HOW WE MANAGE THE LAND ON EARTH – IELTS Reading Passage 1

HOW WE MANAGE THE LAND ON EARTH

Overpopulation, climate change, mass migration, farming issues and the use of natural resources are all affecting our relationship with terra firma, and it has never been more complicated. It is increasingly looking like Earth’s land is being overlooked rather than valued as precious resource.

  For those living in Malé, the overcrowded capital of the Maldives, there is no choice but to build upwards. Caged by the sea, they have no more land to spread onto, yet the city’s population has soared by nearly 52% since 2006. The last census in 2014 counted 158,000 people crammed into the city’s 5.7 sq km of space, and officials say the figure has since grown further.

  Space is such a premium in Malé that pavements are often less than one metre wide, forcing pedestrians to walk in single file, while many streets have no sidewalk at all.

   Malé, capital of the Maldives, is emblematic of modern-day land issues: A small, increasingly urbanising space with a skyrocketing population. Rents have risen exorbitantly and, in some of the poorest areas, up to 40 people can be squeezed into buildings with just 23.2 sq metres of space – about the same size as a small studio flat.

   With so many people living under each other’s feet, crime, drugs and domestic violence have risen alarmingly while the city frequently runs out of water. An entirely new island has risen next door out of the sea itself simply from the city’s garbage.

   In the early 1990s the tallest buildings in the city were only two storeys high, whereas now the average height is eight storeys and some are as high as 25 storeys high. People are coming here because this is where the health, education and jobs are, but overpopulation is leading to many socioeconomic problems.

   Although extreme, Malé is an example in miniature of something that is happening on a far larger scale around the world. With 83 million more people appearing on the planet every year, rising populations are placing increasing pressure on the land.

   The UN’s latest estimates state that there are 7.6 billion people jostling for space on Earth at present and that number will rise to 9.8 billion by 2050. By the end of the century, their projections say there could be 11.2 billion people on our planet.

   With 83 million more people appearing on the planet every year, rising populations are placing increasing pressure on the land. Each of those people will need somewhere to live, a place to work and fertile land to provide them with food. They will need water and energy to stay warm or to light their way at night. They will want roads to drive on and places to park. For the lucky ones, there will be space for their pastimes and leisure activities. 

   At first, it can be easy to dismiss fears that mankind may one day run out of space as ridiculous. Physically, the land can easily accommodate 11 billion people – there are around 51.7million sq miles of ice-free land on the planet.  

   But large tracts of land remain virtually uninhabitable due to their climate or their remote location: Enormous tracts of Siberia are too inhospitable to be lived upon, and the huge landmass at the centre of Australia is too arid to support many people, meaning the majority of its population is clustered along its coastline.  

   The cities and towns we live in account for less than 3% of the Earth’s total land area, but between 35% and 40% is used for agriculture. As populations grow, many fear that more land will be used up to grow more food. And land management has a lot to do with resource management – what eat, how we grow it, and how we eat it.

   To feed the world’s growing population, a study by researchers at Stanford University estimated that between 10,400-18,900 sq miles of additional land will be required, and that there is a reserve of 1.7 million sq miles thought to be suitable for growing crops left in the world.  

   The researchers predicted that increasing demand for food, biofuels, industrial forestry and the spread of urbanisation will result in this reserve of land being completely used up by 2050.The bad news is that the demand for new cropland and pastures for animals is already thought to have caused 80% of the deforestation taking place around the world today, wiping out large areas of rich biodiversity and trees that act as natural sinks for greenhouse gases.      

   The way we use land right now is extremely inefficient, so much of our land is being used to grow food for livestock – 75% of the world’s agricultural land is used for feeding animals that we then eat ourselves. About 40% of the food grown in the world is also never eaten by anybody – it is thrown away.

Questions

Questions 1–4

Read the text and choose the correct letter, A, Bor D. Write the correct letter on your answer sheet for questions 1-4.

