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Why we signed the Soil Manifesto

Spencer and I signed the Soil Manifesto because we want discussions about the Earth and the future of humanity to place healthy soil front and center. The Soil Manfiesto is not a legally binding document. It is an expression  of how many people value healthy soil and how important we all think it is to balance the carbon cycle by putting more carbon in the soil and less in the air. If we can frame international discussions about the health of our atmosphere in terms of balancing cycles and building healthy soil (upon which all life and civilizations depend), we believe there is huge opportunity for holistic land managers practicing regenerative agriculture to be rewarded for their carbon-balancing work. Imagine a future where cattle (sheep, etc.) and ranchers are properly recognized for managing  grasslands. The health of  grassland ecosystems play a vital role in the overall health of our world. I grew up in an era where public opinion held cattle as toxic polluters and beef as a source of cancer. With the work of the Savory Institute and the Savory Hub Network,  this is changing. As Judith Schwartz says, Cows Save the Planet. We agree.

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soil manifesto, soil health, holistic planned grazing

We love our cows! The best way to build healthy soil is through holistic planned grazing

What is the Soil Manifesto?

The Soil Manifesto is a collection of signatures that will be presented at the COP21 this month by the Savory Institute leaders. Signing the Soil Manifesto shows support for making soil health part of the discussion about climate health.  It is not a legally binding document. It doesn’t mean you do or do not believe in climate change. It just means that you think healthy soil is important. Really, really important. And the people who steward the creation of healthy soil are important. Really, really important.

Right now the focus is on emissions reduction and how to regulate this. However, there is a growing collection of voices stating that soil is the greatest carbon sink and the solution to climate change may be incredibly simple and obvious: build healthy soil. The Soil Manifesto is supported by organizations like Kiss the Ground and the American Grassfed Association. France is leading the charge on re-framing the conversation to focus on balancing carbon instead of reducing emissions. The key is to regenerate soils instead of mine them through the production of food and fiber.

What is COP21 and the Universal Climate Agreement?

by Spencer Smith

The United Nations first decided to do something about rising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere in 1992 with the Kyoto protocol.  This was the first time that the world started to look at long term effects of pollution and the way that people could be affecting climate change.  This was the first time that the international community set strict and binding regulations on carbon emissions.  The Kyoto agreement was only a rough draft and in expired in 2012.  Since then, world leaders have been negotiating a new agreement that is due to be signed in Paris this week. Enter the Universal Climate Agreement.

One of the main issues with the way the climate talks have been framed is that they are one sided and only look at carbon emitters and not carbon sinks.  The Soil Manifesto asks that the world leaders look at both emissions and address what can be done to mitigate the atmospheric carbon legacy load that is now causing climate change.  We need to slow the amount of carbon pollutants that we pump into the atmosphere, but we should also look at real world solutions that can sequester all of the carbon that is up there already.  

The soil is the largest terrestrial carbon sink in the world, with a mere 2 percent increase in soil carbon all of the atmospheric carbon will be sequestered into top soil. What do we have to lose? The side-benefit is securing food production and stabilizing economies.  With healthy, carbon-rich soil we can not only increase the wealth that comes from the land but ensure that drought and flood do not negatively impact our production. Soil with more carbon in it will absorb water instead of letting it run off or evaporate.

What it all comes down to is that even if we stop emitting carbon today, totally, zero pollution.  We still need to do something with all of the carbon that is in the atmosphere.  the only place that it can be stored safely is in the soil.  With the soil manifesto we are asking the global decision makers to consider this as a path to take.  

The fact that regenerative agriculture is part of the conversation provides a great opportunity for land managers, ranchers and farmers because they know how to build soil. They are the experts, the heros.  The best way to effectively put the carbon in the topsoil is by properly grazing livestock.  By mimicking the way that the grasslands evolved over millions of years with herds of grazing animals is the best way to maximize photosynthesis and put the carbon in the soil. This is how true wealth is developed (from the land) and a bright future ensured for our children.

Why soil health matters

Here are facts supporting the need to focus our global decision-making conversations on soil health:

  • Soil organic carbon is an indicator of overall soil quality associated with soil nutrient cycling, soil aggregate stability and soil structure, with direct implications for water infiltration, vulnerability to erosion and ultimately the productivity of vegetation, and in agricultural contexts, yields. The soil carbon pool plays the role of both a source and a sink of carbon and thus is relevant to the estimation of the carbon balance.
  • Over 95% of our food is grown in the soil. The quality of soil influences the quality of food, especially in relation to the content of important trace elements, such as selenium and zinc, and arguably also in relation to taste.
 
  • Most cropland globally has lost 30-40% of its organic matter. Well managed grassland that is not overgrazed generally rebuilds organic matter.
  • History shows that civilizations, like the Sumerian society in Mesopotamia (the world’s first literate culture) which flourished from 3,000 BC, came to an end because of over-cropping and over-irrigation of their soils. Irrigation in hot countries is a major cause of salinization – the build up of salts in topsoil, because evaporation prevents minerals being taken down to plant roots. As US President, Franklin D. Roosevelt said: “A nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.”