Rock Desertification: One More Variant of Humans’ Demand from the Environment

There is an old saying suggesting that the equivalence of a very difficult challenge is like trying to squeeze blood from a rock. Global environmental challenges are trying to find ways to squeeze blood from rocks. I have not seen that happen yet.

I recently wrote a post about Ocean Desertification. At that time, I was sure I would be original in associating the term “desertification” with the ocean. I wasn’t.

Now I have discovered yet another form of desertification that, so far, seems to only exist in China. This is referred to as Rock Desertification! How you can desertify a rock was a bit difficult for me to understand.

The photos at the beginning of this post visibly show the extreme differences between soil and rock desertification.

Excerpts from an article which appeared in Probe International: Rock Desertification is Turning a Huge Swath of Southwest China barren laid out the blueprint for how human behavior has impacted even rocky soil.

“A rock desert is even worse than an ordinary desert. It is a cancer of the earth, often resulting in no grasses growing whatsoever. In 18 years, from 1987 to 2005, 40,000 square kilometers of new rock desert has developed in Southwest China – an area larger than Hainan Island. And the desertified area is expanding quickly, overwhelming a county a year. Cutting trees, burning vegetation on mountains, reclaiming wasteland for farming, and planting food-crops on steep hills has caused soil erosion, with the layer of soil diminishing year after year. Rocks appear; the earth is dying. Is this only because of population pressure?”

“Some farmers plant crops in rock cracks. It is sad to see that a place as small as a washbowl was planted with two corn plants.”

I contrast the this impact with details from a 2010 news clip: Niger Food Crisis: Red Cross Red Crescent Helps from The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) – the world’s largest humanitarian organization on the Food Crisis in Niger.

“Men and women dig the ground with shovels and pick axes in 47-degree Celsius (115-degree Farenheit) heat. The soil is just sand and, because of erosion, there is hardly any vegetation.

Workers dig micro-catchments in the ground and when rains come, water stays in the ditch allowing tree planting and grass seeding. That way, more water can enter the soil, trees and grass will grow and the ground water table will rise. This improves the environment and stops further desertification.”

At least in the heat of West Africa’s Sahel region, the sandy soils lend the prospect to the collection of tiny bits of soil moved by seasonal rainfall. In time, there is sufficient soil to allow for the growth of shrubs and trees. This growth begins to stabilize and condition the soil. When the final soil particles are removed from rock formations, it is gone forever.

And, although there are population issues in sub-Saharan Africa, they pale in comparison to the expanding population and environmental demands in China.

A lesson from these examples might be that while humans have been extremely successful in taking from the land, in many parts of the world, they care much less about land restoration. It is becoming clear that restoration is the most important part of sustainability.


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