Great catastrophes come from human’s unwillingness to comply with the laws of nature, from his reluctance to understand that hunger cannot be quenched by ravaging the earth.
Jean Dorst, French zoologist.
Let’s continue the conversation about whether agriculture can harm wildlife started in my previous column.
Looking ahead, we will answer this question. It may avoid harm, but only by reducing the area of arable land and increasing its efficiency; and if people refuse barbaric plowing in the steppe zone.
However, so far, the last European steppes are rapidly approaching the state of deserts due to the activity of length.
I’m grateful to Oleksiy Burkovsky and Oleksiy Vasyliuk for the helpful information.
On the example of the steppes of Eastern Europe, we can trace typical global environmental problems.
The first and foremost problem is the shortage of wildlife as it is.
The main destroyer of the natural environment in the world is agriculture. After all, it takes away the most essential thing in nature – living space, I mean, land. Half of the primary landscapes destroyed by humans are involved in agriculture.
Of course, the accusations against the growing grain may sound strange to the people of the Gulf. After all, their situation is precisely the opposite: Arab countries are forced to export agricultural products because it’s challenging to grow food in the desert. Arabs need water for irrigation, and it is in short supply.
However, the paradoxical logic of human development has developed so that in the Gulf countries, the ecosystems are destroyed by rapid urbanization and industrialization. And in water-rich temperate climates, especially in Eastern Europe, the cause of biodiversity loss is, in fact, food production (also extensive and unbalanced), stimulated by stable water inflows. The quality of this water will soon be unsatisfactory, but this is a question for a separate column or book.
It turns out that no matter what region humanity and its industrial civilization stumble into: everywhere, it will find a unique way to destroy wildlife.
However, the problem is not only in the number but also in the quality of the destroyed natural areas. After all, agricultural land today is located where once the most productive ecosystems like steppes, forests, and swamps were. Today, former ecosystems simply turned into cultivated land. Every extra hectare involved in agriculture is an additional critical mass of the already violated boundaries of the natural environment.
A meager share of steppes remained in the steppe zone.
Man-made arable land and nature-created steppe grass turf are two completely different worlds. They have different biodiversity, different water, and temperature regimes.
Agriculture has transformed the natural factory of climate and soil formation into industrial shops to produce agricultural products. This is the only area of production where toxic substances, i.e., pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides, are used in such large amounts. Humans throw out poison for every square centimeter of the surface every year and several times a year. Their goal is to eradicate any competing species of plants and animals that we call “pests” and “chickweeds.” Therefore, it is not surprising that after total poisoning, it is difficult to find representatives of natural flora and fauna in plantations for several months after total poisoning.
Moreover, since machines regularly operate in the fields, those species that do not threaten crops usually cannot fully exist in these areas either. They die not from direct murder (though from it too), but because humankind has left them no room for life.
Steppe flora, living and dead, continuously forms and maintains the environment of our existence. At the same time, arable land remains bare for an extended period of the year. This leads to colossal, fundamental changes in the environment.
Destruction of permanent vegetation and turf deprives the land of any protection from external environmental factors. The result is flushing with water and blowing the upper, most fertile layer of chernozem with the wind. This process is called soil erosion. It is especially active on the slopes. Such lands cannot be cultivated at all, otherwise, chernozem simply disappears on them and the parent rocks – loams and clays – come to the surface.
Due to erosion, vast areas of steppe soils in Europe resemble anything in color, but not chernozem. Agriculture leads to the accelerated decomposition of humus. At the same time, there is a shortage of organic matter for its formation. After all, they are taken out of the field with the harvest.
Destruction of grass and turf means the disappearance of the natural screen, which protects the top layer of soil from sunlight and drying. Thus, there is a closed chain of negative causes and effects.
That is, the destruction of natural vegetation means a reduction in the content of humus in the soil. In turn, the lack of humus leads to the inability of the soil to retain adequate water. And lack of water means the failure of plants to form sufficient biomass. And the accumulation of humus depends on it.
For the steppe zone with its arid climate, the loss of the ability of the soil to regulate the water regime is the first step to disaster; actually, to the gradual desertification.
Desertification does not necessarily mean sand dunes. First of all, it is the loss of full vegetation and lack of moisture. Unfortunately, this process happens now in the steppe zone of Eastern Europe. Today, looking from a bird’s eye view of the landscapes of the former steppe, we actually see a man-made desert. Namely, a mosaic of cultivated fields to the very horizon, in the middle of which, like oases, small steppe slopes, beams, and forest belts are interspersed.
Chernozems became a treasure and, at the same time, a curse for the post-Soviet countries. After all, the temptation to plow as much fertile land as possible has led to catastrophic consequences for the steppe’s nature and the soil itself.
Barbaric, almost total plowing will sooner or later make the steppe zone simply unsuitable for agriculture. Here it is, the main environmental problem of water-rich regions.
Steppes must be preserved wherever possible so that natural ecosystems do not emit carbon. Do you agree? Let’s get to know more, reading our author’s column.