Second Vermont Republic

A citizen movement committed to restoring Vermont to an independent republic, free to pursue life, liberty and happiness unimpeded by the demands of an imperial, corrupt and disintegrating United States.

How Cows Save The Planet, by Kim MacPhail (BOOK REVIEW)

Cows save the planet. A sentence that sounds so absurd that it immediately makes you utterly confused. Don’t get me wrong, I think cows are pretty interesting animals, but I’ve never considered them to be more than dairy producing, meat providing, and manure emitting creatures. How could a simple cow restore our incredibly large Earth? After reading Judith Schwartz’s How Cows Save the Planet: and Other Improbable Ways of Restoring Soil to Heal the Earth, I found that cows and other grazers have a much greater impact on the environment through their interaction with a mixture of elements that makes up a majority of the landscape we see everyday. Schwartz argues in her sustainable living book, the answer is in the soil.


It is an essential part of Earth, a source of biodiversity in ecosystems, we walk on it everyday of our lives, and it holds solutions to multiple environmental issues throughout the world. Judith Schwartz’s Cows Save the Planet: And other Improbable Ways of Restoring Soil to Heal the Earth is “a call to action on the behalf of soil.” From soil’s point of view, she shows the world’s economic, social, and above all environmental concerns in a way that is so simple that it is consistently overlooked and underrated. Carbon is naturally cycled through soil. The only issue is restoring it to the ground. From levels of economic consumption to climate change, the soil can heal it all.

Schwartz, a freelance journalist with an eye for environmental economics, highlights the importance of allowing soil the chance to regenerate through its natural tendency to heal. She is concerned at the mediocre and fifty percent effort current solutions to carbon emission are inadequate to meet extensive ecological needs. “Legacy carbon hovering in the atmosphere is supposed to be down in the soil.” When it comes to the release of greenhouse gases, even full reduction of all the carbon emissions wouldn’t make any significant change in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. There is about 83 billion tons of topsoil and restoring carbon to the soil where it belongs will reverse the current carbon emission issue as well as aid other environmental concerns such as climate change, biodiversity, and food nutrients. Enacting this process of restoring the carbon to the soil is through the improbable candidate the cow, and its grazing habits.

 As outlined in both the book and in the KDHX interview with Jean Ponzi, when the two words “cows” and “environment” are used in the same sentence, the most common response is how they are belching methane and contributors to greenhouse gases, but Schwartz argues that their pros outweigh the cons. Like all grazing animals, cows have the ability of restoring soil and ultimately restoring carbon out of the atmosphere and back into the ground. By nibbling on plants, the cows stimulate plant growth. By stomping on the ground, cows open up the earth to allow water to seep in and rehydrate dying areas which is known as aeration. Lastly, by producing dung and urine, cows fertilize the ground with the organic matter known as carbon. This strange looking black and white animal has a much greater purpose than its conventional one in the dairy world.

 Multiple resources and background stories throughout the book creatively support the almost irrational sounding facts. Schwartz uses multiple foundations and credible information sources such as the Scripps institution of Oceanography or the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to support the science behind her argument. In addition to foundations, other effective sources came from her use of professionals. There isn’t a page that doesn’t have a reference to either Allan Savory, a farmer who developed Holistic Management, or some other biologist, farmer, economist, or environmental advocate. One mentioned in particular, is Abe Collins who has experimented with a carbon sequestration farm in St. Albans, Vermont. Abe Collins believes that carbon farming is essential to decreasing Vermont’s carbon footprint. Carbon is the basis for every major cycle in the environment. It is an essential part of the world. It just needs to be placed and used properly. Like Schwartz, Collins believes its place belongs in the ground.

 Yes, impressive and accurate sources are essential to any science and economic based book, but Judith Schwartz used a different technique alongside her hard facts. Reading fact after fact gets not only tedious but flat out boring especially to someone like me who falls asleep reading textbooks but Schwartz makes reading her argument for sustainability through soil more capturing by adding in a more narrative feel. Every chapter and subsection has a different story attached to the main purpose to the chapter whether it is climate change, photosynthesis, or the economy. Judith takes you through her own account of meeting sustainable farmers in St. Albans Vermont and her journey to farm after farm meeting biologists and economists who then gave their professional opinion on the subject regenerative soil and economic growth in relation to the environment. By providing a storyline, readers are able to better connect with the book and ultimately more engaged with its message.

The book Cows Save the Planet: And other ImprobableWays of Restoring Soil To Heal the Earth not only satisfied my interest but also made it grow deeper. Mine and many others’ typical response to how to fix the carbon emissions problem is to reduce the amount of oil drilled and burning less fossil fuels. I have never considered or known anything more realistic or more efficient existed until reading this book. Judith Schwartz offers this ridiculous sounding solution to not just atmospheric carbon but to global economy, climate change, restoration of food nutrients and more. She cleverly connected the environment and the economy and how “we have ignored earth’s natural cycles and the role in those cycles played by soil” by proceeding with our current economic model of growth. As shown in the hamster analogy, economic growth can’t continue on its current path or ecological debt is as inevitable as the lifespan of a hamster that eats double everyday. As quoted in the book by Kurt Vonnegut, “we could have saved the environment but we were too damned cheap.”

 Overall, Cows Save the Planet is a great read for curious forward-thinking readers, as well as  environmental activists. Out-of-the-box solutions and positive regenerative ideas to the many dooming environmental and economic concerns are not only ample in this book, but are supported by current soil regenerative farms throughout the United States such as the one in St. Albans, Vermont. As Judith Schwartz points out, sustainable topsoil entertains endless possibilities in climate change, biodiversity, atmospheric carbon, and even the global economy. Instead of focusing on the negative, she directs your attention towards hopeful, long lasting solutions in soil.

Read more revolutionary writing at Chelsea Green Publishing.

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This entry was posted on October 15, 2014 by in Arts.

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