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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Can We Find Common Ground?

By Joan Baron

A movement is growing in the U.S. and around the world that offers solutions to our most serious concerns around climate change.
This dramatic and insightful movement is the premise of the award-winning documentary film, Common Ground. Filmmakers Josh and Rebecca Tickell have produced a compelling work which highlights the sobering intersection of regenerative farming and American politics. Beautifully woven throughout the film, we meet practicing regenerative farmers across the country who help explain why saving our soil just may be the solution to saving the planet from the devastating effects of climate change.

Narrated by Laura Dern, the film also features well-known environmental activists and actors like Jason Momoa, Rosario Dawson, Woody Harrelson, Ian Somerhalder, and Donald Glover, who share contemplative moments to create perspective and build awareness of the movement. Common Ground digs deep into a broken system of farming, using journalism, historic footage, culture, corruption, and social evils of the past to illustrate the damage we’ve caused, while also reminding us of our roots and the ancient practices within our grasp to heal the earth.

Using multi-layer soil scans and 3D animations, the film illustrates the world that lies beneath our feet, showing how fungi and other soil life pull carbon out of the atmosphere and sequester it in the soil. According to the Rodale Institute (the pioneers of the Certified Organic movement), if we were to convert all the world’s 10 billion acres of farm and ranch land to regenerative agriculture, our soil could sequester all of the carbon dioxide that humanity emits each year. In effect, this would bring global carbon emissions to “Net 0.” The film shows that humanity’s most effective tool in fighting climate change is our soil. 

We sat down with Josh Tickell during the film’s Arizona debut in March to learn more about the premise for Common Ground.

Joan: Welcome to Phoenix, Josh. It’s a beautiful day for the premiere showing of your latest film… a sequel to your award winning documentary, “Kiss The Ground.” Tell us about the theme of “Common Ground,” and what carbon is all about. 

Josh: It’s an interesting thing about carbon. There appears to be two camps of people… those that are concerned about weather and those concerned about climate change. Environmentalists think a lot about climate change. We are starting to see a conversation that connects those two things. The key is to understand how weather is controlled via [the] hydrosphere. How water moves around the planet controls the weather. When we look at how we control water we must look at soil. Soil is the arbiter of how water moves. Up to 50% of water in a given region of the Southwest is determined by the soil and plants!

Joan: That’s a huge percentage!

Josh: If we strip the environment of the plant life, the bare soil will give off all of its water very quickly, leaving a dry brittle substance. The soil can’t retain or remit water to the air. The ecosystem of the southwest is full of sage bush. It is a symptom of a degraded ecosystem that was once a formal grassland. And, we had animals grazing the land, not in controlled methods like one sees today. 

Joan: So, tall grasses served as the “pump” that collected carbon from the atmosphere and delivered it to the ground. This seems much like a saguaro cactus capturing rainwater. These are natural processes.

Josh: Yes, and we must develop an awareness of large scale ecosystem memory and thought. 

Joan: And, we are on native lands — there was a deep respect and knowledge of what to do! What I love so much is your focus on water. A lot of people miss the important relationship between the quality of soil and the rain!

Josh: If you want rain, take care of the soil. It’s very simple. Rich and deep, the grasses are tall and the grazers are moving. 

Joan: The grazers are moving… that’s such an important aspect of your film. 

Josh: If animals aren’t moving they become lazy just like humans! This is a break in ecosystemic thought. 

Joan: That’s such a great observation…  We have mirrored our observation of animals sitting in the fields in our own behaviors! 

Josh: Humans and animals over time, got disconnected from natural movement. When we lose access to the carbon through the plants we can’t create rain! Consider that two-thirds of the land mass of the earth has been changed by human beings. There is carbon in the atmosphere, and there is the hydrosphere — the water cycle around the planet! The hydrosphere is what we don’t talk about. 

Joan: That’s what’s so exciting about your goals to create programs for children. These are the basic elements of life! It’s all connected! Why not encourage young people to become farmers?! We need more farmers. 

Josh: Yes, why not! Rural communities have had 4H and Future Farmers of America organizations. It’s the urban schools that don’t have the same access to land. When you’re in an inner city environment, there’s not a lot of emphasis on farming.

Joan: You have created tools in the form of CD’s that are now distributed to schools to educate students and teachers through their science curriculum to better understand how growing your own food empowers us. Tell me more. 

Josh: We are distributing in the U.S. and globally. The educational curriculum created from the film is free. Teachers can download, order, or print a copy. It is completely open sourced. It is a unique program that we started back in 2007 with the film “Fuel.” 

Joan: There are many “aha” moments in your film: Awareness of water and rain’s connection to soil health … paying attention and waking up… following the people who are doing the right thing. It’s really exciting to connect with you Josh. 

Josh: Movements are made of individuals. In retrospect, we realize that major movements became “a thing” after the fact. Regenerative agriculture is a big enough umbrella that it holds all of the strands of a great movement. What I see is the impact that the environment has had on all of us. We are essentially all environmentalists, [because], who is able to live without the environment?!

Common Ground is the recipient of the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival Human/Nature Award, a prize established to amplify a film that best exemplifies solution-oriented environmental storytelling. To learn more about Common Ground, visit commongroundfilm.org and scan the QR code to join the movement.


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