In an article titled Restored Forests Breathe Life Into Efforts Against Climate Change, there’s an interesting portion which talks about how farming techniques relate to reforestation:
Around the world, trees are often cut down to make room for farming, and so the single biggest threat to forests remains the need to feed growing populations, particularly an expanding global middle class with the means to eat better. Saving forests, if it can be done, will require producing food much more intensively, on less land.
Life is about trade-offs, even if you don’t want to admit it. Organic farming uses more land to produce the same amount of food. Basically, it’s a luxury good if you can afford it (and highly profitable for agribusiness!). The poorest farmers in the world are organic producers because they have to. There are many downsides with industrial agriculture, but one of its upsides is that it produces the maximum amount of calories using the minimum amount of land. New England reforested in part because much of the farmland was abandoned due to low productivity (and the availability of much better land in the Old Northwest territories amenable to farms which could take advantage of economies of scale). One major tool of modern farming, genetically modified organisms (GMO), has been resisted and stymied for several decades by public suspicion and adherence to the precautionary principle (e.g., many types of plants which could be easily GMOed are not even in the United States). Most of the time environmentalists are quite skeptical of GMO because of the precautionary principle, but the fact is that “natural” local organic farming can have a much larger carbon footprint than something artificial. To some extent all of human life is touched by artificiality today.
Another developing trend which opens up the potential for rewilding spaces now given to human habitation, would be a transition toward greater density and urbanization. As someone who grew up in the Pacific Northwest it is striking that here you have a land of contrasts, as small rural towns dependent on logging decline, and the greater Portland and Seattle metropolitan areas have ballooned. Urban dwellers venture to the outdoors quite often, but they do not live in the wild. A shift toward density and vertical habitation would likely result in greater economic efficiency and reduced carbon footprints.
The irony is that the lowest impact future in relation to the environment may be the most ‘high tech.’ A world of mechanized farms growing bioengineered crops, meat cultures grown in vast industrial vats, and the predominant form of habitation being within organically developing arcologies which replace the megacities of today is positively out of science fiction. But, it would also be a much greener world than the ‘natural’ alternatives. With the exception of a scenario that includes mass die off of most of the human race.