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The Population Debate

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Published on: Jun. 2, 1998

Last revision: Oct. 28, 2010

of housing from three houses an acre to six houses, ". . . would save more than 500,000 acres of farmland, protect a million acres from encroachment, add nearly $70 billion to the agricultural economy and save taxpayers $29 billion that would be spent extending sewers and other services to newly developed areas." But with 300 million acres of good farmland and research programs that promise to produce more food on fewer acres, Feder suggests, concern over the loss of this land in the U.S. is slow to build.

A group called the American Farmland Trust says the U.S. is losing farmland at a high rate. The group reported in a news release that, ". . . between 1982 and 1992, 4.3 million acres of prime and unique farmland were overrun, nearly 50 acres every hour of every day." The release also noted that every state in the nation lost high quality land during the period, most frequently to scattered and fragmented urban development like that on the fringes of the St. Louis metropolitan area.

In a report called "Farming on the Edge," AFT went on to note that, ". . . with the U.S. population expected to jump 50 percent by the mid-21st century and high quality farmland projected to shrink 13 percent, the nation could become a net food importer instead of a net food exporter within 60 years." Large portions of the country's fruits, vegetables and dairy goods would be lost, the group said.

AFT suggested every state with threatened farmland should identify the benefits of such lands, and suggested programs like the one in Pittsford to permanently protect them. Ralph Grossi, AFT president, said that "High quality farmlands need to be treated as more than just a holding pattern for future development."

Maryland Governor Parris Glendening has a unique plan that will save open lands. Maryland is designating certain sections of the state as "Smart Growth" areas. Developers who build within these zones will find state funds available for new roads, sewers and schools. If development falls outside the designated zones, local taxpayers will have to pay all of the costs of new public facilities and services. Glendening hopes to stop sprawl, revitalize older developed areas and pump renovation money into existing schools instead of building new ones.

While many of us have a gut feeling that overpopulation and its impact are only a problem in places like Africa and Asia, the population and consumption of developed countries like the U.S. and western Europe is also problematic. Third Revolution author Harrison notes that ". . . the average person in a developed country emits roughly twenty times more water and climate pollutants than their counterpart in the South."

He contends the 57.5 million population growth in northern countries in this decade will pollute the earth far worse than an addition of 911 million people in southern countries. There are problems in both spheres, however. Harrison directly ties deforestation, erosion and decertification of farm land to the population explosion in developing countries.

The third revolution Harrison writes about follows the agricultural and industrial revolutions of our past. The third revolution is just as important as the first two revolutions, he contends. He says it will affect all aspects of our lives and cultures. Ultimately, his third revolution will allow us to live on the earth in a sustainable way. Rather than mining natural resources, we will be using them in a way-and at a rate-that will sustain humanity and the earth far into the future.

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