A Living Tissue
|The history of a nation
is written in its soil.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
In a geological perspective, Earth's atmosphere was first formed by micro-organisms in sea and soil. By breathing, they created Earth's atmosphere. And they maintained a stable mixture of gases for billions years—long enough for complex communities and larger lifeforms to evolve and diversify.
To cool Earth's over-heated climate engine, we need continued participation by these least of all lifeforms to restore fundamental balances for planetary life support. We must shift from 20th Century chemical views to a biological paradigm of ecological unity.
Today, water pollution is recognized as a major problem worldwide. Abundant evidence indicates microbes in the sea aren't thriving. Coastal estuaries suffer red tides and other ills. Continental shelves grow dead zones beyond river mouths. Now, coral reefs bleach and die—microbial ghost cities in the sea.
Little attention focuses on micro-organisms in soil. Yet, these soil communities are declining, too—disturbed by deforestation and plows, sterilized by chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, acid rains. All over Earth, soils are losing carbon and life, leaking fertility into air and water. We focus on obvious emissions from tailpipes and smokestacks, and fail to see invisible vapors rising from fleshly plowed and fertilized farmland.
Agriculture and food supply have huge carbon-positive footprints. From six to over 20 calories of fossil fuel are used to deliver one calorie of food to an American kitchen.
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Biological life is mostly water: Hydrogen + Oxygen.
Next comes Carbon—the organic element—the element causing most of global warming, air pollution and acid rain. Too much Carbon in the air. Not enough Carbon in soils. To reverse global warming and mitigate climate change impacts, carbon must be removed from Earth's atmosphere, and stored safely in inert solid forms.
"Carbon-Negative" means more carbon is removed from the air than is released. carbon in the air is lowered, not increased.
Plants are one of our planet's primary carbon fixing pathways. Photosynthesis in green plants combines carbon dioxide with water to create sugar. Plant roots penetrate mineral soils to spread this carbon widely as sweet carbohydrates.
Soil was a primary carbon-negative storage reservoir on the planet. The top several feet of ancient prairie and forest soils held a few hundred centuries of this organic carbon. 20th Century agriculture quickly exhausted this critical element out of soil and into air.
Now we have to put all that carbon—maybe more—back in soils.
Carbon-Neutral isn't enough.
We must become Carbon-Negative.
Fortunately, an ancient civilization in the Amazon rainforest left us a strategy to store carbon in soil, produce carbon-negative fuels, foster sustainable soil fertility, and grow nutrient dense foods. Terra Preta—the most fertile, productive and carbon-rich soils in the Amazon Basin—were made by ancient tribes beginning 6000 years ago. Their most unusual ingredient is charcoal. Making charcoal for fuel was done worldwide for millennia. But everyone is surprised to hear about putting charcoal in soil.