“Life on Earth is like a chain
It's as strong as each link on its terrain
But there is a weak link in this natural coil
And this is our soil."
The Earth is dying.
This is a fact that we’ve all become a lot more aware of in the last few years.
The more we look around us—and really look, with eyes opened to the truth—the more we understand the danger that our planet is facing on a daily basis.
From polluted ecosystems to excessive deforestation to air pollution, we’re surrounded by constant reminders of our own misuse of Earth, but we simply turn a blind eye to it because it’s easier to do nothing than to actually try to take a stand.
But here’s a harsh truth: if we do nothing, if we continue to operate “business as usual”, Earth isn’t going to last much longer.
Soil degradation is one of the most striking and terrifying pieces of evidence facing us. Once we understand how our soil is dying and what the consequences are for us—not our children or future generations, but us—it may be the kick in the pants we need to start doing something and stand up for the preservation of our world.
Soil degradation is defined is, “decline in soil condition caused by its improper use or poor management” .
Notice that it’s not “decline caused by natural consequences”, but “improper use or poor management”. This means that it’s not something outside our control, but the blame lies squarely with the people who use it improperly or manage it poorly—us.
When talking about soil, what we’re really talking about is “topsoil”, the fertile blanket of nutrient-rich earth that provides the nutrients for crops, trees, plants, and even grass to grow.
Way down deep, the earth is stony and hard—essentially the rock “base” that supports our buildings, bridges, and manmade constructions. But the top layer, the soil, is nutrient-rich from millennia of decomposing plant and animal matter.
In areas untouched by humans, the topsoil is rich and thick, making for excellent farming land or providing plenty of nutrients for plants to grow naturally. However, as humans farm the land, the layer of topsoil decreases, and soil degradation occurs.
Take, for example, the rich farmlands in Iowa, one of the most prosperous agricultural states in the country. According to one BBC article , the topsoil at the turn of the 20th century was roughly 14 to 18 inches thick. Over just one hundred years, that degraded so much that the topsoil was just 6-8 inches thick—less than half.
And that’s not just restricted to prime farmland! According to the World Wildlife Foundation , “half of the topsoil on the planet has been lost in the last 150 years.” So much of the world’s soil has been lost to erosion and soil degradation because of our modern farming methods.
You might be thinking, “Surely we’re not entirely to blame for the soil degradation!”
And you’d be right. There are a number of factors that contribute to soil degradation, including :
Structure decline (surface sealing and soil compaction)
Contamination of soil (by toxic chemicals and pollutants)
Changes to soil alkalinity or acidity
Loss of organic matter
Changes to salinity (caused by both natural and man-made factors)
As you can see, there are a lot of things at play here. But humans are definitely one of the most significant causes that contribute to soil degradation.
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What could happen to our planet if the topsoil continues to erode? Well, I’ll tell you not only what could happen, but what is already happening throughout the world :
Food crises. Already, 2 billion people around the world suffer from nutritional deficiencies because of not only food shortages, but imbalances of food distribution. It’s estimated that by 2050, the world’s population will increase to around 9.3 billion people, but food production will decrease by as much as 40%.
Loss of biodiversity. 80% of insect “biomass” (total insect population) in the world is already gone due to soil degradation, and it’s estimated that up to 27,000 species of life forms go extinct every year because their habitats are lost. This actually leads to further degeneration of the soil because flora and fauna contribute to the ecological cycle.
Water scarcity. Organic matter is capable of holding up to 90% of its weight in water, releasing it slowly over time for a more “natural” distribution. However, as soil is eroded, depleted soils become incapable of holding or regulating water, leading to droughts and scarcity, as well as floods.
Agricultural issues. Farmers are losing their livelihoods due to soil depletion. They are simply unable to keep growing crops because their lands are no longer fertile enough. It’s estimated that around $10.6 trillion in agriculture is lost each year.
Climate change. Soil stores roughly 300% more carbon than living plants, and 200% more than in the atmosphere. But with less soil, there is less carbon stored, and thus more harmful carbon dioxide is released into the air.
All of these can lead to serious consequences for those affected, which in turn can lead to political conflicts and mass migration. The world is headed down a dangerous path if nothing is done about soil degradation!
There are a lot of things that can be done to counteract and even reverse soil degradation :
Reduce monocultures (growing one crop in a large area)
Reduce use of chemical pesticides and insecticides that damage and deplete the soil
Encourage “greener” methods of agriculture, including agroforestry, or growing crops around other plants and trees
Practice permaculture, a much more sustainable form of agriculture
Practice crop rotation to ensure different nutrients are pulled from the soil every year
However, these are changes that need to happen on a vast scale, something much larger than anything we could achieve as individuals.
What really needs to happen is for more people to raise their voice and make the policy-makers of the world listen. That can be done through joining groups like Conscious Planet, which has created the “Save Soil” movement to get individuals like us on board to lend our support to worldwide efforts to draw attention to and make changes for the betterment of our soil quality issues. The more people sign up, the greater the possibility that real change can be made.
Soil degradation isn’t a problem that occurred overnight—it took decades of industrial farming to lead us to where we are now—and it’s not a problem that will be solved overnight.
But, if we can all lend our voices and support in any way we can to these initiatives, together we may just have a real chance of combatting soil degradation and saving at least this one part of our planet. If it could be done in the 1980s with the Montreal Protocol and concerted efforts to (successfully) close the hole in the ozone layer, how much more could we do now that we have the power of social media and the internet at our disposal?
Get started by researching the topic further and learning more about the organizations that are taking a stand to try and reverse soil degradation. Once you understand the full scope of how dangerous it can be, you’ll be much more likely to throw your weight behind the cause and join in on the efforts to protect our world—not only for ourselves, but for future generations.
"There is something we can do for our generation
And this is to focus on soil regeneration
We can function consciously with every action
And thus create a positive reaction
Our universe will become exuberant again
Life on earth will be regained."
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