We can all intuitively sense the difference between rich loamy soil and dry sandy dirt—the former just feels right, not just for making mud pies, but for storing carbon as part of a natural symbiosis between plants, sky and earth. The importance of topsoil was vividly evident during the 1930s when farmers uprooted 100,000 acres of the Great Plains topsoil and the moisture-trapping high grasses protecting it, leading to the Dust Bowl and the displacement of 3 million people. When farmers avoid tillage and industrial pesticides, the carbon sequestration process is reenabled, and the world’s continuous march toward a hotter, more volatile planet is slowed and possibly even reversed. The film highlights the many farmers, engineers and inspired volunteers slowly making this change.
My thanks to the sustainability program of the PMI-SFBAC for this event as it had a powerful effect on many participants. Personally, I am very proud of the work we’re doing at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco to practice and promote sustainability: Between 2015 and 2019, the bank achieved a 23% drop in our greenhouse gas emissions through our investment in renewable, onsite solar energy, equipment upgrades across all our facilities, and a greener grid. The carbon related to our electricity usage also decreased by 33% over the same period.
I was enthused to see the City of San Francisco’s composting effort and drive for 0% landfill featured in the film. I’ve always been somewhat of a recycling zealot, and I even visited our local transfer station to marvel at its inner workings and dedicated workers. The film raised my awareness of carbon sequestration, and when our local farmers’ markets reopen, I look forward to discussing this with Bay Area growers—although I suspect farmers in the Midwest are in a tougher bind. In the film’s most poignant moment, a farmer who invested in no-till tractors and cooperatively regenerative crops stands at the border of his fertile land and his neighbor’s land whose soil is lofted into swirling clouds. Many scientists predict the earth’s continual harvest seasons are in peril.
The audience was invited to a post-screening conversation with Don Smith, a soil health advocate and teacher of regenerative agriculture on the Kiss the Ground team. Many were anxious to learn how individuals far removed from the farm can support the fight against desertification—Don’s reply was simple: “with what we put in our shopping carts and how we vote.” The group also came upon a realization that progress in this effort means healthier choices for our families as well.
Confronting a worldwide crisis seems daunting, but as the film’s narrator, Woody Harrelson, notes “small steps done by many can go a long way.” By raising this issue, even to already ardent citizenry, we can encourage the sustainable growth of the tiny organisms that mean the difference between dry sand and rich soil, between climatic disaster and a brighter future.