Healthy Soils and the Climate Crisis

Can we combat the climate crisis by paying more attention to… soil? 

Yes, we can! Transitioning to regenerative agricultural practices is one of the most effective solutions to the climate crisis, and soil health is a key component of regenerative agriculture. By storing more carbon and retaining more water, healthy soil improves the quality of our food and water, increases the resilience of our land and combats rising global temperatures. 

Unfortunately, due in part to floods, wildfires, droughts and unsustainable land management practices, many farms and ranches in the US suffer from poor soil health. Our nation’s approach to farming has historically prioritized profits over the health of land and people, and we are now paying the price. The current system harms farmers and ranchers, consumers and the environment.

Luckily, there’s something we can do about it.

The Healthy Soils Challenge

A partnership between the Colorado Department of Agriculture, Zero Foodprint and The Alliance Center’s Regenerative Recovery Coalition, the Healthy Soils Challenge is a fundraising campaign for Restore Colorado, a program to help Colorado farmers and ranchers restore their land and implement climate smart agriculture. Just $48 can pull a literal ton of carbon out of the atmosphere—imagine what millions of dollars can do! Restore Colorado will team up with the state’s farmers and ranchers to plant cover crops, apply compost, manage rotational grazing and more.  

Restore Colorado’s first project will be the McCauley Family Farm. Check out the video below to learn more!

What You Can Do

Are you a farmer or rancher? Are you a chef or restaurant owner? Are you a diner or consumer? No matter your role in the food system—and we all have one—you can be part of the solution! 

Individuals can:

  • Donate to the Healthy Soils Challenge. 
  • Patronize businesses that have committed to contributing a few cents per meal to supporting regenerative agriculture.
  • Get involved in the Coalition’s other regenerative agriculture efforts. 

Business owners can:

  • Commit to contributing a few cents per meal to supporting regenerative agriculture.
  • Sponsor the Coalition’s regenerative agriculture efforts.

Farmers and ranchers can:

  • Reach out to the Coalition’s Assistant Director, Jolie Brawner, for more information on participating in or benefiting from our regenerative agriculture initiatives.

Everyone can:

  • Attend the Healthy Soils Launch Party on October 11th, 2022 from 6-9pm! This event, featuring food, drinks and inspiring conversations about building strong and resilient food systems, will kick off the Healthy Soils Challenge. Attendees will have a chance to network and connect with regenerative agriculture leaders, chefs, media outlets, funders, farmers, ranchers and government leaders, including Governor Polis. We hope to see you there! 

Last month, in a thrilling and unexpected move, the U.S. Congress successfully passed the Inflation Reduction Act. Although this bill addresses inflation, healthcare costs and more, it also happens to be the boldest and most comprehensive climate legislation in our country’s history. 

But what, precisely, does this mean? Where does the bill succeed and where does it fall short? What are the next steps for change agents in the environmental movement?

Where The Bill Succeeds

The Inflation Reduction Act has a number of monumental provisions targeting the climate crisis. These include:

  1. Tax credits to incentivize more energy efficient lifestyles. These tax credits will make things like electric vehicles, rooftop solar panels and housing retrofits more accessible to the general public.
  2. Funding for the manufacturing of solar panels, wind turbines, batteries and other clean energy technology. This funding will help reduce the price of these technologies and relieve supply chain bottlenecks.
  3. Tax credits and grants to decarbonize the economy. By incentivizing greener manufacturing processes and greener commercial vehicles, these provisions will reduce emissions across all sectors. 
  4. Funding to reduce environmental injustice. Among other things, this funding will invest in public transportation and air quality monitoring in the communities most affected by pollution.
  5. Investments in climate smart agriculture, forest restoration and land conservation. This funding will ensure that rural communities are at the forefront of climate solutions.

What an exciting moment in our country’s history! This legislation reflects decades of work  accelerated by The Alliance Center, our community and the greater environmental movement. We have long understood the importance of investing in green buildings and green technologies: our building is one of the most energy efficient buildings in all of LoDo, and our Living Laboratory program pilots innovative solutions to the climate crisis. Additionally, our multi-issue Regenerative Recovery Coalition drives action with a number of regenerative agriculture initiatives, including a healthy soils challenge and a series of farm tours that aim to foster urban-rural relationships. After many years of work on these issues, it is uplifting to see significant federal funding and attention directed toward them. 

