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Navin Ramankutty; Hannah Wittman

Published On


Page Range

pp. 195-202

Print Length

7 pages


This chapter analyzes past practices of global land use to propose a sustainable model of our relationship to the inhabitable Earth. Our Paleolithic ancestors first used fire to alter forest landscapes, contributing to the extinction of megafauna in the process. In the Neolithic, the invention of agriculture and the domestication of animals led classical commentators such as Plato to take note of soil erosion and soil degradation. The dawn of modernity and the European Age of Discovery, in addition to the genocide of peoples and cultures, has sent land use into overdrive. At the heart of our most recent ‘Green Revolution’ – the exponential increase in food production on a smaller per-capita land surface – lies a paradox. Not only has the application of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and expanding monocultures caused widespread habitat destruction, degradation and loss of biodiversity, but more than 820 million people remain undernourished, despite this expansion. On the other hand, around 37% of the world population, mainly in the developed world, suffer from obesity as a result of excess calorific consumption, low in nutritional value. These inequalities point to a global imbalance in economic networks of production and consumption.