1. The height of most city buildings are now measured to be at a general level of 

A. 25-storeys 

B. 2-storeys 

C. 8-storeys 

D. 40-storeys

2. The estimated spare land available that is considered to be good for agricultural use, such as the growing of vegetables is 

A. 51.7m sq miles 

B. 1.7m sq miles 

C. 10,000 sq miles 

D. 18,900 sq miles

3. The current population figure produced by the United Nations for our planet is an estimated 

A. 11.2 billion 

B. 11 billion 

C. 7.6 billion 

D. 9.8 billion

4. The percentage figure for the food we humans grow on Earth that is discarded as waste is approximately 

A. 75% 

B. 3% 

C. 52% 

D. 40%

Questions 5-8

Do the following statements agree with the information given in the passage on the previous page? In boxes 5-8 on your answer sheet, write

TRUE              if the statement agrees with the information

FALSE             if the statement contradicts the information

NOT GIVEN   if there is no information on this

5. ………. From 2006 onwards, the rate of city dwellers in the Maldivian capital has grown at just under 50%.

6. ………. Walking single file is common on the pavement due to the crowding.

7. ………. Water shortages are an almost everyday occurrence in the city mentioned.

8. ………. Large portions of the land on Earth are completely unsuited for human occupation.

Questions 9-12

Complete the sentences below. Write one or two words only to complete the sentences. Write your answers in boxes 9-12 on your answer sheet.

  • Almost 52 million sq km of land is available to handle the more than 11 billion projected populations as it is classified as being 9 ……….
  • Whereas cities account for less than 5% of land usage, just over a third of the land available on Earth is used for 10 ……….
  • The loss of vast expanses of healthy forests that act naturally to absorb 11 ……….
  • A brand new piece of man-made land has been formed besides the current city, jumping out from the sea itself, made solely by using unwanted 12 ……….

Answers

Questions 1–4

1. Answer: C. 8-storeys

  • Key words: height, city buildings, general level 
  • The sixth paragraph tells us that “the average height is eight storeys”, with “average” referring to the typical number of storeys in a building. 
  • Therefore, it can be understood that the general height is 8 storeys. 
  • general = average
  • The answer is C.

2. Answer: B. 1.7m sq miles

  • Key words: spare land, agricultural, growing of vegetables
  • It is mentioned in paragraph 13 that:
    •  “there is a reserve of 1.7 million sq miles thought to be suitable for growing crops left in the world”. 
  • In this sentence, “crops” are similar to “vegetables”, because they are both agricultural products, and reserve land refers to the land that is currently not occupied, which can be considered “spare land”.
  • Hence the amount of land left that is “suitable for”, or “good for”, agricultural use is 1.7 million sq miles. 
  • spare = reserve
  • vegetables ~ crops
  • The answer is B.

3. Answer: C. 7.6 billion

  • Key words: current, population, United Nations, estimated
  • The information about the United Nations (or UN) can be found in the eighth paragraph using the skim and scan skill. We know from this paragraph that the UN estimates that there are 7.6 billion people on Earth “at present”, which means the same as “current”. 
  • Therefore, the current population of Earth is estimated to be 7.6 billion.
  • current = at present
  • United Nations ~ UN
  • our planet = Earth
  • The answer is C.

4. Answer: D. 40%

  • Key words: percentage, food, grow, discarded as waste
  • In the last paragraph, it is mentioned that :
    • “About 40% of the food grown in the world is also never eaten by anybody – it is thrown away”. 
  • The term “thrown away” is the same as “discarded as waste” and “about” means “approximately”, so we can paraphrase this sentence into: approximately 40% of the food grown in the world is discarded as waste. 
  • discard = throw away
  • approximately ~ about
  • The answer is D.

Questions 5-8

5. Answer: False

  • Key words: 2006 onwards, city dwellers, Maldivian capital, 50%
  • We can use the skim and scan skill to identify the location of the year “2006”, which is in the second paragraph. 
    • “For those living in Male, the overcrowded capital of the Maldives, there is no choice but to build upwards.  Caged by the sea, they have no more land to spread onto, yet the city’s population has soared by nearly 52% since 2006”.
  • The phrase “since 2006” means the same as “from 2006 onwards”, and “city dwellers” is a synonym for “city population”. The word “soar” means to increase swiftly, so it is similar to “grow” in this context. 
  • Hence, the information can be paraphrased into: from 2006 onwards, the rate of city dwellers in the capital of Maldives has grown by 52%. The statement is therefore false, because this rate is over 50% (not‘just under 50%’).
  • from … onwards ~ since
  • city dwellers ~ city population
  • grow = soar
  • The answer is FALSE.

