Earth is dying. Although there are so many ways to save the planet, they are not as easy as you might think they would be to put into for practical considerations. So should we just let the earth die? No. But, how do we save earth?
The best way to save earth is by bringing erosion back into balance with the rate at which soil forms, explains the latest episode of MinuteEarth’s – How To (Literally) Save Earth. And this can be achieved by plowing less often, and leaving plant parts behind or plant so-called ‘cover crops’ to cover the soil for the enrichment and protection against water and wind.
Soil is a fragmentary material comprising the thin top layer of much of earth’s surface. Built up over billions of years, soil lays the very foundation for much of life. Most of the time, soil takes care of itself – because decomposing plants and animals (including humans) and degrading bedrock become part of the soil ‘at roughly the same pace that wind and water erode it away’. But, as MinuteEarth explains, human activities easily overturn this balance between soil formation and erosion.
“For millennia, the tiny Pacific island of Mangaia was covered in a thin layer of fertile soil, but after humans arrived around 2000 years ago, their slash-and-burn agriculture exposed the soil to the elements,” explains MinuteEarth. “Over several centuries, rain and wind swept virtually all the nutrient-rich topsoil from Mangaia’s hillsides and concentrated it in just a few arable valleys, which people viciously fought over. With less land to grow crops, people resorted to alternative food sources like rats—and even each other.”
We are basically doing the same thing. Of course not the part we become cannibals, but the part where we farm the soil away. For agricultural purposes, we remove deep-rooted native vegetation and use hoes, plows, and tractors to loosen the soil, making it easier for wind and rain to easily sweep away. Moreover, we grow shallow-rooted crops that are no good at holding onto soil, and that get easily stripped away at the time of harvest.
The world’s farmlands are losing soil 50 times faster than new soil can form because of this very action, and that extra erosion adds up to about ‘8 billion pickup trucks of soil moved annually from fields to places like the bottoms of rivers and behind dams.’
Lucky, we could bring erosion back into balance by plowing less often and leaving behind cover crops after harvest. Also by incorporating trees and native plants that keep soil in place year-round can cut erosion by as much as 95 percent, literally saving the earth from dying. But, this is a long-term strategy and in present, they can hurt yields – as it means less room for crops to grow. This is the reason it has been so difficult to make these soil-saving strategies the norm.
“If we can’t keep the farmable soil on our farms, human civilization won’t immediately implode, but we might end up fighting over the patches of land where that soil ends up, like the Mangaians, but on much, much bigger islands,” says MinuteEarth.