While the effects of climate change can be seen in dramatic weather events like hurricanes and wildfires, experts have gathered at Concordia University to talk about something much humbler that could provide a solution – soil.

The Living Soils Symposium is a three-day event in which scientists and academics have gathered alongside farmers, government officials and other parties to discuss ways to save dirt and, as a result, save the planet.

Symposium director Gabrielle Bastien said soil plays a vital role in regulating the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.

“What we don’t hear enough about is that soils are the largest terrestrial carbon sink,” she said. “What that means is they’re the largest terrestrial reservoir that can hold and absorb carbon. That’s all made possible through biology.”

Soil is rich in microorganisms whose biological functions enable humans to grow food and other materials. But the tiniest of lifeforms also have an outsize role, and human activity has degraded their ability to do so, said Bastien.

“Soil plays a major role in filtering our water supply and regulating floods,” she said. “They provide countless other services and it’s really through those microorganisms they provide that.”

Among the symposium’s speakers is Jean-Martin Fortier, who operates several farms and authored the book ‘The Market Gardener.’ He said local, organic farming provides not just better tasting produce but also a more sustainable model that does less damage to the environment than large-scale corporate farming.

“Living soils is the complete opposite of using nasty chemicals that we don’t need to have in any instance,” he said. “We just need to learn how to work with nature and that’s not silly at all, it’s just common sense and going back to how it used to be.”

As for the venue, Bastien credited Concordia with being oriented towards sustainability – perfect for helping make a topic that can seem esoteric easy to grasp for the curious.

“We wanted to foster these interdisciplinary discussions to foster innovation,” she said. “We wanted to make it accessible to the greater public. Soil isn’t something you hear about every day and it can sound geeky or inaccessible to some people.”