Topsoil Essay, Research Paper SCIENCE 360 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE PROTECTION OF THE WORLDS TOPSOIL 1LM4233 17 MARCH 1998 Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the

Topsoil Essay, Research Paper






17 MARCH 1998

Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the

Bachelor of Science Degree Management


Dr. Jack


Southern California Campus

La Mirada Learning Center

Protection of the Worlds Topsoil

The protection of the worlds topsoil is vital to us. The soil is still the major medium for plant and crop growth and our basic resource for land use and development. Imagine our world without soil! A barren land with almost no plant growth and constant dustbowls to block out our sunlight. Erosion would destroy our mountain ranges. Our lakes, rivers and oceans would be clogged with sediments. Like any of our worlds problems, we must educate people about the problems and risks and how the depletion of topsoil affects our everyday needs. (Kirby, 1997)

Protection of the Worlds Topsoil


There are many reasons why our soils become damaged. The three biggest contributors are: erosion, deforestation and overgrazing. Erosion can be the most damaging of all three because we cannot control the weather. Erosion exists when either water or wind removes important soil particles from the earth leaving the land useless for growth. AS Vice President Al Gore states in his book, Earth in the Balance, “Iowa has lost eight inches of the best topsoil in the country and it now resides in the Gulf of Mexico” (1992). Although we cannot control Mother Nature, we can combat erosion by insuring plant or crop growth is present to naturally to dissipate the effects of erosion. If not properly managed, the damaging effects of erosion can alter out lives both socially and economically.

The second of the contributors is called deforestation. Deforestation is simply the clearing of forests to support our demands for lumber, paper products, and fuels. Without proper management of this activity, the soils are susceptible to erosion. In addition, deforestation disturbs the normally productive ecosystem of the forest land and threatens its future. Even if the forest is clear-cut and replanted, it usually is replanted with one specific kind of tree. The effect of this causes the loss of biodiversity. (Nebel / Wright, 1998)

The third of the “big three” is overgrazing. Simply, overgrazing means that the number of animals eating or grazing on the land exceeds what it can support. The effects of overgrazing are devastating. It can wipe out entire species of animals by causing malnutrition or starvation. It also leaves the land barren and unable to support life. There are several other causes of topsoil degradation, such as salinization, acidification, decertification and many others that may be undiscovered. (Nebel / Wright, 1998)

Besides the above, I feel that there are two more important concerns that should be addressed: overcultivation and pollution. Overcultivation occurs in different ways, first it can mean that the soil is being used in excess with no time for any type of regeneration. Much like our own bodies when depleted of energy, soil must undergo some type of nutrient replacement to sustain life. Overcultivation can also mean that soils are simply lost due to development. I’m sure that at some point in your life you have seen a field or perhaps even a farm which is now a mall, parking lot or even a baseball field. So, despite the need to replenish forests, trees, soils and farmland, we continue to ignore our ecological loses. The increased population forces a higher demand for food, big businesses, factories, housing, mall and even baseball fields. This rapid urban growth development may be the priority in our society today. In reality, these desires are major contributors and factors that are upsetting the balance of our ecological system.

Lastly, with an overpopulated world, comes pollution. Pollution comes in many forms. In our very first class, we have all witnessed people dumping old paint and solvents into the drain system because it simply was not cost effective to dispose of it in any other way! Think about that for a minute……………..That is one small business on one small block, in one city, in one state, and in one country. Now if you examine that in global terms, you may begin to realize what a huge problem it is. Every single person counts.

Years ago, they filled and buried giant drums of chemical waste into our landfills. These drums are now leaking chemicals into our soils. This pollution not only cripples the topsoil, it also contaminates our water. They have linked this type of pollution to many health problems including disease and death. All these factors aid in the deterioration of our land and its soils. Being aware of these problems is the key. It is important for us to note their long term causes and effects on the environment and to our health. (Tate, 1995)


The factors we discussed should help us to understand what the social issues are regarding our damaged soils. As consumers of agriculture, we must all do our part. Today, 90% of our food comes from land-based agriculture systems. Farmers continue to struggle to survive due to low profit margins. They estimate that in the last forty years one-third of our nations farms went out business. This is due to large co-op corporations that have monopolized and industrialized farming. The family farmer cannot compete and must join or contract out to these corporations or face extinction. We must develop a partnership with our farmers and the land to cause healthy change. We must demand organically grown foods and be willing to pay more. (Nebel / Wright, 1998)

I believe they should they should empower farmers and give incentives to those who grow organic foods. This system not only produces food without harmful pesticides and other chemicals, but it also helps to sustain the land. Co-op American Quarterly states that only .03 to .25 cents per food dollar goes to the grower. It’s ironic that we choose to spend millions of dollars on wars in the middle east to protect our petroleum rights, but very little is spent on the preservation and growth of our agricultural system. (Nebel / Wright, 1998)

Another important social problem that aids in soil deterioration is our land use and development. As our population continues to grow, we demand more products from our land. We cannot continue to feed the world if we are destroying our soils. Eventually, people will be forced to move from place to place until they find land that can satisfy their need for food, water and other resources. Look at a few of the less fortunate countries around the world today where this its happening. Famine and disease kill millions every year. Many civilizations have perished due to the absence of soil (ie. Mesopotamia and the Mayan civilizations). Since we know that our lands are finite, we must now accept responsibility worldwide and manage our Earth’s future.

