Fighting Fatigue and Finding Heart on World Soil Day
Written by Carbon Count Founder and Chief Executive Officer Philip Mulvey
I run. Again. An old man plodding along.
I run to manage stress, to maintain my body, to live, but primarily to meet my personal goal. Unlike my professional goal, my personal goal has no higher purpose – it is selfish. You see, my father died at 55 and my grandfathers at 50 and 64; both before I was born. My siblings and I, and my children, did not have a grandfather. Before my children were born, after seeing my father’s cousin be a grandfather, I decided my life’s goal was to be at my grandchildren’s weddings. I do many things so I can be at my grandchildren’s weddings, but exercising frequently to boost cardiac resilience is the most difficult.
I plod and I ponder.
Worldwide, and particularly in Australia, our soil is under stress.
It needs to be nurtured and restored, not run down. Certainly not stressed to the point of fatigue. Fatigued soil cannot sustain landscape. We live on, in and in turn are sustained by landscape. A fatigued soil cannot keep its single most important function operational – maintaining a hydrated landscape.
I pause at the halfway point 4km from home. It has been over eight years since I beat any of my children running – and even then, I cheated. I had been running on the beach every day for months and beat my daughter the day she returned after a long international flight. I suspect she probably let me win. Aerobic fitness needs constant exercise. COVID and relentless work commitments resulted in me unwittingly dropping my personal goal, frequent runs or bike rides have become increasingly infrequent. I am fatigued.
A hydrated landscape optimises the small water cycle, a key component of climate.
An optimised small water cycle maintains landscape resilience in the face of extreme seasonal climate variation – modifying intensity, duration and frequency of return events. This is done by the fact that healthy soil maximises effective rain but also maximises the small water cycle to increase rainfall to its optimum, as a result of a hydrated productive landscape. Frequent attendance to soil condition, particularly in regard to maximising organic matter and minimising bare ground, is necessary to optimise landscape hydration and thereby maximise the small water cycle.
I am now reaching two–thirds of the way through my “run”. I took on too much; metaphorically, although at this point perhaps literally too. I acted as if I was 35 and bullet proof. I became stressed, my blood pressure rose, and I suffered injuries. First my ankle and then my back, too much sitting. It was easy to blame COVID lockdowns, or business. But it was me, ignoring the signs and my pig–headedness.
We clear the landscape of vegetation and the soil loses organic matter.
The land spirals into states of lower organic matter and more bare ground from stress and fatigue induced by poor land management. The bare ground of mineral dominant topsoil loses hydration. Rain is less, less frequent and less able to infiltrate. Fires, floods and droughts are more common. The signs are all there. The land is fatigued. Like me, nearing depletion.
I turn towards home. To finish, there is a hill. There are also stairs. Both I am told are necessary to make my floppy bum firm, which my physio tells me reduces my sore back problems. I don’t run up the hill going out because I wouldn’t make it. I pause at the base of the hill and force myself up. I used to sprint hills – now I run at the speed of one and half plod.
As I run, my mind runs too, and I worry. I ruminate on my fatigue and the fatigue of our land.
People vary, soils vary, maintenance strategies vary, but to maintain the fitness I need to get to my grandchildren’s weddings or to work and cultivate a prosperous landscape, frequent work on system health is needed.
And yet, there is little to protect soil health and build its resilience.
I make it home, having found my beat for another day and the heart to go on.
Flora, fauna, water, air, noise and even visual amenity are protected in law. However, soil is largely forgotten in legislation.
There is no law for the protection of soil health and resilience at a national and international level. Destroying soil causes desertification, war and death of millions, but destroying soil is not a crime against humanity, as there is no law or treaty for soil security.
Today is World Soil Day. I’ve dedicated my professional life to soil and so each year on this day I find pause to celebrate. And this year I am particularly heartened, a movement is underway! A movement to secure our soils and restore our land. We all have a part to play – become an advocate – sign the petition – protect our soils.