Berto Jongman: Peak Soil

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Berto Jongman
Berto Jongman

Experts unearth concerns over ‘peak soil’

In the past 40 years, 30 percent of the planet’s arable land has become unproductive due to erosion, scientists say.

Reykjavik, Iceland – Soil is becoming endangered, and this reality needs to be part of our collective awareness in order to feed nine billion people by 2050, say experts meeting in Reykjavík.

And a big part of reversing soil decline is the use of carbon, the same element that is helping to overheat the planet.

“Keeping and putting carbon in its rightful place,” needs to be the mantra for humanity if we want to continue to eat, drink and combat global warming, concluded 200 researchers from more than 30 countries.

“There is no life without soil,” said Anne Glover, chief scientific adviser to the European Commission.

“While soil is invisible to most people it provides an estimated $1.5tn to $13tn dollars in ecosystem services annually,” Glover said at the Soil Carbon Sequestration conference that ended this week.

The dirt beneath our feet is a nearly magical world filled with tiny, wondrous creatures. A mere handful of soil might contain a half million different species including ants, earthworms, fungi, bacteria and other microorganisms. Soil provides nearly all of our food – only one percent of our calories come from the oceans, she said.

Soil also gives life to all of the world’s plants that supply us with much of our oxygen, another important ecosystem service. Soil cleans water, keeps contaminants out of streams and lakes, and prevents flooding. Soil can also absorb huge amounts of carbon, second only to the oceans.

“It takes half a millennia to build two centimetres of living soil and only seconds to destroy it,” Glover said.

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