Alright, maybe on the face of it “World Soil Day” sounds a little silly. Soil is dirt. There’s nothing fancy about dirt. But that is precisely what’s so great about it.
Soil is unassuming, simple and everywhere, and without it we’d have nothing to eat but fish and jellyfish (and maybe whatever we could scrape off rocks). The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations refers to soil as “Where Food Begins,” and that’s exactly right. Altogether, 95 percent of our food comes from our soil, though according to the FAO, sustainable soil management could be yielding up to 58 percent more crops.
At least one quarter of the planet’s life lives in soil, with more organisms in one tablespoon of healthy soil than there are people on Earth. Let that sink in for a moment.
Now think about this: 33 percent of Earth’s soils are degraded due to poor land management and pollution. In November, China’s official news agency reported that over 40 percent of the country’s fertile land has been degraded by “extreme weather conditions…drought, and human activities that pollute or degrade the quality of soils and land utility.” China’s rapid development over the last decade has brought along with it a sizable amount of pollution, and the country now emits 25 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions. Pollutant-induced lung cancer rates have grown over 50 percent in Beijing and 670,000 premature deaths were attributed to smog in 2012.
Meanwhile, in India, another rapidly developing nation, pollution has become so extreme that a recent study calculated that some densely populated states are experiencing a 50 percent loss in their agricultural yields. Black carbon and ozone cause both direct and indirect damage to plants, reducing the sunlight that they need to thrive and damaging the leaves that soak up the sun. In September, a study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters stated that 6.7 million tons of the country’s crops, enough to feed 94 million people, have been damaged by pollution.
Soil and what grows from the soil is precious, but according to the FAO we only have 60 years of topsoil left.
So yes, on the surface World Soil Day sounds a bit silly, but it’s worth digging a little deeper to find out how important it really is.