Living from 2 hectares, and not even that…

During the holidays I was philosophizing about the previous article, the biomass growth reference. And look, it is actually very simple: per person there is about 2 ha on earth for each of us. That is everyone’s personal “resource bubble”. You actually have to provide food, collect energy, building materials, etc. from the yields of that bubble.

If you can’t, you should borrow or steal from the neighbors. In any case: if you use more, another has less. Or you are exhausting your plot of land, making the soil unlivable because there are no more nutrients left in the soil, forests have been cut down, and biodiversity has disappeared. Just think of the Netherlands currently. It’s that simple. Which can not be sustained of course.

But then, how big is that budget on that piece of land? Ultimately it comes down to living off the sun and its derivatives. What we are actually already doing, with fossil fuels, which is basically exhausting the legacy of millions of years of capturing that sun’s yield. That could grow because we as humans were not walking around at the time. Today we are becoming aware that squandering that legacy was just fun for a short period, but has created enormous adverse effects, which are now even going to threaten us… So we don’t do that anymore. No more fossils.

Then the sun remains as input. How to make it useful? For example growing a forest is the best you can do. But beware: per hectare the growth is only about 4 to 5 m3 of wood per year. Make sure that there are some nuts and fruit trees in between and you have food, material and energy at your disposal. Another strip with potato and beets, and you will get through the winter too. I described that in the previous contribution.

Whichever other way you choose, it will always require more energy and raw materials than letting nature do its work itself. Because then you put extra energy in it, and where does it come from? It must come from the same “bubble budget”, which is limited per year. Everything you do to theoretically increase the yield often costs more than it yields. Starting from that “natural, regenerable capital’.

Everything you do to increase the yield has an impact and has to come from somewhere. Take a cow that you use for the manure. But the cow needs food itself, which in fact makes your plot of land a lot smaller again. More yield per m2, but less land.

You can save time however (= labor time). You could , for instance, yearly save some wood for the construction of a wooden windmill. The windmill can grind the grain. That saves time and energy. But it will not increase the yield. The free time is real free time, because there is no extra land to cultivate within everyone’s bubble.

The only thing that can help make any progress is to apply the resources for eternity: if a wooden house can last for hundreds of years, other generations can benefit from it, and they don’t have to spend their annual bubble yield on building a home, and the yield can be spent on other things. Such as perhaps a fishing boat made of wood, instead of having to build a new house. Or that wooden windmill.

Exactly, it is already starting to look a lot like life before fossil fuels. No wonder, people at the time always had to make such considerations. Nevertheless, they went beyond their limits by getting their sources elsewhere on a large scale, colonizing it was called . That time has passed: because of the large-scale use of fossil fuels, local supplies could then be depleted more quickly. But now we want (we have to) get rid of fossils, completely. So we’re back to where we started.

I call the earth an island in the universe: we cannot get off, and nothing is added. That bubble is everyone’s own small island within that whole, for which rules apply. That is to say, the small bubbles are even decreasing , since if we are with more, the amount of land per person is less. My piece of land, my personal natural income, has shrunk from 5 ha to that 2 ha since my birth. And there will be an additional 2.5 billion people arriving. Then it goes to 1.5 ha pp.

I can hear you thinking, that’s not much, 2 hectares. But that is on average worldwide. In the Netherlands it is slightly different, there it is only one tenth, or 0.2 hectare pp. If I were government, I would somewhat panic about that. 0.2 hectares is just enough for a very basic vegetarian diet (based on organic farming, so without fertilizers and tractors), say 1000 m2, and the other thousand m2 is for trees. Harvest thereof: about 0.5 m3 wood / year. That’s just enough to keep a small shed warm in a cold winter. And after a mild winter perhaps just enough wood to repair the roof. (See also [1])

Lets say, we will survive somehow…. But we also will lose some more land, since its most likely we have to give back parts to the sea again, so it will be even less. That is why I have been pleading for a while to give the Netherlands as a gift to Germany, as a new Bundesland. Then our fair share, the land bubble, will increase from 0.2 ha to 0.4 hectare! Moreover, we then will have some hinterland, in case it starts to get a bit wet overhere. Count you blessings …

Anyway, you get the message: We will have live from much less as what we think we are entitled to. And in any case do not think that we can ‘earn money’ from making our current homes more sustainable, to have a short pay-back and financial profit. Just to use that profit, to fly on vacation … to another “island” …



PS. the global 2 hectares, is overall, including glaciers, desserts, mountains etc.

[1] Food supply in the Netherlands under extraordinary crisis conditions, Wur 2013

Author: ronald rovers