The Earth, our unique home in the vastness of the universe, is in crisis. Our planet is covered with life-sustaining air, water and soil. However, great care will be required in preserving the quality of all three if our species is to continue to thrive.
Climate change is a real thing! Tropical rain forests, and the incredible array of plant and animal species they contain, are disappearing at an unprecedented rate. Groundwater supplies are being contaminated in many areas and depleted in others.
In parts of the world, the capacity of soils to produce food is being degraded, even as the number of people needing food is increasing.
It will be a great challenge for the current generation to bring the global environment back into balance.
Soils are crucial to life on earth. From ozone depletion and global warming to rain forest destruction and water pollution, the world’s ecosystems are impacted in far-reaching ways by processes carried out in the soil.
To a great degree, the quality of the soil determines the fate of the food we grow and the capacity of land to support animal life and society.
As human societies become increasingly urbanized, fewer people have intimate contact with soil, and individuals tend to lose sight of the many ways in which they depend upon soil for their prosperity and survival.
Indeed, the degree to which we are depended on soil is likely to increase, not decrease, in the future.
Soils shall continue to supply us with nearly all of our food!
How many of us remember, as we eat a slice of pizza, that the pizza’s crust began in a field of wheat and its cheese began with grass, clover, and corn rooted in the soils of a dairy farm?
Most of the fiber we use for paper and clothing has its roots in the soils of forests and farmland.
In addition, plants and trees grown on soils are likely to become an increasingly important stock of fuels and manufacturing as the world’s finite supplies of petroleum are depleted during the course of this century.
One of the stark realities of the 21st century is that the human population that demands or expects services soils offer will increase by several billion, while the amount of soil available to them will not increase at all. (In fact, this resource base is decreasing because of soil degradation and urbanization.)
Thus, to survive as a species, we will have to greatly improve the way we manage our soil resources.
The art of soil management is as old as civilization.
As we meet the challenges of this century, new understandings and new technologies will be needed to protect the environment and, at the same time, produce food and other related materials to support society. Let us think about it.
Moussa SENGE is a soil scientist