Marc-André Selosse: “Our society has believed that they are independent of nature for too long”

INTERVIEW. In his latest book, “The Origin of the World”, biologist Marc-André Selosse launches a highly documented prayer for greater respect for the earth.

Why this book “The Origin of the World” about earth? What was the urgency of such work?

Our society has long been built with the idea that what mattered was their inner dynamics. And that if they were robust enough internally, they would not be subject to the laws of nature. It is wrong. And that leads to societies where it is always said that the basics of education are French, mathematics and history. Again, we have it all wrong. There are plenty of days when we are not dealing with historical issues, or a math or writing problem.

We must put the science of life and the earth back in the education of young people and in the skills of citizens

But every day we eat, and through our consumption we affect our environment for better or worse. One of the reasons is that urban dwellers are very far from the places where food production takes place, where the effects of poor environmental management show up. Finally, our society has for far too long believed that they are independent of nature and capable of doing what they wanted.

So soil tells us about the society we create and in which we live?

Microbes, plants, soil … We need to put more life and soil science back into the education of young people and the skills of citizens, especially elected officials. Earth is one of the battle points. Understanding the soil can solve many problems. This is the path from disaster to solution that I try to take people on.

The earth is an absolutely mind-numbing and exciting living edifice

Basically, what is the earth?

Before it becomes a disaster, the earth is something incredible. This is where you have 50 to 75% of the species living in terrestrial ecosystems, 60 to 90% of the mass of dead or living organic matter in the same ecosystems. Amazing things are happening there. Like the fungi that transport food to bring it back to the roots of plants, bacteria that are able to convert atmospheric nitrogen into usable nitrogen … Soil is an absolutely hallucinatory and fascinating living building.

This building, what is its health condition?

The men took extremely effective actions in the short term, but they degraded everything. The first thing: When you water poorly, you cause salinization of the soil. Every day around the world, 2,000 hectares become unfit for cultivation … Second element: pesticide pollution kills organisms and compromises life. Some figures from the plain Chizé (Ed.note, in Deux-Sèvres): 90% of the soil contaminated by at least one insecticide, one fungicide and one herbicide; at least 40% have more than ten pesticides. We should also talk about heavy metal pollution, including shotgun pellets: 20,000 tonnes every year in Europe’s soil!

You also emphasize the problem of plowing …

Of course, plowing has its benefits. This allows the soil to be aerated and weeded. But plowing leaves the soil bare, which then erodes more easily. After the rain, you have dirt on the road that never happens in the woods … Second, plowing destroys the roots and filaments of microscopic fungi; the worms are eaten by the birds … The earth is no longer capable of creating fertility. Then the spread of bacteria – which can breathe better – destroys the organic matter in the soil. All this is C02, which contributes to the greenhouse effect, whereas if you keep organic matter in the soil, you fight against the greenhouse effect.

What do you recommend?

Irrigation is often necessary due to the presence of crops that require a lot of water. It is therefore also the choice of crops that can make it possible to limit the use of irrigation. In terms of pesticides, INRAE ​​today offers us varieties of plants that are resistant to pathogens. This may allow fewer pesticides to be used. For herbicides, there are organic solutions that are much less dangerous to the soil. The mass is not said: If we invest in research into other practices, we will find leverage.

My book is a natural history book. I will give the keys.

Gradually, the commercial areas intrude on the agricultural areas … Should that also worry you?

We see agricultural land disappearing at a rate of a French department every seven to ten years. That, of course, is worrying. Few people know this: but if every year we only increased the organic matter in all the earth’s soil by 4 per. 1000, we would block the equivalent carbon contained in the CO2 that humans produce for an entire year. The Earth would therefore eliminate the effects of the CO2 emissions that humans produced that year. When we understand how a floor works, we see that we have handles. My book is a natural history book, I would like to give some keys.

Today we are developing a so-called soil conservation agriculture. But this one does not ignore herbicides. What do you think ?

Now we have a perspective on glyphosate. We note that between a plowed field and an unploughed field where glyphosate is applied, the latter contain 25% more microbes and their activity increases. Also for earthworms. So tillage is much more toxic than glyphosate. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give up glyphosate: When you don’t, you get even more life from the earth! Agriculture has not stopped developing, so we must continue to look for alternatives, put more money on the table. You have to move. Eventually, society will no longer have glyphosate. If we invent the agriculture that comes with this development, then our products will be exported to the whole of Europe.

To read: “The Origin of the World”, a natural history of the earth for those who trample it (Actes Sud, 480 p., 24 €.) The author, Marc-André Selosse, is a professor at the Muséum National Institute of Natural History in Paris . He also teaches in Poland and China.

Leave a Comment