Healthy soil is the answer to climate change

And how we maintain hope in spite of regular reports of a climate out of control.

Both Sheri and I came to soil late in our careers. I had been landscaping professionally for 10 years and Sheri started to grow food for her family’s health. We both came across the work of Dr. Elaine Ingham and the Soil Food Web and our lives were never the same. But when you are working in a world where the idea of unseen microbes working together to solve so many problems seems really far fetched, it’s always important to look to other sources.

The possibilities of soil health, and it’s impact on climate change is huge, and so refreshing at a time where we are regularly reminded that our world is heating up at an unprecedented rate and the amount of carbon in our atmosphere has gone beyond the 400 ppm figure.

Here is a collection of the most influential books for Sheri and I. We hope you find them as enlightening as we do.

Diane and Sheri

Cows Save The Planet – Judith D Schwartz

This book was one of the first that I read that pointed out the multiple benefits of soil and soil health, from climate change, droughts and floods, wildfires, malnutrition and obesity. Judith is a strong advocate of the work of Allan Savory and his Holistic Planned Grazing method which uses grazing animals in bunched herds that are moved frequently to reverse the effects of desertification. When we create healthy soil, we capture and hold onto carbon, we cool the surrounding areas and we re-create flowing water. Not only that but we also grow crops that are far more nutritious and animals that are healthier.


Water in Plain Sight – Judith D Schwartz

Judith’s work in her new book, Water In Plain Sight – Hope For A Thirsty Planet, and her previous book, Cows Save The Planet, bring us a huge message of hope as we are faced with climate change, drought, floods, wildfire, food insecurity and poor nutrition.

Judith talks about how we are used to thinking about drought as a lack of rainfall, but we ignore the effects of land and soil degradation on the soil’s ability to hold onto rainfall. When we talk about climate change we focus on greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide and methane, but water has the bigger ability to absorb heat. When we start to investigate the water cycle, we quickly become aware of how inextricably linked this is with the carbon cycle.

Our standard agricultural practices, involving tilling the land, planting single species in huge fields and adding artificial chemical fertilizers, release the carbon from the soil, leaving it to hang out in our atmosphere, adding to the problems of climate change. In destroying the soil’s structure, they destroy the amazing ecosystem that works to support plants, to hold carbon in the soil and to create healthy, nutrient dense food crops.

In the book, Judith visits with people all over the world and tells us how each of them are changing the way they interact with the land to increase the carbon content of the soil. In doing so, they increase the water holding capacity of the soil, they grow plants that are more robust and nourishing, and those plants in turn create a cooler environment that is not only more comfortable to live in, they deter wildfire, attract more rain, creating this virtuous cycle that gives us refreshing hope in this war against climate change.

Check out our interview with Judith.

The Soil Will Save Us – Kristen Ohlsen 

Kristin Ohlsen puts the increased concentration of carbon in our atmosphere squarely at the feet of our farming practices over the last 2000 years. By ploughing up the ground, adding chemicals that kill off the life in the soil, we’ve created a system of addiction. A system that produces poor quality food at a huge economic price. A system that has released up to 80 percent of carbon from the world’s soils.

“In The Soil Will Save Us, journalist and bestselling author Kristin Ohlson makes an elegantly argued, passionate case for “our great green hope”―a way in which we can not only heal the land but also turn atmospheric carbon into beneficial soil carbon―and potentially reverse global warming.”

Grass, Soil, Hope – Courtney White 

How can we tackle climate change, feed a growing population, deal with drought and increasing pressure on the environment? Courtney White’s answers are to focus on building soil, letting rivers and streams be released from their concrete tombs and to change our source of meat from huge factory farms to more sustainable pasture raised animals.

“Scientists maintain that a mere 2 percent increase in the carbon content of the planet’s soils could offset 100 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions going into the atmosphere.”

“Right now, the only possibility of large-scale removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere is through plant photosynthesis and related land-based carbon sequestration activities. These include a range of already existing, low-tech, and proven practices: composting, no-till farming, climate-friendly livestock practices, conserving natural habitat, restoring degraded watersheds and rangelands, increasing biodiversity, and producing local food.

In Grass, Soil, Hope, the author shows how all these practical strategies can be bundled together into an economic and ecological whole, with the aim of reducing atmospheric CO2 while producing substantial co-benefits for all living things. Soil is a huge natural sink for carbon dioxide. If we can draw increasing amounts carbon out of the atmosphere and store it safely in the soil then we can significantly address all the multiple challenges that now appear so intractable.”

The Hidden Life Of Trees – Peter Wohlleben

This book explains how trees live together in a social group, sharing resources, sending out early warning signals, and supporting their young and their sick neighbors.  How trees hedge their bets by only producing flowers and seeds every couple of years, instead of every year.

Dr Suzanne Simard’s work on

Much of our understanding of trees in the landscape is based on what is considered ‘best practices’ from the logging industry where the goal is to provide miles and miles of straight tree trunks that can be milled into lumber. In this book Peter Wohlleben points out that using this model, we ignore the interconnectedness of trees, the relationships they have with the inhabitants of the soil, and their adaptations for weather and their defence against pests.  We end up creating trees that are solitary. Trees that have to face all the perils of life without the support system that evolved around them. No wonder our urban trees have such a relatively short life.

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Diane Downey and Sheri Menelli specialize in earth-friendly landscaping practices, including vegetable gardening, rainwater capture, soil health, native plants, and efficient irrigation. Diane is a professional landscape designer with over 10 years’ experience, and Sheri is a certified permaculture designer with a six-year-old food forest in her backyard. Combined, they have over two decades of teaching experience. Their classes are taught to the public in the classroom, in the field, and via one-on-one garden coaching sessions.
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