Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Concrete Jungles Destroying the Wooden Ones

(Borneo. Photo from here.)

David Biello, from Scientific American, says, in his most recent article, that
A statistical analysis of 41 countries revealed that forest loss rates are most closely linked with urban population growth and agricultural exports...even overall population growth was not as strong a driver.
Deforestation has always been considered a major culprit in climate change--as forests disappear, so too does the Earth's ability to self-regulate temperature--but this article, and the accompanying scholarly paper, paint a clear picture of the root cause of all this tree felling: urbanization. Interesting.

Although cities are widely considered to be far more energy and resource efficient living locales than someplace out in the boonies, the findings of this study show us that cities have a long way to go before they can rest on their laurels. What we need, since this deforestation is mostly a result of an increased demand for agricultural land, is a new way to produce food.
The only good thing to come out of farming is the food we eat, so if we can replicate the outdoors process indoors, and if we can do it where the bulk of the world' population lives, wouldn't that be a good thing? Not to mention the incredible regenerative abilities of the natural world: if we left the eastern half of the midwest untouched by farming, it would grow back into a hardwood forest within one generation, a hardwood forest that captures carbon from the atmosphere. Witness the Hubbard Brook project.
(Photo from here)
Humans are urbanizing; there's no question about that. Now it's time for the systems around them to catch up: it no longer makes sense to grow a whole bunch of food in the midwest and ship it all over the country and the world; it no longer makes sense (debatable is the question of whether it ever made sense) to clear-cut forests to make room for more farmland; it no longer makes sense to think of cities as disconnected from the natural world--indeed, this study shows that they are very related to its demise. The time has come to think holistically about how cities fit into the fabric of the planet, and one thing that will result from such a holistic approach is the need for cities to produce a large amount of the food they consume. I dont' want to witness the day when we're unprepared and unable to feed ourselves; let's get to work on urban agriculture today--with support from our government--so that tomorrow when we need it, we'll finally be ahead of the times.

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