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Woody Harrelson Documentary 'Kiss the Ground': Soil vs Climate Change

February 14, 2020 by Samuel Anthony

Netflix Environment Film & TV

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Vegan advocate Woody Harrelson presents a ray of hope in an unexpected form: dirt! This Netflix documentary outlines the immense role Earth's soil can play in reversing climate change "within 30 years".

Amidst the climate change crisis, it is easy to feel overwhelmed with bad news surrounding the future of our home. As Harrelson words it, "I've given up, and the odds are so have you." But what if the solution has been "under our feet" for quite some time.

Hearing the news that two-thirds of planet Earth has begun a process of desertification - when the land dries out and loses plant and microbial life, turning to desert - it is easy to feel hopeless.

We already know that following a plant-based diet can reduce dietary emissions by up to 73%. According to Oxford research, it is the single biggest impact an individual can make but is this alone enough? Ditching fossil fuels and switching to electric cars can also make a difference to our national carbon footprints, but alone will not touch the mass of carbon already building up in our atmosphere.

This is because, above all other industries, one stands stubbornly in the lead for perpetual environmental damage: farming and agriculture.

A tractor in a field tilling and turning the soil.

"But what if there is another path?" It seems our farming practices come too far from nature to continue to sustain life, which means it is time for a change in world farming. What's more, industrial farming demonstrates a limited understanding of just how our planet operates - with the rising use of pesticides and subsequent loss of diversity among plants and microorganisms it is clear the damage to natural life is a catastrophic error in our understanding of how farming impacts Earth. The solution?

"Our soil just might save us!"

The creative team for Kiss the Ground (2020)

Before we get into exactly how soil can be a phenomenal environmental solution, let's talk about the voice narrating this internationally aired Netflix documentary: celebrity actor and vegan advocate Woody Harrelson.

Side note: as a graduate of Film & Television I always find it important to understand who is behind a project, as this can reveal the context and opinions, as well as biases, the text will follow.

Woody Harrelson - Narrator

"I eat vegan, but I mostly eat raw", Harrelson believes in the power of plant-based foods and tells us of the energy raw foods bring him every day. He is passionate about nature and life, from the care of the many species we share our home with, to beliefs about a more natural approach to agriculture, Woody Harrelson feels a perfect fit for an optimistic view of a solution for climate change.

Joshua & Rebecca Harrel Tickell - Directors

Kiss the Ground is directed by Joshua Tickell and Rebecca Harrel Tickell, whose other titles include Fields of Fuel (2008) - "America is addicted to oil and it's time for an intervention" - and Good Fortune (2016) - surrounding themes of homelessness and capitalism - which centre around themes of humanitarianism, environmentalism and social change.

Netflix, Big Picture Ranch and Benenson Productions

Netflix is a major platform distributing content across the world. While not in any way free from financial and political influence, Netflix operates relatively independently and often challenges the accepted. In this instance, Netflix challenges the accepted farming practises that have been all we have known for centuries. The show was produced by the independent production companies Big Picture Ranch and Benenson Productions.

Soil in an agricultural field.

How Soil Might Just Save Us from Climate Change

So just how can soil be the solution? Surely we have to plant trees and repopulate natural species to reverse climate change?

Soil is a world unto itself. Packed with microbial life, worms, heat, water, nutrients and when healthy, guess what else: plenty of carbon.

Carbon can be locked into world soils:

  • Plants take in carbon dioxide (CO2)
  • They break the CO2 molecule into Carbon and Oxygen (C & O2)
  • They release oxygen into the air
  • They release carbon into the soil

When the topsoil is unbroken and covered in organic matter, like plants and trees, the carbon is sequestered into the soil and effectively removed from our atmosphere.

This is the complex, unimaginable and wonderful technology we rely on every day: nature.

Earth's soil has a far greater capacity in gigatonnes for storing away carbon when compared with plants and the atmosphere.

