With the existence of serious global problems like desertification, polar ice melting, erosion and deforestation, let's face it, existing land management choices are not serving the planet or its inhabitants
Issues like global warming, the emittance of increased green house gases and the need for the reduction of the carbon footprint are regularly highlighted in the media. These are serious problems and solutions are generally vague and often not practical. The bottom line is that mankind’s management of global resources and populations has so far failed and is the main cause for the deteriorating state of the planet.
Management of the human population is a controversial issue. Population growth in most countries goes unchecked. In fact, some demographics indicate that the global population will double in just 18 years. However land management cannot be addressed without addressing the needs of the population of a country. However, both these issues are highly political and very complex.
Land management can be classed into two categories - private ownership of land and the use of communal land. Private ownership of land makes it easier to implement sound management strategies since the responsibility lies with the owner. Educating land owners about the importance of implementing sustainable land use strategies has been implemented in some countries and proved highly successful.
Management of communal land is however a huge problem in different parts of the world and a number of academic papers written in recent years have highlighted the subject. ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’ by Garreth Hardin, published in 1968 was one of the first to tackle the subject.
It raises the dilemma that arises when individuals, acting independently, look after their own interests, but ultimately deplete a shared limited resource, even when it’s clear that it’s not in anyone’s long-term interest for this to happen.
Hardin’s theory is frequently cited today to support the notion of sustainable development, meshing economic growth and environmental protection, and has been applied to numerous current issues, including the debate over global warming.
Central to his article is an example, first explained in a pamphlet published in 1833 by William Forster Lloyd, of a hypothetical and simplified situation, based on medieval land tenure in Europe, where herders share a common area of land, on which they are each entitled to let their cows graze. In Hardin’s example, it is in each herder’s interest to graze the next, and any subsequent, cows they acquire on the land, even if the carrying capacity of the common is exceeded and it’s temporarily or permanently damaged as a result. A herder benefits from having an additional cow or cows, while the damage to the common is shared by the entire group. If all herders make this individually rational economic decision, the common will be depleted or even destroyed, to the detriment of all.
Examples of this type of land use can be observed in all countries and in every case the destruction or threat to the environment is clear. Short-sighted political policies have led to the common use of land by indigenous people. The destruction of the rainforests and the depletion of arid land due to over grazing also reflects poor management practices. Overgrazing is the direct cause of desertification and erosion. And interestingly, in the vast majority of cases, the loss of land is caused by the actions of those who can least afford it.
The problem is further complicated by an increasing global population, which has led to more demand for land, food and housing and unless land is sub-divided into small non-economic units, more protected areas will continue to be invaded and cultivated.
An increase in development around the world has led to an increased demand on resources; even waste requires land.
In many parts of the world there is little undeveloped land left, due to the development of structures and roads, and there is virtually no land left that is not subject to light or noise pollution. The modern green movement believes that in order to create a sustainable future, people need to to aquire a spirit of conservation.
But we should be careful to make sure that the green movement is not just a band-aid for poor environmental planning. While making the desert environmentally friendly remains a noble thought, not all projects to make it green will succeed because the origin of desert lands are the result of complex ecological factors.