How to Improve Soil
That Feed Us
by Anna Bond, 1997
Our planet's topsoils are tired, hungry and depleted. We've overworked them, poisoned them with synthetic chemicals, and stripped them of their green robe. In turn, we find ourselves tired, depleted and malnourished, despite being overfed. Degenerative disease and crime are at an all time high. Growing numbers of people and children depend on addicting drugs—recreational and prescription—to survive life. Violence has become routine in families, neighborhoods and continents.
How do we get to the roots of such pervasive disharmony? Over eighty years ago, the eminent Nobel Prize winning scientist Dr. Alexis Carrel cut to the heart of the matter: diseases are created chiefly when we destroy the harmony reigning among mineral substances present in infinitesimal amounts in air, water, food, and—most crucially—soil.
Today, scientists report that our topsoils contain less than sixteen of the sixty plus minerals needed to create vibrant plant—and hence animal and human—life. This demineralization is partially caused by over a century of petrochemical agriculture, but also by another less well known factor: the earth has reached the end of the current demineralization cycle.
Over thirty years ago, John Hamaker (1914-1994), engineer, farmer, ecologist and true polymath, did what is undoubtedly some of the most significant original thinking of the century. As a farmer then in his 50's, John was critically aware of chaotic weather, temperature extremes; greater incidence of storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, droughts, and exponentially rising curve of atmospheric CO2 in recent years.
He puzzled over the paradoxes of the Greenhouse Effect and the clear scientific evidence Earth has gone through at least thirty 100,000-year cycles of glaciation. Major ice ages have occurred with great regularity, each cycle encompassing 90,000 years of glaciation followed by 10,000—plus or minus 2000—years of warm, interglacial periods. And climatologists confirm, we are presently 10,800 years into the current interglacial period.
But, if we're due for an ice age, why were we experiencing distinct warming in some parts of the world? By the 70's scientists had grouped in two camps: warming theorists, who gave us a hundreds years to prepare for global warming with its impending rise of Earth's oceans on one side, and the cooling theorists, who focus more on the three-million-year record of recurring ice ages and the increasing mass of the polar ice caps. Not wanting to curtail global deforestation and the burning of fossils fuels, the U.S. government threw its support behind the warming theorists, so that by the late 1970's, those whose research tended to support the Cooling received no funding.
Drawing from advanced research in many disciplines botany, nutrition, soil microbiology, glacial geology, forestry, paleoclimatology, and more, John focused his highly-gifted and disciplined mind to understand the principles of nature operating on Earth, and specifically to grasp the mechanism behind glaciation. "Why," he asked himself, "if carbon dioxide is to trees as oxygen is to us, arent our trees in superb health?" Research showed that toward the end of the previous two interglacial periods, deciduous trees had become as diseased as our elms, chestnuts and maples are today.
Studies also showed that during ice ages, the tropics were hotter and dryer than usual—the very direction our climate is now moving in. And, amazingly, just before the onset of the previous ice ages, atmospheric CO2 levels rose exponentially, again paralleling today's global trend.
What could have caused such a rise in atmospheric CO2 100,000 years ago? We weren't burning fossil fuels back then.
John reasoned that if the trees' health was somehow compromised, they'd be less able to perform their function of removing CO2 from the atmosphere. He looked at which trees were first affected by blights or disease near the end of previous interglacial periods. Like today, they were always those with the greatest leaf area. Chestnut trees have been measured at sixty acres of leaf area per tree; elms at about forty! Of course, trees with the large leaf area require more minerally abundant soils to sustain their massive feeding.
The puzzle pieces were fitting together perfectly. Topsoils become demineralized over the course of a 10,000 year warm interglacial period. Stressed and weakened from demineralized soils, trees are no longer able to remove excess CO2 from the air, causing a build-up of what we call "greenhouse gases."
Hamaker saw what no one else seemed to have seen: that the greenhouse effect is not equal over the globe, but occurs differentially—primarily in the tropics, where the sun's rays are most intense. In the past few decades we are already seeing the tropics heating up and drying out, as in the extreme drought and famine in Africa.
As greenhouse gases heat up, they cause tropical ocean water to evaporate, forming moisture-laden clouds. Then, because of the temperature and pressure differential between northern temperate and equatorial regions, warm tropical air rises more quickly, leaving a vacuum that sucks down cold, heavy, northern polar air, creating high winds, hurricanes and tornadoes in the process. (Statistics show a 900% increase in tornadoes, for instance, between 1920 and 1986.)
In the mid-latitudes, these tropical clouds precipitate out as rainfall, resulting in increased flooding. In the higher latitudes and polar regions, their moisture falls as ice and snow, adding mass and weight to the polar ice caps. By the way, that cloud mass can now be seen from satellites covering Canada and Russia during the month of August, often preventing those countries from maturing their grain crops.
Hamaker was not alone in suggesting that some source of increased energy would be required to transport poleward the huge amounts of moisture that make up glaciers. Many climatologists now agree. But until John grasped of the complementary/antagonistic nature of the forces that characterize glaciation, no one could figure out where such an enormous amount of energy would come from. Understanding the cosmic Law of Polarity—that at the extremes, opposites create each other—John comprehended that the greenhouse effect of the tropics is the ice age of the northern regions.
Increased weight on polar icecaps causes shifts and slips in Earth's tectonic plates, triggering major earthquakes and volcanic eruptions that spew CO2 and sulfuric acid into the atmosphere. Volcanic eruptions spark forest fires, which destroy more trees and release more CO2 into the air. Rather quickly, the heating/cooling cycle gathers irreversible momentum.
