David L. Skole and Brent M. Simpson Abstract
Measuring sustainability of land use and agriculture requires some understanding of the complex interactions that take place on land. As we look to the future, it is likely that those concerns that threaten sustainability, such as climate change, will have profound influences on land use and land cover change. In particular, the world's continued exploitation of fossil fuels for energy and material feedstocks is not sustainable. There are optimistic prospects that the global economy can make a transition to a system in which renewable energy and materials can be derived from feedstocks based on biomass. Impressive advances have been made in using the natural chemistry of plants to derive a myriad number of materials and important sources of energy from ethanol, methanol, and esters rendered from biological materials in biorefineries. This transition is explored, taking particular note of the following interactions: the availability of the land for natural product feedstocks, competition for land, replacing food crops with bioenergy crops, and other dynamics. The chapter focuses on two related and converging concerns: (a) the emerging climate crisis brought on by fossil fuel combustion and land use change, and (b) an economy reliant on increasingly scarce and nonrenewable fossil fuels for energy and materials. It is postulated that efforts to change our source of fuels and materials from fossil sources to natural sources will create a new bio-economy. A revolutionary change from nonrenewable carbon economy to renewable carbon economy presents exciting prospects for a new economic system—one that can mitigate climate change and hasten sustainability. However, there are potential risks to food security, water supplies, and the natural environment. The prospect of a future carbon-constrained world is creating dramatic transformation of the world economy with both positive and negative consequences. The way we manage this transition will be critical to a sustainable economy of the future.
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