Story Time! Today I will present you some little tales from my journey of becoming an Environmental Manager. I’m not a scientist, I’m not an engineer, I’m a little of everything and that’s why I love it so much. We are the ones to gather people together and discuss different approaches. That is also kind of the excuse for when we are failing at maths. Hopefully, someone will do those calculations for us… It’s important to have a general overview. We are getting little portions of everything. Just enough to keep us excited and let us stick our noses into our books.
Last Friday, we went on an excursion for our module Basic Soil Science, which is one of my absolute favourites. I don’t know what it is about the dirt beneath our feet that fascinates me that much. Maybe because it is so vital to our existence. Without good soil we couldn’t sustain our lives. Or maybe it is just because I grew up doing some gardening work. I remember my dad digging holes in our garden to plant trees or plants or breaking up the soil. It is fascinating how it takes such a long time to build a soil. Up to 200 years to form 1 cm! Yet, nowadays we are ruining our grounds with chemical inputs and fertilisers so that the ground we need to feed ourselves is decreasing rapidly.
We drove to the forest north of Cottbus, there is an end moraine with the hills that the glaciers brought with them. It was oddly silent there. This silence is something we rarely experience anymore in our fast moving cities. There is always a car, a plane, a train, construction work… In this forest, though, it was silent. And extremely cold. Who wanted to go to Sweden for her semester abroad? In winter? Yeah, me. Freaking out over frosty temperatures in Germany…
To keep us warm we started digging a hole in the forest ground. That was some exercise! All the tree roots through the whole profile… We were the only completely female group. They expected us to not manage to dig a pit in the ground. Well, we were the first ones to finish! Some first class girl power here! Our professor came and examined what we had done, the hole was one metre deep just as we should do it. Then he said: “I’m terribly sorry ladies, you have to go on. There is another layer beneath.” So we kept on digging. And who would have known? Another layer of darker soil became visible. We even build a step to be able to get out of the pit again. That was a nice deep hole in a lonely, we made there.
Then it was time to examine the soil profile. At the top, there is always a layer of organic material, moss and humus and needles and other leaf litter. Underneath that, the first horizon starts, the Ah horizon. It is made out of humus and normally very dark soil. Beneath that one is the B horizon. In addition, it gets a little w if it is weathered. Weathering is a soil transformation process, in our case the iron in our soil was transformed and it got a yellowish colour. Right under that one is the C horizon, which was also a little weathered. Then the interesting part began. There was another layer where there should be none. How to explain that?
In medieval times, the forest that surrounded us had been cut and the trees dragged into the valley we were standing in. That damaged the top layer of the soil with all its organic material. It became fossilised, therefore it is called “II (for second layer) fAh”. Because we had a lot of sand there, it was washed away by heavy rainfall and got into the valley where we were standing. It covered the top layer, the organic matter. A new layer was formed. A new A, B and C horizon. My friend Hannah took this amazing picture to illustrate that:
There was also a lot of little charcoal pieces in our soil sample. That could be due to forest fire or a just a campfire workers in the woods made. Forever to be seen in the soil beneath our feet.
It was an adventure, it was exciting. We visited history by digging into the ground, just 1.40 m deep. That’s not that much! We dug ourselves to medieval times! Only in rethinking the day I am grasping how amazing that is. We can look into our past by making a hole in the ground. A very beautiful hole, my father said, he always wanted to build one like that.
Looking back into our history has always excited me. I grew up with books about history and tv documentaries on the past centuries. One of the first ones I looked at was a book about the ancient Egypt, which is my mother’s but I would always study all the photographs and become excited. I read novels about history borrowed from my grandparents. I had great history teachers! I would talk to my granny about her life. We always look at the old photo albums. I just love to hear stories.
One of the heroes of my mum is Heinrich Schliemann, who made the first excavations to try and find the ancient Troja. He did indeed find it! At least the Bronze Age one. Now we know there have been many more. That’s also fascinating to me. They build a city and after they left or it burned down or something else happened, there was always a new one on the exact same spot!
Schliemann was obsessed with his dream and did everything he could to get where he wanted to be. Educated himself, learned languages. He embodies what history means to my mum and through her stories also to me. I love to go to libraries and do research. I love to read biographies at the moment, to learn about the lives of people who are so very different from me. Who share their experiences and thereby teach what life can be about. That your path is not always straight and that you should let yourself be guided by interest, curiosity and passion. Today I started Barack Obama’s “Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance”. I really didn’t want to put it down but I have to write this text! 😉 It’s such a great book from by such a great man.
Concerning the stories we are told by our families: I asked them when they first became aware of climate change. I mean our generation basically grew up with it. In school we were always taught about it, the science behind it was all around us. I painfully became aware of how difficult and desperate the situation was in a geography, when we were talking about the Doha conference in 2012. The Kyoto protocol was extended but Canada, Russia, Japan and New Zealand left this Kyoto II contract. We realised that it is difficult to reach agreements on an international level. In our course we learned about renewable energies and sustainable city design, all skills that we thought we wouldn’t need after school. Who would have known that I would exactly use that, just a few years later?
My family told me varying points when they became aware of global warming. It was as early as the whole ozone hole discussion came up or when there were increasingly damaging hurricanes and flooding in the Indian ocean.
The problem with our ozone layer began in the last 70s. There were several international agreements like the Montreal Protocol and the Vienna Convention which did a fair job. Scientific evidence on what causes the ozone layer to deplete was not that established at the time. 2012 was the first year in which we could observe that the ozone hole got smaller again. To me it seems like that was nearly the only significant positive news concerning the environment we got until this point. Sure, we have had a lot of international agreements. I’m flipping through a whole law book at the moment trying desperately to find that one article. It feels like a lot of talking without doing anything, though. Maybe I’m being unfair to the hard working people behind these agreements. Certainly they will have an impact someday. But until we are not able to implement them, nothing is going to change. International environmental law is a difficult topic and we will have to work on that for decades to get a decent outcome. Hopefully stopping global warming. This vision, however, seems a little to optimistic to me. Unfortunately.
As students, we live in a helpful environment. We are a bunch of people eager to change things. We will gather together as a study course and will watch documentaries about food waste. Any environmental challenge. You name it. Forty people raging and crying about all the lost vegetables and other products we throw away. Gasping each time the shocking numbers are revealed. We want to do something about this. Nevertheless, we are also aware of the fact that change takes a long time. Just like soil forming! 1 centimetre in 200 years! Especially with the tireless lobbying of major cooperations who want to secure their own profits. Who only think in short term profit maximisation. It’s a frightening world we are living in and as the gaps between people are widening, it is sometimes hard to imagine a better and united world.
Only those who focus on their vision, will make it come true. My father always tells me that analogy: “If you are driving the car and something emerges ahead, do not look at it. Look to its side because that’s the direction you want to drive to.” People who look at their goal in front of them and not their obstacle, those are the ones who will succeed in the end.
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