Where The Bill Falls Short

Of course, the bill is not perfect. Unfortunately, it also contains provisions that reduce obstacles for fossil fuel projects. Oil and gas operations contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions and are a primary cause of air and water pollutants. Despite Colorado’s commitment to reducing emissions, we continue to be one of the top oil and gas producing states in the country. The Alliance Center remains committed to supporting workers through a managed decline of the fossil fuels industry, and we hope that federal policy will one day follow suit. Until then, the Regenerative Recovery Coalition will continue to spearhead projects devoted to a just transition for oil and gas, including an upcoming roundtable series and an analysis of the oil and gas sector in Colorado.

What Comes Next

This groundbreaking bill is certainly cause for celebration. However, the journey to reach this point was arduous and its outcome was never clear. The unpredictable process of passing this legislation only highlights the everlasting importance of sustained, local action. We still have a long way to go before we achieve our vision: a sustainable and equitable future in which all communities thrive, democracy is strong, the economy works for everyone and the planet is healthy.

It will be exciting to observe the positive effects of the Inflation Reduction Act. In the meantime, stay engaged! Join the Regenerative Recovery Coalition, attend our next capacity building event, donate to support our work. The movement still needs you.

Regenerative Agriculture in Action

What does regenerative agriculture look like? On a sunny Friday morning, half a dozen Regenerative Recovery Coalition members stand surrounded by 1,200 fruiting or useful trees or shrubs. An Australian Shepherd puppy named Pablo scampers after them. The ducks and chickens have been fed, the eggs have been collected and the sheep have been watered. A shy ten day old lamb, Theo, stands by the trough with his mama, near a shelter that was built entirely out of wood and clay from the land. 

The Coalition members move on to pick chamomile and calendula flowers. Like every other plant in the farm’s exotic forest garden, these flowers serve a purpose. They attract pollinators, deter pests and will later be dried in a solar-powered dehydrator to make teas and medicines. This land has been intentionally shaped to capture and distribute water effectively, leaving no need for irrigation. It produces drought resistant crops and is home to a variety of wildlife. 

A Coalition member supports regenerative agriculture by holding a basket filled with chamomile flowers and spreading them out on a solar dehydrator.

Welcome to Elk Run Farm, a project of Drylands Agroecology Research (DAR).  DAR is one of the 370+ Regenerative Recovery Coalition members banding together to create a regenerative future. At The Alliance Center, we are often asked what the word regenerative means and why we sometimes use it over the word sustainable. To understand the difference, look no further than Elk Run Farm. The farm’s previously dry and barren landscape has not been sustained, it has been regenerated. It has been restored, renewed and transformed into a lush and self-sustaining ecosystem through holistic land management practices.

Efforts to Support the Movement 

Regenerative agriculture is an important solution to the climate crisis, because it draws carbon out of the atmosphere and helps restore the carbon cycle. But it can often be out of reach for many farmers and ranchers. The Coalition’s Regenerative Agriculture Working Group aims to change that. From field work to policy work, the Coalition has several initiatives dedicated to uplifting the regenerative agriculture movement in Colorado.

In addition to hosting volunteer days with Elk Run Farm, the Coalition has partnered with the Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) and Zero Foodprint (ZFP) to develop a statewide Healthy Soils Challenge. This challenge will generate funding from the private sector to support farmers as they implement practices such as composting, cover cropping and no-till farming.

The Coalition is also working to foster a sense of community among regenerative agriculture proponents. To do so, the Coalition will host an annual series of farm tours. These will build a network of climate smart practitioners in Colorado, connect people to the food they eat and help bridge the urban/rural divide. 

Finally, the Coalition promotes and influences regenerative agriculture policies in Colorado through our annual policy platforms and legislative endorsements.

Get Involved!

Are you a farmer, rancher or otherwise involved in the regenerative agriculture movement? Please join the Coalition and reach out to our Coalition Director, Jolie Brawner, to explore opportunities for partnering with us. Are you interested in learning more about regenerative agriculture? We encourage you to join the Coalition, participate in the Regenerative Agriculture Working Group and/or keep your eyes peeled for our next Elk Run Farm volunteer day! 

In just two legislative sessions, the Regenerative Recovery Coalition has contributed to the passing of more than 40 new Colorado state laws. Together, these laws have directed almost a billion dollars in state funding toward regenerative projects! This volume and breadth of influence is nearly unparalleled. How does the Coalition affect legislation on everything from air quality to waste diversion to affordable housing? What do the Coalition’s efforts actually entail, and can they be replicated in other states? To answer this, we must learn more about the Coalition’s unique, innovative approach: crowdsourced policy. 

