This is a continuation of a series on how certain sensibilities within the environmental movement could lead to policies that, if applied on a broad scale, would result in net environmental harm. More examples:
Anti-GM foods: Although research has failed again and again to substantiate any harm from GM crops, the anti-GM activists just won’t stop, creating impossible conditions to satisfy their concerns. And GM foods are such a godsend! (see, for instance: http://www.economist.com/printedition/2014-11-08) Just think: more crops that are resistant to extreme weather, including drought, that require less pesticide and fertilizer, and that are more nutritious and require less land to grow. Remember: we need to reduce agricultural land, so more is available for wild habitat and forest.
Anti-Large Farms: This is in part a romanticization of small farms and part a knee-jerk demonization of large businesses. So we have “Big Ag” and “corporate agriculture”. Actually, the vast majority of US farms are family-owned, including the biggest farms . And most of corporate farms are small-to-moderate size. Just check out the USDA Economic Research Services for the latest numbers on this. (Note, though, I don’t have a problem with corporate ownership per se – for me, “corporate” is not a synonym for evil).
The problem with this “small is beautiful” mentality is that small landholders tend to operate on very small margins and are the least likely to afford sustainable practices like letting a portion of their land fallow every year and to allow some bordering forests to remain intact. In poorer countries, when times are hard, the trees are chopped down to sell the wood and whatever can be planted will be planted.
Pro-Integrated Agriculture. This is the idea that farming should be integrated with non-cultivated areas to preserve biodiversity as much as possible. Research, however, does not bear this out. First, agriculture of any type is disruptive of biodiversity. Second, farms need access to more land to produce the same output if they have to “share” the farm plots with non-farm areas. Third, “sharing” the land in this way has been found to be less conducive to biodiversity than simply leaving more land (e.g., forests) alone and concentrating farmland (so-called “sparing” the land). See, for instance: Ben Phalan et al (2011) Reconciling Food Production and Biodiversity Conservation: Land Sharing and Land Sparing Compared, Science, Vol 333, 2 September 2011