A Guide: How to save the Amazon Rainforest and the Environment

schooling bannerfish school
Creative Commons License photo: jon hanson

It was interesting to open up BBC News and to read the article “Ownership key to saving fisheries“. In brief, essentially scientists have surveyed fisheries across the world and found that giving fishermen long-term ownership of fisheries is the way to keep stocks at a sustainable level. It’s a vindication of basic economics.

In this article, I want to discuss the issue of deforestation in the Amazon – one of the biggest environmental issues facing the world. I’ll run through a simple demonstration on how we could preserve the Amazon Rainforest using the exact same principle as that used in the Amazon.

The Amazon Rainforest

The Amazon Rainforest encompasses 1.4 billion acres (5.5 million square kilometres). In the 10 years from 1991 to 2000, about 500,000 square km of the Amazon was lost to deforestation. It’s been estimated that 17.1% of the Amazon has been lost to deforestation since the 1970. And at the present rate of deforestation, the Amazon Rainforest will be reduced by 40% by 2020.

That’s a big problem for all of us. The Amazon is a huge carbon sink – it locks away huge amounts of the greenhouse gas CO2. Deforestation not only reduces the world’s capacity to lock away CO2; it leads to the release of CO2 too. The existence of the Amazon Rainforest has huge benefits for all of us.

Sustainable logging in Sandakan (FSC certified)
Creative Commons License photo: angela7dreams

Ask a typical person on the street how to solve the problem of deforestation and you’ll get answers such as: prevent illegal logging or ban deforestation of the Amazon.

But then put yourself in the position of somebody who lives in or near the Amazon. Obviously, you’ll need to feed your family and make a living. Cut down some trees and sell the timber to make a bit of money. Use the land to farm and to graze cattle and to feed your family.

I think it’s extremely unfair for anybody to tell the people who live in the Amazon they can’t do this. I mean, how are they expected to make a living otherwise? Sure, we all lose out from the deforestation because it contributes to climate change. But it’s only fair that the people living in the Amazon should primarily be allowed to look after themselves and their families in the only way they have.

The Problem with Al Gore’s Public Commons

In 1989, Al Gore said:

Contrary to what Brazilians think, the Amazon is not their property, it belongs to all of us.

Essentially, Al Gore was blaming the Brazilians for cutting what does not belong to them – the Amazon.

Here’s the problem of a public commons. It could get a little mathematical, so bear with me.

Let us, hypothetically, say that a single acre of the Amazon Rainforest benefits everybody in the world by one millionth of a dollar. Every acre of the rainforest locks away CO2… that’s good news

Morning in the Amazon...
Creative Commons License photo: markg6

According to Google, the current world population is 6.6 billion. So the economic value to society of an acre of rainforest would be $6,600.

Now, we’ll enter the mindset of somebody living in the Amazon (call him Barack). Just like the rest of us, Barack benefits from lower CO2 levels by one millionth of a dollar. CO2 levels don’t have any local effects so we can make this assumption the benefits are the same for everybody. So the economic value to the private individual (Barack) is $1/1,000,000.

Barack could choose to cut down this acre of rainforest. He can sell the wood, and then he can graze his cattle on the cleared land. That’ll probably make him a good $2,000 or so.

So Barack has two choices:

  • Cut down the rainforest and make $2,000 of money
  • Leave the rainforest standing; benefiting him by $1/1,000,000 in a lower CO2 level.

It’s quite obvious to see that Barack will cut down the rainforest. He doesn’t care about the rest of us who all lose out by a millionth of a dollar – in fact it’s such a small amount that none of us would really make a big fuss about it. Would you make a fuss about a millionth of a dollar?

But look at it from a global perspective: as a global community, we’re all losing out on the rainforest worth $6,000 and getting timber and beef which is only worth $2,000 to us. As a community, we’re made $4,600 worse off by Barack’s decision.

We can pay Barack to preserve the rainforest

Tehran Sky
Creative Commons License photo: Hamed Saber

So here’s a proposal. What if we gave Barack the deeds to that acre of rainforest? He’ll own it and have responsibility to look after it. In fact, we’ll collectively give Barack a sum of $4,000 to preserve that rainforest because we know we’re getting a lot of good out of it.

Now Barack has two options:

  • Cut down the rainforest and make $2,000 of money
  • Leave the rainforest standing and make $4,000 of money

It’s a no brainer. Barack will preserve the forest.

Now look at it from a global perspective. Collectively, the global community is benefiting by $6,600 from Barack’s acre of rainforest. But we’re only paying him $4,000 to preserve it – so we’re collectively made better off by $2,600 by Barack’s decision to save the rainforest. Everybody wins from property rights.

To sum it all up…

Without property rights: Barack cuts down the rainforest. Barack makes $2,000. The world loses out by $4,600. CO2 levels rise.

With property rights: Barack preserves the rainforest. Barack makes $4,000. The world benefits by $2,600. CO2 levels fall.

So there we have it. The big environmental issues won’t be solved by telling other people what to do, banning deforestation or giving money to people to plant trees. We don’t need to wait for scientific advances to fix the environment. We just need some open-minded thinking and some basic economics.

4 thoughts on “A Guide: How to save the Amazon Rainforest and the Environment

  1. ways you can help save the rainforest and be environmentlly responsible.

