Do We Treat Our Soil like Dirt?

Do We Treat Our Soil like Dirt?

Soil quality and maintenance is an often overlooked part of the health of communities, ecosystems, and even civilizations. Crop rotation and urbanization are just some of the problems affecting the sustainability of the land itself.


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Anthropology, Earth Science, Climatology, Social Studies, World History


Dust Bowl Wind Storm

American soil scientist W.C. Lowdermilk studied other countries and ancient civilizations to learn how best to prevent more soil erosion disasters like the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

Photograph by the World History Archive
American soil scientist W.C. Lowdermilk studied other countries and ancient civilizations to learn how best to prevent more soil erosion disasters like the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.
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Do We Take Our Soil for Granted?

Most of us pay attention to what we eat. We want to know where our food comes from. We want to know how it was grown. But we don't give as much thought to the ground our food grows in.

Soil could use more respect. Soil is the thin layer of earth where plants can grow. It is more than just dirt. Soil has the nutrients that crops need to grow. It makes life possible. Without good soil, we couldn't feed the more than seven billion people who live on Earth.

How We Harm Our Soil

We don't always do a good job of taking care of our soil. Scientists say a third of the world's soil has been harmed. Erosion is one problem. Erosion happens when winds blow soil away. It also happens when water carries soil away.

Another problem is deforestation. People are chopping down forests. Tree roots help hold soil in place. Pollution is doing damage too, and humans near cities put cement over good farmland. We do it to build roads and buildings.

We are losing good soil too fast, experts say. It takes time for nature to create it. Land sometimes needs to rest to stay healthy.

We can learn from the past. W.C. Lowdermilk was an American scientist from 90 years ago. He found that some ancient societies did not take care of their soil. They used it too much. They did not stop erosion. Their farms could not make enough food. People went hungry, and their civilizations fell apart. Other societies did a good job of keeping their soil healthy. They lived on.

Experts Say We Must Act Fast

Our future is at stake if we don't take care of the land. In 2050, there might be more than 9 billion people on Earth. We will need more food. Our soils will have to produce more to feed everyone.

Science can help us figure out the best actions to take. We must slow down erosion. We must stop poisoning the land with pollution. Experts warn we must act fast.

Governments are doing more to teach people about our soils. Scientists and farmers are leading the way. They want us all to know where our food comes from: healthy soil.

Dennis Dimick grew up on a farm in Oregon. He studied agriculture in college. He works for National Geographic as chief editor who writes about the environment.

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Last Updated

May 9, 2024

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