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How the Largest Army in the World Can Solve Climate Change

When you have a huge problem, you send your biggest army. You’re probably thinking that army belongs to China, India or the U.S., right?

Wrong. The Chinese army is around 1.3 million people—a fraction of the size of the 2.3-billion global “army of agriculturalists,” says agronomist Guy Webb, in the new 20-minute documentary “Grassroots.”

According to Webb, more than any other group of people, farmers have the ability to solve one of the most challenging issues facing mankind—climate change.

“Barring the ocean, soil is the biggest carbon sink we have on planet Earth,” Webb says. He believes the people growing our food are the ones we need on the front lines of the battle to reduce carbon in our atmosphere.

How do Webb and others think farmers can achieve this Big Hairy Audacious Goal?

Fungi. Specifically, melanised endophytic fungi. Tony Bellette, who narrates “Grassroots,” explains:

Now, what’s interesting about this fungus is that it lives nestled within the roots of a plant and spends its time storing away carbon in the soil that will stay there for hundreds or even thousands of years. But what I didn’t mention, and perhaps more importantly, it does so by drawing that carbon out of the atmosphere in amounts so great, it could potentially hold a solution to climate change.

Microbiologist Chandra Iyer, also featured in the film, explains that there’s a lot happening underneath the soil:

“There is more diversity of microbes than there are human beings or animals in the entire planet put together. Because we can’t see it, we can not actually perceive it. It’s very hard for us to comprehend the whole idea. But in an actual world, plants depend on microbes.”

If these curious little fungi are the solution to climate change, how do farmers get the fungi into the soil, to make the planet’s life-giving layer of earth healthier and more fertile?

That’s where Soil C Quest comes in, an agricultural research and development task force with an agenda to fast track the development of a type of soil carbon sequestration biotechnology.

Soil C Quest creates a seed inoculum that “fixes” carbon using the “carbon capturing fungi.” This process, called “fungal mediated soil carbon sequestration,” captures and concentrates atmospheric carbon (C02) into plant sugar (C6H1206) and in turn converts some of that carbohydrate flow into fungal melanin (C18H10N204), depositing this stable form of carbon safely inside soil microaggregates.

Thanks to filmmaker Frank Oly and producer Tegan Nock, viewers get a front row seat on Webb’s journey from an Aussie just trying to find a way to improve the health of Australia’s farming soil, to pitching his game-changing technology at the TEDxSydney 2017 Fast Ideas (he won), to working long hours in a greenhouse with local farmers who all become unlikely heroes on a quest to bring a breakthrough climate change solution to the world.

“Through the history of agriculture, we’ve had practices and techniques that have allowed us to take big leaps in productivity and sustainability,” Nock says. “The knowledge that we’re building around endophytes, will allow us to take the next step forward.”

Now, you might be thinking what narrator Bellette asks at the end of the film:

“Could a fungus really save the world? Webb and his friends are slowly getting closer to finding out. Let’s hope they succeed, because I think you’ll agree with me, the way things are going, we might be running out of time.”

Want to see the film? It’s now being shown at the SCINEMA International Science Film Festival in Australia. If you don’t live Down Under, you can host a screening at your festival, conference or event.

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