The scoop on dirt*

*Or why we should all worship the ground we walk on

Environmental magazine coverTamsyn Jones has written an evocative cover story for the latest issue of E/The Environmental Magazin which succinctly argues that our future depends on our looking after it. [The photograph is an outtake from the cover photoshoot by Jon Moe.]

“It’s one of nature’s most perfect contradictions”, says Tamsyn, “a substance that is ubiquitous but unseen; humble but essential; surprisingly strong but profoundly fragile. It nurtures life and death; undergirds cities, forests and oceans; and feeds all terrestrial life on Earth.”

“It is a substance few people understand and most take for granted. Yet, it is arguably one of Earth’s most critical natural resources—and humans, quite literally, owe to it their very existence.From the food we eat to the clothes we wear to the air we breathe, humanity depends upon the dirt beneath our feet.

“Gardeners understand this intuitively; to them, the saying “cherish the soil” is gospel. But for the better part of society, dirt barely gets a sideways glance.

“To most, it’s just part of the background, something so obvious it’s ignored.

“Even among the environmentally minded, soil sags well below the radar of important causes. But the relationship between soil quality and other aspects of environmental health is intricately entwined.

“What’s more, it’s a relationship that encompasses a vast swath of territory, from agricultural practices to global climate change, and from the well being of oceans to that of people.

“Despite humankind’s long relationship with soil, the stuff remains a mystery.
Even our language manages to maligns it. Somehow, “dirt” has acquired a bad reputation. And it’s been codified in some of our most common idioms, with people described as “dirty rotten scoundrels,” “poor as dirt” or “dirtbags.”

“The modern word “dirt” itself descends from the less than complimentary Old English word “drit,” meaning “excrement.” Instead of marveling at the mystery of soil, we have mocked it, by dredging and paving; desiccating and polluting; and working it to exhaustion.

“Now our poor husbandry of this essential resource is catching up with us, in the form of disconcertingly rapid erosion and loss of farmland, widespread agricultural pollution, damage to fisheries, and alarming levels of pesticides and other chemicals building up in our bodies.

“The subject of soil is rarely billed as glamorous or sexy, but it should be. From its remarkable properties to its critical ecological importance, the dirt under our feet is a goldmine of scientific wonderment, and it’s about time people got excited about soil.”

Dig deeper into her fascinating story about soil at E/The Environmental Magazine

TAMSYN JONES is a recent graduate of the University of Missouri at Columbia, currently pursuing further study in Tasmania.