Out of the environmental issues that are at the forefront of the news today, soil erosion is not one of them. It is not a concern worthy of the front pages of the newspaper today, or so I thought. I would argue that soil erosion is a significant problem today, along with problems associated with using natural resources and associated with climate change. In the United States and in other parts of the world, soil erosion is happening at a faster rate than soil formation, resulting in a net loss of soil. Because soil is the foundation for civilizations, for both building on and sustaining agriculture, loss of soil is a danger to society.
In Dirt by David Montgomery, he talks about the present rates of soil erosion and the future in our current economic system. He theorizes that it would only take a century to lose the country’s remaining topsoil at the current rates. Not only does this look dangerous for the future, but it is largely ignored. He believes that the economic and political systems we have are destroying the soil because it is used up without a second thought. More effort needs to be put into soil mitigation techniques if anything is to change. For agriculture to survive, soil has to survive.
The Dust Bowl in the Midwest in the 1930’s is a perfect example of the way the economy and politics worsens the seriousness of soil erosion. With World War One, economic incentives were put in place to get people to move to Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, and Nebraska where everyone took the newer, faster plow and plowed the entire region to grow wheat. Farming was easy, and it was incentivized. The demand for wheat during the war and the ease of growing it destroyed the soil rapidly, and when the war ended, these trends continued. After the financial collapse of farm products, the already-disturbed soil influenced larger dust storms. Ignoring what they were doing to the native prairies is what caused the Dust Bowl.
Soil erosion is a major environmental problem because it can cause future damage like it did in the Dust Bowl. It is also connected to bigger problems like climate change. For instance, the decline in the number of bees is damaging our agricultural system, and the presence of good soil is necessary along with the bees, for the future of agriculture and thus the future of our society. Without bees, humans may be able to invent new ways to pollinate plants, but without soil, it will become impossible to grow anything. This is connected to climate change specifically because the changing climate is contributing to the decline in bees, but also because the changing climate is changing the animals and vegetation that can survive in certain areas. Desertification is creating sands that are useless for farming. As the global average temperature increases, the weather of these agricultural regions is changing. This could mean less rain and hotter days, both of which could result in further soil erosion.
In addition, the changing climate and changing soils are strained because of the increasing global population. As the population increases, agriculture has to accommodate for the change, in many cases that means agriculture has to expand to new lands. Farming on hillslopes and in new areas expands the scope of soil erosion to unhealthy quantities. Soil erosion is just as important of a problem as climate change, because the survival of human civilization depends on it.