    IN THE HOME! recycle everything you can>newspaper cans glass bottles and jars aluminm foil notor oil scap metal and etc

  2. One thing we can all do and have control of is vote with our dollars by supporting companies who are the solution. One company which I am behind 100% is called the Amazon Herb Company. In 2008, the Cousteau Society named their business practices ‘the answer’ to saving the rainforest. This is because they empower the indigenous peoples to sustainably harvest their herbs, and the company sells us these amazing healing products. A great website has been made regarding the Amazon Herb Company called ‘We Can Save the Amazon’ at http://wecansavetheamazon.com. They have garnered over a million acres in native land rights and they have set their sights on expanding heavily with company growth. The majority of disease-healing plants are found in the Amazon, in these plants are the last truely pure sources of plant medicine left on Earth. Per acre, if the land is used for sustainable harvesting of herbs it is worth $2,400 per year, while for agribusiness it is worth $400 or less. I understand that organic farms may take up more space, but there is definitely tons of space not being used on this planet, and it is a crying shame for anyone to think that our precious Amazon is the only place we have left to be able to farm animals. The experts say that if we don’t empower companies like the Amazon Herb Company and turn the rainforest into a living commodity, we have no chance of keeping the rainforest alive longer than another 20 years.

  3. SAVE THE FUTURE, STOP EATING SO MUCH MOO-COW! grazing ANIMALS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE MAJORITY OF LOST RAINFOREST. Amazingly, in such large numbers they release so much methane and CO2 that these UNNATURALLY SUSTAINABLE LARGE HERDS are actually FARTING their way into climate change arena we are facing right now. See hpw it’s all linked. Break a link…BREAK THE CHAIN. I’m not one to preach. I used to love burgers…Burger King for every A on a test as a kid, or a Happy Meal (they should show pictures of dead burned up animals and deforestation roll playing games on the boxes…”I want to be Joe “Just Doing MY Job” Jacobs or no no I want to be the little kid whose parents have both been killed, by the toxic run-off from the mine..or how about the kidnapped child, or my favorite the Chief w/o a Village or the Fish w/o any water. This was never part of the game of Life. I am kind-of a vegetarian! Kind- of…sounds like a hypocrite to me, right? No. Really I just forgo red meat. And as lame as it maybe…O don’t eat cute, or cuddly. (I’m getting to the point) Eat lots of fruits, veges, juices (hot brownies w/vanilla ice cream :)..sorry off track. Most of the deforestation is being done to create grazing pasture for cattle raising, That’s where the Cheeseburger tree and the filet mignon tree live. Actually, it’s where a huge biodiversity once lived, Oh yeah that cure for cancer, all diseases, yeah ooops, um….hmmm……that was Carl’s fault that it all burned that to the ground last week. he was just having fun blowin shit up. I don’t think any other nation can be described as gungho…I mean that’s as American as apple pie, genocide (remember those pesky Natives) and basically screwing the world for everyone else. But life is complicated. And a Patriot will fight for every tree and inch of soil of this once amazing country (until we came and messd it up). Did the parents in the 60’s ever realize that the Hippies were the Patriots? And wwhile I’m off track, how messed up is it that the Gov’t can go so far as to force you to kill people, women children you’ve never met and if you don’t well then you’re the bad guy and they can actually lock you up FOR NOT KLILLING…That’s how f’d up the world has finally gotten…You can get jailed for killing and you can get jailed for not killing. What the #@$!%*! is going on. Control and Rape. Remember that should this country fall into the hands of tyrants, despots and those who would seek to curb our rights, that it is also the law and our duty to remove anybody fitting that description by whatever means available. I don’t think we’re there yet. But Rome probably thought it would last forever to. Speaking of Romans…there’s some progress..no more feeding Christians to Tigers or burying vestal virgins alive. Ahhhh progress, different costume but the same beast parading amongst us and for that elite, it’s time to harvest this planet. But hey who doesn’t want to trade a long healthy life and planet for one of suffering, disease, diabetes , ignorance, mass hysteria and arteries that resemble my glass bowl in college! Point is MAYBE we haven’t eradicated that cure for the cancer that already grows in millions of us…So you mean there’s hope? Only if we lose our dependence on grazing animals for food. And don’t try to shortcut the whole thing by just sticking your McDonalds right into your gas tank…Good thought though…right direction, aim a little higher! But it’s up to you – DO YOU WANT TO TRADE EVERYTHING WE HOLD DEAR FOR A CHEESEBURGER AND THE FUTURE HUMANS’ INHERENT RIGHT TO A CLEAN AND HEALTHY PLANET. There’s a great idea let’s afford all as of yet unborn American full rights as American citizens, even thought they may not be born yet. Then we would have to stop sweeping the spent fuel rods under the carpet! AND OH YEAH….LESS GRAZING COWS = LESS METHANE/CO2 EMMISSIONS, SO YEAH YOU’RE ALSO FIGHTING GLOBAL WARMING BY LOSING THE BURGER! Or helping by eating that cow before it could fart ever again.In summary RAINFOREST & AMAZON BASIN = GOOD..VERY VERY GOD. MAD FARTING SLASH AND BURNING APOCALYPSE COWS = NOT SO GOOD. Everythibng in moderation. Move towards sustainability in ALL THINGS. Amen brothers and sisters and a Happy Christmahanakwanzakah to all and to all FLATULENT COWN ARE THE ENEMY! IF YOU’RE NOT WITH US, THEN YOU’RE WITH COWS. SHOCK ND AWE BABY. SHOCK AND AWE.idiot.

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