By Hannah Apricot Eckberg

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What if the answer to stopping Climate Change was lying right under our feet? What if one of the most revolutionary acts you could do was to plant a garden? Well, research is starting to show this might just be true!

To bring attention to the importance of what most people think of as just dirt, the United Nations declared 2015 “The Year of Soil.” To highlight how important soil is the first International Soil Not Oil Conference will be held September 4th and 5th in Richmond, CA. Delegates from around the world will gather to hear from Dr. Vandana Shiva, a global leader in the fight to protect farmers and the food web, John Roulac, activist and founder of super food company Nutiva, professors from UC Berkeley, and other leaders in this growing soil movement.

Why is soil so important? Well, both humans and animals depend on it almost exclusively for our food production. The fiber that clothes and shelters us is grown in it, as well as the fuels that power our cars and heat our homes.  Not only that, but a study published in the journal Health Psychology reveals that gardening may actually make you happier, due to serotonin increase from a common bacterium (M. vaccae) often found in soil.

Oil, gas, and other fossil fuels are decayed plant material, which grew in soil millions of years ago. When we burn fossil fuels, we release stored carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases back into the atmosphere, knocking the Earth’s delicate systems out of balance and creating changes in our climate. It took the planet the last 5 million years to get the right proportions of atmospheric gases to sustain life as we know it. Now scientists are seeing radical changes much sooner then anticipated. An August 5, 2015, article in Rollingstone Magazine, entitled “The Point of No Return: Climate Change Nightmares Are Already Here,” sites many cases around the world of deadly havoc from record heat, rising sea levels, and prolonged droughts, creating unprecedented consequences.

Effects include the rapid slowdown of the Atlantic current, which helps regulate weather around the globe. In the Rollingstone article, climate scientist Michael Mann is quoted as saying “This is yet another example of where observations suggest that climate model predictions may be too conservative when it comes to the pace at which certain aspects of Climate Change are proceeding.”

So, what can be done? Drastically cutting our fossil fuel use will be key to helping heal the delicate eco-systems we depend on. We need to put less into the atmosphere, and find ways to take out the over-abundance we have put there. John Roulac is among the many calling for us to de-carbonize our energy system by implementing more renewables, energy efficiency and carbon farming.

This brings us back to soil. There are three major places the Earth stores carbon, or carbon sinks as they are called: the atmosphere, the ocean, and in the soil. The first two  are reaching saturation as we surpass 400ppm of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Oceans around the world are experiencing mass die-offs due to acidification from increased carbon falling into the waters. What food we don’t produce from soil mostly comes from the sea. No matter where you live in the world, the die-offs in the ocean should be of great concern.

That means our main hope may be right beneath us. Our salvation may lie in the soil.

Carbon is the building block of all life. We are made from it, and need it, we just need to find a way to get back in balance with the fragile proportions that life on earth have evolved to require. Depending on the practices used to grow and process plant material, carbon will either be released up into the air, as in when burned, or drawn back into the soil to help make a stronger resource for the plants and microorganisms in the soil. Through photosynthesis, plants pull carbon dioxide in and convert it to sugars, which they send down through their roots to feed the microorganisms in the dirt. When plants are harvested, but their roots left underground, or better yet, part of the plant is left to break down, this helps retain carbon, rather then releasing it back into the atmosphere. This is called Carbon Sequestration, or Carbon Farming.

The Soil Not Oil Conference will be looking at Regenerative Agriculture as a local solution to this global problem. Through permaculture techniques, such as no-till farming, composting, planned grazing, and cover crops, farmers can see higher yields with less chemical inputs, while increasing their soil’s fertility and capturing more carbon in it. These and other techniques can also help the ground retain water more efficiently. We can reduce the levels of carbon in the atmosphere while producing healthier foods, combat the drought, aid farmers and reverse Climate Change!

Last year, an organization was started called Kiss the Ground in order to educate about the importance of soil. Based in Venice, CA, the organization uses community involvement, media, and policy to help drive the movement to better know the potential of what lies beneath us.

At the end of August, Kiss the Ground sent over twenty thousand signatures to Sacramento urging legislators to allocate $160 million from California’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund to help educate about soil and put sustainable practices into play at the State level. This would include $20 million to support Governor Brown’s Healthy Soil Initiative, and other pending bills that would bring money and education to Regenerative Farming, composting, and Carbon Farming. According to Finian Makepeace, co-founder of Kiss the Ground, this is the first time we have seen a number of bills at the State level looking into Carbon Farming and Regenerative Agriculture.

“We have a responsibility as citizens in our current system to help out and figure out what needs to be done,” says Makepeace. He feels there is much that can be done by individuals, like you and me, at a local level. San Francisco and Alameda Counties are great examples of communities leading the way in composting and other important measures. Kiss the Ground is happy to share the wording from these initiatives for people who want to call their local government and ask them to follow suit. There has been much research done, and by simply sharing this with your elected officials, you can help make a big difference to fight Climate Change and create a healthier food system.

For those who wish to dig deeper into this topic, the Soil Not Oil Conference will be a great opportunity. Those not able to attend in person can learn much at  HYPERLINK “http://www.soilnotoilcoalition.org” www.soilnotoilcoalition.org. Kiss the Ground, with the support of Nutiva and other allies, have produced an informative short film details the issue and what can be done: The Soil Story,  http://www.thesoilstory.com. A motion picture movie will be released next year. Carbon Underground and Organic Consumers are other organizations to look into for a better grasp of this topic.

When researching Climate Change and what is happening in the world, it is easy to be overwhelmed and feel helpless. When asked advice for the future, John Roulac, co-sponsor of the Soil Not Oil Conference, suggest “think big, be bold, and surround yourself with good people!” Hosting gardening parties in your community is one way to do this. Get your hands in the dirt, feed your family, and combat Climate Change all at the same time.

Healthy soil may be our greatest chance for a healthy future. What if we could reverse Climate Change? What if we can find a way to feed the 7 billion people calling Earth home? What if more time in the garden could replace anti-depressants? What if the answer is right beneath our feet? It seems like worthy endeavors to explore, especially right now during The Year of Soil.

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Hannah Apricot Eckberg is an environmental journalist, born and raised in Santa Barbara County. She has studied permaculture for many years, and plays in the dirt as much as possible.
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