Soil Carbon Restoration: Can Biology do the Job?

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Author: Jack Kittredge

A great deal of discussion in scientific and governmental circles has been focused recently on how to deal with greenhouse gas emissions and the resulting weather extremes they have created. Most analysts believe we must stop burning fossil fuels to prevent further increases in atmospheric carbon, and find ways to remove carbon already in the air if we want to lessen further weather crises and the associated human tragedies, economic disruption and social conflict that they bring.

But where can we put that carbon once it is removed from the air? There is only one practical approach — to put it back where it belongs, in the soil. Fortunately, this is not an expensive process. But it does take large numbers of people agreeing to take part. Since few people will change what they are doing without a good reason, we have written this short paper. We hope it explains the problem of carbon dioxide buildup and climate change, how carbon can be taken out of the atmosphere and restored to the soil, and the advantages that can come to farmers and consumers from growing in carbon-rich soils.

Climate Change

Weather anomalies are notoriously difficult to document. To do so requires good data over a long time, and clear standards for what constitutes an anomaly. Recently, however, as more and more people are interested in the topic, development of the data and standards has progressed. The key factors in extreme weather are excessive heat, precipitation, and air moisture. Recent studies have found that monthly mean temperature records, extreme precipitation events, and average air moisture content have all risen over the last 50 to 150 years. (Coumou)

Download the Report from NOFA/Mass (PDF)

France has a Great Plan for its Soil – And it’s Not Just About Wine

Author: John Quinton

French wine lovers have always taken their soil very seriously. But now the country’s government has introduced fresh reasons for the rest of the world to pay attention to their terroir.

As industrial emissions of greenhouse gases continue to increase and concerns about climate change grow, scientists and policy wonks are searching for potential solutions. Could part of the answer lie in the soil beneath our feet? French agriculture minister Stéphane Le Foll thinks so.

Soil stores vast amounts of carbon, far more than all the carbon in the world’s forests and atmosphere combined. Plants take carbon out of the atmosphere through photosynthesis and when they die the carbon they stored is returned to the soil.

This forms part of the soil’s organic matter: a mix of undecayed plant and animal tissues, transient organic molecules and more stable material often referred to as humus. It is food for organisms in the soil that play a vital role in cycling nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. These organisms decompose the organic material and return much of the carbon to the atmosphere leaving only a small proportion in the soil.

Keep Reading in The Conversation

Climate Change, Healthy Soils, and Holistic Grazing… A Restoration Story

Author: Savory Institute


Regenerating the health and productivity of our soils is critical for ensuring the Earth’s climate remains conducive to not only human life but other species as well. Moreover, we need to take direct action so that we have enough water and food to sustain a growing population of people. Livestock, properly managed, have a critical role to play in achieving these goals.

Reducing fossil fuel emissions is essential for curtailing the acidification of our oceans and for reversing the rapidly increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. But it is just as critical that we greatly reduce the CO2 emissions tied to modern agricultural practices. In addition, there are still many billions of tons of CO2 in the atmosphere that need to be drawn down to Earth and safely stored if we are to maintain a livable climate for life on Earth.

The most obvious place to store this “legacy load” of CO2 is in our soils, where soil organisms convert it into organic matter, or soil organic carbon. The world’s soils, however, are unable to store the vast amounts of carbon they once did; scientists estimate our soils have lost up to 80 to 537 billion tons of carbon and that land misuse accounts for 30% of the carbon emissions entering the atmosphere.

Efforts to limit emissions from fossil fuel Combustion alone are incapable of stabilizing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Here we will shed light on the process of atmospheric carbon capture and storage that has developed in the natural world over millions of years, has minimal possibility for unintended consequences, and has myriad benefits for the health of lands worldwide as well as all dependent on them.

The quantity of carbon stored in soils is directly related to the diversity and health of soil life. Bacteria, fungi and other soil life convert carbon that plants have extracted from the atmosphere through photosynthesis into organic matter. When soils are healthy, soil life is healthy and more carbon is converted and stored.

