The last great hope of avoiding catastrophic climate change may lie in a substance so commonplace that we typically ignore it or else walk all over it: the soil beneath our feet.
The earth possesses five major pools of carbon. Of those pools, the atmosphere is already overloaded with the stuff; the oceans are turning acidic as they become saturated with it; the forests are diminishing; and underground fossil fuel reserves are being emptied. That leaves soil as the most likely repository for immense quantities of carbon.
Now scientists are documenting how sequestering carbon in soil can produce a double dividend: It reduces climate change by extracting carbon from the atmosphere, and it restores the health of degraded soil and increases agricultural yields. Many scientists and farmers believe the emerging understanding of soil’s role in climate stability and agricultural productivity will prompt a paradigm shift in agriculture, triggering the abandonment of conventional practices like tillage, crop residue removal, mono-cropping, excessive grazing and blanket use of chemical fertilizer and pesticide. Even cattle, usually considered climate change culprits because they belch at least 25 gallons of methane a day, are being studied as a potential part of the climate change solution because of their role in naturally fertilizing soil and cycling nutrients.
Trees in tropical forests are well known for removing carbon dioxide from the air and storing the potent greenhouse gas as carbon in their leafy branches and extensive roots. But a new analysis led by Stanford University researchers finds that large forest animals are also an important part of the carbon cycle.
The findings are based on more than a million records of animal sightings and activity collected by 340 indigenous technicians in the Amazon during more than three years of environmental surveys, coordinated by ecologist Jose Fragoso and supported by biologist Rodolfo Dirzo, who were working together at Stanford at the time. The team found that places where animals are most diverse correlate with places that have the most carbon sequestered in the soil.
The Rodale Institute has created a Regenerative Organic Certification, a cooperative effort among a coalition of farmers, ranchers, nonprofits, scientists, and brands to establish a standard for regenerative organic agriculture.
“New research suggests that by fostering an efficient and active soil microbiome, we can accelerate soil regeneration far beyond typical rates seen in nature.”
“Prior research had shown that being exposed to certain types of germs and parasites during early life might, somewhat paradoxically, reduce one’s risk of suffering from allergy later in childhood and adulthood,” Kuzawa says. “Our research in the Philippines extended this work by investigating whether inflammation — another aspect of immune function that has broad health impacts — might also be altered in response to these exposures.”
“So what did Ruys invent? One way to restore degraded soil is to plant trees—lots of them. The catch is that seeds and saplings won’t grow in such soil, but if a young tree becomes large enough that its roots can reach groundwater it stands an excellent chance of thriving.”