Land can be thought of as the basis of wealth.

density | impact | ghost acres | indisposed acreage | conclusion


Flat portions of landscapes are measured in terms of acreage. All acres are square measure, that is they are measured in two dimensions, their length times their width. 

How much of an acre, then, does a human require to live well?


An acre in English measure is equal to 2.46 hectares in metric measure.

Density is often described as the number of people or organisms per hectare or per acre. But how many acres does a person need to live well?

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There are two ways to think about the amount of land we need: directly and indirectly:

 directly  indirectly
 the density or ratio of people to land  the amount of acres we use, impact or require to exist.
 immediate & observable impacts on resources  complete & extensive influences on resources over time.
 acres  ghost acres

Where humans are most concentrated.

What are ghost acres * exactly?

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Los Angeles as a case of living consuming more space than meets the eye.

The Los Angeles river, pictured here, reveals the additional needs people have for water, electricity and highways which take up space. These additional requirements for urban and suburban life take up even more land than the size of the lots or acreage that people actually occupy. For instance many people in Southern California live on a quarter of an acre. Those in high rise apartments actually live on far less than the quarter acre a 10, 20 or 150 unit building occupies. However, if you consider the automobiles that people need to have to get to work, the quarter acre is misleading with respect to how much space a person requires. It is estimated that each car in the US requires another tenth of an acre just for parking. When every person's car is considered, approximately half of the area of downtown Los Angeles is given over to the automotive transportation systems.

When you factor in the aggregate needs of modem city dwellers, for example, you leave little land available for people to occupy. In the aerial view of the Los Angeles basin highways, concrete and buildings are all evident in shades of white and grey amidst the green areas.

A refers to the port of San Pedro

C refers to the Palos Verdes Peninsula

H refers to the Santa Monica Mountains

K refers to the Angeles National Forest

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Other states are not very different from California in that the industrial needs for water, roads, and transportation facilities such as railway yards, airports, and harbors all crowd out living space. In Florida there are only 2.4 dry acres per resident in 1996.

When using just the urban land area in the state the density is actually quite different yielding only .295 acre per resident (on urban or barren land).

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The typical township contains 36 square miles. Each square mile contains 640 acres.

* Ghost acres then, refer to the additional land needed to support our intensive consumer demands for water, energy, & resources. Author and ecologist Garrett Hardin explains that in addition to the density of people per acre, ghost acres, are a means of determining what extent of land in terms of farms or forests, or dumps is needed to meet the growing human appetite for consumer goods, electricity, water, and recreational facilities. His figure is nearly 10 acres per person composed of:

* Garret Hardin, Living Within Limits, pp. 122-123.

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In addition to ghost acres there are also "indisposed acres," or that land which is not available for use due to contamination, damage, or incompatible uses.

The examples are:

Los Angeles & Groundwater (1979-81) 5% of a large amount = a big number ppb or parts per billion of certain contaminants "posed significant health risks" because of what was done on the land affected the groundwater under the land;s surface.

Woodlands Township, New Jersey & landfills ( 1979) "There is no away to throw to" Cranberry production or waste disposal became a question of space: either keep the bogs or clean up the dump that seeped into the cranberry bogs and contaminated the crop.

Marine Shale Processors & hazardous waste disposal ( 1984) turned to a creative or adaptive reuse of older technology: they converted a puddling furnace for recovery of metals into a rotary lime kiln incinerator Union Carbide of India, Ltd. (12/2/84; 23:00

One means of assuring that waste acres or indisposed land is minimized is to audit wastes to assure that recovery, reuse, recycling and reduction of damage allows land to be efficiently utilized.

Chemical Manufacturers Association's Community Awareness & Emergency Response (CAER) third-party audits to implement & monitor Responsible Care; practice mutual assistance.

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How much space and fuel do we really consume?

In conclusion: though we live on a quarter acre or less, we need nine acres to meet our demands and another acre to dispose of our wastes; thus each American impacts 10 acres of land to sustain our standard of living.

For every one calorie of food we consume Americans expend ten or more calories of energy to get that food to our tables. Such a ratio is an example of the impact of ghost acres and unseen forces on the things we need to make our lives work. Because we consume more than we can account well for, we are unable to see, understand and manage our increasing demands for both scarce and relatively abundant resources.

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Last Updated on 3-15-2000 and 6/15/2008.

By Joseph Siry

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