Keep Reading on Revitalization News

Carbon Sequestration —The Climate Change Solution That Virtually All Climate Activists Ignore

2015 has been declared the International Year of Soils, and few topics could be more important at this time. One of the objectives of the International Year of Soils is to “create full awareness of civil society and decision makers about the fundamental roles of soils for human’s life.”

Another is to “achieve full recognition of the prominent contributions of soils to food security [and] climate change adaptation.” Rarely do you hear climate activists address the issue of soil and land regeneration, yet it is perhaps the most comprehensive solution to everyone’s concerns.

Fighting over whether or not climate change is real; or whether climate change is man made or not is completely irrelevant. Arguing over whether the temperature is actually rising or falling, or whether arctic ice sheets are shrinking or growing is a waste of time.

Why Agricultural ‘U-Turn’ Is Necessary

The fact of the matter is, the global landscape is changing, and food security is no longer a given, even if you have plenty of available land, and here’s why:

  • Water scarcity is getting worse as aquifers are drained faster than they can be refilled. In August 2014, the National Geographic reported that a four-year long drought in California had led to the depletion of snowpacks, rivers, and lakes.As a result, the state has been tapping into its underground aquifers to make up for the lack of water. At present, nearly 60 percent of California’s water needs are met by groundwater that does not have time to recharge at the same rate it’s being used.
  • Soil erosion and degradation is rapidly getting worse.
  • Air and water pollution are worsening.
  • Land is turning into desert at a rapid clip, and with it, we’re losing biodiversity of both plant and animal life.
  • Everything is getting more toxic, and according to a wide variety of scientists, we are looking at no more than 50-60 years’ worth of “business as usual” before we reach a point at which nature will no longer sustain us on any front, be it water, air, or soil quality.

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Connecting the Dots Between Pollution, Global Hunger, and Water Scarcity

Global hunger, pollution, and water scarcity – how are these interrelated? Courtney White, a former archaeologist and a Sierra Club activist, connects the dots for us in his book Grass, Soil, Hope: A Journey Through Carbon Country.

Growing up in Phoenix, Arizona, he first became concerned about some of the environmental issues going on in the 1990s, at which time he joined the Sierra Club.

“I met a rancher at a Sierra Club meeting in 1996. His name was Jim Winder… This was back in the mid-’90s when ranchers and environmentalists were going after each other in court, in public opinions, in newspapers, and all kinds of things.

Jim said, ‘Let’s find some common ground between ranchers and environmentalists.’ He said, ‘I ranch differently. I move my cows around the ranch in a certain way trying to mimic natural grazing behavior of wild animals – bison, for example.

‘I said, ‘That’s interesting.’ I went to his ranch and saw what he was doing. He’s growing grass. He had water, wildlife, and all these things.”

The Quivira Coalition

In 1997, the activist and the rancher formed a non-profit organization called The Quivira Coalition, along with conservationist Barbara Johnson. Together, they advocated land management practices that help restore land back to health.One of the keys to land restoration is carbon sequestration. Carbon is the most abundant element on Earth after oxygen. Dark, rich soils contain high amounts of carbon. This element is the tie that binds grazing management, land health, food, water, and rising pollution levels together.

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The Solution Under Our Feet: How Regenerative Organic Agriculture Can Save the Planet

Author: John W. Roulac

Many of us are now choosing to eat holistically grown foods. We want:

  • more nutrition from our food.
  • to avoid toxic pesticides and GMOs.
  • to create safer conditions for farmers and rural communities.
  • to protect the water, air and soil from contamination by toxic agrochemicals.

While these reasons are important, one critical issue is missing from today’s conversation about food. The concept is simple, yet virtually unknown. The solution to our global food and environmental crisis is literally under our feet.

If you take away only one thing from this article, I want it to be this quote from esteemed soil scientist Dr. Rattan Lal at Ohio State University:


Through the past hundred years, we’ve steadily increased our rate of digging up and burning carbon-rich matter for fuel. This is disturbing the oceanic ecosystem in profound ways that include reducing the plankton that feeds whales and provides oxygen for humans. And we’re not just talking about the extinction of whales. As I’ll detail in this article, even Maine lobsters could become a relic of the past.

