Letter: The case for prioritizing soil health
I would like to thank Kelli Duncan for her May 17 op-ed in the Vail Daily promoting local food economies and the importance of soil health. At the time, I was reading “The Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Life and Health,” a book that details the importance of beneficial microbes to both our soil fertility and our own intestinal health. With her awareness, I am building upon her article.
An additional and powerful argument for soil health is the following. Healthy soils sequester carbon dioxide — and significant amounts of it. Fossil fuel emissions certainly are contributing to rising greenhouse gases. However, land-use practices that prioritize the bottom line and favor the agro-chemical industry are a significant part of the climate instability problem. Most conversations focus on emissions from our transportation and power sectors. As such, the climate conversation continues to focus upon technology as the solution.
It is time to expand this conversation to include land-use practices. I’ll refer the reader to Paul Hawken’s Drawdown project, which can be viewed online or in print. Over several years, he organized and coordinated research to find out which solutions (to address global warming) would provide the most bang for the buck. This was a global research collaboration that looked at some 100 solutions. The results of this study pointed to food and land-use practices as strategies that would be highly effective. In their modeling, 12 of the top 20 strategies fell within these two categories. Reduced food waste ranked No. 3, a plant-based diet ranked No. 4 and tropical reforestation ranked No. 5.
Models are not definitive. However, in this case, they do point to some interesting gaps within our climate conversation. Policymakers state that in order to meet emissions reduction goals, we will need to invent carbon sequestration technology. The time frame and the price tag on this are unknown. The reality is that the primary “technology” to sequester carbon dioxide already exists. It is called healthy soil. Carbon farming is gaining credibility with the right population — farmers and ranchers. Legislators and officials would serve the public better by connecting these dots and supporting policies that reward farmers and communities for prioritizing soil health.