Here's some promising eco-news: A simple scientific experiment tweaked the ecosystem of a California farm, and the soil began capturing tons of carbon from the atmosphere.
The experiment began in 2007, when some Californian farmers collaborated with some ecologists. They wanted to enrichen the soil so that it'd grow grasses and plants that trap more carbon, particularly "occluded" carbon, which is usually dead microbes. That stuff gets in the earth and stays there for a long time.
To try and encourage new forms of growth that trap that type of carbon, they did a simple treatment: They covered three acres of the farm with a half-inch of compost, bought from a nearby composting plant.
When they checked back three years later, the soil in the treated acres was indeed trapping far more carbon than untreated soil in nearby farms (which, interestingly, was mostly losing carbon, on balance). How much capture had taken place? About 1.5 tons of carbon dioxide per acre per year, which is "roughly equal to your car’s emissions if you drove from Miami to Seattle."
The scientists' research suggests that the soil will continue to capture carbon at that rate. That's particularly remarkable considering it was a one-time treatment!
This suggests something quite enticing: Treat farms all over America just one time with a half-inch of compost, and they could become sponges that soak up tons of carbon. Moses Velasquez-Manoff has written a fascinating long feature about the work in the New York Times Magazine:
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In the years that followed, Silver’s analyses of soil cores indicated that the treated land kept taking in carbon.