Do We Really Protect the Environment?

Guest Post by Michael Chambers
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Current thinking among many environmental scientists and urbanologists is to reduce the footprint mankind makes upon the land. Primary among the reasons for reducing our signature on the land is the need to preserve land that can be used for crop generation and to reduce the need for fossil fuels. This is an important aspect of environmental protection in that the irreversibility of land use change makes it difficult to increase crop and livestock sources in a short turn-around time. Secondly, the spread of settlement populations across the landscape must be slowed to reduce commuting to urban areas where many employment opportunities exist.

Seventy years ago, most people lived within two miles of their employment. Forty years ago, a commute of twenty minutes was a maximum for most homeowners; thirty years ago a commute of 30 minutes was the limit of investment most homeowners would make. Today, that time/distance factor is one hour or more. If one compares the use of fossil fuels during those time periods, there is a corresponding increase in fuel usage. No one has to be hit over the head to realize that opening land for housing with attendant added commuting times, not only increases the use of fossil fuels but also reduces the ability for land owners to convert these lands for subsistence production.

We can talk all we want about environmental protection, but converting land so that the process becomes irreversible, is anti-environmental. Expanding man’s footprint is anti-environmental. Increasing commuter time and participants is anti-environmental. Gentrification of urban areas, that is the reclamation of degraded city areas for habitation, works in many cities. We had proposed rebuilding the infrastructure of the city a few months ago and several local Democrats decried the suggestion. Now that the Obama Administration is supporting rebuilding the city infrastructure, we imagine local Democrats will tone down their complaints. Besides, why should a rural township degrade its farm and forestland when the urban framework is already in place in other towns and cities in Rhode Island?