Soil plays the most essential role in sustaining all life on earth. Yet we treat it like dirt.
Ashes to ashes

The phrase has been used as song titles by musicians including David Bowie, as film titles including the BBC’s Only Fools and Horses, and as book titles. Most will know it best from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer burial service.

To me, it is also a phrase that represents nature’s solution for most, if not all, problems that we humans inflict on it. It is the ultimate consequence to the problems humanity has created, including climate change.

As sought last week, it is the natural comeuppance for Climate Change Minister Tim Groser who by avoiding climate action in favour of economic orthodoxy, puts future generations at risk. Practical biomimicry at work!

It’s meaning is clear – we come from dust; we return to dust.

the-answer-lies-in-the-soil_3700And in the United Nations’ International Year of Soils the phrase is prognostic unless we use the soil a means to ameliorate the causes of climate change.

Soil is so much more than dust.

Soil is the ignored foundation on which humanity built it’s existence. It supplies the nutrients needed to grow our food. It stores the water that gives life to the entire biosystem of plants, animals and us humans. It embraces the largest stock of carbon on earth without which climate changes would be even more severe.

Soil plays the most essential role in sustaining all life on earth.

Yet we treat it like dirt. We willy nilly cultivate it so that its stored carbon is lost to the atmosphere. We till it in broad-acre farms so that it blows away in dust laden winds. We poison it with so many pesticides, herbicides, insecticides and fungicides to create a sterile, barren residue.

Dust is the detritus of human existence. The left overs of an industrial agricultural system that inexorably depletes the very life of our soil.

Dust will become soil through nature’s processes at a rate of one millimetre of soil per 100 years. But at a rate ten time faster, soil is becoming dust through mankind’s processes.

This is the definition of non-sustainability.

How do we set about changing this?

Forget the short-term nihilistic approach this government follows. The government’s recent climate change “consultation” demonstrates that we will become ashes if we wait for the politicians and bureaucrats to act.

No, the response to climate change must come from the grass roots of individuals and communities.

Swedish born Sören Andersson, a “Possibilist” with strong interest in and commitment for a sustainable world, advocates that “Momentum needs movement”. He means that if we are to solve any problem, we need to move along and build momentum as we go.

Remember our response to ozone depletion problems in the 1970s and ’80s? Chlorofluorocarbons were quickly outlawed in the Montreal Protocol of 1987 with the consequence that the dangerous ozone ‘holes’ in the atmosphere are now diminishing each year.

It took influential politicians like Margaret Thatcher to bring about that change. The world is different now and politicians will not our saviour be. This time it will be the people achieving change by starting with a nudge in the right direction.

The direction of that nudge comes from Arthur Fallowfield, played by Kenneth Williams in the BBC series “Beyond Our Ken”. He said in response to any question, “the answer lies in the soil.”

So let’s mimic nature and work with the soil before it becomes ashes.