Managing Wholes ElephantSustainable Tompkins is pleased to co-host a visit to Ithaca by Peter Donovan of the Soil Carbon Coalition from Thursday, February 6 to Sunday, February 9.  Peter is part of a movement to use systems thinking to help us “manage wholes” and find the right scale of intervention to solve problems.

We’ve all been involved in the many tasks of making our community more sustainable and resilient in the face of escalating change.  Everything we are all doing in green building, energy efficiency, resource conservation, and renewables is an essential part of taking responsibility for our shared future.

But we don’t often talk about the dirt under our feet, and affirm its primary role in helping to regulate atmospheric carbon and slow climate disruption.  Yet, a mass effort to move carbon from the air and into the soil is needed to decelerate the rate of planetary warming.  If we did this, we’d also rapidly address a number of linked problems as illustrated in our elephant friend.

We’ve been interested in adding soil carbon storage to our portfolio of climate protection projects for the Finger Lakes Climate Fund, and we’re looking forward to a wider conversation with farmers, land managers, developers, policymakers, and citizens interested in doing all we can to protect our climate.

We hope you will join us for the public lecture on February 6 up at Ithaca College, or the all-day workshop on February 8 (see details below).

To get a sense of how fundamental the carbon cycle is to climate change, please watch this video (in two segments) by Peter.  Then mark your calendar for February 6!

With thanks to our partners Snug Planet, Sustainability at Ithaca College, and the Good Life Farm!

Peter Donovan of the Soil Carbon Coalition is coming to Ithaca, NY!

Peter Donovan is the founder of the Soil Carbon Challenge, an international (and localized) prize competition to see how fast land managers can turn atmospheric carbon into soil organic matter.  He offers a vision for grassroots science and local action: “it’s time to show with good data what’s possible, and recognize those land managers who know how to enhance soil water capacity, production, and underground biodiversity.”

Peter facilitates workshops for scientists and nonscientists, farmers and nonfarmers, climate activists and climate skeptics. The workshops tell the fascinating story of why and how carbon cycling was discovered, why the problem-solving orientation of most individuals, organizations, and institutions camouflages the opportunity to successfully manage wholes such as carbon and water cycling, and what individuals and communities can do about it.

Please join us to explore the carbon cycle and its relationship to our local landscape and decision-making processes.

Two opportunities to learn and share with Peter Donovan:


Public Talk: Understanding Our Role in the Carbon Cycle

Thursday, February 6 at 7:00pm

Textor Hall, Room 101, Ithaca College (map)

Free admission

Life is the most powerful and creative planetary force, for which soils are the center of gravity.  Whether you have a 300-acre farm or a 300-square foot back yard, your land management practices affect biological soil processes.  Want to learn more about the soil under your feet and its relationship to global carbon and water cycles?  This talk is a great place to start, as it will provide an overview of topics to be covered in more detail during the Saturday workshop.  If you are on the fence about attending the workshop, come to the Thursday talk to learn more.


Workshop: Carbon Cycling and Soil Organic Matter

Saturday, February 8, 9:00am-3:00pm

SONG Common House at Ecovillage, Ithaca (map)

Suggested donation: $25-$35 (lunch included)

Space is limited, RSVP to Mary Kate Wheeler:

Or via Facebook:

This workshop will delve into the evolution of human knowledge about the carbon cycle and the social and environmental implications of our current understanding.  The workshop will be of particular interest to individuals who are, or will be, managing for more carbon and enhanced ecological function in their soils, and to individuals/organizations working to promote sustainable soil and water management in our region.  Topics to be covered include:

  • the major discoveries of the carbon cycle by western science from 1600s to the present; major shifts in understanding are ongoing
  • the separation of scientific disciplines that has contributed to today’s fragmentary and confused views of the circle of life
  • human influences on carbon cycling from Paleolithic times to the present
  • why soils are the center of gravity of the circle of life, even though oceans and rocks contain much more carbon
  • how and why carbon cycling is an emergent phenomenon or process, resulting from the choices and metabolisms of trillions of autonomous, self-motivated organisms, from humans to microbes
  • the deep relationship between carbon and water, in the soil pore and in the atmosphere
  • the surprising implications of these changing understandings for policy, decision making, leadership, and long-term investment.

Expected outcomes include gaining a deeper understanding of the carbon cycle, identifying human opportunities to make a difference, and developing a strategy that participants can employ to foster positive change in our region.  Workshop participants are invited to join Peter on Sunday as he establishes a baseline plot for the Soil Carbon Challenge on a local farm.

Events sponsored by Sustainable Tompkins, Snug Planet, Good Life Farm, and Ithaca College.

More information: