Save the Rainforests!—Oh, Never Mind.

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It turns out that they're coming back without much help from environmental activists. As the New York Times reports on its front page today:

By one estimate, for every acre of rain forest cut down each year, more than 50 acres of new forest are growing in the tropics on land that was once farmed, logged or ravaged by natural disaster.

Why? Because more and more poor people have better things to do than slog around in muddy and poorly producing farms having babies, so they're abandoning farms and allowing forests to return. This is exactly what has happened in industrialized countries in the 20th century. In addition, researchers point out that forest regrowth is not limited to industrialized countries—it also occurred between 1990 and 2005 in India, China, Turkey, Ukraine, Tunisia, Vietnam, and Malaysia. Roger Sedjo, a senior fellow at Resources for the Future earlier explained:

People ask us why reforestation occurs. The study confirmed a relationship between per capita income in countries and forest expansion. Environmental economists know that initial increases in per capita income are associated with the deteriorating environmental quality— and then there's a point at which it levels off as income increases. As income rises and countries become wealthier, we see environmental quality improving. We found something very similar with forestry. None of our 50 most forested countries with a per capita income of $4,600 or more had experienced deterioration in their forests. They were all either constant or positive, one of our most interesting discoveries.

The Times notes:

The idea has stirred outrage among environmentalists who believe that vigorous efforts to protect native rain forest should remain a top priority. But the notion has gained currency in mainstream organizations like the Smithsonian Institution and the United Nations, which in 2005 concluded that new forests were "increasing dramatically" and "undervalued" for their environmental benefits. The United Nations is undertaking the first global catalog of the new forests, which vary greatly in their stage of growth.

"Biologists were ignoring these huge population trends and acting as if only original forest has conservation value, and that's just wrong," said Joe Wright, a senior scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute here, who set off a firestorm two years ago by suggesting that the new forests could substantially compensate for rain forest destruction.

It is true that rainforests in Indonesia, Brazil, and the Congo are still declining, but that is largely the result of a gigantic institutional failure. Governments do not recognize ownership of the land, so people rush to take what they can before the next guy can get it–the all too familiar process of an open access commons race to the bottom. 

In any case, read the good news about rainforests (and the controversy) here

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  1. And once again, Ron is shilling for Big Wood.

  2. (sigh) They just won’t be happy until we are living in caves while the enviromentalists live in awesome futuristic domed towns.

  3. So you just watched Zardoz, then, Naga.

    “The gun is good. The penis is evil. The penis shoots seeds, and makes new life to poison the Earth with a plague of men, as once it was, but the gun shoots death, and purifies the Earth of the filth of brutals. Go forth…and kill!”

  4. Globally, one-fifth of the world’s carbon emissions come from the destruction of rain forests, scientists say.

    Just curious, but isn’t most of the wood used for construction? If so, where do the emissions come from?

  5. Epi,

    Negative. I never watched it. The . . . er . . . covering on Sean turned me off from watching it.

  6. Just curious, but isn’t most of the wood used for construction? If so, where do the emissions come from?

    I think most rainforest *destruction* (excluding the net gains that Bailey discusses) is from slash and burn clearing for (subsistence) farming, vice logging.

  7. so progress leads to less deforestation, which leads to more trees eating CO2, which leads to less global warming, which leads to gore suicide?

    And the fastest way to progress currently is free market capitalism.

    So capitalism will kill Al Gore. Poetic.

  8. Just curious, but isn’t most of the wood used for construction? If so, where do the emissions come from?

    Just a guess, but I would say there are two factors at work. First the reduced capacitly to sequester CO2 from the atmosphere because of fewer trees. Second, though probably much less, would be the emissions from the equipment used to do the deforesting.

    And expanding on what Kolohe said, most of the developing world uses wood for cooking and heat.

  9. Where do you find these thing, Episiarch?

    Best Sean Connery picture ever.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Zardoz_zed.jpg

  10. So capitalism will kill Al Gore. Poetic.

    Wait, is there a bounty on him now? I’ll throw in $10.

  11. joe, it’s a John Boorman film. That alone is reason to at least check it out.

  12. Best Sean Connery picture ever.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Zardoz_zed.jpg

    Oh… My… Flying… Spaghetti… Monster…

  13. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R6BeRb_y5x0&feature=related

    Funny(er) version starts at 1:10.

    [Intro]
    Men: Tootin’ tootin’ to, tada choo choo wow!
    [Verse]
    Men: There’s a place called the rainforest; it truly sucks ass.

    Women: Let’s knock it all down and get rid of it fast.

    Men: You say, “Save the rainforest,” but what do you know?

    All: You’ve never been to the rainforest before.
    [Chorus]
    All: Getting Gay With Kids is here!
    To tell you things you might not like to hear.
    You only fight these causes ’cause caring sells.
    All you activists can go fuck yourselves!
    [Bridge]
    Man: Someday if we work hard, boys and girls,

    Woman: There’ll be no more rainforests left in the entire world!

    Man: [joins her] World!
    [Chorus]
    All:: Getting Gay With Kids is here!
    To spread the word and bring you cheer. Yeah!
    [Move to E flat]
    Getting Gay With Kids is here!
    Let’s knock down the rainforest! What do you say?!
    It’s totally gay! It’s totally gay!

  14. Stuartl
    IIRC even if most of the tropical wood is used for lumber, and not slash&burn farming, there is still a large amount of forestry waste left to decay.

    As for the main article, what matters forest-wise in the long term for Global Climate Control, is Thick Forest Soil to store carbon. Old Forests have it. New Forests don’t.

    Certain tropical forests are also key in controlling global water-vapor. Albedo issues are also there, but are less important for the long term.

