Importance of Natural Resources

How soil offers hope for the climate crisis

The only thing that stands
between us and extinction is six inches of soil
and the fact that it rains. That’s Anna Krywoszynska,
she’s a Faculty Research Fellow at the University of Sheffield
and what she’s saying there blows my mind, that most of the processes that maintain all life
on this planet exist in six inches of soil. And I know it sounds crazy
but the thing is soil is alive, and we’re killing it. And that’s problematic for a number of reasons. One big problem being
that 95% of our food comes from the soil. So no more soil, means no more food. But don’t worry, I’m not gonna guilt trip
you with another climate horror story because this is a problem with solutions,
and we’ve already made a start. And if we keep it up
we might be out to help some of the other scary climate issues we’re facing as well. Countries can withstand amazing thing. Horrific things. What no country can withstand
is the loss of its soil and its fertility. And therefore there is an emergency. To understand why people
are using language like emergency. You have to know that the world
is losing 30 football pitches of soil every minute. But before we even get into that,
what exactly is soil? Here’s environmental scientist
Lindsay Blake to explain. What amazes me about soil is it looks so simple
but really it’s very complicated. So it’s a mix of materials that are kind of
broken up from rocks and minerals combined with organic matter, that’s all broken down and water
but it’s also filled with living things from the very small microorganisms
invisible to human eye like bacteria, archaea, fungi, to easily see things
like insects and earthworms. One gram of soil can be estimated
between 4,000 and 50,000 different kinds or species of micro-organisms. Something so rich in life,
something so vital for our survival is something we barely even think about. Which is probably why
we’re doing such a crap job of protecting it. Life is at risk ultimately. And that’s because all the things
that we take for granted, resources, they’re more at the top
of people’s minds like water and air, healthy air, etc
are related to healthy soils. Unfortunately because
we’ve not been looking after soils we’ve been taking out more
than we’ve been putting in. But if we year on year don’t return
30% of all organic matter that we take out the soil,
we don’t return it to the soil, then we see soil degradation
because that organic matter is the glue that holds the little
bits of rock the minerals together. When Karen says ‘taking out’ ultimately she means
farming, growing crops for stuff like food, fuel and textiles. And that uses and damages
all that good stuff in the soil. We’re taking it out
but we’re not putting enough back. And In terms of farming that has a lot to do with the way the practices
and methods have changed over the last 70 years. Here’s Graeam Willis from the Campaign
to Protect Rural England to explain. Farms have got bigger, machinery’s got bigger,
fields have got bigger and farmers shifted to relying on machinery
and out of the bag solutions and by that I mean using
chemical fertilisers and pesticides. If you use a chemical
and you don’t add back organic matter then the soil has less life in it,
the soil breaks down its structure goes so it doesn’t stick together,
you can lose it to water and wind eroding it so it just blows away
or ends up in the river and you also lose carbon as well
so that goes up into the air where we … It’s the last place we need it. Oh yeah I forgot to mention, soil
is a really effective carbon sink. But it can only capture carbon when
it has a decent amount of organic matter in the soil. But I come back to that. So what can we do? How can we not kill the soil? Well in terms of farming
one technique is pretty straightforward. Just stop digging up the soil. No more ploughing. Which sounds pretty strange
because when you think of farming, you think of ploughing. Here’s Graeam again. I think we’re all familiar with seeing
ploughed fields, aren’t we? Ploughing’s been around
for an awful long time. But the problem with ploughing
is it disrupts the life in the soils. One calculation is it kill about 90%
of the worms in the soil. Now, earthworms obviously do a huge job
in churning the soil but earthworms also pull in material from the top of the ground
and pull it down deep into the soil and they process it through their guts
and add make all the nutrients in that organic matter like dead leaves and dead plant material
and make it available to the plants. So in ploughing you are throwing
away one of nature’s great helpers. OK but how do you actually
grow things without ploughing? This is John Cherry, he’s a farmer. He walked me through the basics. We’re mimicking nature. We just make a little slot in
and plant the seed. We keep the ground covered
at all times we don’t like to see bare soil. And the third crucial thing is the diversity
in the rotation lots of different types of plant. So you’re getting a variety in the root system
so the soil is constantly being fed and that puts fantastic amount
of fertility into the soil. This method it’s called conservation agriculture
or no till farming and it’s nothing new. It’s based on centuries old techniques
but it’s making a comeback in a big way. So when it seemed like we were simplifying
farming by making everything bigger and seemingly simpler, we’re actually
making everything more complicated and worse. Turns out the old ways were much better. We spend much less on it
and fewer sprays needed less fertiliser, the ground’s getting more fertile
all the time without being disturbed. This is rye behind us. As tall as I am hardly any fertiliser. What’s not to like? Conservation agriculture is not the only solution. There’s different types of soils all over the world
and they all need different approaches. But this one is working in the UK
and the Americas. Now, I’m not a farmer
and you’re probably not farmer either so this might seem like one of those problems
that’s completely out your hands. And I used to think that too. But it’s not true. We can all help protect the soil. I think what’s missing is
that local activism. Anybody who’s got access to a garden
and our gardens are such a wonderful wildlife habitat. You know there’s a lot
of biodiversity going on there and we can we do actually add organic matter. There’s quite a lot of healthy soils in gardens
but there’s also a lot of people who are sealing their soils, you know, paving. And all of that concrete thing of our precious
green space in cities is leading to more flooding. So I think what people can do locally
is make sure they are keeping soil surfaces and adding in organic matter. Now I said I’d come back to this
because there’s even more good news. Not only is healthy soil good
for growing food, protecting against extreme weather and boosting wildlife numbers,
it’s also a massive carbon sink, hoovering up huge amounts
of carbon in the Earth’s atmosphere. And if we increase the amount it could store
by just less than half a percent we could actually help
the build up of CO2 in the air. So we have more carbon
in the soil, living soils, those soils can be part of the solution to climate change problems
and it’s also part of sustainable farming in the future. So if the climate changes for the worse,
those soils will perform better. Farmers will be able to make a living
and we will be able to rely on the supply of food. Soil is a massive subject. There’s loads we could have talked about. So we’ve only really scratched the surface
in terms of soil protection, because there’s tones of different methods
and conservational agriculture is only one. So if you’re interested in finding out more,
there’s links to our sources in the description and there’s further reading. There’s also links to different organisations
that are doing great work for soil protection. Thanks for watching,
if you liked the video please like and subscribe and if you want to become a supporter
of the Guardian, there’s a link below as well.

