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On the Importance of Land
Volume 11, Number 18: 30 April 2008

We have written much of late about the great importance of land, and how its use for growing any significant quantities of biofuels would lead to the destruction of much of what yet remains of "wild nature" (see our Gospel According to Sir John editorials of 26 Sep 2007, 10 Oct 2007, 24 Oct 2007 and 30 Jan 2008). In what follows, we review some very similar ideas that have been discussed by Wolfgang Haber of Germany's Technische Universitat Munchen in Freising.

In a lengthy discourse entitled "Energy, Food, and Land -- The Ecological Traps of Humankind," Haber (2007) contends that energy, food and land are the principal resources required by contemporary human societies, but that "the absolutely decisive resource in question is land, whose increasing scarcity is totally underrated."

Expanding on this theme, Haber writes that the energy trap is "formed by a quasi-return to renewable energy suppliers for which we need very vast, hardly available tracts of land," that the food trap is "formed by increased use and demand of arable and pasture land with suitable soils," and that the land trap is "formed by the need of land for urban-industrial uses, transport, material extraction, refuse deposition, but also for leisure, recreation, and nature conservation." All of these needs, as he continues, "compete for land," and good soils, as he adds, are becoming "scarcer than ever ... scarcer than coal, oil and uranium."

As if this were not enough, Haber notes that "we are preoccupied with fighting climate change and loss of biodiversity," and he says that "these are minor problems we could adapt to, albeit painfully." In fact, he states that "their solution will fail [our italics] if we are caught in the interrelated traps of energy, food, and land scarcity," which are looming menacingly before us just a few short decades down the road.

"Land and soil," as Haber continues, "have to be conserved, maintained, cared for, [and] properly used, based on reliable ecological information and monitoring, planning and design." We agree; and we have reported, in this regard, that a switch to biofuels to help meet our energy needs will result in our taking unconscionable amounts of land and freshwater resources from nature to produce them, and that the simple task of growing enough crops to meet the food needs of the world's population in the year 2050 will require our using so much more land than we do now, that the resulting loss of habitat will drive unnumbered species of plants and animals to extinction.

So what's the solution? As we have noted in many of our other writings on this question, it is to let the air's CO2 content continue to climb as the world's scientists and engineers devise ways of meeting mankind's growing energy needs without usurping the remaining habitat of "wild nature." We say this because of two things. First, some of the world's most prominent ecologists have concluded that even with all agricultural advancements they can anticipate over the next few decades, we may still not be able to grow sufficient food to sustain the planet's human population without appropriating for this purpose vast amounts of land and water that are currently needed to support the other species with which we share the earth. Second, we have calculated that the crop yield enhancements and water-use efficiency increases that should be caused by the expected increase in the atmosphere's CO2 concentration between now and the year 2050 should be sufficient, but only barely, to enable us to grow the crops we will need at that time on the lands and with the water that we currently use for this purpose.

If we are to prevent the extinctions of innumerable species of plants and animals that many see occurring only half a human lifespan from now, we must pursue a course of action that is congruent with the one we outline here.

Sherwood, Keith and Craig Idso

Haber, W. 2007. Energy, food, and land -- the ecological traps of humankind. Environmental Science and Pollution Research 14: 359-365.