The keys to fighting climate change are right under our feet.

Researchers at the Rodale Institute have learned that organic soils trap atmospheric carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, and convert it to carbon, a key component of healthy soil.

In the longest-running study of its kind, the Rodale Institute’s Farming Systems Trial (FST) has compared organic and conventional farming side by side since starting in 1981. Important findings have included organic crops’ ability to withstand drought-year stress much better than crops raised on a diet of chemicals.

The recent findings suggest that synthetic nitrogen fertilizers speed up the decay process of organic matter so that it is released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide rather than stored in the soil as carbon. Both plants and organic soils, the studies demonstrate, operate as powerful “sinks,” capturing the greenhouse gas considered by many scientists to be largely responsible for global warming.
How Organic Farming Draws Down Carbon

The current body of soil science shows that all the cropland on Earth, if farmed organically, could sequester 41 percent of all the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The pastureland could sequester an additional 71 percent.If just half the world’s cropland and pastureland were converted, organic soil could pull 55 percent of annual carbon emissions out of the atmosphere.

Healthy, nutrient-rich soil actually holds carbon dioxide and keeps it out of the atmosphere, where it contributes to the greenhouse effect and a warming planet—a warming planet that’s causing more severe storms, weird swings in temperature, more severe allergies, an increase in the spread of insect-borne diseases, and all manner of other health and environmental problems.

The carbon dioxide gets there through photosynthesis, which is the process plants employ to pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, use sunlight to convert it to energy, and then exude the rest through their roots, where the carbon dioxide gets stored in the soil. Microorganisms and beneficial fungi in healthy soil use the carbon dioxide as feedstock themselves, and the result is vibrant, nutrient-dense soil that produces vibrant, nutrient-dense food. (Read more about how eating sustainably grown food is one of the best things you can do for your health.)