The Black Lives Matter movement has brought to the fore the need to decolonize spaces dominated by Eurocentric economics, philosophy, and epistemology. Nowhere is the need for this more urgent, in the era of locust attacks and imminent famine, than in the soil. I’m talking about the dirt beneath our feet that has become the next frontier in the life and death battle between the colonizers and the colonized.
When we talk about land being exploited—drilled, covered with chemical fertilizers and pesticides, dried out and blown away in extreme storms—we are talking about the dirt that we step on every day. The mud we are covering up, inch by inch, with asphalt is the mother earth, which gives us life. Without soil there would be no basis to grow food, no foundation to break down the cells of organic life when they die, no way to recreate the eco-cycle of water.
Yet Western science and technology has created a world in which the only rational way to live is to cover all of the life-giving, breathing skin of the planet with impermeable tar. Anything else is poverty.
As to where this astonishing conclusion came from, we’d probably have to go back to the history of the automobile. Automobiles require surfaces hard enough to withstand weight of thousands of tons of steel, and wear and tear on rubber tires. This then became our benchmark of human urbanity—the ability to cover every centimeter of breathing soil with black tar.
A 8 July, 2020 Guardian article ‘Spreading rock dust on fields could remove vast amounts of CO2 from air,’ by Damien Carrington, the paper’s environment editor, made the strange argument that pulverized basalt, a rock by-product of cement factories, would not only improve soil by adding minerals, but indeed was essential to add to agricultural soil as it absorbs emissions and halts climate change. Anyone dealing with industrial cement in their garden, as I have done in the past decade, knows that nothing will grow once you cover the soil with ingredients of concrete.
The casual way in which they assumed that this was the next logical step—cover last remaining landmass of living topsoil still exposed to the cycle of wind and weather with a by-product of cement—is proof of how easy it is for a big industry to tip the scales of entire ecosystems of nature with one money-hungry, self-enriching fix.
It also shows how human civilization has ended up with so much rubbish passed off as enlightened must-have goods. From plastic sneakers to pesticide-sprayed food, from bitumen highways to sealed concrete skyscrapers, we’ve been schooled to think of these giant follies of human capital and engineering as the acme of cognitive brilliance. People in the US and the UK are now facing the consequences of these foolish actions as hundreds of thousands die in a pandemic that remains under control in the Third World.
But who can tell this boastful, ego-bloated, uber-wealthy civilization that inhabiting a sealed concrete skyscraper, where the viruses of respiratory pandemics circulate through air conditioners, is in fact an appallingly stupid way to live?
Despite all evidence, the WHO will continue to insist that the vaccine is the only answer to the pandemic and keep collecting funds from poor countries to give to Bill Gates’ pet GAVI project. They will not examine the evidence of indoor air flow and how that could be the perfect conduit for viruses to go from one floor to the next, rather like the collapse of the World Trade Towers, which kept falling down in a perfect sequence, floor above crushing floor below. To do so would mean questioning the basis of their most cherished architectural edifice, the sealed concrete tomb of the skyscraper. The skyscraper is the 20th century architectural model of urbane perfection, and the only model for how all buildings, including hospitals, should be built.
Nepali communists, inspired by dizzying spaghetti highways Chinese Communists proudly boast of, have also started to smash up our fragile mountains to build “pakki” roads that last a monsoon before washing away, taking hillsides with them. While consulting for World Bank in 2009, I took part in a discussion in which one official admitted the costs of repairing Nepal’s roads were like pouring water in sand. Any “pakki” blacktop road lasts only a few monsoons. Yet this is the only solution that is heavily funded with loans each year, including $450 million this year from the World Bank. Sustainable ropeways, horse and donkey trails, easily repaired pedestrian paved stone paths, and wire bridges get no funding.
Decolonizing the planet would require removing all bitumen and asphalt that now cover the earth. It would mean bringing down all skyscrapers that are ticking time bombs of epidemic contagion. It would mean treating the earth with respect, and fertilizing the soil with organic manure and hummus, not chemicals that now dry them out to moon dust. It would mean a complete halt to spraying of toxic pesticides that originated in labs as weapons of war. It would mean a global ban on all forms of plastic.
It would mean a return to our roots as creatures of nature, where survival depended on syncretic symbiosis with all of life, not a cyborg embrace and enslavement to digital technology. Decolonizing the planet would require a decolonizing of the mind.