6. Answer: True

  • Key words: walking, single file, common, pavement, crowding
  • From paragraph 3, we know that in Malé, one metre wide pavements often force pedestrians to walk in single file. So, walking in single file is common due to the small pavement space. This lack of space is the consequence of the overcrowded city, as stated in the previous paragraph. 
  • When it is stated that space is ‘at a premium’, this means that it is very hard to find any space (even to walk around) because the city is so crowded.
  • The answer is TRUE.

7. Answer: Not Given

  • Key words: water shortages, almost, everyday
  • It is mentioned that “the city frequently runs out of water”. The term “run out of water” means water shortage, and this happens on a frequent basis. 
  • However, “frequent” does not mean “almost everyday”. We do not know whether water shortages happen every day in Malé or not. 
  • Therefore, it is not given.
  • water shortage ~ run out of water
  • The answer is NOT GIVEN.

8. Answer: True

  • Key words: large portions, land, unsuited, human occupation
  • In paragraph 11, the author mentions that:  “large tracts of land remain virtually uninhabitable”. 
  • Large tracts of land can be considered large portions of land. The word “uninhabitable” means “unsuitable for living in”, hence we can understand that the land is unsuitable for humans to live in, or in other words, unsuited for human occupation. 
  • Although “virtually” means “nearly, almost”, in this context, it is similar to the word “completely”. The land that is virtually unsuitable for humans can also be understood as completely unsuitable for humans to live there.  Therefore, the statement is true.
  • portions = tracts
  • unsuited for human occupation ~ uninhabitable
  • The answer is TRUE.

Questions 9-12

9. Answer: ice-free

  • Key words: 52 million, available, 11 billion, classified
  • Using the skim and scan skill, we can locate the position of “11 billion” in paragraph 10. There, it is mentioned that:
    • “the land can easily accommodate 11 billion people” because “there are around 51.7million sq miles of ice-free land on the planet”. 
  • [Don’t be confused – there is a small mistake in the passage and the question, confusing kilometres and miles.  Ignore this, it does not affect your answer].
  • Here, “accommodate” means to provide sufficient space for, which means there is enough land (51.7million sq miles) to handle 11 billion people. The land can accommodate that number of people because it is ice-free, so it is inhabitable. Therefore, the answer is “ice-free”.

10. Answer: agriculture

  • Key words: cities, less than 5%, land usage, over a third
  • We find the key words in paragraph 12:
    • “The cities and towns we live in account for less than 3% of the Earth’s total land area, but between 35% and 40% is used for agriculture”. 
  • The first part of the sentence from the passage matches that of the statement almost perfectly, except for the percentages of 5% and 3%, but this does not alter the information given (if the percentage is less than 3% then of course it is less than 5%). 
  • The latter part of the sentence mentions that the proportion of land used for agriculture is 35% – 40%, which can be described as “over a third”. Therefore, the word to fill in the blank is “agriculture”.
  • over a third ~ 35% – 40%
  • land available on Earth ~ Earth’s total land area
  • The answer is agriculture.

11. Answer: greenhouse gases

  • Key words: loss, vast expanses, forests, absorb
  • In paragraph 15, we find the reference to trees and forests:
    • “…the demand for new cropland and pastures for animals is already thought to have caused 80% of the deforestation taking place around the world today, wiping out large areas of rich biodiversity and trees that act as natural sinks for greenhouse gases”.
  • The term “large areas” is a synonym for “vast expanses”. The term “act as a sink” refers to the absorption or removal of something. Therefore, the loss of vast expanses of forests leads to the loss of trees that naturally absorb greenhouse gases. The correct answer is “greenhouse gases”.
  • vast = large
  • expanses = areas
  • loss of forests = deforestation
  • The answer is greenhouse gases.

12. Answer: garbage

  • Key words: brand new, man-made land, made solely by, unwanted
  • The key words are in paragraph 5:
    • “An entirely new island has risen next door out of the sea itself simply for the city’s garbage”.
  • A brand new piece of land jumping out from the sea itself is a way to paraphrase “an entirely new island out of the sea itself”. According to the passage, this land has been formed “next door”, which means “nearby or adjacent”, so we can understand that it has been formed “beside” the city. 
  • The word “man-made” is used because the island is formed from garbage disposed of by humans.           
  • Therefore, the island has been made “solely” from garbage, and hence this is the correct word to fill in the blank.
  • brand new = entirely new
  • beside = next door
  • solely = simply
  • The answer is garbage.

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