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The Soil

Soil - source of virtually all life and much more important than fossil fuel If I've said it once, I've said it twice

Soil and shit are not quite nice

Though vital fare for men and mice

Soil slips away like melting ice

Cardboard saints all pray for oil

Yet farmers wash away our soil

We should be raising red alert

before our land becomes desert

Oil may come and oil may go

We lived for years without you know

But soil that gives us food is crunch

Once it's gone there's naught for lunch

Few of us ever give a thought to the wonder of soil yet almost all life on earth is totally dependent upon those few centimeters of brown dirt. Not only does the soil give us plants, trees and food but it also converts waste into nutrients and prevents rainfall causing flooding and erosion. The life that lives in soil and creates this miracle of transformation is so complex and numerous that it is still not fully understood or even catalogued. Healthy soil is the ultimate recycling medium which turns death and decay into new life.

Soil is created when rocks are weathered by wind, rain and ice. The resulting mineral dust is then colonized by lichen and plants which ultimately create humus - decaying vegetation - which is the lifeblood of fertile soil. It is humus which retains moisture and forms the living medium for the millions of soil organisms that create nutrients for our plants. Without plants, most especially trees, our soil is simply washed away by rain or blown away by wind.

In our farming and land management today we are guided like most civilizations before us almost entirely by short term profit. Our political leaders are particularly prone to favour cheap food for obvious electoral reasons. The fact that their cheap food polices have disastrous long term effects on the health of the soil is absolutely no concern of theirs. We can already see the results in increased flooding as soil no longer has sufficient humus or tree/plant cover to soak up heavy rainfall.

Once trees and then grass have been removed (harvested or replaced by tillage) then the soil is soon washed away leaving desert. This has happened many times during the short history of civilization but this time it is the whole earth that will become an effective desert. We are playing out our last desperate hand in a game of poker where our so-called leaders neither understand the rules nor care about their consequences for future generations.

All the current hype is about the way we are being foolishly profligate in our use of fossil fuels. But this is a complete red herring - in fact the sooner we use up all the fossil fuels the better off we shall be because global warming will be controlled with the demise of high speed consumerism. Humans lived for thousands of years without dependence on fossil fuels and can easily do so again. The solar economy works just fine if people are wise enough to understand it. It is soil that is the critical factor in our ultimate survival as a viable life form. The lessons of history make this all too clear. Lester Brown of the Worldwatch institute was one of the first commentators who emphasized this point - but the issue is not newsworthy or exciting and you will not find pressure groups or pundits talking about it in any serious way.

Soil is the forgotten problem. We pour chemicals onto our land to enable it to continue to produce our food. The food passes through our bodies and the nutrients it contains are then flushed directly into the seas or rivers. The water is polluted and the nutrients are lost. The water borne sewage is also extremely expensive in terms of the energy required to pump water to the home and then process the sewage before it is dumped into the sea. Dry composting toilets are the obvious answer - such a pity these are culturally stressful for modern people who are blissfully unaware of the damage they are doing to the future. This year I saw my first public composting toilet beside the river Aulne in Brittany - neat and tidy with no smell - a sign of hope for things to come.

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