Before it Turns to Dust: Why We Need to Stop Treating the Soil Like Dirt

Conservation International has launched a stunning campaign called Nature Is Speaking (#NatureIsSpeaking). The campaign features the voices of famous actors speaking as nature. Visit the website to watch the series of short films and to learn more about CI’s “humanifesto.” (Essentially, nature doesn’t need us. We must take care of nature if we humans expect to survive).

This is powerful stuff. The campaign is stunning in its sophistication and beauty—and stunning in its statistics, which can be overwhelming (and frankly, depressing).

The good news is that there is reason to hope. By creating a conversation, Conservation International seeks to change the way that we think about nature. That it’s not an endless resource available to us to plunder and destroy as we see fit.

Here at Cascade Minerals, we are on a mission to bring life back to soils that have been overworked, overused and depleted of essential nutrients.  So while we think that all the films are great, we’re partial to Edward Norton as The Soil.

In addition to being a well-respected actor, Edward Norton is on Conservation International’s Board and is the United Nations Ambassador for Biodiversity. Here what he has to say as the voice of The Soil:

It would be easy to assume that the images of swirling dust were taken somewhere far, far away—like sub-Saharan Africa where impoverished farmers use methods that degrade the land because they have no other choice.

But even in the most industrialized nation in the world, we are treating our soil so poorly that it is literally going up in the air as dust. It seems that we have forgotten about the devastating effects of the 1937 Dust Bowl where thousands of people starved to death.

Did You Know? It takes nature 500 years to replace one inch of eroded soil.

Humans have stripped the soil, and humans must work to restore it. To deal with the Dust Bowl crisis, President Franklin D. Roosevelt (who famously stated “the nation that destroys its soils destroys itself”) ordered the planting of 200 million trees to prevent further soil erosion by wind and water. His administration began teaching soil preservation techniques and even paid farmers $1 per acre to comply. By the end of 1938, the amount of U.S. soil stirred up by the wind was reduced by as much as 65%.

But we must do much more.

To avoid the fate of previous civilizations, we need to focus on global soil restoration and remineralization. In a follow-up to its #NatureIsSpeaking campaign, Conservation International has written a blog post outlining its efforts to create long-term soil sustainability by working with growers, suppliers and large corporations. (To quote author John Buchanan, “If a company like Starbucks, Walmart or McDonald’s makes even one small change, it can have a huge impact that reverberates across continents and supply chains.”)

You can read more on CI’s blog, called HumanNature.

If nothing else, the dire situation of today’s global soils has sparked a “soil renaissance” in which more and more people are becoming aware of the need to sustain soil health and productivity. If it takes an actor taking on the role of The Soil, then so be it. After all, our survival depends on it.