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Why are governments so keen on increasing the human footprint in the name of the environment?

I have written a longish piece about the human footprint on the
earth, avaliable as a `ChangeThis’ manifesto here

Here are a few extracts:


I am going to argue that the ecological
footprint of human activity is probably shrinking at an
accelerating rate and that we are getting more sustainable, not
less, in the way we use the planet. In a nutshell, the most
sustainable thing we can do, and the best for the planet, is to
accelerate technological change and economic growth.

In fact, coming back to my lifestyle, every item that I use
today takes less land to produce it than it did in times past. My
fleece came out of an oil well, whereas the wool sweater I used to
wear on a cold day like this came from a sheep farm. The footprint
of the fleece system-well, refinery, factory and shop-is minuscule
compared with the land needed for sheep farming. My socks, shoes,
shirt and breakfast each take roughly half as many acres to produce
as they did before synthetic fertiliser

Even semi-luxuries like artificial
lighting are experiencing the acreage decline. To keep your home
lit with candles of tallow, beeswax or spermaceti oil from whales,
or with ancient Babylonian lamps burning sesame oil, would have
required many acres of pasture, flowers or seabed. Now it requires
a hole in the ground: a surface coal mine produces roughly as much
electricity per acre as a field of corn would produce in 2,000

So my point is simply this: human land needs-as measured in acres
to produce food, acres to produce fibre, fuel, shelter or
lighting-are all getting smaller and smaller and have been doing so
for a very long time. How then is it possible to argue that we are
increasingly and unsustainably overdrawn at the planetary
ecological bank?

So it is with incredulity that I watch
the governments of the world, urged on by greens, assiduously
trying to increase the human ecological footprint in the name of
saving the planet. They praise organic farming, which means a
massive increase in land taken for agriculture. (Don’t get me
wrong: I don’t object to people buying organic; I just object to
them telling me it is ethical to do so.) And almost every measure
espoused for fighting climate change-wind, waves, solar, tide,
hydro and above all biofuels-would increase the acreage required to
support a human lifestyle.

If America were to grow all its own transport fuel as biofuel, for
example, it would need 30 percent more farmland than it currently
uses to grow food. Where would it then grow food? The biofuel
boondoggle is a truly awful mistake, a “crime against humanity” in
the words of Jean Ziegler, the United Nations special rapporteur on
the right to food. Between 2004 and 2007, the world maize harvest
increased by 51 million tonnes, but 50 million tonnes went into
ethanol, leaving nothing to meet the increase of demand: hence the
spike in food prices in 2008, which caused riots andhunger. In
effect, American car drivers were taking carbohydrates out of the
mouths of the poor to fill their tanks.

But in western Europe and eastern
Asia-and here’s the crucial point-people increase the productivity
of the land so much that they actually increase the flow of energy
into nature, even while they purloin half of the productivity for
themselves. Thanks to the Haber process, in Europe both people and
wildlife have more to eat.

This actually gives great cause for optimism, because it implies
that intensifying agriculture throughout Africa and central Asia
could feed more people and still support more other species, too.
[Helmut] Haberl [of the university of Vienna] says: ” These
findings suggest that, on a global scale, there may be a
considerable potential to raise agricultural output without
necessarily increasing HANPP.”

By Matt Ridley | Tagged:  rational-optimist