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A lot of people want to lower the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, concerned about catastrophes of one sort or another, with the goal to become carbon neutral. But the amount of carbon isn't really the problem. The problem is only that the carbon is in the wrong place. There is a finite amount of carbon on earth. We can't raise it or lower it; we can only move it around.

There is more in the air now than there was fifty years ago. To reduce the amount in the air, it is going to have to be put back in the ground somehow. But how?

A lot of solutions have been proposed, but we need to keep in mind this uplifting fact: If we put it in the soil, it solves several other problems at the same time.

"Carbon is what lends fertility to soil and sustains plant and microbial life," writes Judith D. Schwartz in her book, Cows Save the Planet. "Soil that's rich in carbon holds water, like a sponge. By contrast, water that falls on soil depleted of carbon streams off, causing erosion and leaching out nutrients."

And soil that holds more water can withstand droughts better and prevents flooding. It produces more plant growth per year, turning each square inch of falling sunlight into more food for cows, humans, wildlife, soil microbial life, etc. The nutritional value of the plants grown in soil rich in microbial life (rich in carbon, in other words) is higher because some of that life in the soil — fungi, bacteria, nematodes and worms in particular — make minerals in the soil more assimilable to plants. In other words, food grown in soil that is rich in carbon is better for health.

Policy makers been focused mostly on fossil fuels, trying to prevent the carbon from going into the air, which is definitely important. But as Schwartz points out, that's only looking at half the picture. The other half is about building soil.


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