Why Carbon?


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.

The Carbon Cycle

The Earth’s Carbon Cycle is the biogeochemical exchange of carbon among 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. To learn more, visit the United States Carbon Cycle Science Program.

Barriers & Opportunities

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.

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. On the right, the Keeling Curve shows the increasing concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere at one of many monitoring stations worldwide. 

Climate Solutions

Meeting climate change mitigation goals will require not only dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions but also the large-scale removal of CO2 from the atmosphere. There is growing recognition that agricultural and natural lands are our most valuable tool in massively scaling up rates of carbon sequestration across the globe.

Over the past 150 years of land use changes and agricultural practices, it is estimated that we have lost fifty to eighty percent of our topsoil worldwide, with most of the soil carbon it contains returning to the atmosphere as CO2. However, a multitude of agricultural practices have the potential to reverse this trend. Through the use of these carbon farming practices, agriculture can significantly increase the amount of carbon stored in long-term carbon pools including soil organic matter and woody plant biomass. While sequestering CO2 from the atmosphere, many of these practices also build farm resilience and support ecosystem health. Learn more about carbon farming at What is Carbon Farming?.

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.

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.