Environment Research

Here Is A Major Soil Problem That Will Affect Health

Do we need to better soil ourselves?

Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates wrote about something dirty in his March 26, 2019, edition of his Gates Notes. It didn't focus on cow farts, as he began the piece with "I’m done with cow farts." Instead, the dirty thing that he focused on is how our society is not paying enough attention to soil and what we are doing to it. The dirt on soil is that it may be playing a major role in climate change, food security, and thus human health.

For years, Rattan Lal, PhD, Distinguished University Professor of Soil Science at the Ohio State University, has been trying to raise awareness on how soil management affects food and the environment. He has pioneered ways to better manage and conserve soil, literally "groundbreaking" work which just earned him the very prestigious 2019 Japan Prize, one of the top science and technology prizes in the world.

If you think you have nothing to lose when you disrupt soil, you'd be wrong. What you'd lose would be a lot of carbon into the air. That's because soil has tons of carbon in it. Actually, more than tons. Gates mentions a fact that "there’s more carbon in soil than in the atmosphere and all plant life combined." More carbon in the air can then contribute to the Greenhouse Effect, where more heat is trapped around the Earth, warming the whole Earth like an Easy-Bake Oven. In turn, such global warming and climate change can have numerous negative health effects, which is why the World Health Organization (WHO) listed climate change as one of the top 10 global health threats in 2019.

Lal cited the following statistic, "between 1750 and 2017, the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere in carbon equivalents was 235 gigatons, plus or minus 95 gigatons. This is almost half the amount emitted by fossil fuel burning and cement production, which was 430 gigatons, plus or minus 20 gigatons."

“...soil has tons of carbon in it. Actually, more than tons. Gates mentions a fact that "there’s more carbon in soil than in the atmosphere and all plant life combined.”

Poor soil management could also cost us the ability to produce enough food for the growing world population. As Michael Drake, MD, President of The Ohio State University, pointed out to emphasize the importance of Lal's work, "70% of the Earth is ocean. If you then remove the parts where you already can't grow crops such as mountains, desserts, and places that are built up, that doesn't leave much." He added that "food insecurity is a serious global problem. It is important to think about how the world will be sustained moving forward and be thoughtful of how use scarce resources." Lal emphasized that "soil erosion takes away the best part of the soil. It picks up the organic matter and then leaves stone and other materials that don't support crop growth." More people and less soil to grow on doesn't add up to a good situation.

How do we keep ourselves properly soiled?

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