Grass, Soil, Hope
A Journey Through Carbon Country
This book tackles an increasingly crucial question: What can we do about the seemingly intractable challenges confronting all of humanity today, including climate change, global hunger, water scarcity, environmental stress, and economic instability?
The quick answers are: Build topsoil. Fix creeks. Eat meat from 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. But how could this be accomplished? What would it cost? Is it even possible?
Yes, says author Courtney White, it is not only possible, but essential for the long-term health and sustainability of our environment and our economy.
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.
Reviews and Praise
“Optimism about scientific observations and what people can do to improve the environment makes this book inspiring. In Grass, Soil, Hope: A Journey through Carbon Country, Courtney White provides a compelling and practical account of how carbon—an essential element and building block of life—may hold the answer to many pressing issues. Smart land use that captures carbon in the soil can enhance the climate, plant and animal diversity, our waterways, the quality of our food, and our quality of life in general. An engaging storyteller, White describes farmers, ranchers, scientists, artists, and many “everyday” people who are putting these ideas into action. White has crafted a challenging, engaging narrative that will compel many readers to reconsider the link between our soil and the future of our planet.”
White (Revolution on the Range: The Rise of a New Ranch in the American West, 2008 etc.) shows how taking measures to increase the carbon content of the soil can help mitigate global warming. 'Around 30 to 40 percent of the carbon created by photosynthesis can be exuded directly into soil via plant roots to nurture the microbes that help plants grow and build healthy soil,” writes the author. The author traveled to speak with soil scientists and visited ranches in the American Southwest and Australia to witness how modern, high-tech ranches were using satellite monitoring and on-the-ground scrutiny to check the condition of the land. He discovered massive ranches that were divided into continually monitored small plots, where farmers tested the soil and ground cover condition and moisture in order to determine where and when to rotate cattle, which were contained by solar-powered, mobile fencing. White also spoke with scientists at the University of California whose experimental data buttressed his hypotheses about carbon soil capture. The author reports efforts to restore wetlands that “can sequester carbon at rates up to fifty times those of tropical forests.' White concludes that some sort of incentive-based carbon offset market is required to encourage high-tech investment in soil management. An inspiring can-do approach to the threat of global warming.”
“When one thinks of climate change, soil generally is not the first thing that comes to mind. White (Revolution on the Range, 2008), however, takes readers on a journey demonstrating the carbon sequestration power of dirt. He visited ranchers, farmers, urban agriculturists, restoration ecologists, and scientists across the US and in Australia and outlines approaches that not only decrease carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere but also improve ecosystem and human health. Though the case studies clearly show the myriad benefits of these techniques, which include no-till agriculture, pasture cropping, planned grazing systems, and wetland restoration, White also acknowledges challenges that might arise in implementing them. Other books extolling the importance of soil have come out recently and cover much of the same ground. White's background as the cofounder of the Quivira Coalition, a nonprofit that brings together ranchers, environmentalists, and scientists to work to improve land health and build resilience, gives him an inside perspective on the issues he presents and makes the book more accessible to ranchers. Although he sometimes strays off on unrelated tangents, overall, this is an engaging and hopeful read of how humans can work with nature for a brighter future. Summing Up: Recommended. Students of all levels, general readers, and professionals/practitioners.”
