More capitalism => More forests.

Peter Cresswell's picture
Submitted by Peter Cresswell on Thu, 2006-11-16 00:18

According to the sternly sanctimonious Stern Report, well over one-third of contributions to CO2 emissions are due to deforestation. And what do you think is the best way to minimise deforestation? To get rich.

That's right: as countries get wealthier and as technologies improve, there is less pressure on forests. As a country gets wealthier, for example, it tends to urbanise, and more urbanisation sees rural areas tending to empty out. And as farm technology improves, for another example, farming concentrates more on fertile lands and less on marginally fertile forested areas.

This claim -- that more wealth creates more forests -- may seem counter-intuitive if you view things in a static rather than a dynamic fashion, but a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [pdf] confirms that "forests are increasing in countries across the world after centuries of being destroyed for their wood and to make way for people." Notes The Times in their summary of the report:

Wealth is one of the clearest indicators of a country’s success in reversing deforestation. Of the countries surveyed, all of those with a GDP per capita greater than $4,600 (£2,400) — roughly equivalent to that of Chile — had increased their forest cover since 1990.

Face it, the natural environment is a luxury good. The wealthier we are, the more natural environment we can afford, and the poorer we are ... Well, as Tim Worstall notes, "it's a combination of poverty and population pressure "that inspires large-scale forest clearances. It's increasing wealth that removes that pressure."

The solutions seem to be increasing the efficiency of agriculture, thus reducing the pressure for more farmland (Hellooooo GM!), increased urbanisation and industrialisation, thus drawing labour away from susbsitence peasantry (Helloooooo FDI and the Multi- Nationals!) and getting that average GDP up (Hellooooo Trade and Globalisation!).

So in summary: if you want more trees, then encourage more capitalism. Or as Worstall says: "Free trade to save the planet!"

LINKS: Forests begin to revive as global devastation of trees is reversed - The Times, London
Forests and carbon emissions - Tim Worstall
Forestry and CO2 - Tim Worstall
Study: Returning forests analyzed with the forest identity -
Kauppi et al, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [6-page PDF]

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