Expert Insights

Revitalizing Our Soil

Dave Nichols
Jul 2023
As the impact of climate change becomes more evident, the need for keeping carbon in soils is more important than ever. There is much we can each do to help repair our soil to reduce greenhouse gases. Here are some tips.
a child in the garden with soil in their hands

Preserving Our Earth and Soil

“Together we can regenerate the earth. Join the global movement to heal our soil, our health and our climate.” - From the film documentary, Kiss The Ground

GreenCars hopes to offer you a place to cultivate the green lifestyle through thought-provoking articles like this one. So often, the big problems such as climate change or the destruction of our planet’s soil seem unsurmountable. But as you’ll see, we can each do our part to turn dire ecological problems around. Each and every one of us truly can make a positive difference. Together, we can be the change.

a person gardening/farming

The Solution Under Our Feet

As the impact of climate change becomes more evident, the need for keeping carbon in soils is more important than ever. According to a 2019 report from the U.N. Environment Program, “The fragility of soils, the thin layer of the earth which is the foundation of nearly everything growing and almost all that we eat, puts the ‘sustainability’ of industrialized agriculture into question. The potential for carbon sequestration in soils via agriculture can play an important role in mitigating climate change.”

Unfortunately, our planet’s soil is being eroded at a rate of about one football field every five seconds, according to the United Nations. Agriculture in the form of industrialized farming is responsible for 25 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. On the positive side, there is much we can each do to help repair our soil to reduce greenhouse gases from agriculture while also boosting soil health and nutrient density.

Unless you are a farmer, you may not think about soil very often. We generally concentrate more on ways to save our oceans or forests than our soil. But as the Soil Science Society of America tells us, “Soil provides ecosystem services critical for life: soil acts as a water filter and a growing medium; providing habitat for billions of organisms, contributing to biodiversity; and supplies most of the antibiotics used to fight diseases. Soil is the basis of our nation’s agroecosystems which provide us with fiber, food and fuel.”

More simply put by Lady Eve Balfour of the Soil Association, “The health of soil, plant, animal and man is one and indivisible.”

a person planting a sprout

Soil is Essential to Life

Basically, healthy plants capture huge amounts of carbon dioxide which travels through their roots and is stored in the living soil as organic carbon. This process helps defend us from flooding and drought and is essential to helping us put food on our tables. But much of industrialized farming strips the soil of nutrients, packing it with dangerous chemicals from fertilizers and pesticides, which causes the soil to degrade and erode until it is barren and lifeless.

While 95 percent of the food we eat comes from soil, our nutrient-rich topsoil is being lost up to 40 percent faster than it is formed. Keep in mind it can take a thousand years for one inch of topsoil to form. The U.N. says that one-third of the world’s farmable soil has been degraded and we have fewer than 60 harvests left at the current rate of soil depletion.

What You Can Do

We want you to know that all is not lost, and that change is coming. From grassroots local movements to worldwide organizations for soil conservation, a war is being waged to save our soil on a global scale. As advocates of soil conservation, these groups are preventing soil loss from erosion or reduced fertility that is caused by overusing the soil, salinization, acidification and other types of chemical contamination. These groups include the Soil Association, American Farmland Trust, and Kiss the Ground. Visit their websites and become a soil advocate. You can also watch the excellent documentary from Kiss the Ground that offers uplifting solutions through regenerative agriculture.

The goal is to increase soil organic matter by 20 percent in the next 20 years. Some of the methods being actively used on organic farms today to regenerate soil include increasing input of organic material, utilizing no-till farming that allows crops to remain in place for a season and planting trees as windbreaks to secure topsoil. There is also terraced planting to maximize topography, monitoring pH levels in the soil, adding earthworms, using organic mulch, adding crop-specific fertilizers and designing crop rotation for optimal soil health.

Support Organic Farms

The single most important thing you can do to become a soil advocate is to support organic, sustainable farming. Purchase and eat organic, locally grown foods. Get to know the growers at your local farmer’s market. In the grocery store, look for the USDA Certified Organic Seal to be sure the food you eat is free of harmful chemicals. You can also support organic farms by choosing to buy organic cloth clothing, cosmetics and non-toxic household cleaning supplies.

Eat Diverse Foods

Create a demand for a wide range of agricultural products by buying and eating locally grown organic fruits, vegetables, eggs and dairy products. Planting a variety of veggies helps biodiversity and soil fertility. “Eating a rainbow” of foods is great for farms and important for your good nutrition too.

Reduce Waste

Chad Frischmann in The Washington Post remarked that, “Reducing food waste is one of the most important things we can do to reduce global warming.” Over 30 percent of food is wasted globally, contributing to eight percent of total greenhouse gas emissions. So, an easy way to support healthy soil and lower greenhouse gases is by limiting how much food is being thrown away and ending up in landfills. All the food you buy had to be grown; requiring land, soil, water, nutrients and a lot of hard work to produce. Use up the food you buy and throw away less!


Speaking of reducing waste, instead of throwing unused fruits and vegetables in the garbage, get into composting. You can purchase a composting bin for $100 to $500 or build your own for a lot less by using a couple of garbage cans. Composting returns nutrients to the soil and is great for your garden.

Use Natural Weed-Killers

One of the worst things you can do is poison your soil, vegetables and local pollinators such as bees, wasps and birds with popular weed-killing products that contain glyphosate – the most widely used herbicide in the country. Besides doing more damage to the environment, glyphosate is known to cause cancer as well as Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia in humans. Be sure to use all-natural weed and insect control.

Contact Legislators

Call, write or email your state representatives and remind them that protecting soil through healthy soil legislation is an important aspect of curbing global warming and climate change. Encourage them to support soil conservation. You can check on the Healthy Soil Legislation in your state here and you can find your federal elected officials here.

Drive an Electric Car

For over a century, fossil fuels have propelled our cars and powered our homes and businesses. Unearthing, processing and moving oil, gas and coal deposits have taken an enormous toll on our ecosystems. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), “drilling or strip mining to find fossil fuels can destroy huge amounts of terrain including forests and whole mountaintops. Even after operation ceases, the nutrient-leached land will never return to what it once was.” Oil development also threatens our waterways and groundwater, which can be laden with heavy metals and other pollutants that destroy crops and soil.

In a recent report the NRDC states that, “we are poised to make dramatic progress toward a clean energy future. We can slash U.S. fossil fuel use by 80 percent by 2050.” To do that, we need to grow renewable energy resources and convert to all-electric vehicles. By driving an EV you can be a part of the pollution solution.

“Essentially, all life depends upon the soil. There can be no life without soil and no soil without life; they have evolved together.” —Dr. Charles E. Kellogg, Soil Scientist and Chief of the USDA’s Bureau for Chemistry and Soils