Woody Harrelson Says Climate Doc ‘Common Ground’ Makes Him ‘No Longer Hopeless’ for the Future | Guest Column

“I’ve never been a big believer in the political process in this country, but I believe in people,” the actor-activist writes in an op-ed for TheWrap

Woody Harrelson attends HBO screening of "White House Plumbers" at U.S. Navy Memorial Theater in Washington, DC
Woody Harrelson attends HBO screening of "White House Plumbers" at U.S. Navy Memorial Theater in Washington, DC (Credit: Paul Morigi/Getty Images)

If you’re one of those people who thinks that industry shouldn’t always have its way, that the rights of animals should be protected, that the distressingly common extinction of species is a scandal and that nature should be respected, I admire your strength and courage.

I developed a great concern for the plight of our planet when I was 12 and was asked to write a five-page report on the subject of my choosing. I wrote 50 pages on the ecological threat. That was back in the early ’70s, and of course Mother Nature is still on the run.

In 1996, I was arrested twice for activism. Recognizing hemp’s potential as a sustainable crop that can make food, paper, fabric and more, I planted hemp seeds in Kentucky as a way to challenge and promote legislation. My second arrest came later that year after I climbed the Golden Gate Bridge to protest the logging of the ancient redwoods.

I naively thought my actions would encourage policy makers to change their ways, consider the environmental impact of major industries and create safeguards. Nothing has changed and industrialists only grasp their money tighter and prioritize profit over people and the planet.

The relationship between industry, bankers, and the prostitutes we call politicians only gets cozier.

I find it ironic that when Congress runs out of money they never consider pulling funds from corporate welfare and continue to subsidize oil, coal, timber, weapons and pharma to the tune of hundreds of billions of our tax dollars every year. It breeds cynicism, which my buddy Matthew McConaughey calls the worst disease of old age. A contagious disease which apparently I caught.

But seven years ago, I became more hopeful.

A close friend who had started a nonprofit called Kiss The Ground asked me to narrate a documentary about regenerative agriculture. Regenerative agriculture is a way of farming that focuses on soil health by growing cover crops, stopping harmful tillage and moving away from agro-chemicals. In other words, it’s a way of farming that heals the soil while producing healthy food.

In September 2020, our little regenerative farming documentary, “Kiss the Ground,” hit Netflix. People were beginning to connect the dots between their health, our food and the source of that food. It turns out, the answer’s simple: It’s the soil.  

This may seem obvious but, as “Kiss the Ground” illustrated, our society has been ruining the soil through various practices, including too much tilling and the massive use of chemical herbicides and pesticides. The health of the soil and the health of our global population are directly connected. In other words, sick soil equals sick people while healthy soil is the source of the best medicine we can get: nutritious food.

The film didn’t just sensationalize the bad news. It offered viewers hope, something that is in short supply. “Kiss the Ground” shows us a way out of our environmental mess, sharing how photosynthesis, microbes, grazing animals and the carbon cycle can work together to rebuild soil, feed the world and balance the climate. What’s more, healthier soil is good for farmers’ wallets, too. 

Which brings me to this year’s follow-up film, “Common Ground.” 

“Common Ground” is a love letter to our children. It’s an urgent call to action that takes chemical companies to task for selling toxic products, explains specific methods for regenerative agriculture and shows a plan for how to put farmers back to work and stabilize the climate. The film has a unifying, nonpartisan message. In essence, “Common Ground” is a blueprint for securing our future.

We stand at a crossroads, facing two paths. One leads to climate chaos, food shortages, deserts expanding and a biodiversity crash. The other involves rethinking our relationship with nature by choosing regenerative agriculture. The regenerative path can give us abundant, nutritious food, thriving ecosystems and a future for generations to come.

I had a surreal moment when I met King Charles and he said he loved “Kiss the Ground” so much he personally sent it to 1,000 people. I hope the same is true of “Common Ground” – I hope thousands of people send the new documentary to thousands of their friends. 

I’ve never been a big believer in the political process in this country, but I believe in people. Congress is currently debating something called the Farm Bill. There are a lot of good people in America, who deserve to eat clean food, and it would be refreshing to see Washington prioritize communities over commodities.

I’m no longer hopeless. I’m actually inspired. In fact, I’m committed to using my voice and activism to make the regenerative agriculture movement spread far and wide.

We don’t just need to support soil in the Farm Bill — we need to make the effort in every way we can, from turning our lawns into food gardens and our food waste into compost, to buying food from local regenerative farmers and ranchers. We all eat and we can all support the people who are doing the hard work to feed the world with healthy regenerative food. We can vote with our dollars.

One thing is for certain, it’s time for a change. Soil is our common ground. 

Let’s make regenerative agriculture our priority.  

Woody Harrelson is a three-time Oscar-nominated actor and longtime environmental activist. He is one of the narrators on “Common Ground,” a documentary from Joshua Tickell and Rebecca Harrell Tickell.


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