Seeing the carbon/climate problem differently: why we need a soil carbon challenge
1. Technology alone, or guilt over technology, won't fix climate change. Fossil fuel emissions are only 3.4% of the annual flux of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere (Lal 2008). Even with instantaneous and complete elimination of these emissions, it may take generations for atmospheric carbon dioxide to decline to what NASA scientist James Hansen calls safe levels (IPCC 2007a, 2007b).
Reducing fossil-fuel emissions may be a necessary part of long-term climate stability. But in the near term, emissions reductions would have little leverage on the factors of concern for IPCC scientists: positive radiative forcing driven principally by atmospheric carbon dioxide.
2. Taking responsibility means seeing the problem differently. The problem with carbon is that it's not a problem. It's a biologically driven cycle. It's a network of self-motivated creatures, most of them microscopic, powered by chemical energy from sunlight, who grow, strive, eat, multiply, respire, and die.
Most of our climate change ideas come from physical science. But biology runs the vast majority of the carbon cycle. Green plants take carbon from the atmosphere using solar energy and make the sugars and carbohydrates that fuel life and growth, and power every action, feeling, and thought. Most of this carbon is returned back into the atmosphere by oxidation, which releases energy: respiration, decay, and fire.
Fossil fuel deposits are the result of photosynthesis exceeding oxidation over a geological time scale. Soil organic matter—carbon compounds that are the residue of past life, the present habitat for underground biodiversity, and the substrate for future life—also stores a solar surplus, but on a shorter time scale.