Humans have a bloody history of competing with one another for territory. We also compete with other species for territory. In recent decades our easy dominance over the land surface has come to worry us. Some go so far as to say human behavior with respect to the environment is creating a holocaust of plant and animal species that will mortally threaten our own. Perhaps we should spare more land for others.
Farming is by far the main human activity that transforms the land. Until the twentieth century, on average more people meant more land transformed. During the last 50 years or so, the wide spread of the revolution in agricultural productivity has proven that much more food can come from less land. It is happening, especially in the United States and Europe. We can spare land for nature.
But can a much larger population, say 10 billion, spare land for nature? This is the crucial and realistic question that Paul Waggoner, one of the world's leading agricultural scientists, addresses in this exceedingly important monograph. Dr. Waggoner's answer depends, logically, on human values, diet, economics, and technology. The potential benefits of the contributions of scientists and engineers become particularly clear. If advances in technology continue and diffuse, a more crowded planet can become simultaneously better fed and much greener. A scenario is plausible in which one-third or more of today's cropland reverts to wilderness.
To my knowledge, no one before Dr. Waggoner has posed the questions that motivate this report so clearly or answered them so usefully and convincingly. Certainly the conventional wisdom is that the earth viewed from space in the middle of the next century will be brown and gray, rather than green and blue. We are indebted to Dr. Waggoner both for sound analysis and the encouragement the report provides. Of course, he does not say what will happen, only what is plausible and feasible.
I am most grateful to the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology for their careful attention in assuring the completeness and accuracy of this study and for publishing it in a most attractive manner. The monograph was first commissioned by the Program for the Human Environment of The Rockefeller University as part of a study examining technological trajectories with respect to energy and materials as well as land. The broader study, conducted in cooperation with the National Academy of Engineering and the Electric Power Research Institute, will be published as Technological Trajectories and the Human Environment by the National Academy Press in 1994.
Jesse H. Ausubel, Director
Program for the Human Environment
The Rockefeller University