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puce Editorial 7 January 2013
Robert Levesque

The association AGTER runs an international network of people, exchanging and thinking together how to improve the governance of land, water and natural resources. The network selects and makes information available but it also formulates suggestions and alternatives to face the current great challenges. A quaterly newsletter presents the latest information available on our website : www.agter.asso.fr. Each newsletter is introduced with an editorial written by a member of AGTER’s network.

Notre Dame des Landes: An opportunity to reinforce the «Ecological and Social Transition».

A proposal to construct a second international airport at Notre-Dame-des-Landes, near the city of Nantes (on the western coast of France) is facing considerable public outcry. The idea was originally introduced in 1940, and then abandoned, but it was re-introduced by Jean-Marc Ayrault (then the mayor of Nantes) in 2000. Ayrault is currently France’s Prime Minister.

Constructing a new airport now is both ecologically and financially counterintuitive. It is also politically hazardous.

The new airport will be an ecological catastrophe. The agricultural land it is constructed on will be destroyed. Moreover, surrounding land, vegetation, bodies of water, and forests will be affected by secondary infrastructure and activities that will develop because of it. The «economic development» it promises will rely on labor outsourcing, not job creation, hence leading to the development of industrial wastelands elsewhere.

The airport, and ensuing urban development, will reduce biodiversity and limit the agricultural potential of surrounding land. While environmental measures will be taken to combat the loss of «remarkable» biodiversity and wooded areas, these measures will not compensate for the loss of ordinary biodiversity. Nor will they compensate for the loss of agricultural potential, which will be definitive. Finally (and this list of environmental problems is not exhaustive), the construction and use of the airport will increase greenhouse gas emissions. Like everyone else, airports must reduce their emissions by more than 75 percent — and the earlier the better. While it is important to explore different ways of making airplanes more energy efficient, it is also necessary to reduce air traffic.

From a purely financial point of view, it is difficult to argue that the project is a valid «investment in the future». At a time when public funds are rare, national and local government cannot support a project that promises little return on what is invested, especially when most of the profit will be absorbed by the private sector. How can the state justify paying security forces to protect demolition engines for years, while damaging Notre Dame des Landes’ natural areas and benefitting a small group of private interests?

This could be a political disaster for the powers that be. It is also a curious initiative to take immediately after a presidential election that relied in part on the «ecological» vote.

It would take 35 million hectares, or the equivalent of 20 percent of Europe’s agricultural surface area, to produce the amount of food that the continent imports from abroad. There is no reason to aggravate the global shortage of natural, agricultural, and forested land by «investing» in costly and useless infrastructure that accelerates global warming and threatens the sustainability of our environment.

Let us use this open public debate about the airport to revisit the notion of «public utility». Considering the vast array of important services rendered by agricultural and forest land — harboring both ordinary and extraordinary biodiversity, capturing and stocking carbon, water, and phosphates, or producing biomass — it is easy to argue that preserving natural areas is the best way to act in the «public interest».

We must act quickly if we wish to stop this anachronistic project. This is not the time to take a step backwards, but to encourage and strengthen the nascent ecological and social transition while we have the chance.

This transition must happen now, not in the distant future.

Robert Levesque is the author of « Terre nourricière, si elle venait à nous manquer ».

Translation into English: Jesse Rafert

aGter’s team wishes all of our readers a happy new year.

In this edition, we have included the video report from our 2012 conference with Henri Rouillé d’Orfeuil, as well as his article about the global job market and the negative consequences of evicting farmers on a large scale.

We would like to inform you that aGter will participate in the World Social Forum in Tunis in march 2013, where we will conduct a workshop on the agrarian underpinnings of recent revolts in North Africa, large scale land grabs, and the importance of the world’s small-scale farmers.

The French, Spanish, and English versions of the articles and videos presented below are not exactly the same.

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