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Article

Worldwide, governments subsidize agriculture at the rate of approximately 1 billion dollars per day. This figure rises to about twice that when export and biofuels production subsidies and state financing for dams and river basin engineering are included. These policies guide land use in numerous ways, including growers’ choices of crop and buyers’ demand for commodities. The three types of state subsidies that shape land use and the environment are land settlement programs, price and income supports, and energy and emissions initiatives. Together these subsidies have created perennial surpluses in global stores of cereal grains, cotton, and dairy, with production increases outstripping population growth. Subsidies to land settlement, to crop prices, and to processing and refining of cereals and fiber, therefore, can be shown to have independent and largely deleterious effect on soil fertility, fresh water supplies, biodiversity, and atmospheric carbon.

Article

Satellite reconnaissance of the Earth’s surface provides critical information about the state of human interaction with the natural environment. The strongest impact is agricultural, reflecting land-use approaches to food production extending back to the dawn of civilization. To variable degrees, depending upon location, regional field patterns result from traditional farming practices, surveying methods, regional histories, policies, political agendas, environmental circumstances, and economic welfare. Satellite imaging in photographic true or false color is an important means of evaluating the nature and implications of agricultural practices and their impacts on the surrounding world. Important platforms with publicly accessible links to satellite image sets include those of the European Space Agency, U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Centre D’etudes Spatiales, Airbus, and various other governmental programs. Reprocessing of data worldwide in scope by commercial concerns including Digital Globe, Terrametrics, and GoogleEarth in the 21st century enable ready examination of most of the Earth’s surface in great detail and natural colors. The potential for monitoring and improving understanding of agriculture and its role in the Earth system is considerable thanks to these new ways of viewing the planet. Space reconnaissance starkly reveals the consequences of unique land surveys for the rapid development of agriculture and political control in wilderness areas, including the U.S. Public Land Survey and Tierras Bajas systems. Traditional approaches toward agriculture are clearly shown in ribbon farms, English enclosures and medieval field systems, and terracing in many parts of the world. Irrigation works, some thousands of years old, may be seen in floodplains and dryland areas, notably the Maghreb and the deep Sahara, where center-pivot fields have recently appeared in areas once considered too dry to cultivate. Approaches for controlling erosion, including buffer zones, shelter belts, strip and contour farming, can be easily identified. Also evident are features related to field erosion and soil alteration that have advanced to crisis stage, such as badland development and widespread salinization. Pollution related to farm runoff, and the piecemeal (if not rapid) loss of farmlands due to urbanization can be examined in ways favoring more comprehensive evaluation of human impacts on the planetary surface. Developments in space technologies and observational platforms will continue indefinitely, promising ever-increasing capacity to understand how humans relate to the environment.

