Thursday, 16 November 2006

More capitalism => More forests.

According to the sternly sanctimonious Stern Report, well over one-third of contributions to CO2 emissions are due to deforestation. And what do you think is the best way to minimise deforestation? To get rich.

That's right: as countries get wealthier and as technologies improve, there is less pressure on forests. As a country gets wealthier, for example, it tends to urbanise, and more urbanisation sees rural areas tending to empty out. And as farm technology improves, for another example, farming concentrates more on fertile lands and less on marginally fertile forested areas.

This claim -- that more wealth creates more forests -- may seem counter-intuitive if you view things in a static rather than a dynamic fashion, but a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [pdf] confirms that "forests are increasing in countries across the world after centuries of being destroyed for their wood and to make way for people." Notes The Times in their summary of the report:
Wealth is one of the clearest indicators of a country’s success in reversing deforestation. Of the countries surveyed, all of those with a GDP per capita greater than $4,600 (£2,400) — roughly equivalent to that of Chile — had increased their forest cover since 1990.
Face it, the natural environment is a luxury good. The wealthier we are, the more natural environment we can afford, and the poorer we are ... Well, as Tim Worstall notes, "it's a combination of poverty and population pressure "that inspires large-scale forest clearances. It's increasing wealth that removes that pressure."
The solutions seem to be increasing the efficiency of agriculture, thus reducing the pressure for more farmland (Hellooooo GM!), increased urbanisation and industrialisation, thus drawing labour away from susbsitence peasantry (Helloooooo FDI and the Multi- Nationals!) and getting that average GDP up (Hellooooo Trade and Globalisation!).
So in summary: if you want more trees, then encourage more capitalism. Or as Worstall says: "Free trade to save the planet!"

LINKS: Forests begin to revive as global devastation of trees is reversed - The Times, London
Forests and carbon emissions - Tim Worstall
Forestry and CO2 - Tim Worstall
Study: Returning forests analyzed with the forest identity -
Kauppi et al, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [6-page PDF]

RELATED: Politics-World, Economics, Environment, Conservation, Urban Design, Politics


  1. Heh, I read the title as Capitalism is greater than or equal to More Forests.

    Why wealthier nations are less inclined to deforest themselves seems to be up for grabs - ie, surely wealthier societies have stronger regulation of forestry industries. That is, who's to say deforestation would not be just as bad if wealthier countries were not more inclined to regulate for altruist means?

    (that makes me think - it would seem that poorer countries tend to be more 'libertarian' and as they become wealthier they begin to regulate as more esoteric wants take over from their previous economic needs. Just a thought)

  2. polemic, your arguments make absolutely no sense. Just read pc's post again and follow the logic. It's not the western nations that are burning the Amazon forests.

  3. Polemic, you say: "poorer countries tend to be more 'libertarian'"

    How so? What do you define as libertarian?

  4. " would seem that poorer countries tend to be more 'libertarian' ..."

    I think you're confusing NO government with a government that protects property rights, contracts and rule of law.

    As the study makes clear enough, there are good reasons for wealthier nations being disinclined to deforest themselves, and regulation is NOT the primary driver.

  5. Polemic, there's an old libertarian adage:

    If something makes sense, they won't have to force you to do it.

  6. Make money on global warming with WDT. Just broken through into the Nth American market, and the highest % gainer on NZX today. Capitalism and intelligent people solving problems yet again.

  7. The poorer nations cut down more trees? Why doesn't that surprise me? Could it be that I already knew that? I believe it is.

    Polemic. greater wealth comes from less regulation not more. Therefore the wealthier nations would have a less regulated forestry industry. Nations become wealthier because they remove restrictions. You cannot get richer and have more restrictions. That is an oxymoron.

    As PC says, "I think you're confusing NO government with a government that protects property rights, contracts and rule of law." No government is even worse than a statist government like what we have. Anarchy is the worst political system to ever be concieved. It allows people to do whatever they want , including violate the rights of others, with no consequences. Yes, that's what statists do, but anarchy allows the public to do it too and they outnumber the statists. Even the criminal ones do.

    Interesting that all comments so far bar one after Polemic's was in response to his

  8. Yes, it would seem that Poverty + Population increase = Deforestation.


  9. The fact that poorer nations deforest more was covered in a paper I studied in Semester 1 this year at Massey University Albany Campus.


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