Um, how come nobody told us that soil is suddenly in vogue? Because that’s sort of our thing. We were smooching soil WAY before it was cool.
OMG WOODY HARRELSON.
The only possible way this narration could have been any more perfect is if his best pal Matthew McConaughey made a sudden appearance by sliding skillfully out of a hole in the ground with a succinct “alright alright alright.”
Other Cameo’s: Giselle Bundchen (supermodel), Tom Brady (professional athlete), Ian Somerhalder (actor), Patricia & David Arquette (actors), Jason Mraz (singer) and Rosario Dawson (actor).
What We Learned:
1) Carbon is energy, not enemy.
Carbon is the Severus Snape of soil – completely misunderstood. Plants consume the CO2 in the atmosphere for “fuel”. 40% of the CO2 plants “eat” goes down into their roots to give the microorganisms in the soil energy to make nutrients available to the plants.
CO2 also creates little pockets in the soil near the plant roots where water and air can collect and be retained by the soil.
2) Soil erosion is turning the world into a desert.
Soil erosion (or desertification) is when soil becomes just dirt – when the soil no longer has plants to absorb CO2, or microorganisms to feed the plants. Soil erosion is caused by tilling the fields (leaving the soil exposed), spraying crops with chemicals that kill microorganisms and leaving the soil bare for long periods of time between harvests.
Fun Fact: A handful of healthy soil contains more microbes than all the people who have ever lived on earth combined
3) Pesticides are a machine of war. Any war.
A German scientist created synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. He also created pesticides used as poisons during WWII – these were the first chemical weapons in history.
After the war, US chemical companies re-branded these killer compounds for use in agriculture – they started by fighting the enemies overseas, and ended by fighting the enemies on our own farms – launching the war on microbes.
Not-So-Fun Fact: Pesticides that leach into our bodies through consumption of pesticide-grown food also transfer through breast milk to babies. These can cause ADD, birth defects, pediatric diseases and various cancers.
Pesticides kill microbes in the soil – and (when we ingest the foods grown in these soils) they also kill the microbes in our body.
Fun Fact: There are more bacterial cells in the human body than actual human cells.
Our body’s microbes are crucial to our overall health, as is the microbe content in the soil. By reducing the microbes in the soil, we are limiting the nutrients available to plant absorption – and our own consumption.
(WHAT ABOUT MALAYSIA?)
4) Using Pesticides Means More and More Pesticides Are Needed
Every year, 3 lbs of toxic chemicals per person on earth are sprayed on our food (PS: we did the math – that’s 21 billion pounds of pesticides).
The widespread use of pesticides across the world has caused the need to develop GMO plants (genetically-modified organisms) to withstand the excessive spraying.
Pesticides kill the microbes in the soil. Without these microbes, water, air and carbon cannot be properly stored by the soil structure, and this creates desertification – or the loss of our topsoil. The “deader” the soil, the more pesticides and inorganic fertilizers need to be sprayed to ensure that crops survive year to year.
5) Micro-climate changes = Macro-Climate Change
By removing living plants from the surface of the earth (ie. only growing one mass crop at a time, and leaving the soil empty and dead for the remaining seasons), we are affecting the water cycles in the micro-climates in which crops are grown.
This is because 40% of the earth’s rainfall is actually produced inland. Land without plants will lose water through evaporation. Land with plants allows transpiration – or the production of humidity which contributes to rainfall.
By desertifying the earth, we are creating enough micro-climate changes to become a macro-climate change – or severe drought.
Not-So-Fun Fact: 2/3 of the earth is already desertified.
6) A Legacy Load – Why “Sustainability” Is NOT the Solution to Emissions
Even if we stopped all CO2-emitting production today – this would still not be enough to change the course of climate change.
There are over 1,000 billion tons of CO2 in the atmosphere right now – and growing every year. Stopping emissions will not reduce that “legacy load” of CO2, it will only stop future contributions. On top of this –completely halting CO2 production just doesn’t seem remotely likely given the socio-economic environment in which we currently live.
Our system is certainly imperfect – and new, sustainable practices are a must for future development - but shutting everything down overnight is simply not a sufficient or efficient way to handle the problem of climate change.
This means that:
Sustainability < Regeneration
Lowering CO2 Emissions < Drawdown
Not-So-Fun Fact: Experts say that, by 2050, over a billion people will become refugees from desertification-related natural disasters.
What’s needed – given our very short timeframe before we get into serious trouble – is a quick-fix that makes ecological, economic and lifestyle sense for everyone on earth.
Well, we learned that the answer is actually underneath our feet.
7) Soil with Plants Eat CO2. It’s that Simple.
Biosequestration means using topcover agriculture (AKA: agriculture that grows plants as opposed to growing desert) to pull CO2 from the atmosphere.
Fun Fact: By increasing the carbon able to be sequestered by the soil by just 0.4%, we would pull all CO2 emissions generated in a year.
Soil – healthy soil, of course, not the dead soil we have right now – can hold 5X more carbon than plants and the atmosphere combined. And this sequestration starts to happen almost instantly – because plants need CO2 to thrive, and they send that carbon down to the soil during photosynthesis.
