, and that one tablespoon of healthy soil contains billions of living organisms and bacteria? Although soil is something that we usually 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 the 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!
It turns out that soil is the largest “carbon sink” on the planet in terms of area and storage. We talk a lot about how the atmosphere and oceans store 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 building up in our oceans and causing ocean acidification. 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!
Unfortunately, the health of our soil is threatened by the industrialized world. Monocropping, chemical use, 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. With over 40% of the earth’s land already cleared for agriculture, many of the world’s soils have already lost 50-70% of their original carbon stocks.
However, 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 organic agricultural practices need to be employed to restore degraded land. Regenerative organic agricultural practices include no-till, using diverse cover crops, rotational planting, and composting. There are many solutions for getting carbon back into the soil and leading this movement are today’s partners; Dr. Bronner’s, Rodale Institute, and Kiss the Ground, all working to advance research on soil health and promote these agricultural practices globally.
When we consider climate change, soil is often left out of the conversation. Soil ties so many features of environmentalism together. As activists and environmentalists, it is important to understand the intersection of soil, carbon, and climate change as well as the solutions available right under our feet.
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