Screenshots of carbon in atm KTGLast week MCA co-hosted a screening of the film Kiss the Ground with Fox Dox, Foxlowe Films’ documentary wing.  The film was all about regenerative farming, sometimes called carbon farming.  This practice is based on the relatively recent scientific understanding that tilling soils and leaving them bare brings about losses to the atmosphere of the carbon bound up in soil organic matter. Conversely keeping the ground covered with crops, grasses, mulches or perennial plants reduces this loss. 

Not only that, plant photosynthesis takes carbon and water vapour out of the atmosphere to form carbohydrates (sugars) and oxygen, incidentally providing energy for the plants themselves and other living organisms.  Surplus sugars are pushed into the ground via root exudates to feed soil bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms.  These in turn add carbon to soil organic matter when they die and this builds up in countless forms, many of which are exceedingly resilient and resistant to decay, unless disturbed and exposed to the air.  Over time this process deposits carbon to great depths, as observed in the Eurasian steppes and American prairies when they were first ploughed with mechanical ploughs and the great depth of grass roots properly investigated.

Sadly, increasing use of mechanical ploughs, pesticides and artificial fertilisers, especially since WW2, have destroyed most of these rich and fertile soils, bringing about soil erosion, droughts and declining yields, to the extent that Western farmers can only keep going with government subsidies.  They become trapped in a vicious cycle requiring them to pay for more and more of the compounds that provide yields in the short term but ultimately destroy the natural fertility and viability of their land.  The regenerative farming movement aims to reverse that cycle, not only improving soil, crop and human health but also climate health, as the carbon drawdown process feeds the world’s largest land-based carbon sink.

One of the most telling scenes in the film is where Ray Archuleta, a conservation agronomist, is teaching a group of farmers about what happens to the atmosphere when they plough in spring and then what happens in June when the plants come through.  In April, the swirling reds and purples in the NASA model that indicate high concentrations of atmospheric carbon are intense, but gradually convert to blues and greens (low concentrations) by June as the new crops start photosynthesising and absorbing the carbon.

But this film is as rich as the soils under a no-till farm and there is so much more to discover and be excited about.  Although much of the message is about a ‘solution under our feet’, the film makers don’t pretend that drawdown is a magic bullet. They stress that we still need to reduce existing carbon emissions, but that drawdown is nevertheless essential to remove the legacy carbon load that’s still in the atmosphere as a result of accumulated past emissions.

If you get the opportunity, care about plants and the climate and haven’t seen it already, do watch this film – it’s available on Netflix.  Our audience gave it an average 4.7/5 star rating and one of our members posted high praise on our Facebook page.

“This film was screened at The Foxlowe last night. I think it is THE most important film I have ever seen. As a species we have recently abused the very soil we utterly depend on…… Abused the earth in so many ways. It is more urgent than any other issue of climate change! I learned that there is no more effective carbon capture & storage technology than the natural carbon cycle. And that ruminants play an essential role in the cycle, which I hadn't realised. Good news for meat eaters like myself.  We MUST regenerate our soil. The film explains why and how. Please do watch it. (available on Netflix)”