Historically, countries have gone to war over such resources. While topsoil may not carry that kind of weight today (such as petroleum), we could eventually become a world starving for food and no place to grow it. (Ehrlich, 1990)

The term, ‘land use’ also pertains to the structural building we do on the land, because expansion is a reality that we must accept, we must realize that we cannot use the land to build schools, parks, houses, or other structures if it is contaminated. Although the need to build for the excelling human population is inevitable, we must establish priorities and obtain a balance right now. At some point, we have to set aside lands and protect them to sustain our future.

The most powerful social issue facing the environment today is economics. I think our priority has always been to stimulate the economy at all costs. For example, the clear-cutting of trees to make paper products are detrimental to our forests. (Ehrlich, 1990)

Our constant demand for paper products from the paper companies causes them to clear-cut more forests (an economic decision, not an environmental one. We cannot leave the fate of our environment in the hands of companies who use only big profits as their motivation. We must all do our part.

They can say the same for farming. Farmers, who I once believed were the loving caretakers of our land, are forced to use chemicals to enhance growth and productivity to make profits. Again, an economic decision and not an environment one. We should begin our cultural change now and include the environments safety when we make those economic decisions. (Fox, 1997)


The most important factor in protecting our worlds topsoil is awareness. In our ever changing society, we encounter many problems. The first step in resolving any problem is first realizing that there is a problem. We must make the soil problem a worldwide topic. Our future depends on agriculture. Big business will continue to dump toxic wastes and chemicals so we must regulate and manage the process of putting the environment first. The costs for these businesses to dispose of these chemicals properly, is still far more expensive than the fines that they pay for dumping illegally. We must make stricter laws, have larger fines, and offer low cost waste disposal programs so that business will be willing to participate. (Nebel / Wright, 1998)

Overall, most businesses are self serving. As a conscience society, we can help protect our world by forcing them to make economic decisions. In other words, if enough consumers demand organically grown foods, farming corporations would eventually change their practices in order to supply the demand. (Fox, 1997)

We need to continue to search for better and safer methods of waste disposal. We also should relentlessly pursue other replacements for those same chemicals that are not harmful to soils and water. We should spend the time and money it takes to research and educate the public on the harmful effects of erosion, pollution, deforestation, over cultivation, and overgrazing. We need to search for more cost-effective and natural farming the latest, safest, and most productive methods. Research is the key. (Brockway, 1992)

Finally, we must elect officials that will legislate to help ensure that our topsoil will be protected. The government should get involved and keep a closer eye to insure that large companies do not continue to threaten the environment. Topsoil take hundreds of years to form. We need manage and protect them. In Eating With Conscience, JP Madden said it best, “Healthy soil is the foundation of a healthy society.” (pg. 89)


Agriculture has become big business in our country. It equates to approximately 4700 billion annually and makes up 17% of our gross national product (GNP). The enormous demands for products of agriculture have helped to industrialize agriculture. Despite the negative aspects from this type of agriculture, we are managing to export these methods internationally. (Fox, 1997)

In 1996, under the Agriculture Export Enhancement Program, they gave few of our industrialized agriculture corporations millions of dollars to encourage the use of their industrial farming practices abroad in countries like China, Russia, Asia, and South America. Deforestation, moncroping, pesticide use, erosion, pollution, overgrazing,

and overcultivation are all products of industrialized agriculture. We are now effectively advocating non-sustainable agriculture worldwide, all in the name of profit. While it is true that many other countries suffer from overpopulation and famine, it should be our priority to teach and aid in more sustainable methods of agriculture. (Fox, 1997)

The United States of America is the largest user of natural resources in the world. Therefore, we have ethical and moral responsibilities to lead by example. We must promote an awareness of conservation and sustainability to protect the environments’ future. Global practices designed for maximum output, whether talking about producing crops or livestock marked the twentieth century.

What factors force individuals and governments to persist with unnatural methods that have been proven to harm the environment and degrade our topsoil? I think, it is greed mainly, but at some point, technology can also help save our planet.