8) Monoculture Is SO Last Generation.
Monoculture – which means agriculture that uses tillage to plant only one crop at a time, usually only once a year, and which requires synthetic fertilizers and pesticides – is simply not how plants - or even people, really - work.
Was that bold of us? Maybe.
The reason more and more fertilizers and pesticides are needed is because plants do not grow in unhealthy, dead soil – which is caused by:
c) Lack of rain (see #5)
d) Lack of plant diversity
e) Lack of animal diversity
So what’s the future of agriculture if we’re going to regenerate the earth’s soils and pull our global “legacy load” of CO2 before it’s too late?
9) Regenerative Agriculture Makes Eco Sense, Business Sense and People Sense
Regenerative agriculture takes a lot of forms – pretty much one for every type of climate there is. Essentially, regenerative agriculture is doing the opposite of what monoculture does – with incredible results.
Using regenerative agriculture:
Produces more harvests than monoculture (multiple harvests per year)
Offers more diversity – both in crop types and returns ($$) from those crops
Protects crops; up to 100% fewer losses from weather than monoculture
Eliminates the cost of expensive (and harmful) chemical inputs – plus the machinery required to spread them on fields
Adds crucial organic matter to the soil – for every 1% increase in organic matter = 10 more tons per acre of CO2 sequestered
Eliminates need for tilling
Fun Fact: Untilled soil stores 2X more water than tilled soil, eliminating the wastage of much of our precious water stores on land that simply cannot absorb it.
So, why is there this assumption that regenerative and sustainable farming isn’t a lucrative business to get into? Essentially, commodity credits awarded farmers by the USDA offers price guarantees for certain crops (namely, the crops used to feed feedlot animals which emit massive GHG’s). Without this government subsidization, farmers wouldn’t be making much money at all.
Most farmers struggle to make more than 1$ per acre. Diversified land (as used by Gabe Brown - see below) makes 100$ per acre in the same amount of time, every year. If all farmers would switch to regenerative agriculture, they would actually increase their profits by $100 billion annually and eliminate the tax burden for the nation by putting paid to GHG-supporting subsidies.
10) Regeneration Happening This Generation
One way to switch land over to regenerative agriculture is to ensure that the ground is covered by plant matter all seasons of the year (snow-permitting of course – our condolences, Canada) and is therefore always sequestering CO2.
Another, even better way: permaculture. Permaculture has been around since the 70’s, and essentially takes plant, animal and human natural processes into account so that all systems work together as opposed to sort-of-kind-of working in isolation.
Letting plants do their plant thing, and letting animals graze those plants intermittently is a natural, holistic method of farming that quite a few agronomists, farmers and gardeners have perfected all around the world.
11) Where Food Waste, Compost & Poop Come In
Probably the most important lesson we learned from Kiss the Ground was spoken by Pashon Murray, that cool, cool lady:
“Take waste and reuse it – because it’s not waste.”
Why does grazing animals across cropland do so much good? Why does compost do such wonders for the soil? Why is Patricia Arquette, co-founder of GiveLove.org so passionate about composting poop?
Because manure, food waste, poop – none of it is waste material.
Back when the majority of the United States was untamed land, millions of wild bison roamed in herds across the Northern Plains, leaving behind their smelly little health-nuggets. Their manure would break down into the soil, nourishing it and its microbes.
When the government came in to cull the bison (partially as an act of genocide against the aboriginal peoples who relied on them for food), these lands slowly but surely devolved into the CO2-generating, feedlot-friendly monoculture we see today.
By re-introducing these ruminants (cows, now) to grasslands and croplands, and allowing them to roam broadly (never returning them to a pasture until the land has been given a chance to heal from their heavy footfalls), farmers and ranchers would be returning the soil to its original health and sequestration potential.
And all because of poop.
San Francisco is the most sustainable city in the US. One of the main reasons they have achieved this impressive title is by introducing an organics stream to their waste collection, which collects and transports 700 tons of food scraps per day to composting facilities. These, in turn, transform food waste into compost for local farms.
Robert Reed (PR for Recology) says “[Food waste] is the most important kind of garbage that there is, because this is where the nutrients are and this is where the carbon is.”
Not only has SanFran increased their sustainability rating, they’ve also improved their economy by putting to use the otherwise “useless”, and reduced the impact and likelihood of severe drought/weather anomalies.
And that’s all because of food waste, and compost.
We do have the power to affect great and lasting change on earth.
Some Kiss the Ground Pro-Tips to Start Your Journey:
❑ Support locally-sourced, organically-grown, ethically-raised and pasture-fed foods. It’s really not that much more expensive. If you're not going to go vegetarian or vegan - then buy responsibly.
❑ Get to know your community, and see how food is produced, and which agricultural methods (CO2-producing, or CO2-sequestering) you’re supporting with your hard-earned dollars.
❑ Compost your food waste wherever possible. And where you can’t – reduce, reuse and recycle it!
❑ Care. You have to care about the ground beneath your feet, the food on your plate, the people in your community.