  • 1700gt of carbon can be stored in plants and the atmosphere
  • 4000gt+ of carbon can be locked away in the soil

If the soil can sequester carbon at that scale, we must realise the potential we have to not only clear our atmosphere and work towards reducing climate change, but also to provide rich nutrients for plants and microbial organisms, which in turn can boost agricultural income while feeding our planet!

The levels of carbon dioxide that reside in our atmosphere fluctuates gradually throughout the seasons. However, through a supercomputer visualisation of global CO2 levels, Kiss the Ground revealed an original explanation for changes to our climate - annual harvesting at an industrial global scale.

Every year, when we harvest all of our crops in one season, we leave vast expanses of land exposed with no organic coverage. Additive to this, we then till - or break up - the topsoil before planting the new seeds for the next season.

If topsoil and plants can help lock carbon away, a lack of these can result in vast quantities of CO2 escaping into our atmosphere and triggering the greenhouse gas effect of global warming.

According to a spokesperson for the NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service), "tillage is one of the most intrusive things we do in modern agriculture."

99% of tilled land is used for animal agriculture.

In the 1930s American farmers caused the environmental disaster known as the "dust bowl", which was caused by excessive tilling exposing the soil of the plains.

Continued drying out of the lands, with the removal of plant species during harvest and the tilling that follows, is leading to desertification - the process which two-thirds of our home is already going through where land dries out and becomes devoid of life.

Poor land, poor people. Unhealthy land, unhealthy people.

If we continue with business as usual, we are estimated to have only 60 harvests left on this planet. 60.

This estimation is based on the understanding that our topsoils will only last another 60 years at this rate.

Poverty and infertile land go hand-in-hand. Our farmers need to change their methods before their profits will run dry and mouths go unfed.

If we ignore the effect this crisis is having on the fertility of our lands, the wealth of fellow humans, and the destruction of fellow species, we accept a long-term environmental catastrophe.

Forty-million people a year are pushed off their land, with an estimated one-billion refugees of soil desertification expected by 2050.

This does not need to happen. The documentary claimed, "a healthy planet is a covered planet." A plausible solution to our climate crisis is to keep our planet covered, locking away carbon that the soil vitally needs.

The supercomputer visualisation of CO2 levels went from red to blue during the months where we grow our plants. We help our planet to heal and thrive every time we help it to grow.

Regenerative agriculture is shaping the change. An approach to farming that seeks to grow a diverse range of foods and plants at all times is already being implemented.

Regenerative farming keeps our soils covered, avoids digging and tilling and cooperatively works with nature.

Reducing our use of toxic pesticides can also play a vital role in restoring the natural order of our soils, with abundant microbial species and nutrients. When we spray these chemicals, we destroy the microorganisms that help the plant and us to thrive.

Our microbiome - the world of microbes that exist cooperatively within us - is vital for digesting foods that we cannot. Kale contains insoluble fibre which cannot be digested by humans if it is not for bacteria. Protecting these microbes from the start of food production to the end product is vital for our survival - and the planet!

Final Summary: Kiss the Ground a Netflix Documentary for Climate Change

Woody Harrelson narrates a strong case for not only the cause but a solution to climate change.

The role of Earth's soils is imperative in human, plant, animal and planetary health.

How you can help the planet:

  • Reducing our meat consumption reduces our water usage and carbon dioxide output
  • Eating seasonal vegetables grown locally can reduce air miles and allow for continual harvest without long periods of dry, unused land
  • Growing your food can reduce your exposure to harmful toxic chemicals used to control "pests"
  • Organic, pure soil can be beneficial for our gut microbes as well as the health of our home
  • Avoiding digging/tilling in industrial/domestic farming
  • Educate those around you to make better decisions for the future of this wonderful planet

I join Woody Harrelson, and the directors Joshua and Rebecca Tickell, in believing there still is hope for Earth and reversing climate change if we act now. Our reality may be dark and daunting, but our actions can bring about a new direction for both world farming and an interconnected sense of health shared with nature.


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