Article

Deforestation in Brazilian Amazonia destroys environmental services that are important for the whole world, and especially for Brazil itself. These services include maintaining biodiversity, avoiding global warming, and recycling water that provides rainfall to Amazonia, to other parts of Brazil, such as São Paulo, and to neighboring countries, such as Argentina. The forest also maintains the human populations and cultures that depend on it. Deforestation rates have gone up and down over the years with major economic cycles. A peak of 27,772 km2/year was reached in 2004, followed by a major decline to 4571 km2/year in 2012, after which the rate trended upward, reaching 7989 km2/year in 2016 (equivalent to about 1.5 hectares per minute). Most (70%) of the decline occurred by 2007, and the slowing in this period is almost entirely explained by declining prices of export commodities such as soy and beef. Government repression measures explain the continued decline from 2008 to 2012, but an important part of the effect of the repression program hinges on a fragile base: a 2008 decision that makes the absence of pending fines a prerequisite for obtaining credit for agriculture and ranching. This could be reversed at the stroke of a pen, and this is a priority for the powerful “ruralist” voting bloc in the National Congress. Massive plans for highways, dams, and other infrastructure in Amazonia, if carried out, will add to forces in the direction of increased deforestation. Deforestation occurs for a wide variety of reasons that vary in different historical periods, in different locations, and in different phases of the process at any given location. Economic cycles, such as recessions and the ups and downs of commodity markets, are one influence. The traditional economic logic, where people deforest to make a profit by producing products from agriculture and ranching, is important but only a part of the story. Ulterior motives also drive deforestation. Land speculation is critical in many circumstances, where the increase in land values (bid up, for example, as a safe haven to protect money from hyperinflation) can yield much higher returns than anything produced by the land. Even without the hyperinflation that came under control in 1994, highway projects can yield speculative fortunes to those who are lucky or shrewd enough to have holdings along the highway route. The practical way to secure land holdings is to deforest for cattle pasture. This is also critical to obtaining and defending legal title to the land. In the past, it has also been the key to large ranches gaining generous fiscal incentives from the government. Money laundering also makes deforestation attractive, allowing funds from drug trafficking, tax evasion, and corruption to be converted to “legal” money. Deforestation receives impulses from logging, mining, and, especially, road construction. Soybeans and cattle ranching are the main replacements for forest, and recently expanded export markets are giving strength to these drivers. Population growth and household dynamics are important for areas dominated by small farmers. Extreme degradation, where tree mortality from logging and successive droughts and forest fires replace forest with open nonforest vegetation, is increasing as a kind of deforestation, and is likely to increase much more in the future. Controlling deforestation requires addressing its multiple causes. Repression through fines and other command-and-control measures is essential to avoid a presumption of impunity, but these controls must be part of a broader program that addresses underlying causes. The many forms of government subsidies for deforestation must be removed or redirected, and the various ulterior motives must be combated. Industry agreements restricting commodity purchases from properties with illegal deforestation (or from areas cleared after a specified cutoff) have a place in efforts to contain forest loss, despite some problems. A “soy moratorium” has been in effect since 2006, and a “cattle agreement” since 2009. Creation and defense of protected areas is an important part of deforestation control, including both indigenous lands and a variety of kinds of “conservation units.” Containing infrastructure projects is essential if deforestation is to be held in check: once roads are built, much of what happens is outside the government’s control. The notion that the 2005–2012 deforestation slowdown means that the process is under control and that infrastructure projects can be built at will is extremely dangerous. One must also abandon myths that divert efforts to contain deforestation; these include “sustainable logging” and the use of “green” funds for expensive programs to reforest degraded lands rather than retain areas of remaining natural forests. Finally, one must provide alternatives to support the rural population of small farmers. Large investors, on the other hand, can fend for themselves. Tapping the value of the environmental services of the forest has been proposed as an alternative basis for sustaining both the rural population and the forest. Despite some progress, a variety of challenges remain. One thing is clear: most of Brazil’s Amazonian deforestation is not “development.” Trading the forest for a vast expanse of extensive cattle pasture does little to secure the well-being of the region’s rural population, is not sustainable, and sacrifices Amazonia’s most valuable resources.

Article

The terms “land cover” and “land use” are often used interchangeably, although they have different meanings. Land cover is the biophysical material at the surface of the Earth, whereas land use refers to how people use the land surface. Land use concerns the resources of the land, their products, and benefits, in addition to land management actions and activities. The history of changes in land use has passed through several major stages driven by developments in science and technology and demands for food, fiber, energy, and shelter. Modern changes in land use have been increasingly affected by anthropogenic activities at a scale and magnitude that have not been seen. These changes in land use are largely driven by population growth, urban expansion, increasing demands for energy and food, changes in diets and lifestyles, and changing socioeconomic conditions. About 70% of the Earth’s ice-free land surface has been altered by changes in land use, and these changes have had environmental impacts worldwide, ranging from effects on the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere and climate to the extensive modification of terrestrial ecosystems, habitats, and biodiversity. A number of different methods have been developed give a thorough understanding of these changes in land use and the multiple effects and feedbacks involved. Earth system observations and models are examples of two crucial technologies, although there are considerable uncertainties in both techniques. Cross-disciplinary collaborations are highly desirable in future studies of land use and management. The goals of mitigating climate change and maintaining sustainability should always be considered before implementing any new land management strategies.

Article

Towns and cities generally exhibit higher temperatures than rural areas for a number of reasons, including the effect that urban materials have on the natural balance of incoming and outgoing energy at the surface level, the shape and geometry of buildings, and the impact of anthropogenic heating. This localized heating means that towns and cities are often described as urban heat islands (UHIs). Urbanized areas modify local temperatures, but also other meteorological variables such as wind speed and direction and rainfall patterns. The magnitude of the UHI for a given town or city tends to scale with the size of population, although smaller towns of just thousands of inhabitants can have an appreciable UHI effect. The UHI “intensity” (the difference in temperature between a city center and a rural reference point outside the city) is on the order of a few degrees Celsius on average, but can peak at as much as 10°C in larger cities, given the right conditions. UHIs tend to be enhanced during heatwaves, when there is lots of sunshine and a lack of wind to provide ventilation and disperse the warm air. The UHI is most pronounced at night, when rural areas tend to be cooler than cities and urban materials radiate the energy they have stored during the day into the local atmosphere. As well as affecting local weather patterns and interacting with local air pollution, the UHI can directly affect health through heat exposure, which can exacerbate minor illnesses, affect occupational performance, or increase the risk of hospitalization and even death. Urban populations can face serious risks to health during heatwaves whereby the heat associated with the UHI contributes additional warming. Heat-related health risks are likely to increase in future against a background of climate change and increasing urbanization throughout much of the world. However, there are ways to reduce urban temperatures and avoid some of the health impacts of the UHI through behavioral changes, modification of buildings, or by urban scale interventions. It is important to understand the physical properties of the UHI and its impact on health to evaluate the potential for interventions to reduce heat-related impacts.

