Arable land per capita is decreasing in both developed and developing countries. In the Unites States, for example, it declines 1% every year. In India – where it wasn’t high to begin with – it is declining 1.5% a year. The UN food and agricultural organisation reports that 25 million acres are completely lost due to salination and erosion every year, and double that will become substantially degraded. Less land leads to more dependence on chemicals, which leads to more land degradation.
At these rates, 90% of the planet’s soils will be degraded by 2050.
The obsession with global warming seems to have eclipsed more serious issues. Soil pollution is more than a nuisance – it is an existential threat. Land remediation services can restore most brownfield sites and save some of our failing soils.
In agriculture one of the biggest problems is salinity. This is a direct consequence of herbicides, pesticides and chemical fertilisers. Acidity in the soil destroys the insects and micro-organisms that might otherwise help restore it.
Consequently, unmanaged land does not restore to nature. Both agricultural and post-industrial land turns to scrub. Add waste and pollution into the equation and the land is unattractive to potential investors. After the industrial closures of the 1980s large swathes of the country became wasteland. While many have since been cosmetically grassed over, beneath the surface hazards remain.
If developers move in prematurely, excavations help surface pollutants trickle into deeper strata, from where they can enter our water courses.
Even left alone, untreated land poses hazards. Airborne dust and gases cause fatal illnesses far from their point of origin. For example, volatile organics like benzene cause leukaemia, PCBs cause liver cancer, grit causes lung fibrosis, and heavy metals impair child development.
A wide range of land remediation services are now available. Specialists need the expertise to conduct scientific surveys, a workforce licensed to work safely, and a means to dispose of hazardous materials.
Remediating brown field sites and neglected farmland is often easier and cheaper than finding increasingly scarce green fields.
In the longer term it makes even more sense: repairing land resources is crucial for our own and our children’s future. As land gets scarcer it rises in value, so remediation is a good investment in every sense.