November 2014

Book Profile


Grass, Soil, Hope: A Journey through Carbon Country

By Courtney White. Foreword by Michael Pollan

Chelsea Green Publishing, 272 pages. ISBN: 9781603585453


With a masterful blend of storytelling and science, 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?

Many people know that effective agricultural practices improve land health, but fewer understand that increasing soil carbon levels creates a host of benefits. No one is immune to the carbon cycle, author Courtney White reminds us. We might as well understand it and use it to our advantage. Soil is a huge natural sink for carbon dioxide (CO2). If we can draw increasing amounts of CO2 out of the atmosphere and store it safely in the soil, we can significantly address all the multiple challenges that now appear so intractable. Soil 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 (GHG) emissions going into the atmosphere.

But how can this be accomplished? What would it cost? Is it even possible? Yes, says 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 GHGs from the atmosphere is through plant photosynthesis and related land-based carbon-sequestration activities. These include a range of low-tech 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, White shows how all of these practical strategies can together reduce atmospheric CO2 while producing substantial co-benefits for all living things.

A former archaeologist, White co-founded the Quivira Coalition, a nonprofit dedicated to building bridges between ranchers, conservationists, public-land managers, scientists and others concerned with land health. Today, his work with Quivira concentrates on building economic and ecological resilience on working landscapes, with a special emphasis on carbon ranching and the new agrarian movement. White lives in Santa Fe with his family and a backyard full of chickens.


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