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Fighting climate change is a dirty job, but soils can do it | Problem Solved

Representative animation of the soil formation process

Representative still from an animation of the soil formation process. Art by Julia Lima

  • The Earth’s soil stores nearly three times as much carbon as all plants, animals and the atmosphere combined, researchers say.
  • However, unchecked deforestation, modern industrialized agriculture, the failure to recognize Indigenous land rights, and the continued extraction and burning of fossil fuels are all putting our crucial carbon sinks in the tropics and subarctic permafrost at risk of releasing much of that carbon.
  • Experts agree that protecting soil is key to mitigating climate change, and to avoid breaching delicate planetary boundaries that are necessary to sustain human life on the planet.
  • Doing so means fundamental shifts in how we grow our food, conserve and restore forests, and swiftly reduce our use of fossil fuels.

While it’s clear that soil can help limit the impacts of climate change, leveraging its power requires a menu of solutions at many scales. Most of them require big policy shifts, overhauling not just how we protect our forests, but also our entire energy and food production systems. Watch the video below for the full story:

“Problem Solved” is a video series that Mongabay will release roughly once a month examining big, systemic, environmental issues and building potential pathways to addressing them. The first video in this series breaks down exactly how soil works, how it can be used as a climate solution, and the challenges that need to be overcome to harness its power.

Based on the popular article “Soil and its promise as a climate solution: A primer” in which contributor Mareli Sanchez-Julia explained how soil forms over time, and the many solutions before us to protecting and utilizing soil, the video covers four key solution pathways: reforestation, conservation, reducing emissions, and agriculture changes.

Because the Earth has many different climates, topographies and living beings, different regions will have vastly different soils, and therefore varying capacities for storing carbon. The most carbon-rich areas occur in the tropics (which can store carbon for millions of years), and the subarctic permafrost in the Northern Hemisphere (which has been storing undecayed plant and animal matter for hundreds of thousands of years).

But protecting these crucial carbon reservoirs is easier said than done.

Banner Image: Representative still from an animation of the soil formation process. Art by Julia Lima

Mike DiGirolamo is Mongabay’s audience engagement associate. Find him on Twitter @MikeDiGirolamo and Instagram/TikTok @midigirolamo.