The Earth is under our feet supporting us continuously, but we take it for granted in so many ways. Please spare a second thought for it on Earth Day on April 22nd. There’s hope, but we must act now.
What is the soil?
The soil is naturally made up of dust, dirt, organic matter (dead plants and animals), living organisms (bacteria, fungi, insects and other animals too), rocks, sand, metals, minerals, gases, water and other liquids including oil, etc. Its composition varies greatly all over the world. However, these days, we are finding much more infertile soil with pollutants, harmful chemicals, toxic waste, plastic, etc. With at least a third of arable land dedicated to feeding the ever-increasing human population, we can scarcely afford to lose any.
What is in the soil (and what should not)?
In healthy soil, there are many creepy crawlies on or just under the surface of the soil, but they are quite necessary to maintain the soil’s health. When trees, plants and animals die, a virtually invisible army starts the cleanup operation. Bacteria start feeding on organic matter, releasing minerals. Flies dissolve dead animals and their residues. Worms chew through the soil making it more useful to plants. Cockroaches, of which there are 4,000 species (just shivering at the thought), are scavenging their way through the mess cleaning up and releasing nutrients, especially Nitrogen, which is one of the fundamental building blocks for life on Earth, other than carbon obviously. We may have also found a great ally sanitising many of the world’s sewers, and if there were a nuclear war, they would almost certainly survive down there.
We add many things to crops to make them grow faster, stronger and better, but not all of this is used by the plants and much ends up in undesirable places, causing problems for fauna and flora alike. We also genetically modify crops, which our bodies are no longer able to recognise as food, even causing food allergies. Excessive use of fertilizers can leak into rivers and down to the sea causing algal bloom that kills off river and marine life, and that’s before even considering the excessive uses of Insecticides, Pesticides, Herbicides, Fungicides, Larvacides, etc and the damage they do. Humans now spray crops with so many things that these are now accumulating in us, and most other wildlife, at an alarming rate. One of these herbicides, called Glyphosate (a weed killer), is so pervasive that it was recently found in 45% of Europe’s topsoil, and in the urine of 75% of Germans tested at five times the legal limit allowed for drinking water. Legal cases involving Glyphosate in the USA have confirmed that it is Carcinogenic to humans. Many insecticides, including Clothianidin, Imidacloprid and Thiamethoxam (Neonicotinoids), have been banned in Europe. This is principally to protect the bees which pollinate most crops, and without them we would all die. A staggering 70% of all insects have disappeared in the last 30 years. You only need to ask older generations how driving used to be 10, 30, 50 years ago and the number of dead bugs on the windscreen compared to nowadays. Obviously, the principal goal of the food industry is to create enough food for the rapidly growing world population nearing 8 billion, which would probably stabilize naturally around 11 billion, if other measures are not applied sooner. In the Western world, we throw away about 40% of the food we produce, whilst many people in poorer countries starve to death. Climate change will devastate food production in the years to come with extreme weather like tornadoes or flooding or wildfires consuming farmland already affected by drought. The IPCC’s 6th Report issues a red alert for us.
It is not only about what we grow in the soil, but what we grow on it, such as livestock, poultry, etc. The residues created are often toxic to other forms of life when it enters ground water, rivers and seas. An incredible 96% of all animal life on land has now been domesticated, mostly for our food needs, sadly. We have even tamed the largest of the land-dwelling animals and put thousands of species of animals in zoos for our viewing pleasure. Our closest ape relative, the Orang-utans, are fighting for their existence against palm oil growers in Indonesia. Humanity, in the loosest sense of the word, has wiped out at least 60% of wildlife from the Earth in the last 40 years. At least 8% of all species are facing extinction, with perhaps as many as 200 unrecorded species going extinct every day. According to comprehensive research, 571 plant species have disappeared in the last 250 years, which is more than twice the number of birds, mammals and amphibians recorded as extinct (a combined total of 217 species). Humans are almost certainly responsible for The Holocene Extinction, Earth’s 6th mass extinction event, occurring as we speak. Abrupt climate change is likely to be the principal cause, but habitat destruction plays an important part too.
