The importance of soil preservation
Soil covers the Earth, spreading vastly, deeply and nurturing our land with food. Its cultures and inhabitants are ingrained in our ecosystem, necessary for our survival. Yet, it is in danger. Day by day, unsustainable farming, overpopulation, pesticides and fertilisers strip the Earth of its rich nutrients.
As soil degrades and loses its power, increasing levels of CO2 are released into the atmosphere, adding to the build up which cloaks the Earth, trapping heat and raising global temperatures. When soil loses nutrients, chemicals are increased to stimulate crop production and eventually, our land becomes unsuitable for food growth. New land is stripped of trees, wildlife habitats are destroyed and species displaced. The cycle continues.
Global warming reaps the end of the world as we know it. In the past century, temperatures have risen by nearly 1℃ and at the current rate, are expected to rise upwards of 4℃. While these changes may seem small, they could prove fatal to many species of the natural world. We can already see the change in our weather patterns but without action, the climate will continue to change and endanger our fragile ecosystem.
We are now in a new time period - the Anthropocene - a time where humans dominate the environment and natural world. This could be the most crucial period of our history, as we now must decide whether we sink or swim.
What is soil degradation?
Soil degradation is the decline in topsoil quality which includes physical, chemical and biological changes. This process can happen naturally however the vast majority of soil degradation is caused by human actions.
Healthy soil has rich biodiversity, supporting life for insects which play an imperative role in the Earth’s ecosystem.
Some of the most damaging human causes of soil degradation include:
- Chemicals which are sprayed on crops and fields.
- Tilling soil.
- Loss of biodiversity by growing limited species on soil.
- Unprecedented weather caused by global warming.
- Urban movement.
A report from the United Nations states that up to one-third of agricultural land has degraded over the last four decades. If we continue to farm unsustainably and support this produce, all agricultural topsoil could degrade within just 60 years.
How does soil degradation impact the climate?
Soil degradation, if continued at the current rate, will have an immense negative impact on the ecosystem. The worst case scenario is desertification, where soil becomes damaged beyond repair and no longer sustains vast plant and animal life. Very few hardy plants can survive in areas of desertification.
As soil becomes less fertile, crops struggle to grow and thrive which disrupts global food production. Soil degradation is one of the largest risks to the future of our food sources. The predominant risk for productive land loss is within low income countries, where crops are sold and exported to higher income countries such as the UK.
Soil also plays a crucial role in storing carbon. The Earth’s soil contains 2,500 gigatons of Co2 - this is more than 4 times the amount stored in all the world’s plants and animals. Soil degradation causes the loss of nutrients, microbes and biodiversity which in turn, causes carbon to be released into the atmosphere. If soil was protected, nurtured and restored, the Earth’s buildup of carbon could be reduced.
How can we protect and nurture soil?
Though there are solutions for undoing damage caused by soil degradation and desertification, prevention is a better solution that is easier to action. For soil to be protected, agriculture must be conducted in a sustainable way that works with nature instead of against it.
Rotating crops allows soil to regenerate and replenish vital nutrients. Instead of growing limited crop types on land, supporting diverse use of soil keeps it healthy and rich.
Supporting organic produce helps reduce the amount of chemical fertilisers and pesticides used on crops. Research suggests consuming GM, and chemical treated crops reduce our food nutrients and pollute the body. So by shopping organic, or using meal services that support organic produce like Holy, you are helping yourself and the world we live in.
Permaculture is a way of farming that prioritises the natural world and works with the land to sew, grow and harvest crops.
Switching to a plant-based diet, or reducing meat and dairy consumption can also help support soil. Currently only 30% of grain production is consumed by humans. The majority of grain (70%) is fed to livestock. If global production of meat and dairy products reduced, so would the impact of over grazing which is a major cause of soil degradation. Land would also become available for growing crops more sustainably.
Our world is changing, there is no denying it. We must all take action now, while we still can to protect the wonderful and fragile world.
- WWF. WHAT ARE CLIMATE CHANGE AND GLOBAL WARMING?.
- NSW Government. Soil degradation.
- J. Maximillian, A.D. Matthias. https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/soil-degradation.html. Environmental and Pollution Science (Third Edition). 2019.
- Renee Cho. Can Soil Help Combat Climate Change?. Columbia Climate School, State of the Planet. 2019.
- United Nations. Soil erosion must be stopped ‘to save our future’, says UN agriculture agency. UN News. 2019.