“half a million square miles of West African forest were cleared in under a century.”
“Soil erosion rates in sub-Saharan Africa increased twentyfold in the past thirty years.”
“More than a tenth of Earth’s land area is desertifying—about a third of the planet’s dry lands.”
“In addition, the 1972 Russian grain purchase encouraged U.S. farmers to plow up marginal land, undermining decades of soil conservation efforts.”
“The 1977 Soil and Water Resources Conservation Act required the USDA to conduct an intensive appraisal of the nation’s soil. Four years in the making, the 1981 report concluded that American soil still eroded at [an] alarming rate more than four decades after the Dust Bowl. In the 1970s the nation lost four billion tons of soil each year—a billion tons a year more than in the 1930s.”
“Recent USDA estimates show soil erosion from U.S. cropland as dropping from about three billions tons in 1982 to just under two billion tons in 2001, substantial progress to be sure—but still far ahead of soil production.”
“In the mid-1990s, David Pimentel’s research group at Cornell University estimated the economic costs of soil erosion and the potential economic benefits of soil conservation measures. [snip] They estimated that undoing damage caused by soil erosion would cost the United States $44 billion a year, and about $400 billion a year worldwide, more than $70 per person on the planet—higher than the annual income for most people.”
The last quote really gets me. Aside from throwing into sharp and sickening relief the amounts of money tossed about to save the financial system that, arguably, is destroying itself by soil (and other reckless) abuse, what most stuns me is that we need to look at dollar values at all. What sort of a mindset are we trapped in that we need to justify conserving soil from a dollar perspective?
The deeper story is one of failing to be wise even while in possession of the skill and knowledge necessary to be so. We have known for millennia how to conserve soil (the Chinese and Japanese (and others) do a great job of it in their paddy fields), and yet we somehow manage to overlook sustainability, to demote its importance, or wilfully ignore it. Money makes the world go around, right? GDP growth matters above all else.
And while we destroy the ecosystems that gave rise to and sustain us, the thing our culture prizes above all else concentrates to the sociopathically wealthy, and stays there. They can’t get enough wealth or power, and are seemingly incapable of understanding or caring about consequences, and yet we insist on playing their game by their insane rules, chasing the American Dream and confusing it for success.