We’ve severely disrupted the balance in the “carbon triad” by clearing rainforests, degrading farmland, denuding pasturelands, and burning coal and oil. The carbon triad? Yes; think of the three main carbon sinks: the atmosphere, the oceans and the humus-sphere. While I’m sure you’re familiar with the first two, you might not know about the latter carbon sink. Humus is the organic component of soil. (Gardeners create it as compost.) The humus-sphere is made up of the stable, long-lasting remnants of decaying organic material, essential to the Earth’s soil fertility and our ability to grow nutrient-rich crops.

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Women and Biodiversity Feed the World, Not Corporations and GMOs

The two great ecological challenges of our times are biodiversity erosion and climate change. And both are interconnected, in their causes and their solutions.

Industrial agiculture is the biggest contributor to biodiversity erosion as well as to climate change. According to the United Nations, 93% of all plant variety has disappeared over the last 80 years.

Monocultures based on chemical inputs do not merely destroy plant biodiversity, they have destroyed soil biodiversity, which leads to the emergence of pathogens, new diseases, and more chemical use.

Our study of soils in the Bt cotton regions of Vidharba showed a dramatic decline in beneficial soil organisms. In many regions with intensive use of pesticides and GMOs, bees and butterflies are disappearing. There are no pollinators on Bt cotton plants, whereas the population of pollinators in Navdanya’s biodiversity conservation farm in Doon Valley is six times more than in the neighbouring forest. The UNEP has calculated the contribution of pollinators to be $200 billion annually. Industrial agriculture also kills aquatic and marine life by creating dead zones due to fertilizer run off. Pesticides are also killing or damaging aquatic life.

Keep Reading on Common Dreams

We Need Regenerative Farming, Not Geoengineering

Author: Charles Eisenstein

Geoengineering has been back in the news recently after the US National Research Council endorsed a proposal to envelop the planet in a layer of sulphate aerosols to reduce solar radiation and cool the atmosphere.

The proposal has been widely criticised for possible unintended consequences, such as ozone depletion, ocean acidification and reduced rainfall in the tropics. Perhaps even more troubling, geoengineering is a technological fix that leaves the economic and industrial system causing climate change untouched.

The mindset behind geoengineering stands in sharp contrast to an emerging ecological, systems approach taking shape in the form of regenerative agriculture. More than a mere alternative strategy, regenerative agriculture represents a fundamental shift in our culture’s relationship to nature.

Regenerative agriculture comprises an array of techniques that rebuild soil and, in the process, sequester carbon. Typically, it uses cover crops and perennials so that bare soil is never exposed, and grazes animals in ways that mimic animals in nature. It also offers ecological benefits far beyond carbon storage: it stops soil erosion, remineralises soil, protects the purity of groundwater and reduces damaging pesticide and fertiliser runoff.

Keep Reading in The Guardian

Nature Wants Her Carbon Back

 [ English | Español ]

Author: Larry Kopald

By looking down, things are looking up.

Here’s a little known fact about climate change: According to NOAA, if we could magically cut all current CO2 emissions worldwide to zero today (a feat even Merlin couldn’t achieve) it would do nothing to stop climate change from continuing to get worse for centuries. Unless we actually draw some of the carbon already emitted back down to earth we are simply telling a 400-pound patient to gain weight a little more slowly.

Amazingly, however, doing so may be significantly easier than reducing emissions. According to a steadily increasing number of studies, it turns out we can blow by the goal of slowing climate change and actually reverse it. While we’ve all been looking to the atmosphere and the amounts of CO2 we emit into it for the answer, the solution itself may be right under our feet. In the dirt.

According to the latest research from Ohio State University’s Rattan Lal, Texas A&M’s Richard Teague, IFOAM’s Andre Leu (as reported in the UN paper “Wake Up Before It’s Too Late” (UN) and the Rodale Institute anywhere from one-third to one-half of manmade CO2 in the atmosphere comes from industrial agriculture. That’s more than all the emissions from the burning of fossil fuels worldwide. How is it possible that with the entire planet focusing on reducing CO2 emissions we’re not even paying lip service to the single largest contributor? (Rodale)

But that’s only half of the story. To makes matters worse, industrial agriculture compounds the problem by preventing soil from reabsorbing that carbon, thus trapping it in the atmosphere.

