This post is late because it’s spring and this is a homestead. I’m pretty busy.

So, what did you guys think of The Soil Will Save Us? I was interested in this book because I am interested in both using tools to combat climate change, and sustainable meat production. This book had a lot of information in it, and it made me want to look into the scientists interviewed in it, and their work in general. There were quite a few scientists and prominent environmentalists interviewed, as well as a bunch of farmers. I wish there had been more practical information about soil carbon sequestration and how to do it yourself in your own environment, but over all I felt like I learned a lot and that is awesome.

Were you convinced that soil carbon sequestration is all we need to address climate change?

There were times that I felt like that was what Ohlson was suggesting, but I’m not sure if it actually was. In either case, I don’t think carbon farming is a solution that will allow us to keep burning fossil fuels unchecked. We’re already way above the upper safe limit of carbon in the atmosphere, and it could take hundreds of years to bring it down even if we stopped all burning of fossil fuels now (which we’re obviously not doing). But I think she made a very convincing case for this being a very valuable tool for combating climate change. I think it’s definitely something we should be looking at more, because it seems like it could have a big positive impact. I still think that the burning of fossil fuels needs to stop, but there’s no reason why we couldn’t stop and work on sequestration. We probably should do both.

What did you think about the importance of putting carbon back in soil, for the sake of soil health?

This was one of those interesting things for me because while I knew we have a problem with too much carbon in the atmosphere, and I knew we also had a problem with declining soil fertility, I never really thought through the connections between the two. I should have, it’s not like the knowledge wasn’t there, but I just didn’t, because it’s so rarely presented that way. We really need that excess atmospheric carbon back in our soil. It’s not like that carbon doesn’t have some place it’s supposed to be. I liked that this book finally connected those two issues so clearly for me.

What about the concept that agriculture has always been problematic and terrible for the environment?

There’s this idea out there that it’s only modern farming techniques that are bad for the environment and that if we go back to the old fashioned way things would be better. Ohlson makes the case that this is not true, that modern farming isn’t that substantially different than old fashioned farming in its impact on the environment, that the only real difference is scale. We’ve always done terrible things like over grazing and clear cutting forests and tilling the crap out of our soil, but for most of human history our populations have been sparse enough to just move to a new place once we’ve used up the old one. It’s only been since the industrial revolution that our populations have become so dense, and our agricultural operations have become so massive, that there’s really no where else to move once we’ve destroyed one chunk of land. That’s why we have to start turning to chemical inputs like herbicides, pesticides, and synthetic nitrogen too.
I had never really heard this concept before but now that I have it makes perfect sense. We all know of cultures to whom this happened, a great local example is the people who lived at Mesa Verde. Everyone thinks it’s a great mystery what happened to them, but take a tour of the place and the  park rangers will tell you, archaeologists know exactly what happened, they used up all the resources in the area, the land was no longer fertile, so they moved. And they’re still around, by the way. They just don’t live in the cliff dwellings anymore. This is also why Iraq is no longer the Fertile Crescent.

With this viewpoint, Ohlson takes the position that carbon farming is not a return to the old ways, as many people like to romanticize it as, but a modern, innovative science that is still in development. For the most part, humans have never farmed this way. This is an entirely modern concept. What do you guys think of that? It makes sense to me.

Do you feel like this book was helpful to you in knowing how to care for your soil?

I feel like there were maybe a few bits that would be useful to me for carbon sequestration, but I wish there had been more info on how I could apply these practices in my suburban setting. I get that wasn’t really the book Ohlson was writing, I just kind of wish it was. Maybe that will be her next book, wink wink. This book was more for large scale farmers and ranchers, and maybe for consumers of food products, making the case for what kinds of products we should support. It did renew my desire to be able to buy better animal products, which hopefully we will be able to afford once I start my internship, but I’m not sure if it gave me any entirely new ideas for soil care on my small property.

Did you think there were biased or inaccuracies in the book?

I felt like it was potentially a little biased against genetic technologies, which is common in the people who are into environmentalism and growing things. I find myself more and more on the fence on that subject though, and feel a little mistrusting of anything that sounds too skewed towards one side or the other. What do you think if that?

I definitely think this book needs a second read though, because it had soooo much information in it. I liked it, and actually recommended it to one of my professors at school.

April’s book will be Cradle to Cradle by Michael Braungart and William McDonough! And because it’s so short (I admittedly have already finished it, I finished it in a day), feel free to also read the sequel, The Upcycle. Make sure to subscribe so you can come discuss it with us!

cradle to cradle

What were your final impressions of the book? What parts did you love? Hate? What stuck with you? Tell us about it in the comments!

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