Soil’s Well That Ends Well

Tamsyn Jones’s very informative cover story this issue serves to remind us, among other things, that great civilizations of the past have prospered or withered depending upon their relationship with their natural environment. Vibrant, healthy economies survived where soils, because of sensible agricultural practices, remained rich and fertile enough to produce food—and fell when farming became unsustainable.

© Jerry Russell

Mesopotamia flourished because of excellent soil, and collapsed because of a major decline in soil quality. Needless to say, that was all well before toxic chemicals were part of the picture. This fascinating subject, one that usually flies well below the public and media radar, also reminds me once again that our struggles to safeguard the global environment are really all about public health.

Indeed, if all the pollutants we put into the air, water and soil didn’t make us sick, shorten our life expectancies or break our strides in other ways, then what we call environmental pollution wouldn’t really matter. It’s a bit like smoking: If smoking didn’t cause health problems for people who smoke and those around them, it wouldn’t matter. But it does, and it does.

Opponents have likened environmentalism to "tree hugging" and sentimentality over whales and dolphins in efforts to trivialize ecological concerns and make eco-advocates seem "well meaning but misguided." But the fact of the matter is that, as with our jobs and our relationships, what we put in determines what we get back. "Garbage in, garbage out," the saying goes. Or as the Beatles put it in their very last recording, "In the end the love you take is equal to the love you make."

Our planet itself is actually quite resilient. As such the mantra "Save the Planet" does make us somewhat guilty-as-charged of romanticizing things a bit. The Earth will do just fine, thank you, short of our sun turning into a Super Nova and frying it to a crisp. It will regenerate as it has done many times before in its history following hits by asteroids and other cataclysmic events. But we"ll be in trouble, due to the accumulation of the toxins in the air, water and soils and, by extension, our bodies, resulting from our negligent behavior.

For my part, that’s why I report to work each morning—to put out a magazine (and a website, an e-newsletter, books and a syndicated column) to try to knock sense into people, from policymakers, teachers and businesspeople to ordinary citizens who read E or the many other media that reprint our stories.

And sense seems to be in short supply, so I’m confident that our work is needed. As I write this I have just watched a CNN news report about record temperatures in California. In one town, it has reached 119 and numerous deaths in the region have resulted. Yet a blog I am now looking at, one teeming with activity following a glowing review of E Magazine in Media Post, is full of nay saying about global warming, with comments like, "Actually, everyone doesn’t agree on global warming. That’s just what gets press and sells in the media."

We obviously still have a great deal of work to do!