10 November 2014

Making Nature Useless ~ Beyond Peak Farmland

Ronald Bailey at Reason asks Can We Save Nature by Making It Economically Useless?
“Decoupling” human economy from ecology could render large areas of pastures, croplands, and managed forests too remote for exploitation. [...] "The way we will save nature is by rendering it economically worthless," declared Ted Nordhaus. Nordhaus, chairman of the Breakthrough Institute, was speaking at "Making Nature Useless," a seminar sponsored by the D.C.-based think tank Resources for the Future. With that one sentence, he summed up the entire session’s theme. [...] "Why are we using just half of the planet's ice-free land surface?" he asked the audience. Cropland only occupies about 12 percent; pasture, 24 percent; managed forests, 9 percent; cities, 3 percent. About 12 percent of the world's ice-free land, he noted, has been formally set aside for conservation and preservation. What makes that 12 percent different? His answer is that, for the most part, it is too high, too dry, too steep, and too remote. We have saved what we have saved, he suggested, largely because it is not worth anything economically. Most of the lands that are not legally protected but remain unexploited share the same economically off-putting characteristics. [...] humanity is on the cusp of "peak farmland." If current land-use trends continue, an enormous amount of crop and pasture land will be abandoned and returned to nature. [...] Urbanization contributes to the process of decoupling economy and ecology, since fewer hungry people engaged in low productivity subsistence farming mean more land for nature. [...] Analysts with old-fashioned Malthusian mindsets are again decrying the imminent approach of "peak everything" followed by a collapse of civilization. The data presented at Wednesday's seminar points toward a much happier version of "peak everything," as humanity increasingly withdraws from the natural world during the rest of this century."

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