Last week and the coming week I am attending an online symposium on soil in the Netherlands. It is called Bodembreed, where bodem means soil and breed can be translated as width. The gist being that everyone that has anything to do with soil in the Netherlands, such as research institutes, governments agencies, planners, builders, is participating in this symposium. It is organized around big themes, such as climate adaptation, energy transition, and watermanagement. Not surprisingly, farmers are not directly involved, only named as stakeholders in the different research projects and policy design issues. Smart people, all investigating the problem of how we can get our society to face our global climate challenges, as we are all aware things have to change, dramatically, outlined in the just released report of the International Energy Agency. 

The research presented at Bodembreed is impressive, but somehow it bothers me that the overall strategy seems to stay the same. We use some technology to patch here and there. When I pose a question regarding the use of biodynamic strategies, or considering the millennia long farming experience, the answer is that we first need to unravel how soil works before we can take action to move away from conventional/ industrial farming methods, that by the way has ruined our soil within a single century. I fear this means no substantial action within our lifetime. 

The Netherlands, and similar countries in the western world have reached their current wealth status based on centuries of overexploitation, gaining resources far beyond their territory.  This might not be problem if these places of resource extraction are unpopulated, void of people and other species who depend on those resources in their own territory or homerange. Such places are hard to find, if they exist. In my field, archaeology, we have long used a concept called Carrying Capacity, probably first used in biology and ecological research in the 19th century, to calculate the number of [people] that can be supported by a specific area. Technology and trade can become factors in such calculations as well, but somehow all the costs have to be calculated, as well as include -natural- climatic variations as a determining factor. This is how we come to understand the rise and decline of societies and civilizations. New technologies and computer models such as agent based modeling can help us understand these complex systems. It can help us now.

Overexploitation however, to me, is a no-brainer. When you deplete your environment faster than the environment can regenerate, the sum is simple. You have to figure out the rate, but at some point you will run out of what we now euphemistically call “ecosystem services”. Venus and Mars may be your next bet, but I wouldn’t count on it in your life time.

Although I am impressed by all the research in support of change, the one big issue that needs to be addressed, namely, what is our level of overexploitation on a global scale, remains largely unaddressed and overproduction maintains its status as a virtue. Our planet keeps pulsing, resiliently, the question is, when will we be considered an unsustainable part and evolve into something else.

Our bulging planet keeps spinning in relation to its cosmic partners
The tide wave, keeps slushing around….