To understand how, it’s important to remember a few simple facts: There is no waste in nature (she reuses everything); We don’t create carbon (we just move it from place to place); and, nature is literally dying to take back the excess carbon we put into the atmosphere and reuse it to grow us more stuff.

So why isn’t nature doing this? Turns out that our mistreatment of soil is preventing nature from doing what she does naturally and cycling carbon back from the atmosphere. We are literally disrupting the process of photosynthesis — where plants break CO2 molecules apart, release the oxygen and take the carbon underground — by killing the life that should exist in soil that needs that carbon. We do this by spraying it with chemicals, tilling and killing the latticework of fungi, and growing one plant in a field when nature needs variety the same way we need proteins and fats and fruits and vegetables to remain healthy.

Those same studies report that transforming even a small part of industrial agriculture land to healthier, regenerative methods can lead to sequestering more than 100% of current CO2 emissions in just three years. And everything the soil sequesters that’s above what we’re currently emitting will come from — you guessed it — the excess in the atmosphere. That means we are literally beginning to reverse climate change in just a few years. Re-open the pathways, draw down the carbon. (Drawdown)

But haven’t we been told we’ll all starve to death without industrial agriculture? Absolutely, and by some of the same people who tell us the science is still out on climate change. The science shows quite the opposite. In fact, regenerative farming yields are equal to industrial yields in normal weather, and superior to them in stress times of drought and flooding. So we’re not simply reversing climate change, we are creating more food, and more food security. (IFOAM Report)

Currently we have over 400 PPM of carbon in the atmosphere. We have been told we need to stay below 350 to maintain a livable planet. New data, however, report that every 1% of organic matter added to our farming and grazing soil reduces the PPM by 50. Studies have also shown that we could literally return the atmosphere to pre-Industrial Age conditions in as little as twenty years (Drawdown) — the Chinese government studies say it may be forty, but I’d take that deal happily.

The Industrial Revolution lead to explosions in human development, and Industrial Agriculture has enabled us to feed a population that went from one billion to over seven virtually overnight.

But now we know that an unintended consequence of how we fed those people is climate change. Just like it is with how we’ve produced energy. Fortunately, we also now know that we don’t need to continue to use these destructive techniques to feed and power the same amount of people.

Need more proof? Nature’s done this before. During the Cambrian period, and in other volcanic times, the earth saw levels of 600 to as much as 7,000 PPM. And every time, without humans messing up the process, the carbon was reabsorbed into the soil and created an explosion of plant growth. So think abundance, not starvation.

One final point — this is not a license to continue polluting and letting nature deal with it. It’s a gift of time. Time to transform into a carbon-neutral society while also dealing with climate change.

Nature wants to do this. In fact, nature needs to do this. If we let her the planet, and we humans, can all breathe easier.

For more information visit The Carbon Underground here.

Why Are Climate Groups Only Focused on 50% of the Solution?

[ English | Español ]

Author: John Roulac

To the leadership at Greenpeace, Sierra Club,, Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council and all other climate groups:

Your organizations have worked very hard, collectively, to reduce world reliance on carbon-centric oil, gas and coal. Thanks to your work to reduce pollution, we certainly have a healthier planet. High praise is in order for the success of your valiant efforts in the face of corrupt vested interests.

Yet I, along with many others, must still ask: Will your plan win the race against time to avert climate chaos? Anyone paying close attention can see that, even if the world doubles the rate at which it’s adopting wind, solar, bike lanes, electric cars and conservation, the excess carbon in our atmosphere and seas will still lead to intense climate chaos. For just one example, the temperature in Phoenix, Arizona, recently reached 117°.

Our society has focused close to 99 percent of our climate efforts on 50 percent of the needed game plan—i.e., reducing the release of atmospheric carbon. Yes, we need to decarbonize our energy. Yet equally important is the need to recarbonize our soils, to sequester the carbon so that we don’t reach the tipping point of climate chaos. This is relatively new information for many people.

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