Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338
February 05, 2004
U of G prof organizer, speaker at prestigious science gathering
Scholars from around the world – led by a University of Guelph professor – will discuss the contributions of soil to modern civilization at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Seattle.
U of G geochemist Ward Chesworth organized the symposium "From the Ground Up: The Importance of Soil in Sustaining Civilization,” which will take place Feb. 13 from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. during the AAAS gathering. The world's largest and most prestigious general scientific society is meeting Feb. 12 to 16 at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center.
“Agriculture provides the foundation for civilization on Earth,” said Chesworth, a U of G faculty member for 35 years and currently emeritus professor in the Department of Land Resource Science. “All of our success in creating the great cultural artifacts of civilization comes about because of the soil and the surplus of food that the farmer derives from it.”
The symposium will include discussions on historical and modern agriculture, current farming practices, philosophical implications of science, and the confrontation between economy and ecology.
In addition to moderating the symposium, Chesworth will discuss "The Evolution of Soil," examining how soil is formed, its contributions to modern society, and the effects of human activity. “With the coming of agriculture some 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, we began to manipulate the soil to produce crops and our species assumed a dominant role in the evolution of soil,” he said. Today, more than 97 per cent of the world's food comes from the land.
“Humans have commandeered most of the agriculturally amenable soils of the world's grasslands, temperate forests and wetlands,” Chesworth said. "The farmer's footprint has produced an agricultural scar on the planet that affects about 1.5 billion hectares – one-third of all suitable soils.” He added that some ecologists believe that the clash between human economy and biosphere has reached a critical state. "They believe that civilization itself is under threat.”
That is sure to be a topic of discussion at the symposium, which also features speakers Jared Diamond, University of California, Los Angeles: “The Historical Context”; David Pimentel, Cornell University: “Modern Agriculture: Its Strengths and Weaknesses”; William Rees, University of British Columbia: “The Farmer's Growing Footprint,”; Virginia Abernethy, Vanderbilt University: “Energy From Fossil Fuels, Fertility Rats and Population Trends,”; and David Lavigne, International Fund for Animal Welfare: “Can Science Be Effectively Incorporated Into Policy?”
Symposium participants will also discuss ways to create sustainable agricultural systems, something that modern agriculturalists believe is crucial. "Agriculture is a naturally limited activity,” Chesworth said. “It can grow only at the expense of the biosphere. We need to limit our ecological footprint and marshal all our ingenuity to create a truly sustainable agriculture. Unless we do, we will not achieve a truly sustainable civilization."