Walter Jehne is an internationally known Australian soil microbiologist and climate scientist and the founder of Healthy Soils Australia. He is passionate about educating farmers, policymakers and others about “the soil carbon sponge” and its crucial role in reversing and mitigating climate change. His work shows how we can safely cool the climate by repairing our disrupted hydrological cycles. That project requires us to return some of the excess carbon in the atmosphere to the soil, where it belongs. In 2017, he participated in an invitation-only United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization conference in Paris aimed at bringing soil into the next Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.
Jehne was an early researcher on glomalin, mycorrhizal fungi and root ecology. He grew up in the bush, surrounded by nature. At university, he chose the field of microbiology because it encompasses all life processes in microcosm. As a young man he started his career working on forest dieback diseases in relation to soil microbial interactions. Later he “switched to the dark side” when he realized that the disease fungi were actually our friends because they’re involved with symbiosis, and disease serves to remove and recycle moribund organisms.
As a research scientist at CSIRO (Australia’s scientific research organization), Jehne investigated the potential of mycorrhizal fungi to recolonize toxic, degraded soils and to rebuild productive biosystems. His curiosity took him to China to study why the country’s traditional agriculture was so productive. Later he worked with his federal government on changing the paradigm of land management to foster strategic innovation. He retired 15 years ago so he could get back to practically applying science and grassroots empowerment. He travels widely to share his understanding of the causes and solutions to climate change.