Dave Montgomery
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Dave Montgomery

Seattle, Washington, United States

Seattle, Washington, United States
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David Montgomery
Geomorphologist, Environmental Author
Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations

Prof. David Montgomery has discovered that the roughly 3 foot-deep skin of our planet is being slowly eroded away, and we are in danger of suffering the same fate as the fallen empires of Mesopotamia, Ancient Greece, and Rome.

Montgomery is the author of 'Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations,' which makes the case that we are using up Earth's soil. Once bare of protective vegetation and exposed to wind and rain through agriculture, cultivated soils erode bit by bit, faster than they can be naturally replenished. The erosion is slow enough to be ignored in a single lifetime but fast enough over centuries to limit the lifespan of civilizations. In this engaging lecture, Montgomery traces the role of soil use and abuse in the history of societies, from Mesopotamia to European colonialism and the American push westward. He explores how soil has shaped us and we have shaped soil.

Soil erosion should be seen as a threat to our planet as serious as climate change, contends Montgomery. Civilizations don't disappear overnight. They don't choose to fail. More often they falter and then decline as their soil disappears over generations. Although historians are prone to credit the end of civilizations to discrete events like climate changes, wars, or natural disasters, the effects of soil erosion on ancient societies were profound. Happily, the recent rise of organic and no-till farming brings hope for a new agricultural revolution that might help us avoid the fate of previous civilizations.

David R. Montgomery is a professor of Earth and Space Sciences at the University of Washington, studying geomorphology, the evolution of landscapes. In 2008 he received a 2008 MacArthur 'genius' award. He has received two Washington State Book awards, one for Lecture photo 'King of Fish: The Thousand-Year Run of Salmon 'in 2004, and for 'Dirt:The Erosion of Civilizations' in 2008. His research interests range from the co-evolution of the Pacific salmon and the topography of the Pacific Northwest to the environmental history of Puget Sound rivers, interactions among climate, tectonics, and erosion in shaping mountain ranges, giant glacial floods in eastern Tibet and northeastern India, Martian geomorphology, and the role of agricultural soil erosion in the longevity of human societies.

"With a scientist's rigor, a historian's curiosity and an environmentalist's passion, Montgomery is unsettling accepted wisdom about both local and global environmental change by exploring the ecological consequences of a wide range of Earth surface processes."

2008 MacArthur Foundation 'Genius' Award statement

"Thanks for a fabulous lecture! Dave Montgomery is a rare breed of public speaker, who can engage a diverse audience at all levels and from multiple disciplines, with passion and wit."

Candice Goucher
Professor of History
Washington State University Vancouve