Top soil is finite on a human time scale. It takes a
thousand years or more to create just a small layer.
We are exhausting and losing top soil without
much consideration, and we have no viable technological
fix to replace topsoil on a reasonable scale.
Most of all food is grown on land – in the thin
layer of soil which covers the rocks underneath.
At the current rate of loss, due to intensive
agricultural practices, toxification and
overtake by urban and industrial
development, we risk running out of topsoil in the next 60
As there is little plant life without
topsoil, it is hard toconceive of much animal
life either. No soil, no life.
Our wealth and our wellbeing comes from soils.
There is no civilization in human history that survived long after they have depleted their top soil.
We don’t usually pay attention to it but it is topsoil where plants, animals and people get most of their nutrients. It is the thin layer of organic matter (and thousands of tiny, co-dependent organisms living in it) mixed with finely ground minerals, which covers the barren bedrock underneath.
Yet we don’t have that much topsoil anymore, and what we’ve got is becoming impoverished. We’re losing both quantity (through erosion accelerated by intense agriculture) and quality (through heavy chemical deployment – all types of pesticides, chemical fertilizer) or just too much manure and tilling used in intense agriculture).
There are more microorganisms in a handful of topsoil than there are people who ever lived on the earth.
This biotope is fragile. It has a balance that has to be respected.
This vibrant life supports plants. It stimulates them to develop strong immune systems that allow them to fend off stress. To produce a wide range of vital substances that then nourish us.
But in our ignorance and arrogance we’ve started carrying out a campaign of relentless chemical warfare and physical abuse on this delicate ecosystem.
We’ve been mistreating the soil. We love monocultures – hectares of same plants, which in itself already throws that ecosystem off balance. We then over dose on chemical fertilizers and inject it with poisons, wreaking havoc with the entire biological society that lives inside the soil. Life is wiped out, destroyed. Dead soil with no humus and roots to hold it together is turned to dust, easily washed out or blown away.