Charting a more equitable journey for humanity and the planet to the world of 2032 and beyond

Charting a more equitable journey for humanity and the planet to the world of 2032 and beyond

Fernand Braudel, the French historian, was the first to focus on the power and influence of geography, surroundings and resources on the world we sculpt around us. Our Earth Day guest continued that tradition with an intense review of the history of New York and the United States in two books, New land and Mannahatta. Eric Sanderson holds a rare position as a landscape ecologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society at the Bronx Zoo and as director of the Mannahatta Project. His recent op-ed in the New York Times on how we should be more accepting of the way nature is sending signals back to us (coastal floods, etc.) is a different method of thinking about this issue.

  • Why were we given an immense renewable resource base in the US?
  • How can we renew America by valuing the land differently to harness what we have for long-term success in living, transporting ourselves, and building our cities of the future?

The United States has vast natural resources, but the way we pay for, extract and use them needs to radically change. The way we think about ideas like a land value tax (in historical and resource terms) can change the way we think and act. Sanderson argues that the world we live in now is an artifact of our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ decisions about how we build cities, transport ourselves, and use the land around us. We still live with those decisions, and our children and their children will live with the decisions we make now, ten, twenty, and a hundred years from now.

We can’t keep kicking the can on the way to 2032 and beyond. We cannot change the laws of physics, but we can change human laws.

Sanderson advocates three changes:

  • We adjust taxes around costs (eg what land has given us) to be more respectful of the environmental consequences of land use – a kind of land value tax.
  • A shift back to various transport models as our ancestors had to cut down on crazy commute times.
  • A different way of thinking about the interrelationships of our natural resources (oil, land, geohistorical) and how we make investment decisions going forward.

Economic signals need to be much clearer to change behavior, and New York is the perfect example of this environment shaped by its geography. The idea is that people, geography and economy become dependent variables. We need to be more conscious about our decisions about the future and not now. There are seven generations ahead or three in the past and four in the future, as resources are limited.

Eric W. Sanderson is a landscape ecologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society at the Bronx Zoo, director of the Mannahatta Project, and author of Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City. In 2013 his book Newfoundland: The New World After Oil, Cars and Suburbs was published and defined how we should think about building a new world around us.

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