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The topsoil and the soil

Regenesis – Feeding the World Without Devouring the Planet
Forfatter: George Monbiot
Forlag: Allen Lane, (Storbritannia)


With a renewed will to go deeper, Monbiot in this new book digs down to the roots, the very foundation of our modern way of life. He finds that this foundation, that the earth itself is about to fail. Or better, it is we who have failed the earth. The soil we are talking about here is specifically the soil under our feet, the topsoil and the soil that is used to grow what we eat, but also the land and the landscape, everything that agriculture uses to produce food.

From fine-tuned gardener observations in the apple orchard and detective work to find out why his kayak rivers have become full of green slime, the author moves to global issues that are built into tight and convincing arguments. The conclusion is that we need a new and all-encompassing one agriculturesrevolution. Monbiot is polemical and, as usual, allows himself some ladle kicks and sharp formulations along the way. On the other hand, he has done an impressive job of underpinning almost every single paragraph with references to scientific publications, so that the reader can follow him in the seams – and also delve further into the matter.

Modern agriculture

The global community is trembling these days over a grain crisis, a word that seems out of date. Grain crisisn brings to mind the Irish potato famine and the blight of the Middle Ages. Despite – or precisely because of – the globalized food trade, we are far from having the food security that a modern world expects. The entire world's food system is a colossus on clay feet, points out Monbiot. The threat of collapse is not just about us. The pressure from agriculture, which is itself under economic pressure, contributes enormously to the loss of biodiversity. This is something that could prove to be at least as fatal and even more irreversible than global warming.

Intensive operation with monocultures, pesticides, artificial fertilizers and poisons against weeds and insects destroys the integrity of the soil.

Agriculture uses up the landscape. The area of ​​cultivated land in the world is constantly increasing, while the world's land area is constant. In Monbiot's England, there is vanishingly little space left for meadows with wildflowers and insects, not to mention forests. Agriculture uses up the land. Modern agriculture leads to a gradual, inexorable erosion of the soil's fertile layers. In addition to this comes intensive operation with monocultures, pesticides, artificial fertilizers and poisons against weeds and insects that destroy the integrity of the soil.


Intensive operation and constant plowing break up the soil's fine connections and living structures. If we see the soil as a meshwork of roots, fungi and organisms as a set of nodes and connections, we can also understand the earth from complexity theory. According to Monbiot, it applies to all complex systems that when the nodes behave in the same way and are also strongly connected, it is likely that the system is fragile. When soils are cultivated in one way and pushed to maximum productivity, complexity is typically simplified, with the result that flexibility is lost and resilience is reduced.

The economic system is exactly as we saw below the banking crisis in 2008. All the banks used similar strategies to limit the risk, so they all fell at the same time. Monopolies and monocultures together have created a food system that threatens us with collapse. Diversification is also a prerequisite for securing investments in nature, in the world foodsystem and in agriculture. When Russia withheld grain this summer as part of its Ukraine-related geopolitics, India offered to plug the gap in the market: We have enough grain! A couple of weeks later, the crops were lost due to drought – due to global warming. Everything was vulnerable monocultures, everything was lost in one fell swoop.

Enough for everyone? 

Until 2014, the number of chronically hungry people in the world decreased, Monbiot points out – and the UN's goal of ending hunger in the world by 2030 seemed within reach. Since that time, the number of chronically hungry has increased by over 60 million, not because resources are less, but because production is more unstable, and because the distribution of resources is uneven. For example, more and more agriculture is devoted to the production of biofuel rather than food. Meat production is also taking up more and more of the arable land, not least because more and more rainforest is being cut down to grow soy for food.

The opposite of industrial meat production, monocultures and grain monopolies is of course organic farming. There is no miracle solution, Monbiot points out, because apparent miracles of this type require hard work, careful observations and precise calculations. We learn a lot about what that entails in the in-depth description of the tenacious farmer Tollhurst and his highly productive and knowledge-intensive operation on barren land without artificial or animal manure. The solutions are neither obvious nor easy to find – nor are they easy to put into practice, but through the visit to Tollhurst's highly productive farm we see what is possible. By eating and cultivating varied and wise, we can avoid gradually depleting the soil, as almost all agriculture in the history of the world has done so far. And we can stimulate biological diversity rather than reduce it.

George Monbiot

Large-scale decolonization of nature

As Oliver Morton explored in his popular science book on photosynthesis, Eating The Sun (2009), we can see the whole planet as an enormous metabolism, a metabolism where energy from Saltone is consumed and recycled by a variety of organisms. Eating plants rather than eating protein from animals (which have eaten plants) is a huge improvement in nutrient absorption.

We can also "eat the sun" even more directly, explains Monbiot. The Finnish company Solar Food produces a protein they call solein, from air and sunshine in the form of solar power. Solein, which was originally developed by NASA for astronaut food, is produced biochemically in tanks. According to Monbiot, this protein food also tastes excellent. Solein and similar products may well prove to be an important partial solution to the world's hunger problem and provide food security in vulnerable regions. With less need for land for fodder and grazing, we can also give more of the landscape back to forests and wild animals. The new agricultural revolution Monbiot proposes is not just rewilding, it is a large-scale decolonization of nature.

Organic farming and even more solein production are practical examples of that Oxana , mefejeva in his new book calls "the politics of the sun": a generous participation in the cosmic economy and the planetary metabolism – where we give and create more than we take and consume.

Anders Dunk
Anders Dunker
Philosopher. Regular literary critic in Ny Tid. Translator.

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