Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations

Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations

Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations

Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations

Synopsis

Dirt, soil, call it what you want--it's everywhere we go. It is the root of our existence, supporting our feet, our farms, our cities. This fascinating yet disquieting book finds, however, that we are running out of dirt, and it's no laughing matter. An engaging natural and cultural history of soil that sweeps from ancient civilizations to modern times, Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations explores the compelling idea that we are--and have long been--using up Earth's soil. Once bare of protective vegetation and exposed to wind and rain, cultivated soils erode bit by bit, slowly enough to be ignored in a single lifetime but fast enough over centuries to limit the lifespan of civilizations. A rich mix of history, archaeology and geology, Dirt traces the role of soil use and abuse in the history of Mesopotamia, Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, China, European colonialism, Central America, and the American push westward. We see how soil has shaped us and we have shaped soil--as society after society has risen, prospered, and plowed through a natural endowment of fertile dirt. David R. Montgomery sees in the recent rise of organic and no-till farming the hope for a new agricultural revolution that might help us avoid the fate of previous civilizations.

Excerpt

The twin problems of soil degradation and erosion have plagued humanity since the dawn of agriculture. Although these problems are mostly of our own making and well within our power to solve, citizens, the media, and politicians don’t seem to take them as seriously as volatile financial markets, climate change, or any number of other societal challenges. And yet, how we treat land, how we treat the soil, is fundamental to the health and survival of modern civilization. I wrote this book because over the course of several decades, I came to see soil as a resource every bit as important as things we would all recognize as essential. But who, really, thinks of soil—of dirt—as a vital resource?

In college I was trained as a geologist, advised to ignore or dismiss soil as “overburden” unworthy of serious attention. In graduate school I specialized in geomorphology, the study of processes shaping and influencing topography, focusing on the factors that control where stream channels begin. In studying the interplay of runoff and erosion on forested hillslopes, I came to appreciate how tree roots helped stabilize soils and how the roots of fallen trees pried up and mixed rock into the dirt to make new soil.

But it wasn’t coursework or fieldwork that first exposed me to the idea that soil erosion contributed to the decline and fall of ancient societies, it . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.