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Bailey on Rifkin on Cities:

Ronald Bailey was not too impressed with the Rifkin op-ed on urbanization and the environment.

As humanity has urbanized, we have become ever less subject to nature's vagaries. For instance, a globally interconnected world made possible by the transportation networks between cities means that a crop failure in one place can be overcome by food imports from areas with bumper crops. Similarly resources of all types can be shifted quickly to ameliorate human emergencies caused by the random acts of a brutal insensate nature. Autonomy is just another word for freedom.

The further good news is that the movement of humanity's burgeoning population into the thousand of megacities foreseen that Rifkin is part of a process that ultimately will leave more land for nature. Today cities occupy just 2 percent of the earth's surface, but that will likely double to 4 percent over the next half century. In order to avoid this ostensibly terrible fate Rifkin proclaims, "In the next phase of human history, we will need to find a way to reintegrate ourselves into the rest of the living Earth if we are to preserve our own species and conserve the planet for our fellow creatures." Actually, he's got it completely backwards. Humanity must not reintegrate into nature-that way lays disaster for humanity and nature. Instead we must make ourselves even more autonomous than we already are from her.

Since nothing is more destructive of nature than poverty stricken subsistence farmers, boosting agricultural productivity is the key to the human retreat from wild nature.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Bailey on Rifkin on Cities:
  2. Major Cities - Environmental Friend or Foe?
Jay Myers:
I think he is completely missing the fact that the ecological footprint of cities extends far beyond their municipal borders. How many cities could survive without food grown or raised elsewhere? To accurately gauge how much land cities "leave for nature" you have to consider how much acerage is needed to provide essential supplies that the city cannot provide for itself. He is correct, however, on the environmental benefits of high agricultural productivity due to modern technology compared to subsistance farming.
12.22.2006 5:40pm
Bottomfish (mail):
I notice that neither Rifkin nor Bailey are interested in the question of where people want to live, only in the question of where they should be housed. For some reason, political questions are apparently out of bounds.
12.22.2006 5:54pm
trotsky (mail):
Knowing Bailey's work, I'm going to go out on a limb and say he'd argue that people should indeed live wherever they want to live. Judging by their actions, most of them must want to live in cities.
12.22.2006 7:57pm
Bottomfish (mail):
Evidently they want to live in urban areas. I think it makes a big difference whether they want actually to live in cities, which implies living in buildings that contain multiple dwelling units, or in suburbs, which generally implies single dwelling units each on an individual plot of land. Many of the benefits that Bailey and others associate with urbanism are lost if people choose suburbanism.
12.22.2006 8:23pm
Aleks:
Re: Many of the benefits that Bailey and others associate with urbanism are lost if people choose suburbanism.

This is only true given an expanding population. Since fertility rates are at or below replacement in all the First World (and approaching this state even in many Third World countries) sprawl is going to come to a halt and even reverse itself.
12.22.2006 9:30pm
Bottomfish (mail):
Not so fast. Latest figures from the 2005 World Almanac &Book of Facts:

India: births/1000 22.8, deaths/1000 8.4
China: births/1000 13.0, deaths/1000 6.9
U. S.: births/1000 14.0, deaths/1000 8.3

I admit that the Chinese figures look rather odd compared to those for the U.S. All the same, we have some way to go before this baby bust is in place.

Of course if people live in the cities but in response to increasing prosperity, move to suburbia, then then the pattern of less efficient land use, from the point of view of housing humanity, would still increase even if population remains at a standstill.
12.23.2006 6:52am
Swen Swenson (mail) (www):
Of course if people live in the cities but in response to increasing prosperity, move to suburbia, then then the pattern of less efficient land use, from the point of view of housing humanity, would still increase even if population remains at a standstill.
There's something worse than moving to suburbiana, even worse than starving subsistence farmers: The affluent who buy a 40-acre ranchette as a second home and then graze half a dozen hooved locusts horses on it. All too often that's considered reintegrating with nature. Sure they're butt up against the surrounding ranchettes and surrounded by nothing but bare dirt and horse poop, but oh, the scenery! The wide open spaces! The fresh air!

Even worse though is the treehouse environmentalist -- "I'm in, pull up the ladder!" -- who buys the first 40 acres and then lobbies the government to stop the sale of the surrounding lands because it would spoil his view.
12.23.2006 11:45am