Reader Comments

  1. now this is something I can cheer on – we've been growing food in the garden, and yes making our own compost out of organic matter, such as vegetable cuttings, so the garden has always been rich with good soil, our main problem is weeds, growing vegetables you get a sense of soil care, and as Stackridge informed us in song, long ago – 'No One's More Important Than The Earth Worm'.

  2. I am grateful for this video . It's one of those things that I haven't given much thought of for a very long time . My tiny ten acres is wild ,but needs some attention and I thank you for pointing that out. lolly

  3. Redicelous. Did you know the mountains were alive?? Find it out yourself!? And no they only want you to be afreight that the world will die. Fearmongering it's all they do! Don't fall in that spiral of negativety!

  4. We should also start calling our planet by her name, Gaia, it would change the way the next generations treat our planet.

  5. Sorry but since I don't like weeds I'm going to be paving over my garden. If soil fetishists want more of the stuff they can just go to their local garden centre and buy some.

  6. They told us in school in the 60s that soil conservation was the new order of the day. They were lying as there was still a lot of destruction of soil going on – and still does today. The dust bowl of the 30s was the result of poor soil conservation farming in the American Southwest. Farmers were now supposed to use contour plowing for one thing – but I learned that was not the case because the machines became too big to navigate around hills. Non-plowing might work as long as the soil does not get hard and compacted. …Nice reporting but I prefer a neater look for business.

  7. Im suprised he didnt mention the fungus, microcelium sp? i may have/surely i butchered that word. This fungus as i understand it is pivitol in soil health also which supports the no till gardening. i built hoogleculture beds so it took a few years for the system to mature. Compressions only becomes a problem when there isnt enough organic matter so each year i do a thin lasagna on top of hoogleculture and my garden grows crazy good, delicious food fast. The only trick is dealing with heat at times, the heat waves tax the garden when its scortching out.

