[FOUNTAIN]Food chains lead back to earth’s soilThere is a food chain among grass, a rabbit, a wildcat and bacteria. The cycle from a plant to an herbivore to a carnivore to bacteria ends up in making soil. When a living mechanism dies, it returns to the soil, and humans are not exception in this natural cycle. Edward S. Hyams and other soil scientists coined a phrase, “soil community,” to describe human society.
Winds and water carry soil down to the mouths of rivers, and ancient civilizations were born on that alluvial soil. The mother of Egyptian civilization was the Nile, which transported and accumulated organic soil every year. Literally meaning “a land between two rivers,” Mesopotamia developed a prosperous civilization on the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The Indus civilization was made possible because the 2,600-kilometer (1,560-mile) river created a vast delta. Ancient Chinese civilization was developed in the valley of the Yellow River.
But today, these regions are so ruined and dry that it is hard to believe they were once cradles of great ancient civilizations. The devastation was the main reason that the glory of the ancient civilizations was not passed on to following generations. As civilization developed, too many people lived on the limited land. Without efforts to improve the quality of the soil, the dwellers exploited the land for farming. The soil eventually lost its nutritional elements. When wars and dry weather attacked, civilizations waned.
Soil did not meet such a tragic ending only in ancient times. In the 1930s, the surface soil began to disappear with storms in the Midwest plains of the United States. American farmers had cleared the land too vigorously in too short a period of time to sell to markets to the east. A catastrophic drought accelerated the phenomenon. Despite the farmers’ cries, the devastation did not stop. It was around that time that John Steinbeck published “The Grapes of Wrath” and Americans realized the importance of soil conservation.
An epidemic in Goseong, South Gyeongsang province, is suspected to be itai-itai disease, a pollution-related illness that scared Japan in the 1960s. Heavy metals discharged by a mine may have polluted the soil. We must identify the factor that troubled the order of the “soil community.” History teaches that the soil is the mother of lives and the future of civilizations.
by Lee Kyu-youn
The writer is a deputy city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.