Technology and economy have always driven the relationship between humans and nature (see Technology alone will not solve energy crisis). But now this relationship can determine the future of the human race and the planet. There can be much good from technology, but there can be terrible problems.

The question is whether a particular techno-economic approach provides new and larger problems or new and larger solutions. The ancient-future soil technology 'Terra Preta do Indio' — Portuguese for Indian Black Earth — could be one solution.

Research emerging from the Amazon basin is locating large deposits of extremely fertile and resilient Terra Preta soil. It appears to have been made by ancient Indians adding charcoal to soil, and carbon dating says much of it is 2500 to 4000 years old.

Terra Preta soil is incredibly productive, increasing plant growth by up to 800 per cent, and could have easily supported an agriculture capable of feeding millions of people living in great cities in the central Amazon basin.

But what if we could we develop an equally impressive modern soil technology? 

Faster-growing plants would draw more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and unused plant waste could be turned into charcoal to be returned to the soil. This in turn would result in increased crop yields, more carbon capture, more food and fuel for increasing populations — and a new era of sustainable abundance.

Soil research is being conducted and, though the data is not in, hopes are high.

But we will need more than new technology. Right now overwhelming economic opportunities are located in creating fuel.

What can incentivise devoting a portion of the charcoal produced from agricultural waste to amendments for renewing the soil? Carbon exchange can provide this economic tipping point.

Those who have no choice about polluting — such as airlines — can fund those who have a choice but for whom doing the right thing means missing out on short-term profits. Carbon credits for long-term soil amendments promise to feed people, save rainforests and reduce global warming.

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