We need yearly a land-budgetting

The Netherlands is grappling with its land. With its land management and spatial planning. From all sides, there’s a demand for scarce land: by livestock farmers for pasture and spreading manure, they want to expand more and more. But also for construction, roads, and solar parks. And data and distribution centers. To reduce the impact of materials, we want to use natural resources, biobased fibers, and for that, a lot of land is needed too. Next we also need land for water storage, and we’ll have to abandon parts of land due to increased water pressure due to rising sea levels. And last but not least, land for more nature and forests: one of the best strategies to reduce CO2 emissions is by planting or growing a lot of forests, which also helps to combat biodiversity loss.

At the same time, that land is already under tremendous pressure, the foundation is shaking: think of rotting pilings, seepage water, salinization, drought, heat stress, limited pumping capacity, earthquakes, subsidence, compaction, pollution from industry. We worry about Russia, rightly so, but the question is why one of the most densely populated countries in the world isn’t much more concerned about what’s happening to its own land. When push comes to shove, we practically own nothing: we’re transitioning the energy supply, and we say we have wind energy now, but if those commercial (!) owners decide to sign contracts with foreign countries, then we have nothing. Medicines? Neither. Even healthcare itself is becoming commercial, buying out general practitioners. Agriculture is ruled by huge multinational corporations and is dependent on the import of (artificial) fertilizers and pesticides. Housing construction is being ruined by commercial and foreign investors. If we, as a country, as a community, want something, we have to beg or negotiate to buy out companies.

While land is our real capital in a world that ultimately wants to move forward without fossil fuels. Just as it was before the fossil revolution began, so it will be now.

In short, it’s time for the Netherlands to establish an annual ‘land budgetting practice’. How much do we have, and what do we want to do with it? So not a ‘national budget’ in terms of money, that’s anonymous manipulation with subjective numbers. No, just in terms of hectares of land, and take over control.

To get some perspective on those numbers: If we divide the land area of the Netherlands by its inhabitants, there’s about 0.23 hectares available per person. Globally, it’s 2 hectares, but the Netherlands is quite densely populated, so you can see that reflected in the land capital. For reference: In Germany, it’s 0.4.

To put that 0.23 hectares or 2300 m2 per person into perspective: the Netherlands has 3.8 million cows that occupy almost 1 million hectares of grassland together. That’s 2500 m2 per cow. A cow occupies more land area than what’s available per person. And by the way, that’s the land per cow in the Netherlands, not even counting the land footprint abroad for the same cow, such as for imported animal feed.

If we were to give up meat, a lot of land would become available, and we get rid of a lot of manure and chemical dangerous substances. And save a a lot of land abroad for feed. Of course, then a plant-based diet would be necessary. Wageningen University once calculated in a scenario where the Netherlands had to provide for its food autonomously (on behalf of the government, after the economic crisis 10 years ago) and came to an area of about 1550 m2 per person, organically cultivated. We could secure our need, but with three-quarters of the total budget. Of course, in reality, the budget is already more limited because about 13% of it is already earmarked for buildings, and another 19% is water, inland and outside water, as they say. That’s where we live, work, drive, and recreate.

In that case there’s nothing allocated yet for all those other things: the forests, the solar panels, nature, water storage, and construction tasks. Worldwide, experts believe that the forest area should double as a contribution to capturing CO2 from the air in biomass. For the Netherlands, that would mean an extra forest per person worth 375 m2, or the available budget per person would drop to about 1200 m2. That shouldn’t be a problem if those forests become food forests that also contribute to our diet.

Building would also become more plant-based, which requires much less energy in production and captures CO2, which helps reduce climate damage. But it does require land. For a new house of 100 m2, built in wood and natural insulation fibers, the equivalent of the annual yield of 60-80,000 m2 is needed, or, 30-40 years of someone’s fair share in Nether-land. [1] And then that person hasn’t eaten yet, needing that 1200-1500 m2 for food. These proportions show the immense importance of land, the planning of it, and the value of already invested resources in existing buildings!

Private activities also determine how much land someone has left for food and material. For example, if someone has golf as a hobby and plays golf once a week, they claim 650 m2 of land, permanently, per person who plays golf.[2] That comes off their 2300 m2 share.

And as for energy, we also have to live off our land (with air or water above it, as I already mapped out earlier: [3]).

These kinds of figures indicate that we must be very careful with our land, and that careful planning and use of it are not a luxury, now that the country is still growing in terms of population and economic activities, while it’s under pressure, increasingly so, both due to the transition to more sustainable forms of food, energy, and material use, and due to the inevitable threats from nature and climate burdens, like sea level rise. [4] [5]

An annual process of land budgeting is then a must, so that we don’t find out in a few years that the land has already been allocated to non-necessary or non-essential facilities. And face a repetition of 1950, when then-Prime Minister Drees addressed the people on New Year’s eve: “A part of our people must dare to seek their future in larger areas than our own country.” A refugee flow from the Netherlands, so to speak. Our own area will certainly not become much larger, the Flevopolders were good for about 1000 km2 together added in the 1950s, or about 2.5% of land, but there’s not much more to be had. So let’s be very careful with the land and make an obligatory land budget annually, with an eye on the (post-fossil) future. [6]

[1] biobased building: https://www.ronaldrovers.com/half-the-agricultural-land/

[2] Golf: https://www.ronaldrovers.com/golf-the-decadence-in-our-use-of-space/

[3] energy: https://www.ronaldrovers.com/living-off-sun-and-wind-now-today/

[4] land is our capital: https://www.ronaldrovers.com/the-real-capital-is-land/

[5] Magazine Landschap, 2020/4 pag 245, Het Land (-schap) is ons kapitaal. https://edepot.wur.nl/536128

[6] Book ( in Dutch for the moment) : Post Fossiel Leven – leven van land en zon, ofwel ruimte tijd als maat voor waarde. 2024, Ronald Rovers, bodemambassadeur, toekomstdenker, fysisch fundamentalist, isbn 9789083144160 https://www.ribuilt.eu/product/post-fossiel-leven/

Author: ronald rovers