Is Soil the New Weapon in the Climate Fight?
Judith D. Schwartz, author of Cows Save the Planet and Other Improbable Ways of Restoring Soil to Heal the Earth, explores how soil carbon is essential in efforts to stem climate change. Unsustainable agricultural practices and land use changes have released billions of tons of carbon from the soils into the atmosphere, but sustainable, targeted agricultural practices can sequester carbon back into the soil, where it belongs. There are already 2,500 billion tons of carbon in soil, compared with 800 billion tons in the atmosphere and 560 billion tons in plant and animal life, and soil has the potential to store more. There are opportunities to increase soil carbon in all ecosystems, and we must pursue them, and although scientists are still learning about soil carbon, we already are aware of viable techniques for soil carbon sequestration "by replanting degraded areas, increased mulching of biomass instead of burning, large-scale use of biochar, improved pasture management, effective erosion control, and restoration of mangroves, salt marshes, and sea grasses.” At our current level of knowledge, experts estimate "that restoring soils of degraded and desertified ecosystems has the potential to store in world soils an additional 1 billion to 3 billion tons of carbon annually, equivalent to roughly 3.5 billion to 11 billion tons of CO2 emissions.” Others argue this is an underestimation, but one thing is clear: soil management is an essential part of climate change mitigation, and deserves its proper due, which requires policy that encourages and incentivizes practices that increase soil carbon as well as increased funding for further research into the most effective strategies and management practices.