Thinking about Forests

Yesterday while attending Klimaforum, an alternative forum to the official UN meetings taking place in Cancun, I had the opportunity to take in a workshop presented by the Indigenous Environmental Network around the concept of “false solutions.” Effectively, from what I took out of the workshop, this perspective believes market approaches are highly inappropriate to dealing with climate change, and in fact only perpetuate and perhaps worsen the issue. The presentation particularly focused around the United Nation’s REDD programs, which stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Land Degradation. This piece of UN policy is currently about payments from the developed world to the developing world to pay for trees to remain standing and carbon to remain sequestered in forests. Most of the contention arises when the REDD programs are actually implemented, often with the displacement of forest dependent people who call these places home. Simply put, the idea that trying to make the planet habitable for humanity would create such human travesty is appalling. Certainly this needs to be addressed, and the indigenous rights within these areas upheld. I seriously wonder about the credibility of the message that the market has no place within climate change, or that any involvement of money is a “commodification of the air”.

First of all, let me qualify that the issues raised by the indigenous environmental network regarding equity in emissions reductions and indigenous exploitation are a serious concern, and they must be addressed. However, we must recognize deforestation as a serious concern; after all, it is responsible for about 20% of global emissions . Additionally, most of global deforestation is industrial, take the example of the Amazon, where lands are being cleared for agriculture. Here a market incentive exists for people to clear land, so they can grow more food, and hopefully raise their standard of living. In order to prevent deforestation that incentive needs to be offset, and the only realistic way at the moment is to front the money to do so. I don’t think that this amounts to “commodification” of the air, and I certainly advocate that it remains a completely public good. Instead, consider this a service fee for a service the world desperately requires, forest preservation.

More generally, I consider that there is room for the market within the realm of climate change. To be clear, I believe in a carbon tax, I don’t think cap and trade is actually the way to go. There are a few reasons for this, but essentially I believe it amounts to less pollution everywhere, as opposed to only in a few places, and furthermore allows far more capacity to actually implement and increase pressure to reduce emissions. I really disagree with arguments that the tools of capitalism cannot be co-opted, and I feel that people who argue for an entirely new paradigm don’t recognize the huge amount of benefit often delivered. When people talk about a paradigm shift, I often think we need a paradigm nudge.

At least consider that for most people in North America, our contemporary systems do reasonably well. Although riddled with issues, many people are contented with a lot of their lives, to the point where revolutionary change is an unreasonable proposition. I tend to think that most people don’t want to give up something real for something hypothetical, and that’s totally understandable. That’s why we need to co-opt tools, because for most people in the daily, these tools seem to work. We need a nudge to move us in the right direction, but I find it hard to believe that with everything humanity has accomplished that we require an entirely new one.

One Response to “Thinking about Forests”
  1. dtseleie says:

    The issues with REDD have to do with more than a values-based resistance to commodificaiton of the natural environment. There is a legitimate concern that these projects do not work. This is partly due to corruption,

    it also has to do with the way these schemes are implemented, which could allow deforested areas that have been replanted with non-native flora to be considered “forests” that need protection.

    But my main objection to this scheme is this; it does not do anything to prevent the combustion of fossil fuels (largely responsible for the other 80% of global emissions). Forest protection is important, but to stop climate change we need to transition off fossil fuels, and any “solution” that does not start this transition will not solve the problem.

    REDD will actually make oil companies even richer. So although it may preserve some forests, the profits from it will go towards exploiting fossil fuel resources in places like the tar sands and the Arctic (rapidly retreating Arctic sea-ice is opening up the possibility of exploiting the billions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas in the Arctic).

    I agree that forests need to be protected, but we shouldn’t need an extremely complicated system that involves monetary incentives to achieve this.

    We don’t rely on market mechanisms to keep people from smoking crack cocaine. We shouldn’t rely on market mechanisms to prevent planetary deforestation.

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