Nature Noted

Notes on a changing Nature

Location: Bellville, Texas, United States

I never would have predicted this one

Friday, August 12, 2005

The Land Use Priority

World Land Use Seen As Top Environmental Issue. That's the headline on a study from the University of Wisconsin and the July 22, 2005 journal Science.
The massive conversion of the world's natural landscapes to agriculture and other human uses may soon begin to undermine the capacity of the planet's ecosystems to sustain a burgeoning human population.......
a group of leading scientists portrays the escalating transformation of the world's forests, wetlands, savannahs, waterways and other native landscapes as the biggest potential threat to human health and global sustainability.
"Short of a collision with an asteroid, land use by humans is the most significant impact on the world's biosphere," according to Jonathan A. Foley, a UW-Madison climatologist and the lead author of the Science paper. "It may be the single most pressing environmental issue of our day."
The new Science paper was written by a group of leading environmental scientists representing a wide range of scientific disciplines, including biology, climatology, medicine, limnology, geography and earth science. Foley directs the UW-Madison Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment in the Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.
Land use, according to the report, is no longer just a local issue. It is a force of global importance as the world's six billion people compete for food, water, fiber and shelter. The report, says Foley, is a comprehensive review of scientific research on the world's major land-use practices - agriculture, urban and rural development, deforestation and other natural resource extraction - and their impacts on the world's ecosystems.
According to Foley, nearly one-third of the world's land surface is now in use for agriculture and millions of acres of natural ecosystems are converted each year. Many of the agricultural practices, built on Western-style methods, are unsustainable, requiring large applications of chemical fertilizers and further sculpting of the landscape to divert water to marginal lands.
"While land use practices vary greatly across the world, their ultimate outcome is generally the same: the acquisition of natural resources for immediate human needs, often at the expense of degrading environmental conditions," the authors write.
One example, Foley says, is changing patterns of human and animal disease as climate changes and allows pathogens to flourish in regions where they previously did not exist. Diseases such as West Nile, malaria, cholera, Rift Valley fever and hanta virus are examples of infectious diseases that have emerged in new places and whose frequency has increased as land use and ecological patterns shift.
Foley emphasizes that scientists must look beyond the world's wilderness and consider the whole landscape, including cities, suburbs and agricultural areas in their assessments of global environmental health. "We need to look at land use in a global context. The whole system needs to be considered."

I certainly agree with the conclusions, but I can already see one example that may bring the entire argument into question.
Among the examples given as "sustainable land use practices that provide both economic and environmental advantages:
New York City's purchase of development rights in the Catskills to enhance the city's water supply. The practice resulted in an estimated $5 billion to $7 billion savings for water purification services."

I know that this is a matter of some debate....A PERC report called it nothing more than an urban myth. Read the release and the PERC report, and decide for yourself on this one. But on the overall thrust of the report.... good stewardship always seems like a good idea to me.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Changing buying habits is one way to help preserve our environment. It seems that people want to have trees and park/recreation space nearby where they live. You move in a new development attracted by the green space and then over the years the trees disapear replaced by and concrete parking lots and strip centers.

One step could be a rating system on housing realestate that rates parks and recreation, like crime and school districts are rated. At least get consumers to think before they buy. The consumer demand is there but there's not a mechanism for developers and local government to provide what is demanded. Consumers should hold off on buying property until they get what they really want in a community.

7:22 PM  
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