    Also as old forests are lost, they lose extremely valuable biodiversity. This is not immediately regained with the new forests.

    Key theme with this post.
    Quality is more important than Quantity.

  15. On the subject of the rainforests, I don’t know what this really means for environmental policy (other than the tragedy-of-the-commons issue raised by Bailey), but I think it does show that command-style policy, even when done honestly and with complete intention for the benefit of the environment, doesn’t work well because those creating the policy aren’t able to see all of the elements that make up such a complex system as the environment, or like-wise a similarly complex system like an economy, or even how those systems interact.

  16. OH {insert name of favored deity here} I really really really really really hope this gets play in the MSM. Wont change much in the environmental movement. Environmentalist have never really cared so much about the environment as they have about the evil capitalism and the good communism.

  17. Also in the NY Times today, a bizarre op-ed about the Dutch politician being brought up on charges for insulting Islam. The most irritating part:

    “One of the misconceptions that muddle the West’s debate over Islam and free speech is the idea that people should be totally free to insult.”

    Ummm…I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what free speech is supposed to mean, if it’s actually going to have any meaning. “We totally have free speech – we’re free to say whatever nice, non-controversial things we want!”

  18. While we’re on the subject of Sean Connery and rainforests, this movie kind of sucked.

    http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0104839/

  19. “And once again, Ron is shilling for Big Wood.”

    Huh huh. He said “big wood”. Huh huh. I’ve got “big wood”.

  20. Sparky, yes it did. It marked the end of John McTiernan’s hot streak of Predator, Die Hard, and The Hunt for Red October. He really hasn’t recovered since, with possibly the exception of The 13th Warrior.

  21. No love for Rollerball? 🙂

  22. Nope. McTiernan should have keep the film adaptation as close as possible on “The 13th Warrior”. A battle between Cro Magnon and Neanderthals would have been Teh AWESome!

  23. No love for Rollerball? 🙂

    None whatsoever. And The Thomas Crown Affair was awful. Bad remakes make zombie Jesus angry. He’s angry a lot.

  24. I didn’t think The Thomas Crown Affair was that bad, but Last Action Hero is an unforgivable sin. Looking back I can’t figure out what possessed me to go to that movie in the first place. You can tell just from the poster that it’s going to suck (but it actually sucks far worse than the poster lets on). I thought I had better judgment than that, even as a teenager.

  25. But … aren’t we supposed to be buying ‘fair trade’ coffee to keep third world farmers in business?

    Shouldn’t they all be growing organic beans?

    Isn’t industrial agriculture bad for the earth?

    What, you say? Fewer people farming means more room for rainforests? Egads! The heresy! Something must be done to stop people from finding out!

    (Incidentally, I recommend Zardoz – it’s hilariously wierd.)

  26. I first observed this exact deforestation/reforestation dynamic in Warcraft…

  27. I thought I had better judgment than that, even as a teenager.

    I made the same mistake, but I know why. Because it starred Arnold, and he was on roll recently (Total Recall, Twins, T2) and everything he touched was gold. It was just assumed that Last Action Hero would be gold too.

    Whoops.

  28. Epi,

    You thought Arnold was on a roll with Twins?

  29. You thought Arnold was on a roll with Twins?

    Twins is funny, but more importantly, it made a ton of money. That’s a roll.

  30. *drifts into daydream about Total Recall*

    Damnit Cohagen! Let the people have air!

    *motorboats 3 breased chick*

  31. Whoa! Bad spelling.

    Though breased sounds and looks cool.

  32. I actually liked Last Action Hero. Not everything has to be as great as Monster Squad.

  33. Last Action Hero was not a good action movie. But it was still interesting in an artsy cinema kinda way.

  34. I also dont think The Thomas Crown Affair was bad. However, I havent seen the original.

  35. Wow, Naga chose the 3 breasted chick over a young, hot, naked Sharon Stone.

    Whatever dude.

  36. robc,

    I walk the path least traveled.

  37. I also dont think The Thomas Crown Affair was bad.

    It was terrible. And I’m pretty forgiving of movies if I find them at least mindlessly entertaining.

    A better Pierce Brosnan film which was a total sleeper was The Matador.

  38. So once again, wealth and industrialization leads to a better environment. Environmentalists who think that farm life is clean have never stood behind a cow.

  39. Wow, Naga chose the 3 breasted chick over a young, hot, naked Sharon Stone.

    There are websites dedicated to that kind of stuff, you know.

  40. Gotta love the thigh-high boots.

    You’re the costume designer, and Sean Connery standing in front of you.

    “Ok, run with me on this one…”

  41. Why are environmentalists such angry, unhappy people? They’re as bad as “get off my lawn!” conservatives.

  42. Paul,

    Word? Links please!

  43. “Why are environmentalists such angry, unhappy people? They’re as bad as “get off my lawn!” conservatives.”

    Get off everyone’s lawn!

  44. I’m saving my rainforest for marriage.

  45. “Why are environmentalists such angry, unhappy people? They’re as bad as “get off my lawn!” conservatives.”

    Get off everyone’s lawn!

    I believe it is:

    Get off the sacred commons lawn!

  46. “Twins is funny, but more importantly, it made a ton of money. That’s a roll.”

    Ah, quantity over quality. Episiarch’s “rolls” cover reams of Hollywood garbage. ;>

  47. “So once again, wealth and industrialization leads to a better environment. Environmentalists who think that farm life is clean have never stood behind a cow.”

    And wealthy industrialists who think that agro-primitives are dirty have never lived downwind of a textile factory.

    We can play the silly generalization game all day. Come on, everyone’s playing it!

  48. Yay! I assume Bjorn Lomberg is very happy.

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