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In his latest book L’Origine du monde, une Histoire naturelle du sol à l’intention de ceux qui le piétinent (Actes Sud), Marc-André Selosse, professor at the Muséum d’histoire naturelle (Paris) and member of the WLSF board, reminds us of the fundamental role of soil in the balance of life.
Soil is still too often viewed in a negative light, particularly because it is a space teeming with small, perfectly opaque elements, unlike water or air. These characteristics make it difficult to observe from the surface and give rise to all sorts of fantasies. Worse still, the ground is reputed to be dirty. Culturally, it is perceived as a dangerous and repulsive abyss. Yet, as Marc-André Selosse reminds us in his latest book, the soil is the cathedral of life. It can even be considered as the origin of the world, insofar as it carries it, nourishes it and protects it. It is also densely inhabited: more than 25% of known and described species are found there. And when we know that, as things stand, only 1 to 2% of the species present in the soil have been identified, we can imagine what a powerful and astonishing construction of the living world it is.
A threatened space
In L’Origine du monde, subtitled Une Histoire naturelle du sol à l’intention de ceux qui le piétinent, Marc-André Selosse insists on the fact that this biodiversity is not only essential to the functioning of terrestrial ecosystems, but also to the fertility of the oceans, the regulation of watercourses and the climate: without soils, the average temperature on Earth would be around -50°C! The professor from the Natural History Museum also reminds us that the soil has become a space threatened by human activity. Because of its lack of knowledge and the fears it engenders, humans have been ravaging it for thousands of years. This phenomenon accelerated dramatically and terribly from the 19th century onwards, with the industrial revolution. Today, mechanised agriculture, rampant urbanisation, erosion, pollution and salinisation are all mortal dangers that directly threaten the balance of the soil, and therefore life on the blue planet.
The colossal pagination of this book (480 pages) should not frighten the intrigued reader. Marc-André Selosse has conceived it as a popular science book accessible to all. An underground journey through which he wishes above all to help his contemporaries discover a fascinating world that urgently needs to be protected. You will discover that the smell of wet earth after rain is linked to petrichor, an oil produced by certain plants and absorbed by the soil. Or that without the soil, we would certainly not eat as much fish… The author also draws up a list of gestures and actions that everyone can take on a daily basis to actively participate in soil preservation. The book is accompanied by Arnaud Rafaelian’s sometimes cheeky illustrations, which definitely break the often austere character of this type of publication.