How It Works

Before each legislative session, Coalition members submit their bold, transformational policy ideas through a Google Doc and then digitally collaborate to refine and rank the submissions. The resulting product is an expansive policy platform that represents the interests of a diverse group of citizens. This process was developed in spring of 2021 when the Coalition was asked by Speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives, Alec Garnett, to produce a stimulus project list to help guide the allocation of ARPA funds. After mobilizing through Google Docs, over 200 policy ideas were generated by the Coalition in just one week!

Once the policy platform is finalized, the Coalition works to share it with key influencers and decision makers. Coalition members meet with legislators, testify on legislative committees and distribute the platform across the Colorado House, Senate and the state administration. In some cases the Coalition does officially endorse policy and carry out grassroots lobbying, but more often the Coalition advocates for regenerative values over specific policies. If the Coalition’s efforts are successful, numerous bills that align with its policy platform will be signed into law! This year, the Coalition’s co-founder, Brenna Simmons-St.Onge, was invited by Governor Polis to a dozen bill signing ceremonies in recognition of the Coalition’s legislative role. 

Why It’s Important

A bill signing ceremony for a law influenced by the Coalition's crowdsourced policy platform.

The U.S. government strives to be “of the people, by the people and for the people”. However, many often go unrepresented in policymaking, especially low income people and people of color. Many American citizens do not have the knowledge or connections necessary to influence policy. The Regenerative Recovery Coalition, with its diverse, cross sector membership and its innovative approach, is working to change this. Through the Coalition, anybody interested in building a regenerative future can join us and make their voices heard. Last winter, Speaker Garnett praised the Coalition. “From zero to sixty in a flash, they have mobilized a powerful coalition and partnered with the legislature in a new and refreshing way to help drive systems change,” he said.

Crowdsourced policy is new but not unprecedented. Around the world, from France to Malaysia to Taiwan, innovators are experimenting with crowdsourcing as a method of civic engagement. Indeed, the Coalition’s process is entirely replicable. In 2021 we were awarded a grant from the Hewlett Foundation to write a replication playbook! The Regenerative Recovery Coalition looks forward to leading this charge across the United States. Please learn more, join us and/or reach out to the Coalition’s director, Jolie Brawner, at jbrawner@thealliancecenter.org to otherwise get involved.

Read our 2022 Policy Platform and 2022 Legislative Recap.

Read our Guide to a Regenerative Recovery and 2021 Legislative Recap.

 

The Alliance Center’s Regenerative Recovery Coalition proudly endorses six new bills this legislative session! After influencing 20 new state laws in 2021, the momentum hasn’t stopped: the Coalition’s recommendations appear in five of the six new bills we support. To learn more, read the Coalition’s 2022 Policy Platform, an innovative, crowdsourced document representing the bold, transformational ideas of the Coalition’s 350+ members.

The need for policy to fight climate change is greater than ever—and our voices are stronger together. You can make a difference with a single phone call to your legislator expressing your support for these bills. Read more on each bill below, and find your legislator here.

  1. SB22-138 Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions 
    • This bill will establish interim GHG goals for the state and require the insurance industry to prepare and file climate risk assessments. 
  2. HB22-1151 Turf Replacement Program 
    • This bill requires the Colorado Water Conservation Board to develop a statewide program to provide financial incentives for water-wise landscaping.
  3. HB22- 1355 Extended Producer Responsibility
    • This bill creates a producer responsibility program for statewide recycling.
  4. HB 22-1159 Waste Diversion and Circular Economy Development Center
    • This bill creates a Circular Economy Development Center in the Department of Public Health and Environment. 
  5. SB22-193 Air Quality Improvement Investments
  6. HB22-1249 Electric Grid Resilience and Reliability Roadmap
    • This bill requires the Colorado Energy Office to develop a roadmap for improving the resilience and reliability of electric grids in the state. 

Learn more about Colorado legislation and the Coalition’s work by watching our most recent Coalition event, Policies for a Thriving Colorado. And if our vision resonates with you, join the Coalition today!

 

Buckminster Fuller once remarked that “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

The Alliance Center and Natural Capitalism Solutions (NCS) are doing both. We have a long history of working together to counter neoliberalism, the dominant global economic ideology that has driven global inequality, environmental destruction, climate chaos and much more. We are also leading efforts to replace neoliberalism with regenerative economics.

NCS’s and Hunter Lovins’ work in critiquing neoliberalism goes back to 1999 with the publication of the book Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next industrial Revolution. Natural Capitalism was itself put forth as an alternative to neoliberalism, and the “cheater capitalism” it has fostered. The book is widely credited with launching the belief that there is a business case for behaving more responsibly to people and the planet—contradicting Milton Friedman’s dicta that “the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits” (New York Times, Sept. 13, 1970.) Now, essentially all businesses have a corporate social responsibility/ sustainability function. Most large companies have a Chief Sustainability Officer. Shareholder primacy is increasingly under attack, and such concepts as stakeholder capitalism are gaining acceptance from Wall Street to Main Street.