In some nations people just don’t realize the implications. There are many examples in history that show the effects of mismanaged soils such as Ancient Greece. Philosopher cautioned the Greeks that overgrazing and overcultivation would someday destroy the land. They did not take these warnings seriously causing Greece to suffer from desertification.

Another global problem is contaminated soil which causes increased health concerns. The cost of health care in our country continues to rise, and in many countries, they do not provide it or is unavailable. In developed countries, we could expect what kind of savings in health care cost if consuming foods grown in healthy soil was the norm? In less developed countries, how many millions of children would

be saved from death by eating healthy food and drinking uncontaminated water?

The most important of the global problems we face is sustainability. The worlds’ topsoil produce ecological goods and services which human beings rely on for our very existence. Without worldwide healthy soils, we could not produce food to feed the world.

In Africa, food production has been on a downward course since 1970 a harsh condition resulting from overpopulation and poor harvests. Although today it seems that food production is keeping up with demand, the question still remains: Can we continue to supply food in the future with population expansion and developmental growth? Less is not more in this case. We should protect topsoil as a resource and employ long-term strategies to protect them. (Nebel / Wright, 1998)

Forests are another product produced by soil. If our forests cannot grow, how would we obtain wood for housing, paper products and fossil fuels? We have already learned that deforestation leaves the land unprotected from erosion, but what other global problems are created? The most important issue is that if we do not care for forests, they will eventually become unproductive. Economic and social systems would fail and we would simply look for new lands to destroy.

Throughout the history of man, plants have played an important part in the development of medical research. Many plants are grown from topsoil that produce substances that are the key ingredients in the production of medicine. In 1996, scientists discovered that the periwinkle produces two chemicals which revolutionized the treatment of childhood Leukemia and Hodgkin Disease. In more recent studies, herbal formulas are used to combat many health problems, such as: high blood pressure (garlic and cayenne combination), respiratory/chest and lungs strengthens (comfrey & mullen combinations), muscle cramps, nervousness and calcium enriched (comfrey, oatstraw and shavegrass combinations). (Nebel / Wright, 1998) (Brockway, 1992)

Lastly, beauty is an environmental good of great social importance. Healthy soils provide beautiful parks, mountains, forests, lake areas, and many other recreational areas. Ironically, we are often concerned with the beauty of our lawns, parks, campgrounds, and the safety of swimming and playing in clean water, but seem impervious to poor land management practices elsewhere.

One of the most important services provided by nature is the production of oxygen. The creation of oxygen begins with healthy soil. The soil generates the proper elements to grow trees. We sometimes call trees “the lungs of the earth”. The world needs lungs! Trees absorb carbon dioxide which aids in the reduction of global warming. Global warming is partially a result of deforestation. Since trees help to process harmful carbon dioxide, it is necessary to protect them. (Gore, 1992)

All things grown from soil aid in absorbing and detoxify pollutants. Trees and other plants can detoxify these natural impurities. Also, healthy soil contains microorganisms that can convert some pollutants into harmless compounds.

Soil services also include the cleansing of our ground water sources. Water is filtrated down through the soil and debris and harmful bacteria are removed. The soil service usually makes groundwater safe for drinking. Water contamination kills four to five million people each year. Naturally, we should invest in soil conservation to offer safe alternatives for drinking water. (Nebel / Wright, 1998)


As you can see, protecting our worlds topsoil is an important issue. As humans, we must realize the long term effects caused by the loss of topsoil and its chain-reaction effect on the environment. Although many years of damage has been done, I see the answer to ending this abuse summarized in three basic steps: awareness, management, and restoration.

Awareness: We must continue to make the world aware of the problems.

Management: We must recognize the balance between man and nature and protect the land as a valuable resource.

Restoration: We must identify the areas around the world that have already been destroyed and spend the capital to help restore it.

All of these elements are not only an investment for the environment, they are an investment for the future. As quoted in Eating With Conscience, an anonymous source said, “We do not inherit the land, we borrow it from our children’”. (Gore, 1992)


Brockway, S. (1992) . An Environmental, Political, and Social Handbook. Cambria, CA: Macrocosm USA, Inc.

Ehrlich, P.E. (1990) . The Population Explosion. New York, NY:

Touchtone Books.

Fox, M.W. (1997) . Eating with Conscience: The Bioethics of Food. Troutdale, Or: Newsage Press.

Gore, A. (1992) . Earth in the Balance. New York, NY: Plume

Kirby, C. (1997) . Biodiversity, Soil, and Ecologically Sustainable Development. Australian Environmental On-Line.

Nebel, B.J. & Wright, R.T. (1981-1998). Environmental Science (Sixth Edition). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Tate, R.L. (1995) Soil Microbiology. New York, NY: John Wiley & Son, Inc.