Rainforest For Sale

CNN reports Brazil has begun auctioning off a million hectares of its rainforest to private logging interests.  The plan is to eventually lease up to 10 percent of the Brazilian rainforest to loggers.  Authorities have not revealed whether FernGully, The Last Rainforest, is included in the deal.  The fate of numerous fairies and talking animals hangs in the balance.

You might have been under the impression that the rainforest was utterly wiped out in the 1980s, but it’s still there.  The biggest threat to its existence has always been illegal logging, carried out by callous scofflaws who are more interested in avoiding arrest than taking care of their resources.  The best way to protect a natural resource is to allow someone to make a profit from it.  No one in their right minds would wipe out a forest that generates income for them.

Brazil intends to allow companies to harvest a modest amount of wood, about four to six trees per hectare.  Environmental scientist Daniel Nepstad tells CNN, “Properly done, logging can be a very good way of reconciling the need for jobs and revenue with conservation of the forest.  If you do it well, you can pull down three or four trees per hectare without damaging any others, and within a few years, you wouldn’t notice the difference.  There’s huge potential to use logging as part of the Amazonian economy while keeping the carbon in the trees, and the biodiversity.”

This runs contrary to environmentalist dogma that all human industrial activity causes wanton environmental devastation, but it’s perfectly consistent with common sense, and the evidence of history.  Advanced capitalist economies have the cleanest air and water, and do the best job of caring for natural resources.  The economic depression and stalled technology of statism produces the kind of moonscapes that dot the former Communist world.  People respond to incentives, and capitalist interest is the most powerful one that doesn’t involve mass graves.  Starving and desperate folk chop down forests, and eat cuddly endangered animals.

Nepstad has a cautionary note to sound about the Brazilian plan.  “It sounds great on paper, but very few countries have been able to pull it off.  Forest policies that feature logging concessions to private companies on publicly owned lands have had a dismal history in most of the world’s tropical nations, plagued by graft, cronyism, and royalties that miss the mark. But if any country can make this work, Brazil can.”

The kind of graft and cronyism he’s talking about is a failure of politics, not economics.  Political power is always valuable, and there are plenty of buyers when it goes on sale.  The trick is to limit that power enough to where it’s not worth the cost, and risk, of irresistible corruption.  Brazil is making a wise move by converting its rainforests into a valuable resource, rather than a crime scene.  The rest of the world should keep their example in mind when no-growth extremists tell them what an unsustainable cancer the human race is.