Together, the two organizations have been instrumental in launching the concept of regenerative economics, the leading alternative to neoliberalism.

Hunter Lovins, president of NCS, has keynoted more than a dozen events at The Alliance Center presenting this alternative. The Alliance Center was a cosponsor of NCS’ 2017 Regenerative Futures Summit. The Summit brought together such alternative economics thinkers as Kate Raworth, Joihn Fullerton and Hunter Lovins. Many outcomes sprang from this event, including the writing of the Nautalus Award winning book, A Finer Future: Creating an Economy in Service to Life specifically Chapter Three and the launching the Well-being Economy Alliance. The Alliance also hosted the Regenerative Organizations Summit in 2017. It hosted the launch of John Fullerton’s Regenerative Communities Network in 2018. At all of these gatherings, speakers detailed the failings of neoliberalism and the necessity to replace it with regenerative economics.

NCS was instrumental in launching several alternative MBA programs, and remains key in the Bard MBA in Sustainable Management. We are also working with the UNSDG Academy to embed the concepts of regenerative economics into management education. NCS has built curriculum detailing why neoliberalism must be replaced. Hunter now teaches this curriculum at such universities at the Bard MBA in Sustainable Management, the Gabelli School of Business at Fordham and others. Hunter was awarded the lifetime achievement award by the humanistic management network, a global academic consortium for her work opposing neoliberalism.

The partnership between The Alliance Center and Natural Capitalism Solutions has produced such works as a series of blogs for the Regenerative Development Institute at Regis University, articles in the Journal of Humanistic Management and the attached chapter which will be featured in the forthcoming book, Thrive: Basic Principles of a New Economy.

These are examples of work that are of outstanding academic quality but more importantly showcase the practical implementation that The Alliance Center and Natural Capitalism are doing. The most recent example of this is the Regenerative Recovery Coalition. This Coalition is implementing regenerative economics in a physical location, presenting the state government, legislators and resident with an alternative economic system to neoliberalism

This work is of relevance both locally and internationally. Hunter Lovins helped launch the Regenerative Hub in Costa Rica, and was asked by the King of Bhutan “to reinvent the global economy.” It was that request which led to the publishing of A Finer Future: Creating an Economy in Service to Life. Hunter also serves on the Club of Rome’s transformational economics hub: Earth For All.

 

Written by Hunter Lovins

“Did you see that?!” 

“What?” I pulled my head out of my pillow and squinted in the dark at my husband.

“A big flash,” he reported. “And now the power’s out. I think a transformer blew.” 

In the growing dawn I could see branches sagging under heavy snow. 

“I’d best go unplug the Leaf.” Our solar system with SimpliPhi batteries in the garage will run our house effectively indefinitely, but our trusty electric vbehicle pulls a lot of load. If we’re on power conservation mode, it’s best to wait to charge it until the solar system is getting lots of photons. Normally it’s great: I drive for free, my power stored during the day and trickled from the batteries into my car each evening. 

This time, our rural coop lost power for the better part of three days. Snowmagedden left parts of Northern Boulder County bereft of electricity. But not our ranch. We called the neighbors, as we do in such times, offering warmth, phone charging and Internet access.

This is a challenge not created by Covid. It reminded me, yet again, that our life support systems are not resilient. But, this challenge I’d prepared for. Years ago I’d gotten a one-time payout, which I spent installing a solar system that powers my home, fuels my EV and sells any excess to the utility. If I need more power than the batteries have stored, I buy it from the same utility. But if the grid goes down, the system stands alone. My husband groused at the cost until the floods of 2013 took power out for a week. Since then, the system has kept us toasty, our fridge cold, our rooms lit and computers connected many times. It was a luxury when I put it in. Now, doubling the size of our system would cost one fifth of my original investment. Every time the power goes out I wonder why everyone doesn’t have a system like this. 

The Coalition’s Climate Change and Energy working group was just talking about this. As renewable energy becomes cheaper everywhere than coal, oil, gas or nuclear, what is the best system architecture, as Colorado transitions to a 100% carbon free grid? Should the utilities own it all and retain their monopoly business model? They would like that. But under that scenario, I’d be freezing in the dark with my neighbors. As the people of Texas did a few weeks ago when the climate change-driven storm hit there. Replicating my system across Colorado would be far more resilient. Such distributed generation, intertied to the grid, would support job creation, and lower system costs for everyone. But this won’t happen unless we demand it.