dirt is the new Champagne


Champagne, once the color of tastefully wealthy, has now been replaced by a dirt brown in most car lineups these days. Brown cars are turning up in Volkswagens to Volvos, Toyota and Honda SUVs, even BMWs. It’s not a seventies brown, more cocoa than orange. It seems reserved for the higher end and/or stylish models. This is now the color of the tastefully earthy – and earthy may be a safer way to feel wealthy post- post-recession.

Real dirt, meanwhile, is the new gold, though we’re not valuing it that way just yet. We need earth. We need it rich and filled with microbial life and sequestering carbon, just outside our back door and in our farm fields and along our rivers. But around the world and in our own backyards, we’re letting soil go. We’re scooping it with bulldozers to widen highways, scraping it out to build subdivisions near rivers where they will eventually flood, and growing lawns that have no root life, fertilizing the hell out of them for good measure.

Contaminated soil in China will eventually affect food production there. American industrial farming continues to pour excess nitrogen into the soil to boost crop production – most recently evidenced by the toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie, fouling Toledo’s drinking water. (This after a story in Modern Farmer several years ago about farming operations around the lake coordinating to reduce their fertilizer use.) And our suburbs and cities are becoming sterile environments, devoid of the soil-based microbial life that keeps us healthy.

I think the new brown cars are meant to show a kind of Great Recession humility. No more Champagne uncorked — at least not on the highway. I think they’re kind of pretty. But they can’t replace the real thing. We still shouldn’t pave over, dig up, and “fertilize” the best soils in the world, and then park on top of them.