There is no better evidence of humanity’s impact on Earth than the billions of hectares of land we have converted from natural vegetation into agriculture. While these vast expanses of croplands and pastures have fed the world, the once fertile soils below them have become degraded, depleted, and tired. The loss of carbon previously stored in these soils, in addition to the carbon emissions associated with modern intensive agriculture, have only worsened our climate change prospects.
Luckily, when our overworked agricultural soils are taken out of production and given the chance to rest, they have the ability to recapture lost carbon naturally and regenerate some of the vital ecosystem services they once provided human society.
Through the retirement of farmlands and restoration of pre-agricultural ecosystems, biodiversity, and soil carbon, we can promote climate change mitigation and resiliency This presents us with an exciting but scientifically, logistically, and ethically difficult question: has the time come to stop farming to help save the planet?
The intensifying challenges posed by climate change demands that we begin reflecting on our relationship with our soil resources and explore alternative solutions that were once unthinkable. Stopping farming is a simple act to perform, but with complex implications in all other regards. Learning from the lessons of agricultural land abandonment, we can letter determine if its true that “sometimes the best thing to do is to do nothing at all”.