Thousands of years of poor farming and ranching practices – and, especially, modern industrial agriculture – have led to the loss of up to 80 percent of carbon from the world's soils. That carbon is now floating in the atmosphere, and even if we stopped using fossil fuels today, it would continue warming the planet. In The Soil Will Save Us, journalist and bestselling author Kristin Ohlson makes an elegantly argued, passionate case for "our great green hope" – a way in which we can not only heal the land but also turn atmospheric carbon into beneficial soil carbon – and potentially reverse global warming.
As the granddaughter of farmers and the daughter of avid gardeners, Ohlson has long had an appreciation for the soil. A chance conversation with a local chef led her to the crossroads of science, farming, food, and environmentalism and the discovery of the only significant way to remove carbon dioxide from the air – an ecological approach that tends not only to plants and animals but also to the vast population of underground microorganisms that fix carbon in the soil. Ohlson introduces the visionaries – scientists, farmers, ranchers, and landscapers – who are figuring out in the lab and on the ground how to build healthy soil, which solves myriad problems: drought, erosion, air and water pollution, and food quality, as well as climate change. Her discoveries and vivid storytelling will revolutionize the way we think about our food, our landscapes, our plants, and our relationship to Earth.
Kristin Ohlson is a writer based in Portland, OR. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, Salon, Discover, and elsewhere. Her article about burning coal mines was collected in Best American Science Writing 2011. She is also the author of Stalking the Divine, which won the American Society of Journalists and Authors' 2004 Best Nonfiction Book award, and coauthor of New York Times bestseller Kabul Beauty School.
"This will surely be called an important book. Ohlson conveys her information in the lively manner of writers such as Michel Pollan and Rowan Jacobsen, making complicated ideas easily accessible to the reader, so that we see the ground at our feet not as dead dirt but rather as, in her words, a coral reef teeming with life, a 'massive biological machine' on which the health of our species depends. We're lucky to have this account."
– Michael Ruhlman, author of The Soul of a Chef
"On the long list of things we have to do to fight climate change, learning to pay attention to soil again is near the top. It's not just dirt, it's not just something that holds plants upright – as this book points out, it's pretty damned vital."
– Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
"I was barely a dozen pages into The Soil Will Save Us when I felt the ground shifting under my feet – the literal ground, as in the composition of the rich humus of old-growth forests compared to the exhausted, scorched, and ruined ancient fields of global farming – and the psychic ground [...] This is a remarkable book, which tells – with a light touch and a breezy, readable manner – a story of modern science of the most crucial importance."
– Melissa Fay Greene, author of Praying for Sheetrock and There Is No Me Without You
"At last, soil has been included in the conversation about food. And you don't need a degree in soil sciences to see how the web of life below the surface that infuses soil – is soil – is strongly affected by the various webs of life that occur aboveground, for better and worse [...] This book is eminently readable, well-researched, and important."
– Deborah Madison, author of The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
"The Soil Will Save Us is a convincing argument that those of us who care about the environment have to start from the ground up – that is, if we are going to give a better world to our grandchildren, we're going to have to develop a deep interest in dirt. Fortunately, all you need to become fascinated by dirt is a book like this, which reveals just how intricate and important it is."
– Nathanael Johnson, author of All Natural
"The author has a clear storytelling style, which comes in handy when drawing this head-turning portrait of lowly dirt. But dirt – or soil, if you prefer – takes on character in Ohlson's hands, and readers will soon become invested in its well-being, for soil is a planetary balancer, and from its goodness comes the food we eat [...] Ohlson ably delineates this promising situation: Vital soil may well help address climate change, but it absolutely will provide for more productive farms, cleaner waterways, and overall healthier landscapes."
– Kirkus Reviews
"Kristin Ohlson's examination of how farming and forestry techniques might mitigate, if not resolve, global warming. We generally think of climate change as a story of sky – of emitted gases, of atmospheric carbon levels, of storms. Author Kristin Ohlson would like to direct our gaze earthward, to take a long, hard look at the dirt beneath our feet. We may have overlooked a solution there [...] This is a hopeful book and a necessary one. The Soil Will Save Us is not the last word on this subject but is a fast-paced and entertaining shot across the bow of mainstream thinking about land use. May a million new farms bloom."
– The Los Angeles Times