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22_1_environmentalism.htmlCity Journal:

It’s time to stop wasting land and resources in the name of environmentalism.

Robert Bryce

Winter 2012

 

More than three decades ago, the British economist E. F. Schumacher stated the essence of environmental protection in three words: “Small is beautiful.” As Schumacher argued in a famous book by that title, man-made disturbances of the natural world—farms, for example, and power plants—should have the smallest possible footprints.

 

But how can that ideal be realized in a world that must produce more and more food and energy for its growing population? The answer, in just one word this time, is density. Over the course of the last century, human beings have found ways to concentrate crops and energy production within smaller and smaller areas, conserving land while meeting the ever-growing global demand for calories and watts. This approach runs counter to the beliefs of many environmental activists and politicians, whose “organic” and “renewable” policies, as nature-friendly as they sound, squander land. The real organizing principle for a green future is density, which not only provides the goods that we need to survive and prosper but also achieves the land-preservation goals of genuine environmentalists.

 

Food cultivation is an excellent example of the virtues of density. During the second half of the twentieth century, hybrid seeds and synthetic fertilizers, along with better methods of planting and harvesting, produced stunning increases in agricultural productivity. Between 1968 and 2005, global production of all cereal crops doubled, even though the amount of cultivated acreage remained about the same. Indur Goklany, a policy analyst for the U.S. Department of the Interior, estimates that if agriculture had remained at its early-sixties level of productivity, feeding the world’s population in 1998 would have required nearly 8 billion acres of farmland, instead of the 3.7 billion acres that were actually under cultivation. Where in the world—literally—would we have found an extra 4.3 billion acres of land, an area just slightly smaller than South America?

 

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