“The past is a foreign country,” author L.P. Hartley famously wrote in his book The Go-Between. Perhaps that’s why we hold on to the postcards…
Now streaming on Netflix, the film Kiss the Ground is a visually delightful documentary promoting a healthier interaction between humans and the earth. The goal of the film— and of the non-profit organization of the same name that has produced it—is nothing less than a dramatic reversal of our climate change crisis.
As the title implies, the star of Kiss the Ground is healthy soil. Other notables include former Cheers bartender Woody Harrelson, Brazilian model Gisele Bündchen and her NFL quarterback husband Tom Brady, Academy Award winning actress Patricia Arquette, regenerative rancher Gabe Brown and my favorite, conservation agronomist and certified professional soil scientist Ray Archuleta.
Healthy soil requires carbon. Actually, all life on earth requires carbon. By mass, 18 percent of the human body is carbon. Unfortunately, carbon has a rather bad reputation. When found in great quantities in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, it tends to trap heat in a way that warms the planet.
There are essentially two ways to address this problem. The first is rather troublesome as it requires a dramatic change in human behavior and its goal—limiting the burning of fossil fuels—serves only to slow down the amount of carbon dioxide we release. This does nothing to address the “legacy load” of this greenhouse gas already out there: since 1750, we’ve pumped about 1,000 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Since the total amount of carbon on the earth is constant, the solution to our climate crisis—one that makes life more pleasant, as well—is to put that carbon back where it came from. Kiss the Ground proposes a common-sense remedy that will do just that: soil regeneration.
After traveling the United States speaking with farmers and ranchers, Ray Archuleta came to the stunning conclusion that “our [food] producers don’t know how the soil works.” As part of the Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Ray the Soils Guy has been conducting a series of soil health workshops throughout America’s heartland. In his crosshairs are the vast tracts of single-crop farms and isolated livestock feedlots that contribute to releasing carbon from the soil. The result is a scathing indictment of modern industrial farm practices that rely ever-increasingly upon chemical fertilizers and pesticides which literally turn soil into dust.
By engaging in new planting techniques that do not disrupt the soil, diversifying the vegetation on farms, and grazing livestock on grasses instead of harvested crops, plants and animals are returned to their proper place in the carbon cycle; one that puts carbon back in the soil, as regenerative rancher Doniga Markegard says, “where it belongs.”
It’s not rocket science, but it is science. Vegetation draws carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The carbon nourishes a rich ecosystem of organisms within the soil in a process that also pumps oxygen into the atmosphere. Grazing livestock eating this vegetation return that carbon to the soil. While the cows don’t even have to think about their role, humans must conscientiously participate by eating a healthier vegetation-rich diet, consuming meat that has been grass fed, and then returning organic leftovers back to the soil (composting). As Archuleta says, healthier soil means healthier plants, animals, and humans, cleaner water, and cooler climate.
Through the example of healthy soil management on American farms, Kiss the Ground visits a variety of locales around the world where soil regeneration can solve problems related to sanitation, health, and poverty; all the while invigorating denuded landscapes and sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
In San Francisco, near-mandatory composting of organic materials has been incorporated into waste and recycling management. In Detroit, an organization called Detroit Dirt collects food scraps from restaurants and manure from zoos, composts them, and then markets the resulting nutrient and carbon-rich soil. They sell cool T-Shirts, too.
Moving beyond our shores, the film bounces around the globe demonstrating the broad benefits of soil regeneration. In the Loess Plateau of northwest China, “hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty” by applying soil regeneration principles since the 1990s.
In Haiti, whose landscape has been traumatized by deforestation, soil regeneration can rejuvenate the health and livelihood of the poorest nation in the western hemisphere. Patricia Arquette has spearheaded efforts to clean Haiti’s water supply while capturing carbon dioxide. “The poop has to stay in the loop,” she laughs before stepping into a composting toilet.
These success stories have one critical feature in common: cooperation among the members of a community who have been educated in the benefits of working together to regenerate the soil. This brings us back to the monumental challenge faced by Ray Archuleta. Without stirring up too much trouble, narrator Woody Harrelson points out that many of those who must be educated in our country look an awful lot like they don’t want to be told that something that works in San Francisco, Detroit, and Haiti, is the very thing that can help them in Iowa and Kansas.
Ray and his sidekick, regenerative rancher Gabe Brown, seem to be making headway, though. Currently, five percent of American farms are being managed for soil health. By 2025, a partnership of the Nature Conservancy and the National Corn Growers Association hopes to have fully half of American farms managed for soil health.
We have, for decades, been overwhelmed by catastrophic climate crisis numbers related to our sad effort to limit greenhouse gas emissions. We have been disheartened by the ridiculous obstinacy of climate change deniers. Kiss the Ground offers another path, one which posits that a person in their twenties today might bear witness to the global healing powers of soil regeneration.
A critical component of reestablishing a healthy carbon cycle is through composting carbon rich materials. Here’s a list of what should and should not go into that compost pile. Even if you are an experienced composter, check this out:
This site has a running tabulation of carbon dioxide emissions. It’s pretty cool
To learn more about Kiss the Ground—the organization and the film, visit https://kisstheground.com