14.8% of global land area is currently protected by law, but this needs to be drastically increased to protect areas from deforestation, mining, abusive farming practices and unsustainable building (Urban sprawl). Places like the Netherlands, Pacific island nations and Louisiana, USA are losing land to sea level rise from global warming, which causes the melting of glaciers and polar ice. In the last century, the sea has risen 20 centimetres, with 3cms of those in just 30 years. Soil erosion is increasing due to changing rainfall patterns as a result of climate change, but also because of human activities like land clearing, deforestation, road network building and urban sprawl. This then leads to habitat fragmentation and less space for natural species, often forcing wildlife into urban environments causing conflict, with examples of this seen in recent years in the news (bears, foxes, seagulls, wild boars, etc). This closer contact also increases the risk of diseases being spread from one species to another like we have seen with Covid-19, Avian flu, Swine flu…
The massive plastic-covered greenhouses in Southern Spain (and other places in the world obviously), which supply a huge quantity of fruit and vegetables Europe-wide, are disintegrating into microplastics with exposure to the sun, and then being carried by hot winds coming up from the Sahara, even arriving to the Pyrenees Mountains and France. This wind is already laden with dust, which is useful because it brings vital nutrients with it, but then the plastics are unfortunately making the land toxic because of Bisphenol-A (BPA) and additives used in the making of plastics (Phthalates), which are known to disrupt hormone function in humans and can cause infertility. Manmade clothing fibres, like polyester, polyamide and nylon, are being found absolutely everywhere and in everything we eat, including salt. With a half-life of around 500 years, every single piece of plastic ever produced still exists today, so it isn’t hard to imagine that the water we drink and air we breathe are going to contain them too. It also seems like a sick joke that we are obliged to wear masks made out of polypropylene plastic during this pandemic.
The energy industry needs to rapidly progress from fossil fuels into cleaner renewable energy sources like solar, thermal, wind, hydro, wave, etc. Solar has now become the cheapest electricity production method available, so dirty fossil fuels really must be kept in the ground, not like the oils pills that often make the news. Fortunately, most coal-mining has almost stopped worldwide, but the environmental consequences are far from over, due to toxic waste, airborne coal dust, etc. Fracking for oil and gas causes seismic instability and damage to the water table. Nuclear power is attractive to many, but highly volatile, and not without great risk of radioactive contamination, as we have seen with the disasters in Chernobyl and Fukushima.
How does humanity benefit from the soil?
Food: Probably the most important fact is that soil provides us with the grains, cereals,, nuts, fruit and vegetables we need to thrive and survive. It also provides for all of the other animals on Earth too.
Foundation: It gives us a solid surface to build on, and man, have we built on it! Urban sprawl is something we need to address sooner, rather than later.
Fossil Fuels: Just below the surface, out of sight, exists a treasure trove of fossil fuels that, in my honest opinion, should be left right where they are, just as we would leave our dead resting in peace.
Mining: We mine a lot of the Earth looking for fossil fuels, minerals, gemstones and rare metals like gold, silver and lithium. Like crows, we also like shiny things.
How to Save Our Soils?
Individually: Make better choices, not only for your stomach, but for your wallet and the planet.
Collectively: To begin with, we really must stop contamination and pollution entering the soil and also help vulnerable farming communities prepare for the difficulties they are about to face with drought, flooding, etc.. That also means reducing our waste from rubbish dumping, plastic use, radiation, factory farm runoff of fertilizers, pesticides, etc. Remember that whatever ends up on the ground, ends up in the drain, which ends up in the river, which then ends up in the ocean.
Unpopular opinion: We do share some responsibility for the mess we have created in the soil through the choices we have made and products we buy, so protecting it from further environmental disasters and cleaning up our mess must be top priorities.
Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to check the veracity of the information contained within, certain limitations could result in not all data being current or completely accurate. Please feel free to contact us if you feel particular data needs updating.
Save Our Soils Test
Here are 10 questions...
How it started
How it's going
SOSquiz Glossary of Terms (with links to Wikipedia)
AEEA (Asociación Española de Educación Ambiental)
ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network)
Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
Carbon Monoxide (CO)
Coronavirus (Covid-19 or SARS Cov-2)
Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
National Security Agency (NSA)
Particulate Matter (PM 10, 2.5 & UFP)
Quality of life (QOL)
Ultrafine particles (UFP)
World Wide Web (www)