On World Soil Day, the future of Earth’s thin ‘skin’ is bleak

© Conservation International/photo by Min Fan

Without soil, humans could not exist — but we treat it like dirt.

On World Soil Day, consider this: Humans have diminished soil to less than half of what it used to be 100 years ago.

Soil is the planet’s skin and is responsible for the organisms that grow food. In this Nature is Speaking video, Edward Norton, American actor and filmmaker, brings attention to the fact that soil is turning to unusable dust, which could have far-reaching impacts on the food we eat.

Here are some stories you should read about the state of soil around the world:

  1. Stop treating soil like dirt

The United States has experienced the phenomenon of soil turning to dust before. Less than 100 years ago, a catastrophe of enormous proportions left thousands dead and millions homeless across the United States. The worst part? We could have prevented it.

The Dust Bowl is a stark example of how poor land management — and particularly poor soil management — can unravel a natural system.

The question is: Have we learned our lesson? In some cases, yes; in many other cases, signs point to no.

  1. To help feed China, just add trees

China contains one-fifth of the world’s people — and just eight percent of its arable land. Much of this land is already degraded, leading the country to look to farming in places like Southeast Asia and Africa — places with food scarcities of their own.

The villagers are very aware of the damage they have inflicted on the soil over the years, but they didn’t know how to do things differently. Now they want to work with us to find a better way.

Read more here.

  1. How 3,000 holes in the dirt can save a barren land — and alter a social landscape

A sudden freeze had recently hit Leliefontein, a town in the South African region of Namaqualand, after a long drought, causing major livestock losses for farmers. Land had turned barren; degraded by plowing and dominated by kraalbos and renosterbos, unpalatable plants that quickly dominate the landscape, soil restoration was an urgent priority.

Hence the freshly dug holes.

But this pitted landscape — aimed at catching water and reducing erosion — is about more than rejuvenating barren soil. These tiny holes, it turns out, are small blows against a stubborn social divide in South Africa.

Read more here.

Morgan Lynch is a staff writer for CI.

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