Grasslands, prairies, and savannas once covered much of the Earth’s surface. Human action has visited great damage on those natural features, so that today most of them have either disappeared or suffered severe degradation as a result of agricultural conversion, over-grazing, urbanization, species encroachment, fragmentation, climate change, and other factors. John Head examines the state of the world’s temperate and tropical grasslands, and why we should care about them, before turning to an examination of the legal and institutional efforts that have been undertaken to respond to their degradation and to regulate their use.
Through a lively narrative that includes numerous diagrams and over 20 maps, Head shows how laws and regulations at the multilateral, national, and provincial level have all fallen far short of the minimum needed to arrest the withering away of the world’s grasslands and the soil that provides the foundation for all life on our planet. In particular, he explains how the legal systems of Canada, China, Turkey, the USA, and the EU have struck the balances between development versus preservation, and between common needs versus individual property rights, in ways that have done almost nothing to prevent (and much to promote) an accelerating destruction of this crucial aspect of our natural environment. He then offers observations both on “underlying causes” and on “overarching solutions” — with special emphasis on the relationship between agriculture and grasslands and on the role that international law and institutions might play in undertaking an aggressive program of action to protect the world’s grasslands for succeeding generations of our species and others.