“I have come to see land use as the most important of all environmental questions. I now believe it is the issue that makes the greatest difference to whether terrestrial ecosystems and Earth systems survive or perish.”
George Monbiot, Regenesis
by Leonard Green
If you are reading this, you likely understand we are well on our way to climate disaster. We know that the world must reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. We understand the importance of energy efficiency and conservation.
Increasingly, climate scientists also recognize that land use is a major contributor to our climate problems, that we cannot effectively fight climate change without reforming our land use practices.
Through industrial farming, deforestation, and suburban sprawl, we have largely dismantled Earth’s natural systems, replacing them with fertilizer and pesticide-dependent agricultural practices, impervious surfaces, irrigated lawns, parking lots, malls, and roadways.
Land use is responsible for more than one third of the carbon in the atmosphere. Furthermore, when we destroy forests and grasslands, replacing them with suburbs or farmland to feed livestock, we remove effective carbon sinks. Land use is also inseparably connected to global species collapse. We have replaced complex living habitats with overly simplified human-centered landscapes.
Just as we have standards for measuring architectural energy efficiency, we now have similar criteria for evaluating land use sustainability.
Federal and state guidelines have been written, and numerous third party agencies have formulated standards. For example, the Three Mile Harbor affordable housing currently under construction in East Hampton must meet Enterprise Green Community Building standards, including sustainable landscape certification.
New York State, surprisingly enough, gets this right. Here are some selected requirements from its GreenNY Sustainable Landscapes criteria, followed by its mission statement.
● Preserve existing native vegetation, especially plant communities and mature trees, whenever possible; otherwise restore native vegetation on-site or replace in-kind to the extent feasible elsewhere
● Use plants that are pollinator-friendly as appropriate
● Minimize areas of turf and hardscape
This sampling of recommendations should be familiar to anyone following Change Hampton!
HERE IS GREENNY’s RATIONALE
“Increasing impacts from climate change make clear that sustainability requires a sea-change in the entrenched cultural expectations to ‘control’ nature and to associate good character with a ‘well-kept’ property, that result in landscaping valued according to the work, energy, and cost to maintain it. NYS needs to lead by example in reducing our foot-print to maximize places for natural systems to perform critical, life-sustaining functions.”
“Entrenched cultural expectations,” so much hinges on this learned, conventional behavior. Continuing to see our landscapes as separate from nature, as monuments to our domination of nature, we pursue disaster.
Larry Weaner, in Garden Revolution, succinctly states the problem and solution. We need to re-imagine our place in nature. When we do so,
..it turns the landscape from a consumer of resources and a polluter into a source of environmental renewal: a nexus of storm-water absorption and purification, a sanctuary for indigenous wildlife, and a protector of biodiversity.
Nature, the Earth, has provided us with essential natural services. Resilient, functional ecosystems provide these services. They clean our water, keep the soil fertile and porous, provide habitat for all the organisms that keep our enmeshed ecosystems functional, and store great quantities of carbon in the ground, where it needs to be.
ChangeHampton! is actively encouraging the Town of East Hampton to, at minimum, adopt sustainable landscape criteria for all its town managed properties.
Newtown, Connecticut has ordinances regarding all properties within its township, both municipal and residential.
New York State’s “GreenNY” standards provide a model readily adaptable for our local purposes. Other municipalities have taken the lead. East Hampton should join them.