The Idea Incubator/Global Land Trust

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Land ownership depends on a jumble of social constructs. The brute facts are that land exists and that people exist. Any mechanism that provides someone privileged access to a parcel of land is based on use of force or on social constructs. Go far enough back in history and you are likely to find that some form of conquest or deception established original claims to land ownership that are still being upheld today.

Owning land provides many benefits. Landlords are traditionally considered members of a privileged social class. Land is often valuable, and it is often used to accumulate and transfer wealth. Land ownership is often an important component of dynastic wealth, and land ownership enables resource extraction, which is often quite profitable.

Throughout history many inequities resulted in usurping land from indigenous people, war victims, and other oppressed people and transferring land ownership to those in power at the time. Recognizing the advantages of owning land, it seems rather barbaric and unfair that ownership is so haphazard and opportune. Denying access to land has been used to sustain oppression of various groups of people. Sharply defined boundaries are social constructs that are absent in nature.

What can be done? What would be fair? The idea proposed here is that over time land ownership reverts to a global land trust, and the global land trust then rents land to tenants for a specific time, for a specific use, at a specific rental rate. Once all land is owned by the trust, it’s use can be distributed equitably to those willing to pay market rates for its temporary use and enjoyment.

The advantages of such a land trust are sufficient to motivate the difficult transition it will require. Present landowners will eventually be required to relinquish ownership to the trust in return for some fair compensation. Although this will be a lengthy and contentious process requiring skillful administration, it will be worthwhile to increase fairness and begin reparations for a long and violent history of land ownership injustices.

View from the Gamrig to the Lilienstein at Saxon Switzerland National Park after sunrise.

A few examples demonstrate early experiments with this concept.

  • Nature Reserves are protected areas of importance for flora, fauna, or features of geological or other special interest, which is reserved and managed for purposes of conservation and to provide special opportunities for study or research. They may be designated by government institutions in some countries, or by private landowners, such as charities and research institutions.
  • Federal lands are lands in the United States owned by the federal government. The U.S. congress has the power to retain, buy, sell, and regulate federal lands, such as by limiting cattle grazing on them.
  • National Parks are natural parks in use for conservation purposes, created and protected by national governments. Often it is a reserve of natural, semi-natural, or developed land that a sovereign state declares or owns.
  • Rewilding activities are conservation efforts aimed at restoring and protecting natural processes and wilderness areas.
  • Land trusts are nonprofit organizations which own and manage land, and sometimes waters.
  • Progress in expanding indigenous land rights in Australia is the long and on-going struggle to gain legal and moral recognition of ownership of the lands and waters occupied by the many peoples prior to colonisation of Australia starting in 1788, and the annexation of the Torres Strait Islands by the colony of Queensland in the 1870s.
  • The Antarctic Treaty System regulates international relations with respect to Antarctica, Earth's only continent without a native human population. It was the first arms control agreement established during the Cold War, setting aside the continent as a scientific preserve, establishing freedom of scientific investigation, and banning military activity; for the purposes of the treaty system.
  • The Outer Space Treaty is a multilateral treaty that forms the basis of international space law. It provides, in one of its many provisions, that the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind.
  • ReCommon is establishing common ground for the resilient communities of our future. The Regenerative Community Land Trust model of land tenure weaves together balanced stakeholder governance, ecological design, and appropriate technology into a place-based network of autonomous bioregional communities.
  • The Schumacher Center for a new economics is building a community land trust program.