Carbon Cycle Literacy

Carbon Cycle 101

The success of the carbon cycle solution championed by CCI rests on our partners and allies—including farmers and ranchers, conservationists, and policy makers—and their understanding of the fundamentals of the carbon cycle, its relationship to soil and agricultural ecology, and the direct implications for global climate. Read more on the Carbon Cycle .

Literacy Impact

Increasing carbon cycle literacy among our key constituencies has enabled CCI to:

Building Working Partnership

Build working partnerships with farmers and ranchers and producer groups interested in adopting  climate-beneficial land management practices and marketing climate beneficial agricultural products

Paradigm shift

Shift the paradigm among conservationists and agricultural support agencies and organizations to support an understanding of  carbon as a central organizing principle informing their mission.

Foster Leadership

Foster leadership among public officials and resource agencies to advance carbon farming and to support the expansion of essential technical assistance and economic incentive programs.

Raise Awareness

Raise the awareness of businesses and consumers on the importance of a carbon-focused, climate beneficial agriculture and advance the creation of new markets and supply chains.

Opportunities & Barriers

To increase climate and carbon cycle literacy, CCI and partners are employing the following strategies:

Communicate the scientific underpinnings of carbon farming to policy makers and public agency leadership through Carbon 101 education and outreach

Build innovative partnerships among  businesses and agricultural producers and producer groups to advance climate beneficial production systems and  products.

Integrate Carbon Farming into community-based Climate Action Planning and stakeholder engagement.

Establish Regional Carbon Farming Hubs throughout California.

Identify and train partner spokespersons in  carbon cycle literacy and messaging.

Photos by Paige Green

Why Carbon?

Drastically increasing CO2 emissions since the Industrial Revolution have been the primary driver of global climate change. These CO2 emissions have been the result of vast quantities of stored organic carbon being converted into heat-trapping CO2 and released into the atmosphere. Burning fossil fuels, clearing forests, and disturbing soils are all examples of this process.

This graph–referred to as the Keeling Curve–shows the steadily increasing concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii since Charles Keeling began taking measurements there in 1958. The annual oscillation in global atmospheric CO2 concentrations is due to the earth’s seasons; the northern hemisphere, with its larger land area and greater mass of seasonal plants, including Northern Pacific phytoplankton, drives CO2 concentrations down during its spring and summer months when plants are actively growing, and drives CO2 concentrations up during its fall and winter months when plants senesce and decay.

Credit Scripps Institution of Oceanography

The Carbon Cycle

carbon cycle diagramThe Earth’s Carbon Cycle is the biogeochemical exchange of carbon between the earth’s five main physical “spheres”—atmosphere, biosphere, pedosphere, hydrosphere and lithosphere. Human activity—including burning of fossil fuels, but also the “mining” of our soils—has radically altered carbon’s movement between these spheres, resulting in large net increases in carbon in both the atmosphere and hydrosphere, with consequent negative impacts on global climate and biological systems. CCI is dedicated to halting and reversing these imbalances through identification of human practices that restore natural cycles and that, if taken to scale, can increase carbon sequestration and reduce GHG emissions.

The figure at right depicts the different components of the carbon cycle, with values in parentheses shown as estimates of the major global carbon reservoirs (Houghton, 2007) in gigatons (GT) (Source: U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science).

For a more detailed explanation of the diagram, visit the United States Carbon Cycle Science Program.