As France loses the surface equivalent of a large US county to development every decade, it remains to be seen how much longer fields of wild poppy like this one in Normandy will continue to exist. (Photo: pimousse3000 / Flickr)
Oh, splendid surge! Magnificent concert! The first trills are rising, preparing the choir of weepers; soon the tenor's heroic voice will move on to the mobilization aria: "Biodiversity, bio, bio, bio-diversity, biodiversity, it's here, it's heere, the year, oh, the yeeear, the year of bio, bio, bio-di-ver-si-ty!" The finale is in the offing: "Let us save, save, save, biooooo, biooooo, let us save, yes, let us save, yes, it's the year, let us save bio-di-ver-si-teeeee!" Boom!
We shall weep over the fate of Brazil's manatee, Papua-Asia's forests, the Galapagos' hammerhead shark; we shall rush off to see "Oceans" and "Avatar." But while we're looking elsewhere, the massacre continues here.
Biodiversity in the France of 2010 - what's that? Fields of grass, ground where the water penetrates, where seeds take root, where earthworms swarm ... Well, then, these fields, these grasses, these lands, we are covering them over by the thousands of hectares with concrete and cement and a reckless lack of awareness that borders on the criminal. That's what a brief from Campagnes solidaires, the Peasant Federation's monthly magazine, reminds us. France wastes land by artificializing it at a frenzied pace.
Artificialization of the ground? A complicated word, but a sadly ordinary reality: parking lots, industrial zones, TGV routes, highways, airports, logistical bases, solar electricity generators, individual houses, recreational centers ... Philippe Pointereau, in one study (a detailed version of which may be read in INRA's "Courrier de l’environnement," n° 57, 2009), shows that the transformation of agricultural lands into urbanization in all its forms is continuing at the rate of 66,000 hectares a year, or more than the surface of an average department over ten years.
Demography does not explain the phenomenon: "consumption" of natural space is growing far more rapidly than population. The primary source of the problem: private homes, which push urban sprawl and new transportation infrastructure and other cemented surfaces. Also involved is a general indifference to space, landscapes, nature. Without forgetting that it is always easier for an elected official - due, certainly, to his constituents' indifference - to "develop" his territory through urbanization than to attempt to focus on habitat and keep agricultural concerns alive. As for biodiversity, that ordinary nature that is indispensable to the ecosystem's balance, that simple respiration of the soil, no one could care less; even as people moan over the fate of the tropics - which has the great advantage of not getting in the way of real estate speculation here.
When will we understand that space is a scarce resource? Pointereau points out that if we take agricultural imports into account, France is no longer truly self-sufficient. International trade and concrete: they're good for growth, no?
Reporterre.net is the site of Hervé Kempf, author of "How the Rich Are Destroying the Planet" and "Pour Sauver La Planète, Sortez du Capitalisme" (not yet available in English), and journalist at Le Monde.