For two weeks, tens of thousands of delegates, activists, and concerned citizens descended on Paris for the 21st Conference of Parties (UN Climate Summit, COP21). There were non-stop negotiations for the delegates, parties, concerts, debates, and talks for the general public.
Our Original Plans for Pairs
We planned to participate in a large art installation at the base of the Eiffel Tower called Human Energy, organized by French artist Yann Toma, who is the UN’s official artist observer. The installation was planned to be a village at the base of the Eiffel Tower that contained bikes, dance floors, and interactive stations that all contributed power to the grid that would light the tower at night. Kiss the Ground was set to build a 30×30 foot art installation, a book that said “The Solution is Under Your Feet” on one side, with an interactive garden on the other side that told “The Soil Story” in a series of signs. Special thanks to Jon Marro for creating this beautiful concept, Wladimir deLantivy and the Artel team for all of their planning, Yann Toma and the Human Energy Team for their vision and support, and to Jacob Scherr, Veronique Wiesinger, and Ariane Rousselier for their tireless hours of organization.
We found out one week before we flew that the city of Paris pulled the permits to the Eiffel Tower because of heightened security, a response to the November 13th attacks. Many groups changed plans, cancelled events, and decided not to attend COP21 as a result of the violence. Our team checked with our French partners and decided that it was not only safe to go, but that to stay committed and add our voice to the chorus of NGOs and activists sharing peaceful solutions felt more important now than ever.
On the ground in Paris
So we went to Paris––all eight of us!––with a plan to attend as many meetings and events as we could. We were determined to spread the message that we can stop and even reverse climate change with healthy soil and regenerative agriculture practices. We wanted more people to hear that healthy soil is a large-scale, viable and affordable solution to drawing down carbon out of the atmosphere and balancing the carbon cycle – essential because cutting emissions alone is not enough. We produced and transported forty 100%-recycled doormats that say: “The solution is Under Your Feet” in French and English. We produced and screened a new, French version of The Soil Story with host Julie Delpy.
We hit the ground running, launching a social media campaign asking people to post photos of their feet and let us know what they stand for (#whereIstand) – because no matter what you stand for, you are always standing on a powerful solution to climate change (soil). We filmed and produced a music video (coming soon) with Xiuhtezcatl, the coolest kid ever, an incredible champion for our planet, and the founder of Earth Guardians. We met extensively with our partners from all over the globe who are a part of Regeneration International, whose mission is to Cool the Planet, Feed the World with regenerative agriculture (a series of farming practices that works with nature to create healthy soil and restore ecosystems). We participated in conferences, publicly screened The Soil Story, toured farms and ate a few baguettes (few is an understatement).
We partnered with the #EarthtoParis team and the campaign which generated over 1.4 billion impressions to date and reached over 78 million individuals. People power! We even joined them in creating a Love Letter to Paris, sharing our impassioned messages from around the world in front of the Petit Palais during the live Earth to Paris event, which were later passed on to the official UNFCCC spokesperson. We also worked with our partner, HumanEnergy, to have the words “The Soil Story” depicted in lights on the Eiffel Tower! It appeared every seven minutes for six nights and appeared alongside other important statements that hit international news.
On a farm tour an hour north of Paris, we met with farmers who are transitioning from conventional agriculture practices to regenerative practices. These farmers have stopped tilling their fields for the last seven years and added compost and cover crops into the rotation in between ‘cash crops’. Although their land isn’t entirely regenerative yet (it would be ultimate to stop using all chemicals, add grazing animals and more biodiversity to their land), they are on the right track and sequestering carbon at the same time as successfully making a living from farming. The photo below shows the difference in land management during the two-month resting period between cash crops. One farmer has planted cover crops and is constantly sequestering carbon, adding fertility to the soil, and protecting soil life. The other farmer has recently tilled the field, releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and allowing the soil fertility to die.
The Success of COP21
Our leaders created a landmark agreement that validated the seriousness of climate change and the need to keep global warming below 2 degrees of change. The commitment to reduce emissions isn’t aggressive enough to hit this target but at least the commitment to transition away from fossil fuels is strong. This will allow investment confidence in alternative energy and we should see alternative solutions continuing to rise in availability in the next few years. While it’s not as strong as we would like, we’re celebrating the work of tireless activists, scientists and concerned citizens over decades to meet the very real threat of climate change. We now live in a world where 195 countries are beginning to acknowledge and act on this call as true and urgent.
While we’re celebrating this step in the right direction, we know it’s only half of the solution – and half the story. For healthy soils, we had a big win! The French Minister of Agriculture, Stéphane Le Foll, committed to increasing soil carbon by 0.4% annually and had 25 other partners and countries sign on. The agreement is the first international one of its kind that highlights soil as a way to sequester carbon and balance our climate. It also positions our farmers as the pioneering climate heroes of our generation.
We believe “4/1000 initiative: Soils for Food Security and Climate” is the most hopeful development from COP21. You can read our press release here. Please share it if you feel inspired! As our co-founder Ryland Englehart likes to say, there’s nothing like the power of an idea whose time has come. Let’s make it the biggest story we can.
The Way Forward and What You Can Do
We have international support behind creating systems that will stop and reverse climate change. We have, for the first time, an international agreement to build soil carbon and work with nature to balance the carbon cycle. And, we have a lot of work to do. Governments can only do so much and regulations take a long time to implement. In the meantime nonprofits, communities, and people can start implementing solutions.
Look at your life and see where you can support the move off fossil fuels and toward renewable energy. You can drive an electric car, install solar in your home, use public transit more, and most importantly, switch your investments away from fossil fuel industries.
Then, you can choose to support farmers who are building soil carbon through your purchasing decisions. Ask questions in restaurants, grocery stores and directly to farmers at markets, and start requesting food grown in a way that is building soil organic matter and restoring our ecological systems. And start composting, growing your own food and reducing food waste.
Let’s remind our farmers that they can be the climate heroes, the ones to restore the land and balance the carbon cycle. Support farmers who are practicing regenerative agriculture, working with nature to restore ecosystems, by creating healthy soil, more nutrient dense food, and more efficiently using available water.