Image: Video still from Bill Rankin via Nicola Twilley @ Edible Geography
The intensity of agricultural land use has exploded over the past 300 years. Bill Rankin at Radical Cartography synthesized data from an expansive historical land-use survey to give us a telling visual overview. You can see the data as an animation on the Radical Cartography site, but check out the stills below for the general overview.
All Images: Video stills from Bill Rankin via Nicola Twilley @ Edible Geography
Starting in the 1700s (image at the top of the post) you can see how agriculture spreads out and intensifies in key areas.
Twilley on Edible Geography says:
it's amazing to see that agricultural activity in India in 1700 is as intensive, if not more so, than in the traditional bread-baskets of the Caucasus or the densely populated areas of Northern Europe. The persistent un-farmed patch of France's Massif Central is also interesting: even the Alps appear to have more agricultural activity.
As time goes on the U.S. heats up and SE Asia and India become more intense. Rankin idnetifies two lessons from this data.
First, the transportation revolution that began in the mid-nineteenth century is far from over: vast stretches of Africa, South America, and Southeast Asia could still be opened up to agricultural uses. Preserving these rainforest areas will require further intensification elsewhere. Second, with many agricultural areas at close to 100 percent exploitation, it would seem that much of the logic of density and densification usually applied to the urban condition could apply equally well to agricultural areas. A simple divide between "urban" and "rural" is perhaps less instructive than an analysis of different kinds of intensifications.
Would love to jump a couple hundred years into the future to see how agricultural trends play out.