  8. Brilliant short documentary, I've heard that quote regarding mans technological and artistic hubbris before from when I was at the University of Sheffield, unsurprisingly in a lecture about the importance of healthy soil structure! This is one of the biggest hidden crises facing humanity in the decades to come. We forget that vast areas of land have effectively been made sterile through the progress trap that is the plough, see the middle east, once the bread basket of civilisations, now a dust bowl of conflict.

  9. We live in the countryside with Pasture land on two sides & Arable on the other two. The pasture is not a problem but as for the arable! Whenever its dry which it is a lot of the time here our cars are always thick with soil dust and when the wind blows we have clouds of the stuff.

  10. This is one of the major reasons we have to stop using chemical fertilizers!

    My company is providing microbial soil enhancers to farmers in Zambia, it's growing fast and is a complete game changer as our product GrowPro actually leads to soil rejuvenation!

    You can see what I'm talking about here:

  11. wouldn't worms and organic matter in soil produce c02? streaming compost piles make tons of co2 and thats how soil is made.

  12. The taking out more than we put in Is false, we damage the fungal and bacterial micro biology and put it out of sync and its the micro biology that convert the minerals into plant soluble foods.

  13. My wife said to me few time let's get artificial grass and get paving done, my answer has always been no , what God gave us naturally why replace it with unnatural and why destroy small piece of land left for natural life like small animals and insects. Only humans don't have the right to live these small creatures are crucial for our survival and deserve our utmost respect ❤

  14. Thank you for this excellent video. When I studied ecology at Uni, I wasn't looking forward to the soil science modules. The presentation wasn't the best either. However, I was left with a very clear picture of just how important soils are, and just how mistaken the common perception of soil is. In fact this leads to my next point.

    I think the perception of soil as just inert dirt, maybe with a few worms in it, best illustrates the really crucial part of the ecological crisis we face. It is our completely false perception of the natural systems that sustain us. We are in this mess, primarily because we are completely ignorant as to how these natural systems sustain us, and that is why we have been stupidly exploiting them without thought. The whole suite of crises which make up the overall ecological crisis, is primarily a problem of perception. This ignorant perception of soil as just inert dirt that you grow stuff in, is a perception that is shockingly widespread in the farming industry. Yes, there are many farmers who do understand the complexities and importance of soils, but also unfortunately many who just exploit it unthinkingly.

    If we truly understood what soil was, it's importance and why we need to treat it more respectfully and thoughtfully, there would be no ecological crisis because we would be focused on learning how to treat the natural systems that sustain us, in a sustainable way.

  15. What the Guardian forgot to mention is that well managed livestock rapidly increase the rate at which soil is rebuilt in the AB horizon, since livestock manure, pee and saliva adds a lot more microbiology to the system. Why is that important? Soil microbial poo and necromass (dead microbes) are what build soil. It use to be thought that soil can only be built via mineralization, which is a very long slow process. Well managed livestock also reduce the need for chemical inputs especially NPK's and herbicides, since the livestock are manure/fertility spreaders and mowers. This omission though really isn't much of a surprise, since the Guardian has a strong vegan bent.
    Here's a great expanded view on building soil from Gabe Brown on the keys to building healthy soil.

  16. Great book on this- David Montgomery “erosion of civilisations”

    We compost all cardboard and veg scraps. Free homemade compost

  17. Thank you Josh for the excellent video… calmly and clearly communicating the urgency of improving our soil 🙂 All good health to you xx

  18. the moment you cannot purchase a luxury seat on an aircraft,
    is the moment ill take climate change seriously.

  19. Great video. I've been thinking a bit about what to do with my acre in South Australia. So far it's mostly grass, with a smattering of plants and the occasional veggies (I'm getting too old and stiff to attend to too much!) But can I consider the grassland to be fallow and unadulterated, or should I be doing something to it to retain it's goodness? I'm thinking also of offering my land as a community garden

  20. As an avid gardener I make my own soil, I recycle and compost everything, make a home made worm farm, all my cardboard gets recycled by the worms

  21. a first class plane passenger uses 60% more fuel than a regular passenger.
    until this stops i wouldnt recycle a fart.

  22. We will know you guys are serious when you stop mass immigration, moving people with high birth rates from low emission country’s to high emission country’s on mass is probably the worst thing you could do for the climate. I care deeply about environment but it’s making it very hard to believe you guys actually care when we see the people pushing the narrative, flying in private jets and advocating for open borders.

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