Is Private Property Anti-Environment? – PlanetSave

Is Private Property Anti-Environment?

A white picket fence. (Image credit: Idlir Fida at Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.)Has it ever occurred to you that the whole concept of private property might be innately harmful to the natural environment? While I’ve always recognized that indigenous cultures viewed the land as a blessing to all, not as something belonging to individuals, I never really made that concept personal until now.

Now, in the context of the U.S. mortgage meltdown, the context of protections for Alaskan wildlife and how they affect Inuit culture, the context of how actions on one side of the globe (i.e., industrial pollution and greenhouse gas emissions) are affecting the lives of people on the other side, I have to wonder if the idea of personally-owned land is destructive to the environment and, ultimately, to all of us.

Maybe that sounds like a wildly socialist proposal, but look at it this way: if no one individual or company had the right to extract coal or oil or uranium from the ground, and to build industrial facilities to process those natural resources for fuel for which the rest of us had to pay, would we possibly not be in the situation we’re now in regarding dwindling resources, high fuel prices and climate change? If we could make the decisions about resource extraction and consumption collectively, rather than corporately, would circumstances look more promising today?

I expect many might consider my musings naive, but look at the situation we’re in today: are the decisions of large private property owners (i.e., corporations) really in the best interests of all of us anymore? If “cheap” fuel (soon to be a memory, I believe) is granted a higher priority than basic grains for the world’s hungry (think corn-based ethanol), or a preference over the long-term impact on the planet (think abundant but dirty coal and oil sands), when do the rest of us have an opportunity to cry, “Enough!”?

The collective benefits of the commons, I believe, have reached an all-time low these days, and the results aren’t pretty for most of us. Maybe it’s time to return to a more nature-based, socially beneficial system that helps many a little, more than a few a lot.

About the Author

Shirley Siluk Gregory, a transplanted Chicagoan now living in Northwest Florida, represents the progressive half of Green Options' Red, Green and Blue segment. She holds a bachelor's degree in Geological Sciences from Northwestern University but graduated in 1984, just when the market for geologists was flatter than the Florida landscape. Just as well, though: she had little interest in spending her life either in a laboratory or, heaven forbid, an oil field. So, of course, she went into journalism. After extremely low-paying but fun and educational stints at several suburban Chicago weeklies and dailies, Shirley and her then-boyfriend/now-husband Scott found themselves displaced by a media buyout and spending the next several years working as freelancers. Among their credits: The Chicago Tribune, a publication for the manufactured-housing industry, and Web Hosting Magazine, a now-defunct publication that came and went with the dotcom era. Shirley's always been concerned about nature and conservation (and an avid pack-rat, as her family can attest to), but became even more rabidly interested in the environment primarily due to two factors: the growing signs that global warming was real and threatening, and the birth of her son, Noah, in 2003. Suddenly, the prospect of a world that might not be quite as habitable in 40 or 50 years took on a whole new, and personal, meaning. Living where she lives now also helped light the fire of Shirley's environmental awareness: her hometown was severely damaged by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, and beaten up again by Hurricane Dennis in 2005. That, and the fact that she and her family were vacationing in New Orleans until the day before Katrina -- and spent 12 hours driving home for a trip that normally takes 3 -- has made Shirley deeply appreciate how fragile our lifestyles are, and how dependent they are on sound management of natural resources and sustainable living practices. That's why she's become a passionate reader and writer about all things green and sustainable.
  • Uday Kumar

    The idea of private property of land needs to be understood in a prticularised context.

  • Jim47

    The system, as such, is basically fine. There are kinks, of course, but they can be worked out. Ultimately, as I’ve written before, both here and elsewhere, there are more people than needed to keep Humanity a going, evolutionary concern. And as a parent of three daughters (not one of which I’d ever consider throwing back into the Gene Pool; two work with developmentally-challenged people, and the third owns a small restaurant with our son-in-law in Alabama, doing their small part to keep a very depressed economy from getting worse), I don’t really think that I’m an exemplar. But we really need to find a way to reduce the population, and I for certain won’t live long enough to see *that* happen. I could live into the next century, and not see it. As for Capitalism, find me a better system, and I’ll support it. I bet you can’t. It has flaws, no doubt about it, just as Representational Democracy does, but it works, and works well, when right-minded people run it. Ah, but there’s the rub; define “right-minded” 😉

  • Shirley Siluk Gregory

    Jim, I understand your sentiment. As I said, this isn’t something I’d really given much thought to before, and I don’t think I’m the commune or kibbutz type myself.

    Still, let me play devil’s advocate a bit here: I’m all for publicly owned and protected land (I live very near the Gulf Islands National Seashore), but who if not private owners/developers are conservancies protecting the land from? Without private ownership, there’s no private development.

    Also, yes, there are some very responsible, ethical companies out there, and I try to give them my business when I can. But isn’t there a point at which the capitalist system, even the most well-intentioned one, breaks down? We all can only consume so much before we start stressing the planet’s ability to support us, as we’re starting to see now that so many people in India and China are pursuing the Western lifestyle they long were unable to enjoy. How far can we push this system?

    Interested to know your thoughts!

  • Jim47

    On the other hand, there is lots of privately-owned land that is in far better shape now than it would be if it were owned by a different “private whatever”. Would you really prefer that there be no National Park Service, no Nature Conservancy, no Save-the-Redwoods-League, no hundreds of other organizations – some public, some governmental, some private, some a combination – that buy land for the express purpose of keeping it from development? Is isn’t the “what” that’s the real problem, it’s the “who” and the “how” and the “why”. And not every business is “bad”; some are extremely progressive and do amazing work in the environmental area. While it might seem that private ownership of land is inherently bad, or at least questionable, I have no desire to live as the Native Americans did. I like my computer, my CD player, me refrigerator, my hot water on demand; there are ways to have these things and still protect the environment. Our job is to find these ways, and convince people that they are better than some of what has been accepted as “necessary”.

  • Phil

    The alternative issue is that if nobody owns land then nobody feels responsible for it, and nobody maintains it. It’s always somebody elses problem – a fact bourne out by the poor environmental track record of many socialist and communist countries.