It’s not so, the only segment where land is disappearing is the one that environmentalists have been warring on for decades; farms. Environmentalists hate farmers (except the boutique organic kind) and want every puddle of water on every farm micromanaged by a centralized government they can manipulate with lobbyists and sue-and-settle agreements with political allies inside agencies. When they can’t get regulations or court orders they lobby for agencies like EPA to create guidelines using levels so low they are effectively bans.
And they may think they are winning. They may believe that thanks to the culture war and their stigmatizing of agriculture, 16 million acres of farmland went out of use so far this century. Activists will cheer that, because they are in a war of extinction but also because it gives them their next target.
Of the 16 million acres that went out of use, 11 million acres went to housing. And activists hate affordable housing almost as much as affordable food. Activists believe they are causing farmers to give up(1) but don’t realize the replacement is even worse, if you actually care about the environment.
I don’t begrudge affordable housing and I certainly don’t begrudge farmers wanting to give up. Margins are tight and farmers get treated like garbage in coastal media-driven culture. I grew up on a farm and you can bet I got a scholarship to college so I would never have to work that hard again. Most farms are not “factory” farms, they are family-owned, and half make just enough profit to pay their land taxes. How many of us would work if we had to pay 100 percent taxes on our income? Add in that most people who own farms now have to work outside jobs in order to have the health insurance that went up 300 percent during the last decade and it is a bleak situation.
If I were a farmer right now, lacking a child obsessed with living in some “Yellowstone” own-the-land fantasy, and a land developer came along with a suitcase full of money, you can be sure I’d listen. Let someone else live out the Hallmark movie where the big city developer is forced to give up.(2)
A new paper in Agricultural Science and Technology discusses the three competing points on the cultural triangle – conservation, affordable food, affordable housing – but the most striking thing to me is that we have the luxury of letting farmland go fallow or be converted to homes because of our embrace of science. Yet the government’s war on science using regulations manufactured by statistical estimates is driving small farmers out of business.
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Despite science being the cause of this magnificent achievement in land use, environmental strain, and affordability, science is the thing most at risk by agency regulations dictated by politicians because agencies can create regulations that act as laws and go around Congress. Those on the left don’t want their anti-science efforts highlighted, since Republicans weirdly decided to steal anti-vaccine leadership from them during the COVID-19 pandemic and that makes the left look pro-science for the first time in decades, but dats show they are the obstructionists when it comes to science.
Scientists are career employees at EPA, and mostly really qualified, but bureaucrats controlling what they do are also career employees – and the left is a lot more likely to enjoy a career in government than the right, as Washington, DC employment shows. Political appointees get all of the attention from their opposition but all they change is tone. For example, the Trump administration did not make CDC unprepared for COVID-19, I’d spent a decade noting that when The Next Plague hit, CDC would be unprepared because they spent too much time going to Congress asking for money to prevent epidemics they invented and were not ready for a real one.(3)
Science can be pushed to the background by administrations paying back groups for loyalty, but given the facts in this paper – 16 million acres of farmland no longer needed, and a 23 percent drop in land needed for farming since 1950 – science should instead be applauded by environmentalists.
If they really cared about the environment and not new crises to invent so their lawyers can buy yachts.
The world would benefit from American approaches to science also. If Europe and Asia accepted science the way America does, farmland equivalent to the country of India could revert to nature. Not land, farmland in use.
It could be conserved, it could be used for affordable housing, it could be used by a new generation of farmers. Yet regulations not based on science have ironically made getting into farming too expensive for people who want to be farmers, and too expensive for many who have been at it their entire lives. Like other areas of science, regulations for “endangered” species sway with the White House. We haven’t had any species at real risk of extinction since the 1970s, yet “endangered” species ballooned after that, along with political malfeasance to bully land owners, as when the Obama administration tried to intimidate a landowner in Louisiana into tearing down a forest that existed and putting in a new one – for a frog that only existed in Mississippi. If they didn’t do it, they were told, they were never going to get a permit to build houses for people who wanted to leave the flood zones devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
Despite is being so obviously political corruption, it had to go to the Supreme Court – where the government and Center for Biological Diversity and other environmental shakedown artists lost unanimously. That is just one high-profile case we were proud to be a part of winning. This kind of environmental bullying is happening every month, in court rooms across the country.
The authors write: “Farmers are the quintessential stewards of the land, though despite a compassion for the land that is great, the financial margins are not. Technology should be embraced rather than demonized.”
Absolutely true. A $120 billion boutique food segment, overwhelmingly embraced by wealthy elites, believes that such boutique farming is viable while keeping food attainable for the poor and the environment healthy. It is not. California is the only state that requires organic farmers to record their toxic pesticide applications and even in America’s best farm land it takes 600 percent more chemical inputs per calorie than conventional food.
The decreases in land use, in cost per calorie, and in environmental strains are all due to modern products. Yes, pesticides. Government should step driving farmers into selling their land and making it too expensive for new ones to enter an area that is a strategic resource. We want people and the environment to be safe but using an epidemiological hammer that protects no one and drives more farmers out of business is not the way to keep the land use curve going the way environmentalists claim they want.
(1) The cultural posturing can make you dizzy.
Activists want family-run farms but only if they use old-timey organic certified toxic pesticides rather than modern ones that cause less environmental strain.
Factory farms are bad but they use lobbyists to drive politicians to force EPA to create new “guidelines” that act just like bans and drive small farmers out of business.
Too much land is used for food but lobby and sue to force legacy methods that require 40 percent more land to be the norm.
Things are always easy when you are at a $3 billion environmental revenue generation machine but reality is more complex because food security – which means grown domestically and affordable – conservation, and affordable housing all compete for a finite space. California constantly worries about affordable housing, for example, but the state is mostly desert, it gets its water from the annual snowpack and the government has so far ignored a 2014 voter referendum to add more water storage so more houses can be built and the price will decline. They instead want manufactured claims about river critters to be guidelines so that the water goes into the Pacific Ocean.
(2) Unless you are politically connected. The Obama administration was cheered for blocking pipelines and other programs to create more affordable energy but then turned over 5,000,000 acres of federal land to farmers – to grown corn, to make ethanol, which environmentalists wanted and Vice-President Al Gore provided when he broke a tie in the Senate to turn ethanol mandates and subsidies into law. Ethanol is not and never was viable, it is not better for car engines or the air, but like solar and wind it was once the Next Big Thing for activists. Like natural gas and hydropower before them.
(3) Administrations do change tone, though. When a Democrat is in the White House, epidemiology – correlation – is used a lot more but when a Republican is in the White House they want to see science data before adding new restrictions The latest round of regulations-that-will-act-as-bans is not due to science, it is due to scientization of politics. The Biden administration told EPA to go to court to ask the court to force EPA to void an old ruling based on science, so they could redo the regulation based on epidemiological models – projections of what might happen if they don’t make a weedkiller impossible to use.
The Biden administration has been exceptionally loose in claiming a science basis for whatever they want. In one new demand for regulations, the justification was saying a species was at risk that has been extinct for generations – decades before the pesticide they claim might harm it existed. A scientific approach would not have made that mistake.