The Amazon protection racket continues

I continue not to understand why the developed world ought to pay poorer countries, apparently including booming Brazil, to not turn themselves into Haiti.

This came up in April, when Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa said he wanted $350 million a year for his country to not chop down a vast tract of the Amazon to go hunting for oil. Now Brazil is adding itself to the list of grabbers, according to naturalism website mongabay.com:

Under a widely supported international initiative, Brazil and other tropical forest countries may see compensation for measures to reduce deforestation that would otherwise occur. While Brazil has moved slowly on the concept, there is a real possibility that industrialized countries will support what has been termed the “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation” (RED) initiative.

[Amazon expert Daniel] Nepstad believes that if adopted, RED could trigger the largest flow of money into tropical forest conservation that the world has ever seen. Besides climate benefits, the plan would help maintain critical ecosystem services while safeguarding biological diversity.

It’s like some weird funhouse version of a protection racket — “Nice place I’ve got here. Shame if something were to happen to it, eh? Could be worth a few bucks, you know, to keep it safe from me, don’t you think?”

Now, it’s true that it’s silly that a landowner can be paid to generate carbon offsets for replanting a forest he’s just arranged to have chopped down but not to protect a forest that’s already there. But there are two solutions to this and Correa and Nepstad and others are proposing the wrong one. You can’t get an insurance payment after you burn down your own house, and you shouldn’t be able to get payments from an offset program after you chop down your own forest.

And indeed, aggressive deforestation, whatever the reason, is a surefire route to homelessness and poverty. Great expanses of woods and jungle are good for the planet as carbon-fixers and air-cleaners (though microorganisms in the oceans are more important, “lungs of the planet” talk notwithstanding), but they’re even better for the people who live in and near them. Deforested land is prone to erosion and flooding and makes for poor long-term agriculture. I mentioned Haiti; it’s a basket-case in part because it’s practically out of trees and any time anything good starts to happen, a mild rain washes it away.

What the Brazilians and Ecuadoreans — and, soon, many others — are saying is that they have the ability to stop deforestation, and they know it’s the right thing to do, they just want us to make it worth their while. Look at Brazil’s growth rate over the past decade or so. There’s no reason for us to be looking for excuses to send Brazil cheques, and certainly not to keep it from burning down its own house.

(Via Sierra Club Compass.)

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One response to “The Amazon protection racket continues

  1. Pingback: Follow-up on burning down Brazil « The EcoLibertarian

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