A: The Carbon Underground is a non-profit organization created to support the use of biological carbon sequestration in order to help reverse climate change. As study after study continues to show the ability of healthy soil to do this, it became apparent that no organization existed responsible for educating people and building support for restoring and protecting our farms and grasslands as a means toward reversing the threat of climate change. TCU was created for this purpose.
A: It is a natural or artificial process by which carbon dioxide (CO2) is removed from the atmosphere and held in solid or liquid form. The Carbon Underground is focused on the natural process, which sequesters carbon as it supports life on earth and enables the planet to feed itself.
A: Our climate is being increasingly destabilized by man-made CO2 emissions, primarily from industrial farming and the burning of fossil fuels. By storing, or sequestering CO2—or drawing CO2 back from the atmosphere—we can work to eliminate its negative and disruptive affect on climate.
A: CO2 is a natural part of life on earth, and therefore our atmosphere will always need to contain a natural amount of it. The problem is that since the beginning of the Industrial Age we have put exorbitant and highly dangerous amounts into our atmosphere. According to studies, an acceptable level of CO2 in the atmosphere necessary to maintain natural systems critical to human civilization is 350PPM, or parts per million. We are presently at approximately 400PPM and rising quickly, meaning we need to not only reduce current emissions but bring a significant amount of previously released CO2 back to earth and re-sequester it.
A: Work is being done all around the globe to create ways to sequester carbon, ranging from scrubbers that trap coal-burning emissions to filters that capture CO2 from the air. No technology has yet been proven with the capacity to restore the 350PPM levels, a goal that becomes more elusive every day.
A: Dr. Christine Jones, one of the world’s leading carbon-cycle scientists (and a member of our advisory board) describes the “liquid carbon pathway” as a process as a where plants absorb the CO2 from the air, break it down into carbon and oxygen, and then combine the carbon with hydrogen it gets from water to create a liquid. This liquid then flows out through the roots into the soil where it is stored and able to be re-used by nature. The oxygen, as we know, is released for us to breathe, yet another example of nature’s amazing system.
A: Healthy soil is composed of high levels or carbon-rich organic matter. Healthy soil, in fact, needs carbon to promote healthy plant growth. As part of photosynthesis plants draw carbon down from the atmosphere —in the form of CO2 –to use for bartering with microorganisms in the soil for phosphorus and nitrogen. This is part of nature’s perfect system, where nothing ever goes to waste and everything is reused in the cycle of life.
A: Photosynthesis is the process in plants that uses the energy from the sun to convert carbon dioxide and water into glucose (a sugar) and oxygen. Plants then create complex carbohydrates, to support their metabolic needs as well as for use in bartering soil microorganisms for necessary nutrients they cannot intake on their own.
A: Healthy soil absolutely sequesters CO2. However, unhealthy soil resulting from industrial farming and ranching actually releases CO2, contributing to the destabilizing of natural systems, including the climate. Today, roughly one third of all CO2 emissions come from unnatural farming techniques. If we enable our soil to become healthy again, research shows it will begin sequestering carbon at rates that can reverse climate change.
A: There are a couple of reasons. First, if you till the soil you chop up the underground aggregates and expose them to the atmosphere and the sun. This causes decomposition releases the CO2, and results in carbon getting into the atmosphere at unnatural levels. Another reason comes from artificial fertilizers, which provide nitrogen and phosphorus to the plants in an unnatural way, shutting down the plant’s need to trade CO2 underground for these elements, thereby keeping the carbon from returning to the soil. (Additionally, the application of synthetic nitrogen also releases Nitrous Oxide into the atmosphere, which is another damaging greenhouse gas.)
A: No individual action will solve climate change. To do that, we need to restore balance and become a carbon-neutral society, which is projected to take decades. Restoring the health of our soil will significantly reduce current emissions, draw down damaging CO2 from our atmosphere, and give us the time we need to transition to living in a climate-friendly and carbon neutral manner.
A: Absolutely. While we need more peer-reviewed trials, the evidence is now pouring in from all over the world and there is growing awareness that this is one of the potential game changing strategies for ensuring a safe future. Does that mean we have all the answers? No. But given the state of our planet, we need to begin to act now, even while additional data are being sought, to ensure a net reduction of carbon levels in the atmosphere and a stabilizing of our climate.
A: People who say this usually fall into one of two camps. They either feel it sounds “too good to be true” or they are representing the same types of interests that promote the denial of climate change itself. Multiple studies have shown we have the ability to reverse climate change even without making drastic changes in our behavior. Admittedly, this sounds too good to be true, yet there is peer-reviewed science readily available that supports it. We, however, feel that restoring the health of our soil is only part of the solution, along with significant reductions in man-made emissions of CO2.
A: Simply stated, we know of no other action that can do this. If a superior method to putting the carbon back underground via healthier soil were to emerge, The Carbon Underground would readily support it. According to experts ranging from NOAA to Nobel laureates, even if we stopped emitting one hundred percent of all excess CO2 today the atmosphere would not be restored for well over a thousand years. Therefore, stopping emissions is not enough. We must also draw CO2 back down to save the planet as we know it.
A: The answer, surprisingly, is just the opposite. To begin, the food yields from industrial farms vs. regenerative farms is are basically identical. While during the transition to healthier farming there may be a slight decrease in yield, this is normally short-lived, and then yields often surpass those of industrial, chemically dependent techniques. And since chemically dependent soil eventually loses its ability to produce, even with additional chemicals, depending on this approach to feed humanity is actually much riskier than doing it in a regenerative manner.
A: There are additional benefits nearly as important as reversing climate change itself. Saving water, for instance, or the security of our food sources. Food grown in a regenerative manner means healthy soil, which is not only a carbon sink but a water sponge. In fact, every percent increase in carbon in the soil retains 60,000 gallons of additional water per acre. According to the Rodale Institute’s long-term study, this “wet sponge” means that in drought times the soil produces up to 30% higher yields than industrially farmed soil does under the same conditions. In an increasing thirsty and hungry world, this reduction in water use while increasing food security creates another compelling and critical reason to support regenerative farming.
A: Absolutely. Studies have shown that the drop in yield is minimal during the first few years, and then normally equals, and often surpasses, the amounts of food that were chemically and artificially produced.
A: There are a number of ways. First, sign up on the site so we can continue to send you updates and exciting ways for you to get involved. But The Carbon Underground will also be creating communities for farmers, ranchers, scientists, academia, and other who want to share, learn, help spread the news about soil, contribute to further research, or help us make sure we are using regenerative practices on enough land to help reverse what may be the greatest threat to humanity. And finally, you can donate, as this effort must become global to succeed, and creating a worldwide campaign is expensive.
A: Simple. We believe that every discussion on climate change needs to go beyond cutting emissions and ask the question “How are we going to remove existing CO2 from the atmosphere?” We are as strong as our collective voice, and we’d like to add yours to our movement.