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Dirty stuff

Soil, a living breathing matter beneath our feet – like skin, is a precious life giver. It is life.

It breathes and has a right to breathe.

It needs air and it needs water. It supports all life on earth. It’s time made manifest - although we can’t see the time, we can certainly feel it, smell it and listen to it.

Humans have de-natured nature and plundered the land of practically everything, creating a state of soil degradation and biodiversity loss. Any action to reverse the damage or improve the situation has been held back due to a lack of awareness and/or political will.

It is soil biodiversity, a vast community of living organisms that decomposes dead organic matter to produce humus. Only soil biodiversity can do this – humus cannot be manmade.

The biodiversity of soil is colossal when compared to biodiversity above ground. There are an estimated 360,000 nonhuman animals living in soil. According to the UN Environment Programme (5 Dec 2018), those soil living creatures could make up a quarter of all living species on our globe, although most of them remain unknown, according to a European Commission report.

The term biodiversity refers to the total diversity of life on earth such as ecosystems and species (Wilson, 1988). Its critical importance is underlined by the existence of the Convention on Biological Diversity signed in 1992.

For the UN Environment Programme there’s a failure to grasp that soil stores carbon, mainly in the form of organic matter, and is the second largest carbon pool on Earth, after the oceans. The more organic matter there is in soil, the better a carbon sink it can be. A well-managed soil can thus be an important buffer against climate change.

The factory of life. Why soil biodiversity is so important, Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Union, 2010

Trying to imagine life as an underground creature is a tricky thing to do. Its a perspective I've been thinking about recently and keen to delve into and explore. This week, I listened to a series of podcasts on climate change by the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art that has helped me to think about soil (earth) in a different way, from other perspectives.

Wisten Forest, Steyning, East Sussex

White chalk cliffs, near Brighton UK

When looking at the deep time lines in the chalk cliffs near Brighton, I often wonder how the human stratum will appear – if and when it manifests. How will all the rubbish and destruction appear in geological time in rocks and cliff faces? In terms of deep time, and the history of the earth, humans are not even a second on a 24 hour clock.

Deep time. A history of the Earth

Further reading:

What’s the big story about dirt? UN Environment Programme, 5 December 2018.

Biodiversity features, The Guardian, November 2021.

Biodiversity, E.O Wilson.

Soil and biodiversity loss, UN Convention to Combat Desertification, 2017.

Decline of bees, The Guardian, 26 February 2016.

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