When we think of ways to lower our carbon emissions, looking to nature itself feels like a distraction for some. Shouldn’t we be aiming to remove factories? Lessen our meat intake? Walk more and drive less? These are definitely viable ways in which we can lower our carbon footprint, however scientists now say using technology and nature to extract CO2 from the atmosphere is not only possible: It’s a necessity.
“To avoid the most dangerous effects of climate change, the Paris Accord recommends limiting global warming to less than 2˚ C above pre-industrial levels. Achieving that will likely involve removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, procedures like collecting the carbon emissions from biofuel-burning power plants, or planting new forests to consume carbon, comes with its own problems. If applied on a scale large enough to be effective, it would need too much land, water, or energy, or would be too expensive.
However, sequestering carbon in soil is a natural way of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere with less impact on land and water use that requires little energy and investment capital.
“Thinking about ways to increase soil carbon storage is a really important weapon in the arsenal against climate change”
Earth’s soil contains approximately 2,500 gigatons of carbon, that’s more than three times the amount of carbon in the atmosphere and nearly four times the amount stored in all living plants and animals. While this may sound like a lot, we’re currently only utilizing about half of our soils carbon storage potential. Better land management and agricultural practices could dramatically improve the ability for soil to store carbon and help mitigate the worst effects of the Climate Crisis.
With that in mind the key is managing forests and grasslands and farms with an eye toward atmospheric carbon removal. This is a case of doing what we already know how to do, but doing it better.
“Tilling simply isn't playing the long game. It provides immediate fertility, but it destroys the soil life, the source of long-term fertility. It also opens up avenues for wind and water erosion, which takes away quality topsoil and eventually leaves growers with only infertile subsoil to work with.”
One of the best ways to keep soil healthy and capturing carbon is through good soil practices, things like no-till farming and grazing management for livestock.
Cover cropping is another promising tool to maintain soil integrity. Cover crops are plants that are planted to cover the soil rather than for the purpose of being harvested. Cover crops manage soil erosion, soil fertility, soil quality, water, weeds, pests, diseases, biodiversity and wildlife in an agroecosystem.
Even without a farm we can support our global community in growing the carbon storage potential of our soils by doing the little things like eating less meat. We grow twice as many vegetables for livestock as we grow to feed ourselves, meaning an enormous amount of resources go into each piece of steak that we buy at the grocery store. Oftentimes the farms growing feed for livestock are put in a position where the market isn’t willing to pay for sustainably farmed crops, pushing them to resort to unsustainable farming practices. Another way to support soil health is to donate to organisations making a real difference and to share the impact that soil carbon can make with your community. Some of the organizations that we love are:
Kiss The Ground is both an organization and a feature film documentary explaining the myriad benefits of healthy soil and our duty to heal it. Their website gives ways for you to become a soil advocate, donate to their effort, and more.
RegenAG who are going to farmers throughout Australia to help them understand the global importance and practical techniques of sustainable farming.
Fibershed is a California based non profit dedicated to developing regional fiber systems that are locally grown through regenerative practices.
The Traditional Native American Farmers Association who support farmers in ecological design, natural farming and earth restoration by providing hands-on training. They also host workshops on enhancing farm biodiversity and increase crop viability without the use of pesticides or synthetic fertilizers.