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DAKOTA
CALIFORNIA, US
Age 16, H2OO Co-Founder & RAISE Initiative Co-Chair

ARTICLES

The Solution to the Climate Crisis is Right Under Our Feet

This week World Soil Day was recognized, but as you read these words, all living beings are suffering environmental catastrophes that out-scale any we have seen in human history. We must seize the opportunity to step away from the precipice of irreversible damage. The release of tremendous quantities of greenhouse gases (GHG’s) into the atmosphere along with the destruction of our carbon-sequestering natural resources is significantly disrupting the world in which we live. The world my generation is inheriting.

There are many claimed solutions to the environmental crises we face — droughts, extreme weather, sea level rise, air pollution, poisoned water, dying oceans, food scarcity. The most effective and scalable solution globally to these problems is right beneath our feet. SOIL.

Why? Let’s pull our soil situation apart to better understand it.

Earth’s soil stores about three times as much carbon as is present in our atmosphere [1]. Almost a quarter of the GHG’s released into the atmosphere come from the destruction of our soil, and what is worse — these emissions are continuing to rise [2]. Around the world, agriculture is responsible for more human GHG emissions than transportation. Between 2000–2010, annual GHG emissions from agricultural production were estimated at 5.0–5.8 billion tons of CO2 equivalent emissions per year [3]. At the high end, this is roughly equal to all the fossil fuel-derived CO2 emissions coming from China and Japan combined in 2018, and it is equivalent to all the world’s advanced economies’ energy-related CO2 emissions in 2019 [4].

What destroys our carbon-sequestering soil, disrupts biogeochemical cycles, and creates dirt? Hazardous farming techniques of modern-day agricultural practices — over-tilling, use of chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers, monoculture planting, and more.

One could refer to “dirt” as soil that has undergone a transformation from a “carbon sink” to a “carbon source” due to the destruction of its microbiology. As humans continue industrialized agriculture practices, an increasing amount of the world’s arable land is turning into non-arable dirt and releasing GHGs, especially in the U.S. and China. Improving soil health will stop the transition from soil to dirt and prevent the release of GHGs resulting in a carbon-negative solution.

Moreover, poor soil health significantly increases food insecurity causing higher food costs and more reliance on food imports. Humans, especially world leaders, must understand that soil microbiome health plays a unique role in society because the soil is the foundation of human civilization. Without the ability to grow crops plentifully and sustainably, society cannot sustain itself.

A practice of food production that is gaining more popularity, which has been utilized by indigenous communities for millennia, is regenerative agriculture. Through working with the land instead of against it, soil health improves and we can, therefore, inherently achieve ample food supply, climate stabilization, flood mitigation, and healthier people!

Please read more about how effective crop growth can be using practices applying traditional ecological knowledge, or “regenerative agriculture”, and how it cuts GHGs in the comprehensive science-based research paper Regeneration for the Next Generation written by me and members of Heirs To Our Oceans’ Regeneration and Indigenous Systems for our Environment initiative (RAISE).

I invite you to learn more about the soil beneath your feet this week for World Soil Day, for the sake of my generation.

Participants at SEAL 2021 learn about traditional food-growing practices in Hawai’i.

Sources:

[1] Rui, Yichao. Interview. Conducted by Jeremiah Cutright, 10 February 2021

[2] IPCC, 2014: Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Core Writing Team, R.K. Pachauri and L.A. Meyer (eds.)]. IPCC, Geneva, Switzerland

[3]“Each Country’s Share of CO2 Emissions”, Union of Concerned Scientists, 10 October 2019, www.ucs

[4] IEA (2020), “Global CO2 emissions in 2019”, IEA, 11 February 2020, Paris https://www.iea.org/articles/global-co2-emissionsin-2019