On September 25th, Earth.Org had a conversation with Simon Winchester, prolific journalist, writer and traveller. Simon is best known for his New York Times-bestselling books, including The Professor and the Madman, The Map That Changed the World, The Man Who Loved China and several others. In our interview we discussed Simon’s most recent book, Land: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World, released in January 2021. Click here for Earth.Org’s review for Land.
Simon spoke with us about several topics, including:
- The nature and history of land ownership, and what owning land actually means to most people.
- How different cultures and communities across the world have owned, managed, stewarded, created and destroyed land in different ways through time.
- How climate change is making land an increasingly desirable but fleeting asset.
- How future generations might look back and judge us on how we manage our land and our planet.
An owner of 123 acres in the countryside of Dutchess County, New York State, Simon Winchester still finds it somewhat bizzare that he owns land, land that has been stepped on, built upon and lived on by many many people long before he ever signed a deed. And of all the people throughout history who have lived on the land he now owns, very few of them ever considered it something that could be owned.
Inspired to write a book about the often violent history of land ownership, Simon embarked on a globe-trotting voyage that took him from New England to the isles of Scotland, the plains of Australia and the mountains of northern India. In our talk, we discussed how integral land is to our identities, and yet we can never really own any of it, much like we could never lay claim on a wave in the sea, or on a breeze in the wind. And while land has always been more or less static and immutable, over the span of a single human lifetime at least, climate change is now dragging away and depleting land of its usefulness in shockingly short timeframes. How can we cope with such massive changes?
Simon shares several fascinating anecdotes, including his encounter with a polar bear in an ill-fated expedition to a much-different Greenland in his youth, how the Netherlands managed to create new land out of nowhere without resorting to thievery or bloodshed and how a single man in Micronesia inspired young Hawaiians to preserve the traditions that tie them to their land. In a time of globalisation, alarming sea level rise and conflict over increasingly valuable land, Simon Winchester still sees some hope for the future generations that will have to live with what we sow.
You can check out the full version of Earth.Org’s conversation with Simon Winchester below:
You might also like: Watch: Earth.Org’s Conversation with Economist Tim Jackson