OnGardening: How restoring your soil can help fight climate change

By Tom Karwin,; Writes weekly about gardening at Monterey Herald

This article first appeared at, permitted to be re-published here at ReloNavigator’s Newsletter. #gardening #tomkarwin #climatechange #soil #carboncycle

_Gardening Soil

The threat of climate change has become a concern among scientists, environmentalists and gardeners (who might wear all three of these hats, of course). In the search for a solution to this problem, these three interested parties have common ground.

Our climate is changing as a result of a disruption of the carbon cycle. On Earth, a fixed amount of carbon moves through different forms: liquid, solid or gas.

Carbon enters the atmosphere from several sources, including respiration and decay of animals and plants, eruptions of volcanoes and releases of dissolved carbon dioxide (CO2) from the oceans.

Plants absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and use photosynthesis to release oxygen back into the atmosphere and convert carbon into sugars that support the plant’s above-ground growth. At the same time, up to 40 percent of the CO2 goes to the plant’s roots, to feed soil microbes. The microbes help the plant acquire nutrients through its roots, and lock (“sequester”) carbon into the soil for very long periods.

The carbon cycle supports Earth’s climate and enables the growth of plants and all other living things.

This complex natural process balances the amount of carbon in liquid, solid and gas forms. Vast amounts of carbon are stored in the soil and fossil fuels, and much smaller amounts are stored in the atmosphere, the oceans and plants.

During the Industrial Revolution (about 1760 to 1830), humans began burning fossil fuels, cutting down forests, draining wetlands, converting grasslands to large-scale crops, paving paradise and applying synthetic chemical fertilizers and pesticides. These activities have been disrupting the carbon cycle and altering this important balance.

The consequences include degraded soil with reduced ability to capture carbon, an excess of carbon in the atmosphere and the acidification of the oceans, none of which is beneficial to living things (including us).

The broad term, climate change, encompasses all of these negative effects.

Restoring the natural carbon cycle could reverse climate change.

Restoration requires feeding the soil with organic matter and planting cover crops to protect the soil from temperature extremes and erosion. In short, the solution is based upon regenerative, organic agriculture.

This strategy must be employed on a global scale, but we all should understand the carbon cycle and support this process of soil restoration in our own gardens and in our individual contributions to relevant public policy. Substantial private interests are invested in fossil fuels, “conventional” monoculture agriculture that depends upon synthetic chemicals, and other industrial methods that are changing our climate. They can be expected to resist this strategy of working with nature, so eventual success requires our vision and long-term commitment.

Each gardener could participate first in his or her own garden. That would be a fine way to celebrate our independence from, in this context, commercial interests.

To read more of Tom Karwin’s gardening articles and insights, please visit; to send an inquiry please send it to:

Tom Karwin writes a regular column at Monterey Herald; his articles are also documented at On Gardening;  is president of the Friends of the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum and a Lifetime UC Master Gardener (Certified 1999-2009). A board member of the California Native Garden Society, a long-time member of the Garden Writers Association.

OnGardening TomKarwin

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