Inspiring Netflix documentary 'Kiss the Ground': A simple solution to the climate crisis?

Inspiring Netflix documentary 'Kiss the Ground': A simple solution to the climate crisis?

Bay Area ranch, waste company featured in 'Kiss the Ground'

Electric cars, wind farms and solar panels alone won’t save us.

To cool the Earth — to actually reverse climate change instead of just stopping it — there’s one solution that just might work. And it could be our last chance.

That’s the message of the inspiring new Netflix documentary “Kiss the Ground” debuting Tuesday, Sept. 22.

“There’s so much bad news about our planet, it’s overwhelming,” opens narrator Woody Harrelson. “The fear that we’re headed for a cliff puts most of us in a state of paralysis. The truth is, I’ve given up. And the odds are so have you. But what if there was another path?”

The solution, he says, is “right under our feet” — the soil.

Woody Harrelson narrates

Woody Harrelson narrates "Kiss the Ground," an inspiring documentary about a possible solution to climate change. It begins streaming on Netflix on Tuesday, Sept. 22.

Big Picture Ranch

When the star of a movie is dirt, one might reasonably wonder who’s going to watch it. But directors Josh and Rebecca Tickell make what could have been a dry, technical subject accessible and compelling. Creative graphics are judiciously used to illustrate chemical processes without distracting from the scientists explaining them.

“Kiss the Ground” is about restoring the Earth’s degraded land masses, regenerating their soil, and changing how they are farmed and grazed. Once returned to health, soil has the unique ability to “draw down” and sequester vast quantities of carbon dioxide, methane and other gases that are warming the planet.

It’s not some untested theory.

“When you talk to people about this great technology that has existed for millions of years that takes carbon out of the atmosphere and stores it safely in the soil, and it’s called plants working with soil microorganisms, it seems too simple!” exclaims Kristin Ohlson, author of “The Soil Will Save Us.”

Rancher Gabe Brown and conservation agronomist Ray Archuleta discuss strategy over an early morning breakfast in

Rancher Gabe Brown and conservation agronomist Ray Archuleta discuss strategy over an early morning breakfast in "Kiss the Ground."

Big Picture Ranch

The documentary focuses on two leaders in the regenerative agriculture movement, Ray Archuleta and Gabe Brown. Conservation agronomist Archuleta crisscrosses the country to educate farmers on practices that will keep their soil healthy.

After near bankruptcy from repeated hailstorms and drought, North Dakota’s Brown abandoned his conventional farm operation. He turned to regenerative ranching, no-till plowing and crop diversification, and found that he could make more money without government subsidies.

Doniga Markegard and her family practice regenerative grazing on her ranch in Half Moon Bay.

Doniga Markegard and her family practice regenerative grazing on her ranch in Half Moon Bay.

Big Picture Ranch

The movie’s wide-ranging supporting cast includes a Bay Area holistic rancher and San Francisco’s waste collection and recycling company, Recology.

The Tickells’ camera follows Doniga Markegard as she explains how her family maintains soil function and health by rotating the paddocks their cattle graze on their 8,000-acre ranch in Half Moon Bay.

“The form of agriculture that we use creates billions of lives in the form of soil microbes, in nematodes and in grassland birds; all that wildlife is flourishing under an agriculture system versus a tilled crop field which is denude of life,” Markegard says.

Recology of San Francisco's composting operation has a supporting role in

Recology of San Francisco's composting operation has a supporting role in "Kiss the Ground."

Big Picture Ranch

Recology, meanwhile, is doing its part to invigorate the fields of local growers.

“There are continents and other really large regions that are hit with a double whammy of higher temperatures and drought,” says company public relations manager Robert Reed. “This kills soil. This kills life.”

“In San Francisco, we’re collecting 700 tons of food scraps and plant cuttings per day … We collect our food scraps, we put them in the green bin, it goes off to Recology’s compost facility, we turn it into compost and it gets on a farm. That’s a simple solution.”

Several celebrities make appearances in “Kiss the Ground.”

We get to peek into the Bundchen-Brady kitchen, where Gisele is preparing an organic, nutrient-rich meal for husband Tom, who needs all the nutrients he can get to play professional football at age 43.

Actor/activist Ian Somerhalder (Boone Carlyle on

Actor/activist Ian Somerhalder (Boone Carlyle on “Lost”) confers with "Kiss the Ground" directors Rebecca and Josh Tickell before a studio shot.

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Actor Ian Somerhalder (Boone Carlyle on “Lost”) visits a holistically managed ranch in Zimbabwe that practices planned grazing to reverse desertification, the process in which fertile land becomes desert.

In Haiti and Uganda, actors Patricia and David Arquette assist communities without sanitation with building and maintaining composting toilets so they can collect and treat their own waste, and use it to rejuvenate their soil.

As wildfires rage across California following the hottest August ever recorded for the Northern Hemisphere, “Kiss the Ground’s” debut on Netflix could hardly be more timely. The documentary offers hope in the face of climate-change intractability. But will we follow the path lighted by scientists and regenerative agriculture advocates?

“According to the United Nations, the world’s topsoil will be gone in sixty years,” says Harrelson, “In other words, unless we find a way to save our soils, we have 60 harvests left.”

Your move, human race.

“Kiss the Ground,” produced by Josh and Rebecca Tickell, Harrell Tickell and Bill Benenson, begins streaming Sept. 22, on Netflix. 

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Mike Moffitt is an SFGATE Reporter. Email: moffitt@sfgate.com. Twitter: @Mike_at_SFGate