Soil conservation can help mitigate climate change


By Robin Young | PREVIEW Columnist

Maryville University’s sustainability program is distributing information and resources about the importance of soil conservation to reduce the progression of climate change. 

As the permafrost melts, 1.5 trillion tons of carbon could be released, along with toxins and other harmful substances. Because traditional farming practices deplete the soil, conservation is essential to mitigating the effects of climate change.

Climate change is an important topic that is getting a lot of attention. But, many people don’t realize soil conservation is an essential tool in reducing the impact of climate change. Practices like land overuse, slash-and-burn farming and pesticide use are still common and negatively impact the soil’s ability to nourish microorganisms, plants and animals.

Soil is critical not only for healthy ecosystems, but for crop production as well. Unhealthy soil will produce poor crop yields, which leads to food shortages. Additionally, healthy soil absorbs carbon from fossil fuels and other sources, reducing the impact of climate change.

Conserving soil is a win-win for the human species and for sustainability. Healthier soil requires fewer chemicals, leading to better food quality. Quality soil also increases crop yields and reduces costs. It can also retain water more effectively, preventing the soil from drying out too soon. As many areas experience more frequent droughts, this will be key.

We rely on soil in so many different ways, from creating building materials to filtering our water. Quality soil is also critical for countless species as a habitat and for food and shelter. When soil becomes depleted, ecosystems are disrupted and populations drop, causing a range of consequences that affect the entire food chain.

From an ecological standpoint, soil conservation can help to reduce sedimentation and pollution in waterways, which have a negative impact on aquatic species. Erosion caused by poor soil can also lead to increased flooding, which compromises forest ecosystems and human housing. Natural disasters are becoming more common due to climate change, and soil conservation is one of the many ways we can help prevent and reduce the impact of events like major floods.

There are a number of different soil conservation techniques that can be used to support and restore healthy soils around the world. Some of these techniques improve traditional farming methods and others are focused on the conservation of ecosystems such as wetlands:

• Terrace farming, which is used in mountainous regions, can reduce erosion and improve soil quality.

• No-till farming eliminates tilling to preserve the plant covering and improve the nutrient levels found in the soil.

• Contour farming, which is similar to terrace farming, follows the natural hills of the land to reduce erosion by up to 50 percent.

• Crop rotation involves planting different crops each year to reduce the depletion of nutrients.

• Buffer strips and windbreaks use trees and bushes to protect the soil from erosion due to wind and water.

• Wetland restoration provides habitats and protect against flooding.

• Earthworm introduction adds essential nutrients to soils.

• Forest cover re-establishment restores degraded soil.

Many of these conservation methods require far more planning and effort than traditional methods of food production. However, the benefits of conserving soil quality far outweigh the downsides. Implementing these conservation methods across the globe will be necessary for creating a healthier, more sustainable planet in the long term.

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