Soil is the Solution

This month (December 2018) a commentary piece, Put More Carbon in Soils to Meet Paris Climate Pledges, was published in the journal Nature. It was written by scientists specializing in climate change and agriculture who serve on the science and technical committee of the organization 4 per 1000 ( – an organization dedicated to demonstrating that agriculture, and in particular, agricultural soils, can play a crucial role where food security and climate change are concerned. In the article, they outline how using carbon sequestration to build soil organic matter can mitigate climate change and boost soil fertility. The scientists suggest that the KJWA (a UNFCCC initiative directing the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) to jointly consider how to tackle agriculture issues in the context of climate change) formally commit to increasing global soil organic carbon stocks through coordination and activities related to eight steps.

The eight steps they suggest are:

  1. Stop carbon loss – Protect peat-lands through enforcement of regulations against burning and drainage.2. Promote carbon uptake – Identify and promote best practices for storing carbon in ways suitable to local conditions, including through incorporating crop residues, cover crops, agroforestry, contour farming, terracing, nitrogen-fixing plants, and irrigation.3. Monitor, report and verify impacts – Track and evaluate interventions with science-based harmonized protocols and standards.4. Deploy technology – Use high-tech opportunities for faster, cheaper and more accurate monitoring of soil carbon changes.

    5. Test strategies – Determine what works in local conditions by using models and a network of field sites.

    6. Involve communities – Employ citizen science to collect data and create an open online platform for sharing.

    7. Coordinate policies – Integrate soil carbon with national climate commitments to the Paris Agreement and other policies on soil and climate.

    8. Provide support – Ensure technical assistance, incentives to farmers, monitoring systems, and carbon taxes to promote widespread implementation.

    (Excerpted/edited from )

As anyone who knows me will tell you, the situation of “Peak Farmable Soil” is one I have been aware of and vocal about for a long time. And while I can’t say I’m glad that what I’ve been worried about for so long is true, I’m relieved that finally, the world’s soil and agricultural scientists and policy makers seem to be awakening to the grave threat – and the huge opportunity! – the cumulative effects of soil depletion and climate change represent to agriculture and food security.

The quantity of carbon stored in our global soils is over 2 times the amount stored in all the trees and other biomass on the planet. This is good. It means that we can store huge amounts of carbon in our agricultural soils if we know how to work with nature to do so. Currently, however, that’s not the case: conventional farming and development has already degraded over a third of the world’s soils, limiting agricultural production and, rather than storing carbon, adding almost 500 gigatons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere—an amount equivalent to burning 216 billion hectares of U.S. forest.

This is a lot to process. But keep reading, there’s hope!

In a nutshell:

There is an urgent need to incorporate more CO2 into our soils in the form of fertile soil organic matter (SOM) to pull carbon out of the air and help stop climate change.

So how do we do it? I was hoping you’d ask. Ecology Action’s Closed-Loop Sustainable GROW BIOINTENSIVE food- and soil-growing system offers practical methods for gardeners and farmers around the globe to be part of the solution! GB has been proven to grow soil organic matter (SOM) over 60 times faster than in nature. We have already shown that for each pound of food eaten, GB can grow up to 20 pounds of farmable soil. A recent preliminary study shows that, for properly maintained GB growing beds, it may be possible to sequester up to 5 metric tons (5.5 US tons) of carbon from the atmosphere, per hectare (2.5 acres) per year.

Extrapolating from this study, if the world’s agricultural soils (~80% of which are farms of 1-2 hectares) were cultivated using GB to accumulate carbon at this rate, in ~31 years, it could be possible to bring atmospheric carbon dioxide levels down to 350ppm, a significant, and life-saving reduction compared to the damaging 408 ppm of CO2 causing global warming and climate change today. (read more about GB and Climate Change here.)

It’s not a complete solution, and we need to do more work to see if the levels of carbon sequestration can me maintained at the level suggested by the study, but it’s a very good start, based on low-tech methods and universal scientific principles that we can all use right now! In combination with other climate change mitigation, it might just do the trick.

Not sure it’s really possible to build soil fertility faster than nature? Look at the chart below on GB Soil Fertility I use in my teaching: in only 8.5 years, we took the soil at the Common Ground Garden at The Jeavons Center from essentially unproductive to flourishing SOM levels that would have taken over 500 years to achieve naturally. You can see the lower levels of pale, depleted soil that would barely grow scrub merge upwards into the dark, carbon-rich soil that grows an abundance of crops each year. This is carbon sequestration in action. This is what the world needs more of, NOW.

Want to be a part of the solution? Put in a GROW BIOINTENSIVE bed. Then, put in another. Keep going. Maintain the beds properly with rich GB compost that you make on-site from the residues of your carefully chosen diet crops – get that carbon in the soil! And enjoy the veggies, fruits, grains, fertile soil, and climate change mitigation you harvest. Who knew fighting global warming could be delicious?

Need help getting started? Take a workshop: my next 1-Day event is in February in Olympia, WA. Ecology Action’s spring 3-Day workshop is in March. Use Ecology Action’s self-teaching tools to get started. Read How to Grow More Vegetables. It’s easy to begin. And once you do, you won’t want to stop. Love it? Start showing others how to do it. That’s how we save the world.

Remember, The Plants are Rooting for Us to Succeed!


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