If you’re like most people, you take soil—that thin layer of living earth under our feet—completely for granted. But we all need to start paying attention because it turns out that soil health is directly tied to our planet’s food, water, and climate security.
We know that too much carbon in the atmosphere is warming the planet and increasing the severity of extreme weather events. Yet how many of us know that too little carbon in the ground is causing desertification, hunger, and climate instability?
Carbon is essential to soil function, and soils have the potential to store vast quantities of it. In fact, the Earth’s soils store 2,500 billion tons of carbon—more than the atmosphere (780 billion tons) and plants (560 billion tons) combined! However, the world’s cultivated soils have lost between 50-70 percent of their original carbon stocks. This serious degradation not only makes it difficult for soils to carry out their many functions (like filtering and storing fresh water and crop nutrients), it means that what was once soil carbon has been oxidized upon exposure to air and is now CO2.
It sounds dire, but there is hope: using the power of photosynthesis, we can take excess carbon out of the atmosphere—where it’s become a problem—and store it in the ground, where it contributes to soil and climate health.
We can feed our soils the carbon they need by adopting regenerative agriculture. Adding organic amendments such as compost, cover cropping, poly-culture, and agro-forestry are all proven ways to increase the amount of carbon in the soil.
Rebuilding soil carbon will make us more resilient in the face of a changing climate, and will help solve our fresh water problems, while helping to ensure enough nutritious food for a growing population. Now that we know there’s a solution to so many of our pressing problems there’s no time to lose.