Land Use Law Important to Address Climate & Community: Opinion

The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) released a special report on land use and climate change from a global perspective. While the report focuses globally, the report provides insights for local action on land use issues.

First, the report suggests that human population has grown explosively in the past 50 years placing extreme pressure on natural areas, farmland, and natural resources resulting in land degradation. Land degradation results in loss of farm productivity, flooding, erosion, and pollution.

While global reports sound distant, I have seen this personally. Being from Lancaster County in Pennsylvania, I have seen farms replaced by debt-ridden agricultural-commodity-production-facilities, farmland replaced by McMansions, and the paving over of thousands of acres of productive land to make way for housing and housing developments, etc. The result: serious flooding problems (e.g., 2011 floods), lost community viability, lost farms, and destabilized communities (saddled with crushing tax debt).

Second, the report suggests simple but insightful methods to help address the land degradation.

  • restoring true farms which rely on sustainable farming practices (as opposed to reliance on debt, costly bio-engineered seeds, chemical “fertilizers,” contract commodity production, human waste, etc.)
  • restoring farming communities and farm viability
  • valuing productive land over yet-another-housing-development or strip mall
  • assess future needs rather than immediacy when making land use decisions

I have commented before on the need for a fundamental shift in Pennsylvania from failed “growth-at-any-cost-land-use-models” to community stabilization models—and the report supports such thinking. Pennsylvania still labors in a 1950s mentality that growth = good and that all open land is somehow “undeveloped,”  and relying on failed notions of highest-and-best-value of land as somehow always includes a McMansion or Big Box. The report, and practical local experience, show that such notions failed to yield the “benefits” that the proponents claimed (if still in doubt and still not convinced by flooding and other issues, look at Pennsylvania’s crushing debt load of $128 BILLION in 2018 NOT including state pension debt. See also Statista. Updated 2021.).

While some may disagree with climate change, few can contradict the damage that failed land use policies that emphasize  “development” over stability have caused. Sound land use policies, based on constitutional factors and not “developer” demands, protect private property and help stabilize communities.