The world is changing. As we battle global warming, we face 42 years of above-average global temperatures, a 46% increase in carbon in the air since the 1800s, melting polar ice caps, rising sea levels, and extreme weather events (1). Because of the threats that climate change presents, there has been a mindset shift - whether it's from an environmental perspective, a health perspective, or simply from personal knowledge - people have become more conscious of how they treat our planet and want to do better.
In this journey to do better for our world, do you realize the importance of the ground we walk on?
Made up of a mixture of organic matter, minerals, gases, liquids, and billions of living organisms, soils are a basis for life. A natural passage for plant growth, an estimated 95% of our food comes from soil! (2) And when soil isn't feeding us, it absorbs water to drain, help plants, and recharge underground water; it maintains both the nitrogen and phosphorous cycles; it offers stable ground for our construction; it acts as a carbon sink, sequestering CO2 from the atmosphere and converting it into the soil's organic carbon. Simply put, soil is amazing, and human life literally depends on it; we can't exist without it.
How Soil Impacts The Carbon Cycle & Climate Change
I'd like to talk some more about the carbon cycle and the role soil plays. The carbon cycle is the exchange of carbon between the atmosphere, ocean, terrestrial biosphere, and geological deposits. Plants in our soil absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, water from the soil, and sunlight to make their own food and grow through photosynthesis. The carbon becomes part of the plant, and thus, when animals eat the plant, carbon moves along the food chain. As animals breathe, some carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. When plants and animals die, dead organisms are eaten by bacteria and fungi in the soil, and carbon in their bodies is returned to the atmosphere as even more carbon dioxide that hopefully plants absorb and put back into the soil. In 2018, Columbia University estimated that the Earth's soil contains about 2,500 gigatons of carbon—that’s more than three times the amount of carbon in the atmosphere and four times the amount stored in all living plants and animals (3).
Unfortunately, activities such as deforestation and large-scale, intensive, toxic, and chemical-heavy agriculture techniques lead to soil erosion. Consequently, we are quickly destroying our soil at such an intense rate that in 2014, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization reported that we only have approximately 60 years left of growing crops (4). A terrifying statistic when you consider the impact on our food supply alone. The way we treat our soil also impacts our planet, as it affects our soil's ability to fight global warming. These degradation processes result in carbon being released into the atmosphere as well as decreasing the soil's ability to store carbon. A damaging cycle ensues: exacerbated carbon losses from the soil leads to increased carbon in the atmosphere, accelerating climate change, thus intensifying downpours and further decreasing topsoil.
Regenerative Soil Practices Give Us Hope
As we seek out more ways that we can contribute to a healthier planet, regenerative soil practices offer hope for positive change through the rehabilitation and enhancement of ecosystems. There are so many ways we can regenerate our soil. The Climate Reality Project outlined some of these key soil regeneration practices (5):
- Plant Species Diversity: Different plants offer a range of diverse properties, releasing different carbohydrates through their roots. Various microbes feed on those carbohydrates, and, in turn, return a variety of different nutrients back to the soil, creating rich, nutrient-dense soils. These soils both more crops and improve their ability to absorb carbon.
- Rotation and Cover Crops: By rotating crops and deploying cover crops strategically, farms and gardens can infuse soils with additional and more diverse soil organic matter. This helps to avoid disease and pest problems naturally, all while improving biodiversity, and, you guessed it, improving soil's ability to absorb carbon.
- Conservation Tillage: Plowing and tillage dramatically erode soil and release large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, as well as creating a hostile environment for important soil microbes. By adopting low- or no-till practices, farmers minimize physical disturbance of the soil, and over time increase levels of soil organic matter, creating healthier, more resilient environments for plants to thrive, as well as keeping more carbon where it belongs: in the land.
- Cleaner agriculture decisions: Harsh chemicals can damage long-term soil health by disrupting the natural relationship between microorganisms and plant roots. Utilizing cleaner products, along with regenerative agriculture practices, is crucial in preserving soil health and maintaining the soil's ability to absorb carbon.
How You Can Get Involved
The great news is that these regenerative practices are becoming more popular, more accessible to people, and now, you can get involved too. You can support farmers by shopping at local farmers' markets and buying organic as often as possible. Talk to your local supermarket about how you can support farmers who employ these good practices.
For the more green-fingered among us, how about starting your own garden and have a shot at growing your own food? If you're short on space, you could also try container gardening or join some fellow gardeners in your local community garden. And fear not, if you're not ready to take the leap into the gardening world, there are also a number of organizations working hard to improve soil quality, and they offer ways for you to get involved. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Kiss The Ground, an LA-based non-profit, is inspiring people to get involved in soil regeneration, with a bold goal to transition 5000 farmers and train 20,000 leaders by 2025.
- Roam Ranch, a multi-species regenerative ranch in the Texas Hill Country working to heal the ecosystem through regenerating their land and creating nourishing food.
- Farmers Footprint, a coalition of farmers, educators, doctors, scientists, and business leaders aiming to expose the human and environmental impacts of chemical farming and offer a path forward through regenerative agricultural practices.
As we close out Earth Week, I hope that this post provides you with valuable information and inspires you to join us in taking better care of our world. At Praecipio Consulting, we have team members that are passionate about the planet, and they have taken up activities like composting and gardening. It's never too late to start!