“Every bit of nature is designed to help regenerate and rejuvenate itself. As humans we know that we can actually be the stewards that are helping to have the land come back to function” – Finian Makepeace, Co-founder, Kiss the Ground
Did you know that one teaspoon of healthy soil holds more microorganisms than there are people on Earth? And even still, we have only identified 1% of the microorganisms that reside in soil. Though soil may not be the first thing you think of when asked for a solution to climate change, it has the potential to be the secret (peaceful!) weapon. Healthy soil is a vital foundation that supports food, water and energy security, human health, biodiversity, and climate change mitigation, adaptation and resilience.
“Carbon is notorious for its contribution to climate change. Its ubiquitous presence in our atmosphere subjects it to vilification for environmental degradation. However, what people often fail to acknowledge, is that carbon is not inherently bad. Carbon is the building block of life, and whether it becomes a problem or solution simply depends on a matter of balance,” as the brilliant documentary Kiss the Ground notes. The earth needs carbon. Without it, life wouldn’t exist. The problem is where carbon is stored. Soil holds more carbon than the atmosphere and all vegetation combined. While an abundance and increasing quantity of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is detrimental, if relocated to where it is needed most, in soil, it is key for creating a more sustainable future.
Even if the world stopped all emissions right now (which is utterly impossible), we’d still have too much carbon in the atmosphere. This means we need to pull carbon from the atmosphere into soil, even more than total global emissions. We can’t just be sustainable, we have to be regenerative.
Unfortunately, soil health is under constant threat from the industrialized world. Monocropping, chemical use, deforestation, and urbanization all degrade soil’s ability to store carbon. Conventional agricultural practices often rely on toxic inputs, which remove nutrients from soil and leave large plots of land useless. With over 40% of Earth’s land already cleared for agriculture, much of the world’s soil has lost half of its topsoil in 150 years and 50-70% of its original carbon stocks.
Agriculture is on the front lines of climate change. Whether a seven-year drought drying up combustible fields in California, devastating Midwest flooding, or hurricane after hurricane pounding the eastern and southern coasts, agriculture and rural communities are already feeling the devastating effects of a changing climate. Scientists expect extreme weather events to grow both more frequent and intense in coming years, as a result of the worsening climate crisis.
Degraded soil worldwide has allowed for increased greenhouse gas-related climate change to have increasingly serious negative impacts. Floods, droughts and fires are symptoms of broken, degraded soil that cannot absorb, retain or infiltrate water. The addition of more CO2 and other greenhouse gases exasperate the problems with broken land that no longer functions. Regenerative agriculture addresses this directly, as the carbon needed to rebuild soil is the very carbon currently causing a problem in our atmosphere.
Soil degradation is also a major public health issue. In the southwestern United States, Valley Fever is on the rise, which occurs when soil is overworked by industrial tilling and heavy pesticide use. The dry soil becomes airborne, spreading a fungus, if inhaled. Nutrient pollution is another side effect of soil mismanagement, leading to dead zones (when an abundance of chemical fertilizers trigger algae overgrowth that consumes oxygen and blocks sunlight for underwater plants) like in the Gulf of Mexico, harming not only marine ecosystems, but also local economies that rely on ecosystem services. Additionally, the mismanagement of soil releases mass quantities of greenhouse gases that reverse the natural process of carbon sequestration and further contribute to climate change.
The good news is that soil is starting to take its rightful place in the mainstream climate change conversation. No other mechanism known to humankind is as effective in addressing global warming and capturing carbon dioxide from the air through photosynthesis. We need not solely rely on complex, costly, cutting-edge environmental technologies that require massive investment, energy, resources and time to develop, test, implement and scale: soil itself is a powerful answer right beneath our feet!
To harness soil’s power, regenerative organic agricultural practices need to be employed to restore degraded land. While sustainable agriculture does not further harm land, regenerative organic practices actively build back to heal from previous damage. Regenerative methods encourage the following practices: certified organic, soil carbon sequestration measurement and improvement, zero tillage, humane treatment of livestock, and living wages and health protections for farm workers. There are many solutions for getting carbon back into the soil and leading this movement are today’s partners: Patagonia Provisions, Kiss the Ground and Organic Center — all working to advance research on soil health and promote regenerative agricultural practices locally and globally.
How can you contribute to the regenerative organic agriculture movement?
First, support local organic farmers. These farms often already use regenerative techniques, so buying their produce is a great way to invest in, bolster and encourage the movement.
Look for the Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC), a new seal for businesses consistently implementing regenerative farming methods. Companies like Dr. Bronner’s, Patagonia Provisions, Guayaki and Nature’s Path are already certified. One major reason regenerative agriculture is not yet widely practiced is because people simply don’t know about it. Consider taking Kiss the Ground’s Soil Advocacy Course and educate family members, friends, co-workers, chefs, farmers, everyone everywhere!
You can even begin implementing regenerative practices in your own backyard. A small garden can draw down carbon, while also providing tasty, fresh produce at no extra cost to you! Imagine if every garden implemented regenerative practices; that would be a whole lot of drawdown! Check out this video from Kiss the Ground for five easy ways to make your garden regenerative and download the regenerative living guide to help make informed decisions that support soil health and a regenerative lifestyle.
And compost! Organic materials thrown into landfills contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and become toxic themselves. By composting those materials, you redirect valuable nutrients that can create healthy soil. Use compost in your garden, drop it off at a nearby community garden, or find a local pickup service that puts it to good use. Don’t know how to get started? Here is an article and video to check out.
When we talk about climate change, soil is often left out of the conversation — yet it is one of the most important solutions and must be discussed! As environmentalists, it is critical to understand the intersection of soil, carbon and climate change.
Your first task is to get educated. Watch Kiss the Ground’s The Soil Story video about the solution to climate change that is right under our feet. Next, check out Soil Solutions to Climate Problems, a video from Center for Food Safety.
Answer the following:
Upload a PDF Document of your response and screenshot of your social media post. Include your name (or team name), username, email address, and school. .
Now that you’ve been introduced to the basics of soil, we encourage you to dig deeper. Knowledge is power!
Learn as much as you can about soil health, climate change and our planet, as if life depended on it – because we think it does. Use these informative reads:
In the Green Challenge, we asked you to choose one piece of information that you would use to teach someone about the importance of soil. Now it’s time to create a teaching tool yourself. The idea is to catch and hold people’s attention, so keep in mind that people learn in different ways. Think about the qualities that make content go viral. Your teaching tool can take any form you believe will be impactful — a video, infographic, collage, even a TikTok. The possibilities are endless. Extra credit points if your content goes viral!
Upload a PDF Document of your response, including a screenshot of your social media post. Include your name (or team name), username, email address, and school.
Our partner Kiss the Ground just released a full-length documentary by the same name, Kiss the Ground, that unearths the truth about industrial agricultural systems’ devastating impacts on our environment. The film sheds light on the potential of regenerative agriculture to balance our climate, replenish vast water supplies, and feed the world.
Gather friends and family for a screening of Kiss the Ground either in person or remotely. It is available on Netflix. If you do not have Netflix, a special link to view the movie will be posted here for viewing October 22 – 28.
Raise, discuss and record answers to the following questions:
Share a favorite fact from the film or moment from your screening on Instagram, tagging @TurningGreenOrg and @KissTheGround with #PGC2020.
Upload a PDF Document of your response including a screen shot of your post. Include your name (or team name), username, email address, and school.
Up to 10 Greener and 10 Greenest outstanding submissions will be selected as winners.