Eventually—and based on Greenland ice core studies and pollen counts in northern France that reveal the succession of trees through the last glacial cycle within less than 100 years from the decline in forest health—the growing weight of the polar sheets triggers the onset of glaciation. To the scientists examining this transition to glacial conditions, the current worldwide decline of forests already signals the beginning of that relatively short cyclical shift in vegetation.
As the glaciers inch their way over thousands of square miles of Earth's crust, they slowly grind the mountains and rocks in their path into a powder-fine mineral dust which is carried by 200 mph winds and deposited over the surface of the Earth in some places as deep as 80 feet! Moving at only a few feet per year, glaciers take some 90,000 years to remineralize the Earth's soils. Like a giant bulldozer pulverizing rocks, glaciers create new parent material for soil formation—deep black humus, rich in colloidal minerals, reminiscent of our midwest prairie before the demise of the buffalo.
Vegetation responds lushly to the presence of life-giving minerals in the glacial rock dust, thus initiating another 10,000 year period of warmth and fertility. Fossil evidence indicates that early interglacial vegetation is unbelievably healthy, with oak trees, for example, having their first branches at 75 feet.
In the year 900, 90% of Earth's land was still covered with forests. By 1900, only 20% still had forest. That the forests—and especially the rainforests—are the lungs of the earth has become blatantly clear to us. Clearcutting as we continue to do, we suffocate the Earth and ourselves. But an even more significant threat to the forests than mindless logging and clearcutting is soil demineralization.
As early as 1929, forest ecologists recognized that—as in disease among humans—insects, parasites and blights target already weakened, diseased (read "demineralized") trees. The Harvard Forest Bulletin (1947) reported trees growing on calcium-depleted soils were susceptible to gypsy moth attack; those growing on calcium-rich soils were highly resistant.
The degree to which we all—micro-organisms, plants, animals, humans—suffer from soil demineralization is gradually, but forcefully, hitting home. As we learn how empty our Green Revolution harvest is, how direct and immediate our demineralized diets affect not only our bodies but also our ability to think and act on our intent, how ignorantly and mindlessly we're polluting environments from rainforests to oceans, waterways to atmosphere, we see how fast our window of opportunity to do something about the weather is closing.
In 1982, Hamaker published a profound synthesis of insight and principle in his classic book, The Survival of Civilization. John's far-ranging perspective on the interconnectedness of planetary ecology, the health of individuals, and the rise and fall of civilizations, coupled with his feisty compassion for humans, makes Survival a true-life, high-suspense, ecological thriller. Only, in this story, the end will be written by us, the readers.
Being the resourceful humanist that he was, Hamaker found a possible solution that could slant the story toward survival rather than destruction—toward Eden rather than another ice age. Today Survival is regarded by a growing movement worldwide as a blueprint for restoring ecological balance.
Briefly, that blueprint calls for a moratorium on the burning of fossil fuels (which, John estimates, have hastened the onset of the next ice by about 500 years), a ban on the clearcutting of forests, global planting of fast-growing hardwood trees and—most important and innovative—worldwide remineralization of forests, farms, orchards, and gardens with gravel and rock dust, just the way the glaciers do it.
Adding finely ground rock dust to soils makes organic agriculture viable by adding up to a hundred elements and trace minerals needed by all life, and especially by soil micro-organisms whose protoplasm is the basis of all living things.
Nearly forty years ago, a large land-owner in Europe discovered by accident the regenerative power of rock dust when developers blasted rock near his property, showering fine dust onto his already diseased trees. Horrified, he raced to the site accusing the workmen of giving the final blow to his forest. But what could they do? The deed was done.
The next morning, he saw to his great amazement that those trees which has been most heavily covered with the rock dust had more vibrant green leaves—were in fact healthier.
Such was the beginning of a large and continuing remineralization effort in the Black Forest and elsewhere in Europe. In Germany, remineralization has become highly sophisticated, with labs analyzing a given garden soil sample, then supplying a mixture of the appropriate metamorphic rock dust types to bring that soil back into vital balance. Yes, remineralization is reversing the Waldsterben ("forest death") plaguing the Black Forest, and could do the same here in North America with our maples dying of acid rain and acid soils.
Remineralization does indeed create super trees out of dying ones, dynamic garden soils teaming with micro-organisms and earthworms, and fruit and nuts trees so healthy they don't attract disease or insects. Two years after working rockdust into our garden, we noticed crowns on our carrots grew twice the diameter they had previous years, their orange was a saturated full orange, and their sweetness reminiscent of my childhood carrots fifty years ago. The deep nourishment felt after eating one of those carrots was subtly, but undeniably present.
To do the work of the glaciers feels like holy earth-honoring work, and we want always to do it but, sadly, too many millions of acres of forests are already gone, razed or charred, and more stand in line on the loggers tally.
If Hamaker is right—and it certainly appears he is—the opportunity to save the planet from the next ice age by planting trees has slipped us by. Daryl Kohlman, Founder and President of Cell-Tech, producer of Super BlueGreen Algae, sees the United States as the only country with the power and the influence to lead the world into a massive environmental and economic cleanup. With the help of the rock dust and algae fertilizers we can succeed in doing the work of the glaciers remineralizing our gardens, farmlands and forests.
"The first order of business is to get the people of this country healthy.