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Both Europe and the United Kingdom were once covered in dense forest. For over 7,500 years, waves of technical and cultural revolutions have seen humankind exploit the great European wildwood to meet a basic physiological need, food.
What would it take to rewild Europe?
A Fourth Industrial Revolution could change our landscape and tackle carbon.
By JONATHAN RIGGALL
featured in Fast Company
Simply planting trees across our agricultural landscape to compensate is not necessarily the answer. We still need to eat. To counter climate change on a grand scale, we need to start thinking big… and wild.
Could we make this vast space dedicated to agriculture into wildwood again? Could this wildwood help us rebalance carbon? To do that we must first find a solution to food production with zero carbon emissions.
How we go about feeding ourselves gets little airtime compared to other climate mitigation ‘fixes’ such as renewable energy. More than 70% of UK landmass is dedicated to agricultural use, contributing to around 40 million tons of the UK’s direct annual carbon dioxide emissions.
Food production accounts for 80% biodiversity loss, 80% of deforestation, and 70% of all freshwater use.
of all food produced per year is wasted. 1b tons = $936 billion
of the world’s population works in agriculture.
Silently, the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” is underway and showing us an alternative possibility. Start-ups in the UK and US are using robotics, zero carbon energy, biosciences and automation to create vertical farms in our cities. These urban farms can potentially cut food miles, create food communities and feed us affordably and locally. These niche businesses point to a possible future of food production that requires a lot less land.
By concentrating food production in vertical structures in urban centers, we would purposefully engineer a shift in land use that would allow Europe, the UK, even North America to ‘rewild’ farmland and deliver nature based solutions to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Integrating agriculture and urban greening to improve societal access to low carbon food production.
The future burger
Soilless tomato growing reduces water consumption and directs energy into quality and flavor.
Vertical green houses intensify space for lettuce production.
Coupled with innovation in biosynthesis, this revolution will potentially grow to include new, highly efficient methods of industrial food production including digitally printed meat substitutes and hyper industrialization of arable farming in ‘sheds.’
Naturally, there will be ethical considerations to this transformation and a need for public guidance and assurance on meat substitutes, genetically-modified crops and other aspects of industrial food production. But ultimately, the vertical farming approach has great potential to feed us and turn around the planet’s carbon-related prospects.
Redesigning the urban biosphere
Could rewilding and adoption of an urban biosphere become core to our placemaking in our cities in towns? Can we blur the boundaries between rewilded countryside and urban biospheres such that eventually we return to humans living within nature, rather than humans versus nature?
Blurred boundaries between rewilded countryside and urban biosphere
WHOLE SYSTEM THINKING
Rewilded farmland turned forest acts as carbon sink
Robotic bakeries combine rapid short-rotation wheat farming, milling and baking into a single industrial process. Elimination of low density agricultural emissions, transport emissions and capture of lifecycle resources (heat, carbon dioxide) in the growing and manufacturing process.
Bioprinted beef patty reduces emissions from agriculture and increases food safety and quality.
Local distribution = fewer food miles
Zero carbon energy harvested from solar and wind
Vertical farms produce more with minimal land
Highly vegetated buildings with air scrubbing acting as “urban lungs"
Rooftop leisure with verdant fringe
Woodland parks in lost spaces between buildings
Tree-lined avenues enhance city life
A future that sees whole continents rewild presents a really interesting urban design challenge. In the UK urban areas typically create a frontline against greenfield farmland. If this greenfield farmland was restored to wildwood, how would our towns and cities respond to a new frontline of parklands and forests?
In the UK, experts suggest that a mixed woodland requires 30 to 50 years to establish itself. It takes around eight to ten years to see the positive effects of rewilding. We can, on the other hand, transform urban areas for food production fairly rapidly.
Today, we associate dense urban environments with smog, respiratory illness and air quality issues. As we build a better understanding of how urban environments function through data, however, we can design nature into these settings. If rewilding can turn rural areas into carbon sinks, we can experiment with similar big ideas to mitigate the carbon output from dense cities.
of global GHG emissions are produced in the
supply chain that takes food from farm to fork.
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