MOST people now recognise that climate change is a serious problem which must be tackled. The recent Extinction Rebellion protests and school strikes show an increased awareness of the cliff edge we now inhabit.

But how do we address this monumental problem? Much of the answer lies in the soil beneath our feet. Soil is the key to all human life. Soil nurtures all the plants and animals we eat and without it we would perish but despite this crucial role, soils around the world have been exploited for 100 years, losing up to 70% of their carbon content. And where has all this carbon gone? Into the atmosphere of course, exacerbating our climate woes.

We must start putting this carbon back into the soil where it belongs. Soil has the ability to sequester huge amounts of carbon but it will take a change in farming practices around the world.

Since the invention of the tractor a century ago, farmers have lost touch with the fundamentals of soil care and now bludgeon their soils with tractors, diesel and steel to grow their crops.

A small minority of farmers, however, take a more holistic approach to farming and are nurturing their soils in several ways.

Firstly, they do not plough the land. Disturbing the soil introduces too much air and disrupts the soil structure, leading to oxidization of carbon and nitrogen and releasing greenhouse gases.

Secondly, these enlightened farmers are avoiding leaving their soils bare wherever possible. They use so-called cover crops between their cash crops and these cover crops capture carbon and increase the amount of worms and micro-organisms which are good for soil health.

Thirdly, the most progressive farmers are composting their animals’ waste and anything else they can get hold of. Compost is a wonder material, containing up to a staggering five billion organisms in 30,000 different species in every teaspoonful. These bacteria and fungi quickly break down organic matter into humus, the lifeblood of the soil. Humus gives the soil its crumbly structure and holds water to prevent flooding and drought. It facilitates nutrient exchange between the soil and plants through mycorrhizal fungi, reducing the need for artificial fertilisers and provides the perfect conditions for worms and other soil life. Many of the micro-organisms in healthy soil remove carbon and nitrogen directly from the air as well as helping plants to grow and remove CO2 and nitrogen.

The farmers using these methods are finding their soils’ organic matter levels are improving rapidly, leading to increased yields. Farmers around the world using these techniques have reported a doubling of their soils organic matter levels in under 10 years. It takes more management skill but it can be done.

These methods must become the norm rather than the exception. It is madness to send organic waste to landfill to add to global warming when it has the potential to improve our soils massively. Policy makers around the world must facilitate the composting of all organic waste to apply to the land. Compost inoculates the soil with billions of beneficial micro-organisms which then multiply throughout the soil, greatly improving its carbon capturing potential.

Applying compost to the land provides a springboard for soil fungi, bacteria and other micro-organisms and encourages worms which turbo-charge the soil, increasing nutrient transfer to plants, reducing erosion and improving drought resistance.

This would quickly lead to improved crop yields and sequester huge amounts of carbon. To replace half the carbon lost from our soil in the last century would sequester 30 gigatonnes of carbon worldwide. That is 30 thousand million tonnes! It’s a lot of carbon.

A side benefit of this policy would be that as average yields increased, less land would be required to feed the population allowing for the reforestation of some land. This is another important aim as trees sequester a lot of carbon and are providers of habitat for much of the world’s wildlife.

Continued inaction is not an option. With these simple policies governments around the world could do much to limit climate change. It would take money, re-education and determination but it could be done. Ignoring climate change any longer could leave humankind with a very bleak future indeed.

Looking after the earth in both senses could truly save the world.