Reducing the impacts of indirect land use

Written by
Joseph Albanese for the High Meadows Environmental Institute
March 23, 2020

It is well known that population growth and urban expansion have played major roles in the loss of habitat and biodiversity.

But less well known is the role of what some researchers are calling indirect land use—the land taken up to provide consumers goods and services. This involves the impacts individuals have on the landscape well beyond their home.

In a recent paper, Princeton researchers demonstrated that the amount of land going toward providing goods and services is much larger than the land people personally take up. And, combined, the effect of these two impacts could be significantly higher than most people are aware. 

“Land is scarce if we’re trying to feed and clothe 9 billion people,” said researcher Anu Ramaswami, Princeton’s Sanjay Swani ’87 Professor of India Studies and professor of civil and environmental engineering. “Yes, urban areas are expanding, but they only account for 3% of Earth’s land surface.”

In the paper, the authors highlight choices individuals can make to reduce the demand for land. Some of these are as simple as removing meat from one’s diet once a week.

“We’re trying to inform people that simple choices can have big impacts,” said Lin Zeng, co-author on the paper a postdoctoral research associate in civil and environmental engineering.

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