Soil Degradation And Modern Lifestyles

Soil Degradation and Modern Lifestyles

Very few people in the world’s wealthier nations stop to think about where their food comes from, much less the soil in which it’s grown. Yet, every day they eat food, wear clothes, and take shelter in buildings that came directly or indirectly from the ground. The well-being of every individual in the world is dependent on the health of the earth’s soil. And, unfortunately, it’s not so healthy these days.

Why Does Soil Matter?

It is obvious (yet astonishingly overlooked in modern society) that the food people need to survive comes from the soil. Many do not think about it as they sort through the tomatoes pile in the local supermarket’s sterile, fluorescent-lighted environment. In this context, it almost seems as if the fruits and vegetables a person eats everyday must have been produced in a factory somewhere far away, as are all of the other consumer products.

With meat, it seems like an even further stretch to think of its connection to the soil. But one mustn’t forget that meat comes from animals and animals graze on grass and grains which, bingo! Comes from the ground. Even boxed, dried, and frozen foods are all soil-based.

Then, there are the much less obvious everyday items, like clothes, buildings, and even the air people need to breathe, dependent on soil health. If there is not enough healthy soil to grow cotton, trees, and other plants, people will not have any necessities. When looking at the bigger picture, it is crystal-clear just how necessary healthy soil is, and lots of it. So, what’s the problem?

Loss of Top Soil

The leading cause for concern about the planet’s soil can be seen in this statistic: “soil is being swept and washed away 10-40 times faster than it is being replenished”, resulting in enormous losses of cropland; that is to say, the land where crops and plants can be grown (Lang). The loss of cropland per capita can be seen in these graphs, posted on the University of Michigan’s Global Change course website. It is, indeed, alarming. What is causing this loss of arable soil?

Population Pressure

The problem stems from the combination of many factors. The most obvious is population growth. As the human population grows, more crops are consumed and, thus, more soil is needed to support it. One aspect of the loss of cropland per capita is that the number of people is going up while the planet remains the same size with the same amount of land.

This is further compounded by the fact that more people are taking up more “modern” lifestyles, which are more soil-intensive. Therefore, each person living a modern lifestyle will use more soil than a person living a simpler rural lifestyle (see ecological footprint). More is starting to equal less, less, less (arable soil, that is).

Intensive Farming

Because these modern lifestyles require more materials per person to be produced faster, they also demand highly intensive farming techniques. These include pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers, mechanized plowing/harvesting, and deforestation (for growing crops and/or grazing livestock). All of these intensive farming techniques result in the soil quality and quantity being depleted at a rate much faster than that at which it can replenish itself.


The mainstream media widely ignore this problem and, thus, the general population is not well-informed about it. Therefore, one solution is obviously to increase the understanding of the average citizen. If people become more aware of the issue and understand the factors involved, they will be armed with the ability (and motivation) to choose less soil-intensive lifestyles. This would have an incredible impact on the soil problem. Less demand = less supply.

A less soil-intensive lifestyle is a simpler lifestyle. Decreasing the consumption of unnecessary stuff is the key. Much of the soil is being degraded to provide people with things they don’t need, much of which gets thrown away within just a few months of being bought (see Story of Stuff).

This also includes eating less/no meat (it is the most inefficient food source), eating organically grown produce, and buying organic cotton products. It might sound like a sacrifice to some readers; however, this writer can attest that it is not. Living a voluntary simplicity lifestyle can enhance one’s quality of life through a shift in values and appreciation.

Thank you for reading!

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