M-RCBG Associate Working Paper No. 180

Environmental Policy Lessons from Roman Agrarian Philosophy

Devjani Roy



This essay examines Roman agrarian philosophy and poetry, with a focus on the works of Cato, Varro, and Virgil, to argue that these texts are prescient in their vision of the sustainable city: one in which economic growth is balanced with the environmental needs of urban ecosystems, while also maintaining resource efficiency that minimizes the impact on the global climate system. I also draw lessons from the coronavirus pandemic, arguing that the pandemic conclusively demonstrates how diseases are connected to interdependent urban and peri-urban ecosystems shared by both humans and animals, and making the case for improvements in the global public health infrastructure. Finally, I argue that creating the sustainable city requires changing the collective cultural mindset: that the goal of reducing the adverse per-capita environmental impact of cities is imperative for enlightened urban planning. Ultimately, the essay considers policy lessons that can be drawn from Roman agrarian philosophical texts: that the sustainable city is an environmentally resilient habitat that also ensures future generations can enjoy the same.

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