C.R.A.P. - Save the Rainforest

CRAP: Countries that have rain forest should not be permitted to destroy it. They should control their people who cut the forest for (temporarily) arable land. They should also protect endangered species from poaching.

Alternative: If we want to preserve rain forests and rare species, if they're so important to us, we should be willing to pay for them. Let's put our money where our mouth is.

Pay Brazil to preserve its rain forest; they can use the money to feed the people who otherwise would cut the forest to farm on it. And Costa Rica and the Philippines &c. Similarly, pay people to protect the rare species that we say we care about.

Emerging economies want to grow, just as we did some decades ago. Our burgeoning population raped and pillaged our wilderness areas for three centuries. Now, we are trying to impose the wisdom of a post-industrial society on ones that have not yet achieved (or suffered, depending on one's point of view) massive industrial growth. They shouldn't pollute. They shouldn't slash and burn. We did, in our time, of course, but that was then and this is now. Now we're smarter, we know better, we're enlightened. They should act according to our modern, enlightened way.

Nonsense. We can help those societies grow and feed their populations without raping and pillaging their wildernesses; all it takes is money. If these "precious, irreplaceable natural resources" are really that precious to us, let's buy them. Or at least rent them.

People don't naturally preserve wild regions out of the goodness of their hearts, not when there are profits to be made or mouths to feed. They might do it because it benefits them, economically. They might do it because they feel a religious connection to nature.

There is plenty of precedent for such programs. In this country, the Nature Conservancy, for instance, routinely buys large tracts of land specifically to remove them forever from the path of development. Closer to (my) home, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests uses similar strategies to preserve forest areas. Buy it. Then it is owned, and reasonably controlled, by an organization that specifically does not want to develop the land, does not want to make a profit from the land, wants only to preserve it in a relatively wild state.

Such organizations buy whatever they can afford. If they had more money, they would preserve more. It is not hard to imagine a similar foundation, on a much larger scale, whose purpose was to preserve large tracts of rainforest in Latin and South America.

It isn't absolutely essential to buy the resource to preserve it. You can rent it, sort of. Example: there are several programs currently in southern Africa that pay villagers every year for all the elephants in their neighborhood. Every so often, if the local elephant herd is still there, still healthy, then the local village gets a bonus in money or food or goods. The villagers have real incentive to protect the animals from poachers. The population works with the government to preserve the animals, their habitat, their food supplies.

These programs work. They are models of a pragmatic, modern approach to solving an otherwise intractable problem.

No program, whether buying or renting in these senses, is perfect and guaranteed to last forever. Renting only works with government cooperation and a constant flow of money and goods to benefit the local society. Buying works better, but requires huge sums of cash up front. And it is not immune to, say, expropriation by unfriendly governments. Or even to expropriation through eminent domain by otherwise friendly governments that really want to develop a region. But such programs do work, demonstrably, and illustrate a model of private and public cooperation to preserve some valuable parts of the world.

Recently, an op-ed piece in the New York Times advocated precisely the same approach: regarding the destruction of monarch butterfly habitat in Mexico, it said, "The Government and international conservation groups together should buy or lease the forests from the local peasant communities." Sounds exactly right to me.

(In most cases, the population growth of emerging economies is totally out of control. Different problem. Take a look at the C.R.A.P. entry "Some parts of the world don't have enough food.")

All contents copyright (C) 1995,1996,2001 Richard Landau. All rights reserved.

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