Why Land Use Is Such an Important Issue for Our Times

Nature is abundant, but land is finite. How we treat it will shape the future.

organic farmer hoeing plants

Hinterhaus Productions / Getty Images

How land is used, on a micro and macro scale, is one of the biggest issues of our times. The ways in which we respond to global challenges, and how swiftly and conscientiously we decide how land is used around the world, will determine the future for generations to come.

Nature is abundant, but land on our planet is finite. Land has, of course, been the source of many a conflict in the past and continues to be a point of conflict today. As we all seek to create a better future for everyone on our planet, land use, it could be argued, is the issue of our times.

Land lies at an important intersection between different competing values and priorities. Decisions about how land is used—and who controls that use—will be crucial to tackling major issues of climate change, biodiversity loss, social division, food insecurity, energy insecurity, and more.

Many of us are used to thinking about and deciding what happens on our own properties, such as our gardens, homesteads, or farms. But whether we are custodians of our own patches of land or not, we all need to look outward and consider how our own decisions as voters, advocates, activists, and consumers dictate land use on a broader scale.

Climate Change and Biodiversity

Treehugger readers are sure to be well aware of the necessity of preserving, restoring, and expanding natural carbon sinks as part of the solution to the climate crisis. But the solution is far from simple, and does not, as some believe, boil down to planting more trees.

Reducing emissions is, of course, the primary goal, essential to limit anthropocentric climate change. But extremely careful overhaul of land use in various sectors will also play an important role in solving our global issues.

Conservation, rehabilitation, and restoration of natural ecosystems on our land is crucial to tackling another major crisis of our times—biodiversity losses

Land use debate also involves determining how to meet humanity's needs without having a negative impact on all the other species that share our planet and upon which we ourselves depend for survival.

Food Security and Human Need

The urgent necessity to tackle the climate crisis and preserve natural environments like forests and wetlands that sequester carbon and provide a home for countless species is often seen to be in direct competition with providing for humanity's basic needs. The need to feed our planet's ever-growing population is a leading driver of deforestation and ecosystem degradation.

We need land to grow food and materials for clothing and shelter. But the way we use it globally today leaves a lot to be desired. Agriculture is a major emitter of greenhouse gas emissions. Land is often used inefficiently and a high percentage of the world's agricultural land is used to feed livestock rather than people.

clearcutting in the Amazon

LeoFFreitas / Getty Images

When this inefficient usage and reduction in usable farmland brought about by global warming and ecosystem degradation is combined with increasing human need and shocking food waste, we can clearly see why land use is such a pressing concern.

We need to think about how we can increase agricultural production and reduce all forms of waste, while making more of the land already used and limiting what we require to meet humanity's needs. This involves thinking about how and where we grow holistically, using land not only for food production but also with an eye to broader systems of climate and biodiversity repair.

With the right strategies we can feed everyone on our planet while also preserving ecosystems. But this involves a major overhaul in our diets, food production, and the way we use land. Exactly what this looks like is one of the major debates and discussions of our times.

Social Justice

Land use also lies at the intersection between environmental and social issues. The ways in which we use land can either fuel and broaden social inequalities or level the playing field.

Who controls land is a major point of contention. All too often, the majority of productive land lies in the hands of just a few. Issues of land rights, land access, and primal and cultural connection to land contribute to this important debate. It is crucial that, as we seek to meet our own needs while tackling climate change and biodiversity loss, we do not ride roughshod over the rights of Indigenous peoples and traditionally marginalized groups.

Land use is often a controversial topic, which can polarize already highly divided groups. But through open dialogue and debate, we can talk about solutions rather than problems, and think holistically about how land can be used fairly and equitably to provide for our own needs and those of other species on a healthy planet.

Whether we are talking about land in the context of climate change, biodiversity, food security, human need, or social justice, frank and realistic conversations about how we use land are crucial to our future on this planet.