Robert Traidl is the Alpine Climate Board’s Caretaker for Soil. This month he tells us where his fascination for Alpine soils comes from and why soils are so important for the climate. “As a passionate geographer who likes to travel back in time with the help of original literature, one cannot help but read Alexander von Humboldt. Humboldt concludes the preface to the first edition of his book “Views of Nature” (1808) with a remarkable poem:
In the mountains is freedom! The breath of the tomb
Cannot climb up to the purest air’s home,
The world is perfect anywhere,
If Humanity’s anguish has not entered there.
On the one hand, it testifies to a strong bond with the mountains and nature, but also to an image of humans endangering nature through their actions – whereby Humboldt understood nature as an interconnected ecosystem in the modern sense. A part of this large ecosystem that has been largely overlooked until today are soils, which I have been focusing on intensively since my student days.Soils fulfil a variety of functions as a habitat for animals, plants and us humans – for this reason alone they require protection. But soils also regulate the climate-relevant water and carbon dioxide balances, which many people are not aware of. In the Alpine region, soils are also extremely sensitive due to their distinct dynamics. This fact was in the spotlight in 2018 when Alpine rock humus soil was named “Soil of the Year” in Germany.
Fortunately, Humboldt was not quite right, because although humans have now penetrated the remotest corners of the earth, there are still many magical places, including in the Alps. They must be preserved. My experience from all the years in the mountains and the dialogues with the people who live there has taught me: anyone who loves their homeland, nature and the people in it, wants to, and will, protect it. In this dialogue I see a great opportunity for the future.”