We should eat rabbits
Umeå is a place in the north of Sweden with a lot of forests. While I was living there for three months to learn about trees and how we should manage the forests, I interviewed my professor in the Forest Ecology course at Umeå University. This is what Kikki Palmqvist has to say about what we should do.
Let’s talk… but wait… what was the question?
If you want to make a change you should first find the right question, according to Kikki. I have been struggling with this for years. Hundreds, thousands of questions have come across my mind about humans living on Earth in a sustainable way. But for the moment, I am mostly wondering how we should use land. What is the best way to divide the available, limited amount of land? How much should we assign to agriculture / cities / forests / infrastructure / other uses? Can we combine these uses and how? Since land is such a basic concept, something that is just there, it seems to me like a profound question – especially when keeping in mind the increasing human population and environmental pressure. Since Kikki researches forests, let’s see what she has to say about this. What should we do?
Answering a question like this means that we need to make choices. What do we want from the land? Food? Living area? Sanctuary places? Ecosystem services such as the forest being a CO2 sink? Not everyone will agree on these answers – and that will bring conflict.
At this moment, it is discussed if forests should be used as a CO2 sink (carbon sink). Basically, the idea is to see the forest as a big vacuum cleaner that sucks up the emissions from our airplane trips. This means that we should make decisions about how much land should be kept forested, be they natural, untouched forests or production forests, grown to cut down trees and make our toilet paper and IKEA furniture. I wondered how Kikki thinks we should divide the land.
So it seems to be a conflict between uses. Use land as the vacuum cleaner? Use land for food production? Use land for toilet paper? What if we can combine uses?
This is where my interest in agroforestry comes from. We have mostly divided our lands for separate goals: cities, agriculture, forest. But I think that it is interesting to see how we can combine uses from the land (of course, humans have actually been doing this for centuries). What if we could use the same patch of land for agriculture and trees? It seems to me that this would be create a win-win situation where you get resources and profit from a certain area, and at the same time sustain the inherent complex ecosystem (healthy ecosystems and monocultures or mono-uses don’t sit well together). Would complex or combined uses be able to sustain a complex system?
I find this an interesting idea: within Europe, the effects of climate change could be balanced. Less food production in drying Spain could be offset by increased food production in Sweden. So agriculture-wise, Sweden could profit from climate change and soil erosion in Southern Europe. However, another interesting thing is that the declining quality of soils in Southern Europe is a problem that could be reversed by land restoration. I asked Kikki about land restoration possibilities in Sweden. Just like agroforestry, she thought that land restoration is a good idea – but for warmer areas, not for Sweden.
You don’t need to plant trees here. Everything grows by itself.
Okay, fair opinions. But should there be changes in the land use in Sweden then? One option, according to Kikki, would be to have a more mixed landscape with smaller patches of land for different kind of crops, and more animals grazing in the forest lands. Should we do this?
(For a balanced view, here is an article about a recent study saying that we can feed the world with organic production, combined with less meat production and food waste.)