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Thursday, April 1, 2010

Burdon on Land Use Ethics

Peter D. Burdon (Univ. of Adelaide) has posted What is Good Land Use? From Rights to Relationship on SSRN.  Here's the abstract:

Food is our most basic common need. It nourishes us, brings people together and is a source of profound pleasure. However, the way we currently produce food is a primary cause of the current environmental crisis. This is evidenced in the rapid loss of topsoil, the pollution of water systems, and loss of biodiversity from land clearing and toxic pesticides. The degradation of agricultural land presents a significant challenge for global food security and broader environmental health. It also provides a pertinent opportunity to evaluate current land use practices and construct new guiding principles for future interaction. In this article I will describe and contrast two visions of land use, industrial and agrarian. From the industrial perspective, the question of land use is considered in economic terms. Land use is good if it increases production and maximises profit. Central to this perspective is the liberal theory of private property, which provides the law’s main message on ownership and is the key legal institution governing land use. I contend that the liberal theory is contributing to land degradation in three important ways. First, ownership is premised on individualism and the liberty to use property in a manner that maximises individual preference. Second, the legal idea of private property focuses on interactions between people, rather than considering physical nature. Finally, private property views the land as a ‘bundle of rights’, which can be divided into discrete parcels and used with no overarching vision of natural health. In contrast, the agrarian vision of good land use considers not just human good, but also relationship with place, ethics and the needs of the broader ecosystem. This philosophy offers not only a viable alternative to the way we produce food, but also a different perspective on ownership and the idea of private property. Agrarian philosophy is being practised by a growing number of people throughout the world who are choosing a different idea of ownership for themselves. Importantly, the liberal theory of private property allows this freedom and as an evolving social institution, social change is critical to reforming private property as an idea and an institution.

Ben Barros

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