Article

Kimberly M. Carlson and Rachael D. Garrett

Oil crops play a critical role in global food and energy systems. Since these crops have high oil content, they provide cooking oils for human consumption, biofuels for energy, feed for animals, and ingredients in beauty products and industrial processes. In 2014, oil crops occupied about 20% of crop harvested area worldwide. While small-scale oil crop production for subsistence or local consumption continues in certain regions, global demand for these versatile crops has led to substantial expansion of oil crop agriculture destined for export or urban markets. This expansion and subsequent cultivation has diverse effects on the environment, including loss of forests, savannas, and grasslands, greenhouse gas emissions, regional climate change, biodiversity decline, fire, and altered water quality and hydrology. Oil palm in Southeast Asia and soybean in South America have been identified as major proximate causes of tropical deforestation and environmental degradation. Stringent conservation policies and yield increases are thought to be critical to reducing rates of soybean and oil palm expansion into natural ecosystems. However, the higher profits that often accompany greater yields may encourage further expansion, while policies that restrict oil crop expansion in one region may generate secondary “spillover” effects on other crops and regions. Due to these complex feedbacks, ensuring a sustainable supply of oil crop products to meet global demand remains a major challenge for agricultural companies, farmers, governments, and civil society.

Article

Christiane W. Runyan and Jeff Stehm

Over the last 8,000 years, cumulative forest loss amounted to approximately 2.2 billion hectares, reducing forest cover from about 47% of Earth’s land surface to roughly 30% in 2015. These losses mostly occurred in tropical forests (58%), followed by boreal (27%) and temperate forests (8%). The rate of loss has slowed from 7.3 Mha/year between 1990–2000 to 3.3 Mha/year between 2010–2015. Globally since the 1980s, the net loss in the tropics has been outweighed by a net gain in the subtropical, temperate, and boreal climate zones. Deforestation is driven by a number of complex direct and indirect factors. Agricultural expansion (both commercial and subsistence) is the primary driver, followed by mining, infrastructure extension, and urban expansion. In turn, population and economic growth drive the demand for agricultural, mining, and timber products as well as supporting infrastructure. Population growth and changing consumer preferences, for instance, will increase global food demand 50% by 2050, possibly requiring a net increase of approximately 70 million ha of arable land under cultivation. This increase is unlikely to be offset entirely by agricultural intensification due to limits on yield increases and land quality. Deforestation is also affected by other factors such as land tenure uncertainties, poor governance, low capacity of public forestry agencies, and inadequate planning and monitoring. Forest loss has a number of environmental, economic, and social implications. Forests provide an expansive range of environmental benefits across local, regional, and global scales, including: hydrological benefits (e.g., regulating water supply and river discharge), climate benefits (e.g., precipitation recycling, regulating local and global temperature, and carbon sequestration), biogeochemical benefits (e.g., enhancing nutrient availability and reducing nutrient losses), biodiversity benefits, and the support of ecosystem stability and resiliency. The long-term loss of forest resources also negatively affects societies and economies. The forest sector in 2011 contributed roughly 0.9% of global GDP or USD 600 billion. About 850 million people globally live in forest ecosystems, with an estimated 350 million people entirely dependent on forest ecosystems for their livelihoods. Understanding how to best manage remaining forest resources in order to preserve their unique qualities will be a challenge that requires an integrated set of policy responses. Developing and implementing effective policies will require a better understanding of the socio-ecological dynamics of forests, a more accurate and timely ability to measure and monitor forest resources, sound methodologies to assess the effectiveness of policies, and more efficacious methodologies for valuing trade-offs between competing objectives.

