A couple of days ago, I wrote in criticism of a trend among some developing countries to demand international payments for not chopping down their own forests (it’s come up before, too, and I’m sure it will again). I think it’s a bad, bad, bad, idea.
In response, Rhett A. Butler of mongabay.com wrote to let me know about a positive development in efforts to protect the Amazon rainforest in Brazil: a Texas-born rancher named John Carter (yes, seriously, Rhett Butler and John Carter — it’s a strange world sometimes) who’s running a sales co-operative/certification scheme called Aliança da Terra that aims to sell loads of Brazilian beef while promising big-time buyers like McDonald’s and Burger King that the cattle involved were pastured sustainably and in accordance with Brazil’s environmental-protection standards. The idea is that they can boast about it to their customers.
Butler interviewed Carter at great length and has the full exchange on his site, but here are a couple of clips I found particularly interesting:
[S]ince I arrived here there’s been a forest reserve law in place. Actually in 1998 they raised it from 50 percent of your land kept as forest to 80 percent. That provision really backfired for the environmental movement. The law was already contested at 50 percent. Raising it to 80 percent just created a mass hysteria and a state of civil disobedience where landowners said “to heck with this” and just tore down everything.
For the most part, the consumer always wants to buy the cheapest product on the shelf. If someone is willing to pay a premium because of conservation, it’s called a niche market. Niche markets will never stop the deforestation of the Amazon. We have to hit the commodity markets and spread the benefits across the whole region, not just a niche sector. To do this, we can’t raise the price of the commodities–people simply haven’t shown a willingness to pay more for these products on a consistent basis.
Under our system, the only benefit a producer will get is market access, but by gaining access to the European, American, and other foreign markets, local producers will benefit significantly. Instead of having prices based on the Brazilian Bolsa, they will be getting Chicago mercantile rates which are inherently higher, less freight and trade tariffs. The only way producers have this access is by following the rules.
This sure sounds a lot more productive than asking for permanent payments for nothing more than not burning down your own house.