This post was originally produced for Forbes.
In a wide-ranging conversation with author and filmmaker Josh Tickell, 43, he shared two key observations. First, he said that cows get a bad rap for their contribution to global warming. Second, he says millennials are key to solving climate change.
Tickell, a self-described environmentalist, is the author Kiss the Ground and The Revolution Generation. Films by the same titles are also pending release. Tickell’s first film, Fuel, still available on Netflix, won him a Sundance Film Festival award.
As a social entrepreneur, co-founder of Big Picture Ranch, his production company, he says his four-person team operates the business on a break-even basis. You can watch my full interview with Tickell in the video player at the top of this article.
In Kiss the Ground, Tickell looks at soil’s potential to sequester carbon. He notes that each acre of agricultural land has the potential to store up to 10 tons of carbon. Extending that across 10 billion acres of farmland, there is tremendous potential to store carbon there.
Two surprising keys to carbon sequestration in the soil include tilling—actually, not tilling—and running cows over the land.
Tilling is a great way, Tickell says, to release stored carbon into the atmosphere and damage the soil. Modern farming tools and techniques allow for no-till farming methods, where a slice is cut in the ground, seeds are inserted and the open wound in the land is immediately sealed in a fully mechanized way. This isn’t 19th-century farming.
He notes in his book that it isn’t enough to be an organic farmer. Organic farmers who are tilling their land are failing to sequester carbon and build healthy soils just like traditional farmers.
Much has been said in recent years about the methane production of cows and their impact on global warming. Tickell says the problem is in the concentrated animal feeding operations or CAFOs, where about 78% of beef cattle are raised. These factory farm operations do produce tremendous amounts of carbon.
That said, when cows graze in a pasture as a mob, moving from place to place, most of their emissions are stored in the soil–they are constantly converting grass into compost. Not only do they help, but Tickell says, “that’s the only way to really create the soil regeneration that’s necessary.”
“Not only is it not the cow’s fault but for better or worse we can’t really build the kind of soil carbon we need without them,” he says.
In The Revolution Generation, Tickell takes a look at millennials and their politics.
“Most people don’t realize this, but the millennial generation has the largest voting bloc in U.S. history,” he says.
With respect to solving climate change, Tickell says, “Not only are they the only potential solution. They’re our only potential hope.”
He notes that millennials are over 50% independent and that they don’t feel like there is anywhere for them to vote. “The Revolution Generation looks at how can we create new systems that are going to empower young people to make a difference,” Tickell says.
Generation X and the Baby Boomers and become “ideologically infatuated,” he says. “So, if our party believes XYZ we believe XYZ even if that is scientifically not true. So, we have become a party before science society and that’s what happens to empires before they fall.”
There is something different about millennials, however. “Regardless of whether they’re Republican Democrat or Independent the majority, vast majority, 70 to 80 percent believe that climate change is human-made.” Simply understanding the nature of the problem is critical to solving it, Tickell argues.