Article

Carlos Eduardo Frickmann Young

Tropical forests are among the most biodiverse areas on Earth. They contribute to ecosystem functions, including regulating water flow and maintaining one of the most important carbon sinks on the planet, and provide resources for important economic activities, such as timber and nontimber products and fish and other food. Rainforests are not empty of human population and are sites of ethnically and culturally diverse cultures that are responsible for many human languages and dialects. They also provide resources for important economic activities, such as timber and nontimber products. However, tropical deforestation caused by the expansion of agricultural activities and unsustainable logging continues at very high levels. The causes of forest loss vary by region. Livestock is the main driver in the Amazon, but commercial plantations (soybeans, sugar cane, and other tradable crops) also have an impact on deforestation, in many cases associated with violent conflicts over land tenure. In Southeast Asia, logging motivated by the tropical timber trade plays an important role, although palm oil plantations are an increasing cause of deforestation. In Africa, large-scale agricultural and industrial activities are less important, and the most critical factor is the expansion of subsistence and small-scale agriculture. However, trade-oriented activities, such as cocoa and coffee plantations in West Africa and logging in Central Africa, are becoming increasingly important. Public policies have a strong influence on these changes in land use, from traditional community-based livelihood practices to for-profit livestock, cultivation, and timber extraction. Investments in infrastructure, tax and credit incentives, and institutional structures to stimulate migration and deforestation represent economic incentives that lead to deforestation. Poor governance and a lack of resources and political will to protect the traditional rights of the population and environmental resources are another cause of the continuous reduction of tropical forests. Consequently, deforestation prevents the expansion of economic activities that could be established without threats to the remnants of native forest. There are also negative social consequences for the local population, which suffers from the degradation of the natural resources on which their production is based, and is hampered by air pollution caused by forest fires. In some situations, a vicious cycle is created between poverty and deforestation, since the expansion of the agricultural frontier reduces the forest areas where traditional communities once operated, but without generating job opportunities. New approaches are required to reverse this paradigm and to lay the foundation for a sustainable economy based on the provision of ecosystem services provided by tropical forests. These include (a) better governance and public management capacity, (b) incentives for economic activities compatible with the preservation of the tropical forest, and (c) large-scale adoption of economic instruments to support biodiversity and ecosystem services. Public policies are necessary to correct market failures and incorporate the values of ecosystem services in the land use decision process. In addition to penalties for predatory actions, incentives are needed for activities that support forest preservation, so the forest is worth retaining rather than clearing. Improving governance capacity, combining advanced science and technology with traditional knowledge, and improving the management of existing activities can also help to ensure sustainable development in tropical forest regions.

Article

Every flood event reveals hidden disparities within cities—disparities in capacities to anticipate, respond to, and recover from disasters. Studies examining drivers of disparity have found that highly socially vulnerable (e.g., poor, minority) neighborhoods sustain more damage, have access to fewer recovery resources, and experience slower recovery. Climate change and unregulated growth are likely to exacerbate these disparities. Scholars argue that disparities along the lines of race and income are partly due to inadequate planning. Planning for flood mitigation has lacked a deep understanding of values and has therefore overlooked needs and exacerbated physical vulnerability in socially vulnerable neighborhoods. Increasing local and international attention to the socioeconomic drivers of disaster impacts elicits the question: How can land use planning foster more equitable hazard mitigation practices that meet the needs identified by marginalized communities? Equitable hazard mitigation is advanced through three dimensions. First, contextual equity involves preparing an information base that asks who is vulnerable to flooding, who has (not) been engaged in planning decisions that affect vulnerability to flooding, and why. Recognizing contextual inequities in plans is the first step to making visible historic discrimination and addressing drivers of persisting political disenfranchisement. Second, procedural equity involves organizing a participation process that critically considers whom participation processes should target, how stakeholders should be inclusively engaged, and how multiple values should inform policy priorities. Dedicated planning-participation processes can repair past legacies of power information imbalances and co-produce planning goals. A process where vulnerable, marginalized citizens have as much information and as much say in policy decisions as others adds nuance to planners’ understanding of needs, and enables the incorporation of overlooked values into distribution of land use policies. Third, distributional equity involves designing planning policies so that flood mitigation services and infrastructure are directed to neighborhoods and households most in need. Moreover, distributional equity considerations need to be integrated across the local government plans (e.g., transportation plan, housing plan, and hazard mitigation plan) that affect growth in hazardous areas. Social equity outcomes further rely on the degree of knowledge transfer between the three dimensions. The effectiveness of distributional equity is critically dependent on contextual and procedural equity and affects how plan outcomes align with the needs and values of disadvantaged and vulnerable communities. Likewise, the scope of contextual equity is shaped by historical distributional and procedural equity or lack thereof. To advance equitable outcomes, more research is required on the implementation and effectiveness of different land use planning approaches. Future inquiries should examine social equity through a multihazard lens; empirically analyze the causal relationships among the contextual, procedural, and distributional equity; and explore the effectiveness of different planning tools and governance structures in fostering socially equitable hazard mitigation.