Just like any homeowner, the United States has a great deal of money tied up in its land ownership, but until recently, exactly how much was something of a mystery. William Larson of the Bureau of Economic Analysis released a report earlier this month that both considered the value of regions of the U.S. and tallied the overall worth of the land in America, and how much of it was owned by the government. “Land is an important and valuable natural resource,” said Larson in his economic analysis, “serving both as a store of wealth and as an input in production.”
However, land value is not a constant. In part, it fluctuates depending on whether the land is developed, if it is urban or rural, the housing market, cities, and other aspects. Developed land is more valuable, Larson found, but 47% of the U.S. is used for agriculture — which is good, given our nation’s love of eating. Nebraska, for example, uses 92.7% of its total area for farming.
But while developed land may be worth more (buying a plot of land in the middle of Los Angeles costs more than a plot in the middle of Iowa), that doesn’t necessarily mean the land is more valuable in terms of the use it can be put to, or less valuable in terms of the needs it fulfills. Nor does the value account for the damage that would be done if such land were not properly cared for. Still, what Larson’s estimate found for the United States is that, in total, its land is worth $22.98 trillion. For the sake of comparison, that’s $6.22 trillion more than America’s total GDP in 2013 ($16.76 trillion), based on numbers from the World Bank.
Different states and regions were worth more than others, with California estimated at $3.9 trillion in value; Vermont only came in at $44 billion. As for what the U.S. government actually has ownership of, that figure comes out to 24% of the country, but not necessarily 24% of the most valuable land — meaning the total monetary value came to $1.8 trillion, instead of the approximately $5.4 trillion it would be from the total worth.
The value of the environment has been a topic of particular focus for the Obama administration around notable events such as Earth Day. “The fact that the climate is changing has very serious implications for the way we live now. Stronger storms. Deeper droughts. Longer wildfire seasons,” said President Obama. The cost of environmental damage resulting from global climate change is considerable when looked at this way, and from a real estate point of view, this doesn’t make for good property value longevity. In fact, it sounds like a great deal of upkeep costs.
Assuming our planet is indeed our biggest asset — which, given that it supports all life, is probably a safe assumption until Mars One gets off the ground — it becomes financially reasonable to consider preservation an important aspect of our future policy. An example of this in recent news was seen in international trade internationally, with the U.S. better able to put pressure on businesses at home and abroad through trade agreements.
“Through the Trans-Pacific Partnership we are renegotiating NAFTA and instituting stronger, fully enforceable labor and environmental standards,” which would “not only bring hundreds of millions of people under enforceable labor standards and protect endangered wildlife” but give power to businesses in the U.S. to make sure their trade partners were doing as promised, said the White House in a press release.
The U.S. and international community have been making efforts to curtail emissions, and some important steps have been made, but environmental groups are still voicing concern that more change is needed at a faster rate to prevent serious damage. “This is the only planet we’ve got,” said Obama on April 18. “And years from now, I want to be able to look our children and grandchildren in the eye and tell them that we did everything we could to protect it.”