“A great practical book that I hope will be read by many people in all walks of life, even those who still doubt human-induced climate change. No technology even imaginable can restore nature’s past healthy functioning over the Earth’s greatest land areas--its vast grasslands. The solutions Courtney illustrates can and will do what is required, and he tells the story well.”--Allan Savory, president and founder of the Savory Institute
“This is a book to read for many reasons: to learn about the Earth’s carbon cycle; to glimpse ways ‘conservation’ is evolving, especially in the semi-arid West; and to understand the future of ranching and sustainable agriculture. It’s also a book to read if you want to be infused with hope, and inspired to play a broader role in the face of climate change. For many of us who think about ways to create a more resilient world for future generations, it pays to think more about carbon. This book will get you started.”--Jonathan Overpeck, co-director, Institute of the Environment; professor of geosciences and atmospheric sciences, University of Arizona, Tucson
“Grass, soil, hope: three simple words with the power to tackle society’s most challenging problems. A ray of sunshine, converted by grass into carbon and stored in the soil, represents the possibility of a brighter future. Courtney White takes us on an enlightening journey to farms, ranches, and ecosystems around the world to show us where the most important molecule of life—carbon—is regenerating landscapes. An empowering and uplifting read!”--Gabe Brown, owner, Brown’s Ranch, Bismarck, North Dakota
"Grass, Soil, Hope is not just another gloom-and-doom composition about global climate change. Courtney White takes the reader back to earth's beginnings to help illustrate the vital role of carbon in sustaining life and then gives real-life, real-time examples of agricultural practitioners who are using creativity and common sense to grow food, restore watersheds and wildlife habitat, and, yes, sequester lots of carbon.”--William McDonald, fifth-generation cattle rancher; founder and director of the Malpai Borderlands Group
“Grass, Soil, Hope is a wonderfully accessible account of the promise of soil and agriculture for a better climate and better future.”--Thomas E. Lovejoy, professor of environmental science and policy, George Mason University, and senior fellow, United Nations Foundation
“This delightful diamond of a book is a tour-de-force that covers the story of carbon from the Big Bang to your backyard. It’s a must-read for anyone interested in how carbon endlessly cycles from soil into plants and animals (including humans), most of the things we create, and then on into the atmosphere that blankets our planet. At a time when environmental narratives have become gloomy, this book is a breath of optimism exhaled with practical recommendations for moving carbon from the air back into the soil, for the health of the planet and every creature on it.”--Fred Provenza, professor emeritus, Department of Wildland Resources, Utah State University
“Courtney White employs a masterful blend of storytelling and science to communicate a most hopeful message: that building healthy soils – in some surprising and creative ways – can help solve our food, water, and climate challenges all at the same time. The carbon-capturing farmers, ranchers, and conservationists whose work White so elegantly describes form the vanguard of a new movement of regenerative production that deserves society’s attention and support. Inspiring, thought-provoking, energizing, and—at bottom – full of hope.”--Sandra Postel, Freshwater Fellow, National Geographic Society
“Courtney White's journey was sparked by a question: What if we looked at carbon not just as a ‘pollutant’, but from the standpoint of its role as the building block of life? What he found across the country and abroad were farmers, ranchers, and scientists who are working with the carbon cycle to build soil, restore ecosystems, and bolster productivity--in short, embracing life to generate more life. At once plain-spoken and radical, this book promises to stir up hope even among those made cynical by relentless bad news. White has made the case for hope. Whether this is turned to action is up to us.”--Judith D. Schwartz, author, Cows Save the Planet
“Courtney White’s book offers refreshing insights on ‘climate-smart’ agriculture. In an era when farmers and ranchers are often vilified for environmental disruptions, this analysis gives an optimistic contrast: It’s a well-grounded practical outlook of the win-win outcomes of management practices by ranchers who are good stewards of soil carbon.”--L. Ann Thrupp, PhD, executive director, Berkeley Food Institute, University of California, Berkeley
“As anyone paying attention now knows, we will be facing numerous new challenges in our agriculture and food system in the near future. The most important ‘journey’ we all need to make in preparing for that future is, as Courtney White points out, to restore the biological health of our soil. The hopefulness in Courtney’s journey comes from his demonstration of the practical ways in which we can accomplish this task. Anyone interested in the future of food should read this remarkable, heartwarming book.”--Frederick Kirschenmann, author, Cultivating an Ecological Conscience: Essays from a Farmer Philosopher
“Grass, Soil, Hope takes us on a journey from one fascinating topic—and one inspirational, hardworking individual—to another. The exciting concept of 'carbon farming', which Courtney White clearly articulates both with theory and with practical examples, could revolutionize our entire approach to environmental restoration. If widely applied, these techniques would reverse climate change, and reestablish health to the land, to ourselves, and to our communities. This is an important book that is filled with hope.”--Larry Korn, translator and editor of Masanobu Fukuoka’s The One-Straw Revolution and Sowing Seeds in the Desert