By Alfred Decker, Permaculture Designer, Teacher, and Consultant
We are now living in the “Anthropocene”, a time when the influence of human behavior on the Earth is so significant as to constitute a new geological epoch.
Of all the ways that humans have transformed the planet, agriculture is the biggest.
Humans began plowing and tilling the Earth 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent, a once lush region in the Middle East that is now one of the most barren human-made deserts on the planet.
The modern combination of intensive tilling, lack of cover crops, synthetic fertilizers, and pesticide use have effectively destroyed much of the planet’s best agricultural lands. Nearly half of the planet’s topsoil has disappeared in the world in the last 150 years, threatening crop yields and contributing to nutrient pollution, dead zones and erosion.
The UN believes that the world could run out of topsoil in 60 years.
Yet topsoil is the rich but thin skin of Earth that allows the land to filter water, absorb carbon, and feed billions of people.
We hear a lot about carbon these days in relation to Climate Chaos (a more honest an accurate term than “Climate Change”) and the carbon dioxide measured in the atmosphere. Sometimes it almost sounds like carbon is the enemy, some kind of global bad guy that is to blame for the problem, when in fact carbon is an element that makes up the majority of the bodies of plants and animals.
When soil is healthy it can absorb and hold a huge amount of carbon, and likewise, when depleted, is a massive contributor of carbon to the atmosphere.
No topsoil, no human society, it’s that simple.
This is a familiar story that has been repeated throughout the millennia. Twenty civilizations around the world have collapsed due to exhausting their resources, in particular topsoil. The co-founder of Permaculture, Bill Mollison, once described agriculture as “World War III against the planet.” The comparison to a world war is not frivolous.
The German scientist who invented and pioneered synthetic fertilisers and pesticides for modern agriculture, Fritz Haber, also invented the poison gas used in trench warfare in World War I, and Zyklon, the lethal gas used by the Nazis in the gas chambers of the Holocaust.
Modern farmers are in a classic vicious cycle: the more destructive agriculture becomes to the atmosphere, the more destructive Climate Chaos becomes to farmers
Those who respond with more destructive methods in an attempt to save their crops and maximize profits, and this, in turn, adds more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and intensifies Climate Chaos.
Phew, that is all pretty heavy, I know. The good news is that there is a way to change the vicious cycle into a virtuous cycle by healing the soil, and by healing the soil, we can heal the climate…