December 5th marks World Soil Day and it deserves a round of applause. You may ask why, and the answer is simple: Soil is a superstar.
Soil. Dirt. Earth. Substrate. It goes by many names. Yet, all we really need to know is that it’s “life.” Look after the soil and we can feed a growing planet. Let it degrade, and know that this is degradation you can’t repair, and that human civilization would suffer.
Let’s start with some facts. If you think of the planet as one giant organism, then soil is a little like the “skin” of the Earth. First off, there are more living organisms in a handful of soil than there are people on Earth. Second, healthy soil is about food. Ninety-five percent of our food is directly or indirectly produced on our soils. Third, we need soil more than ever. By 2050, global agricultural production must increase by 60 percent. And, if we restore global soil health, we can also help slow climate change, one of the most urgent imperatives of our age.
Soil as a Climate Solution
is an unsung hero in the climate story. It contains two to three times
more carbon than the atmosphere. This means that small changes in soil
carbon — either improvement or deterioration — can have a big impact on
atmospheric carbon. In lay terms, increasing soil organic carbon has two
benefits. In addition to helping to mitigate climate change, it
improves soil health and fertility. In turn, many management practices
that increase soil organic carbon also improve crop and pasture yields.
If more carbon is stored in the soil, it will reduce the amount present
in the atmosphere, and help mitigate climate change – a process known as
“soil carbon sequestration.” It’s a win-win.
We need to get this
right, but in recent decades we haven’t. According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, we have around 60 years left of harvests if
we carry on with “Business- as- Usual,” and the Guardian identified soil
loss as one of the 13 global crises we are currently facing. Even more
recently, a new paper in Nature confirms that climate change will accelerate the decomposition of soil organic carbon, releasing large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, which we can ill afford.