Impact Wins: Climate Action from the Soil Up

By: Martha Molfetas

Impact Wins: these days, it can seem like good news rarely happens - especially in relation to climate change and the environment we all rely on. Once a month, you can expect a blog from us that features some good news on climate action and environmental protection.

If soil is unhealthy, the crops they produce will be unhealthy. For decades, intensive farming practices have reduced soil health and nutrition here in the United States. Monoculture, or where farms produce a single crop, is the standard practice here in the states and for other industrialized societies, but it severely damages soil health and depletes soil nutrients. It even adds to emissions. Nutrients lost have to be added chemically back into the soil, but it comes at a large environmental cost. The over-use of chemicals and pesticides in large-scale agriculture inevitably ends up in bodies of water, creating dead-zones through algae blooms. All in all, our current agricultural methods are not sustainable.

The times may be changing. Many farmers, scientists, and policymakers are all rallying around soil health as an essential arm of both climate action and agricultural sustainability. Soil health is such a big deal that Trace Genomics just secured $13 million for farmers to test their soil health. But scientists in Canada are telling farmers there’s a simpler approach - look for the bugs. If there are worms and bugs that naturally fortify the soil, then it will have the nutrients it needs.

A recent report showed that if the U.S. better manages agriculture and landscapes, we could reduce emissions by 21% - that would be like shutting off every coal powered plant in the United States. These ‘natural climate solutions’ can not only improve soil health and benefit agricultural production, they will cut emissions. Globally, agriculture and deforestation account for roughly 25% of all emissions. If we let nature do its thing, plants and soils can absorb up to 20% of our global carbon emissions. That would mean we’d have to: really expand on reforestation, encourage farmers to plant cover crops for soil health and nutrient retention, and manage forests better to prevent wildfires.

But we cannot rely on natural climate solutions alone, we will have to decarbonize our energy systems in order to reach climate goals and save ourselves from the worst impacts of climate change. We’ll need to employ every solution at hand to buttress ourselves from the worst, and protect future generations from a life uninhabitable.


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Photo by: Martha Molfetas | From our 'Another Summer Lost: Algae and Red Tide Blooms in Fort Myers’ project