Forest-Provided Services—How Valuable?
FORESTS cover nearly one third of the earth’s land area, but that figure keeps dropping. Choices—The Human Development Magazine, published by the United Nations Development Programme, said in 1998 that in the developing world alone, “as many as 4 million hectares [10 million acres] of land—an area the size of Switzerland—are deforested each year.”
Why Deforestation Is a Paradox
Ongoing deforestation, say some experts, is a paradox. This is because the burning and logging of forests continues for economic reasons. Yet, as one authority says, forests “are worth far more standing than they are cut or burned down.” How so?
Dr. Philip M. Fearnside and Dr. Flávio J. Luizão, researchers with the National Institute for Research in the Amazon, in Manaus, Brazil, told Awake! that the standing rain forests provide, as they put it, “services to the world.” These services include absorbing and storing carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas), preventing soil loss and flooding, recycling nutrients, regulating rainfall, and providing a home for endangered animals and a shelter for wild crop plants. Forests also provide fascinating scenery and a place for recreation. All such environmental services, say the researchers, have economic value.
As an example, consider a forest’s ability to store carbon. When the forest is cut down, carbon released by trees after they are felled ends up as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and contributes to global warming. Thus, the economic value of this forest-provided “service to the world,” that is, storing carbon, can be estimated by determining what it costs to reduce carbon emission by man-made means.
According to Marc J. Dourojeanni, an environment adviser at the Brazilian office of the Inter-American Development Bank, such calculations show that “the value of forests as carbon sinks [storage places] is much greater than the value they generate from timber and as agricultural land.” Still, ever more forests are leveled. Why?
An Incentive to Preserve
Think of this comparison: A group of people own an electric power plant. The plant transmits electricity to the surrounding towns, but the consumers do not pay one cent in compensation. After some time the owners reason, ‘Shutting down the plant, stripping it of all equipment, and selling the inventory for a profit makes more economic sense than preserving a plant that makes no money.’ Some officials in forest-rich countries seem to think similarly. Since the forest-provided services are not paid for by the world’s consumers, it makes more economic sense to cut down the forests (strip the power plant, so to speak) and sell the trees (sell the inventory) in order to make a quick and fat profit—or so the argument goes.
The only way to reverse this trend, says Dourojeanni, is to make it economically appealing to preserve a forest. One idea, proposed by Professor Dr. José Goldemberg, a Brazilian nuclear physicist and former chancellor of the University of São Paulo, is to levy a “worldwide carbon tax” on users of what are often called fossil fuels.
As proponents see it, the amount of tax levied would depend on the amount of fuel a country or state used, as well as on the volume of greenhouse gases they produced. For example, the United States, which represents about 5 percent of the world’s population, emits nearly 24 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases. Some policymakers reason that the tax money paid by such a country would then be used to compensate the nations that forgo quick logging profits to preserve their forests instead. In this way, it is suggested, the consumers would, in effect, pay their ‘electricity bill’ and the so-called owners would have an economic incentive to preserve their ‘power plant.’
Who, though, would set the prices for environmental services? And who would collect and distribute the fees?
Changes in Behavior Needed
“These issues,” says Dourojeanni, “could best be addressed at a worldwide forest convention.” Such a convention could determine the price tags for the environmental services provided by forests. Then, “a world forest organization could be set up to manage this international endeavour.”
Although using an international institution to regulate an international problem may seem to make sense, Dourojeanni admits: “A proliferation of institutions and commissions set up to deal with forestry issues has not helped matters.” What is really needed, he adds, are “drastic changes in social and economic behaviour.” Indeed, forest preservation requires more than a change of law—it requires a change of heart.
Will such problems ever be solved? They will, promises earth’s Creator, Jehovah God. The Bible shows that he has established a government that will soon rule worldwide and solve earth’s problems. That government “will never be brought to ruin.” (Daniel 2:44) Moreover, it will supervise the proper use of earth’s ecosystems as earth’s inhabitants continue to learn about their Creator, the one whom the Bible identifies by the name Jehovah. (Isaiah 54:13) All humans then living will have full appreciation for the earth, including its forests.
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© Michael Harvey/Panos Pictures