What’s Up with Carbon?
Uniting these seemingly unrelated issues is a gas that often gets negative headlines: carbon dioxide. It makes up 80 percent of the greenhouse gases that trap heat above the earth, but carbon isn’t all bad.
Every time we breathe, we inhale oxygen and exhale carbon. Plants do the opposite, taking in carbon and emitting oxygen. Too much carbon, often found in poorly ventilated offi ces, makes the air seem stuff y, can make people feel sleepy, and can lead to headaches. But in farming, says Adams, “Carbon is the food of life.” Here’s how nature intended it to work:
Plants take in carbon from the air, convert some of it into energy, and pump out the rest through their roots. Organisms in the soil feed on the carbon, supply nutrients to the plants, and enable soil to absorb water effi ciently and withstand droughts and other extreme weather. As long as there is plenty of life below ground, massive amounts of carbon are stored in the soil, instead of escaping into the atmosphere.
By killing off life in the soil, herbicides, pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and other farming practices have broken the cycle. Depleted soil fl oods easily, leads to toxic run- off , can’t withstand drought, produces poor- quality food, and contributes to air pollution. But it can be rescued.
“It’s said that a teaspoon of healthy soil contains more microorganisms than all the people on earth,” says Gabe Brown, a North Dakota farmer and regenerative pioneer. And those organisms are essential for nutritious food, resilient farmland, and clean air.