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Deforestation: A Global Complication

Forests have provided resources for humans since the beginning of time. Because of its
openness, resourcefulness, and limited availability, forests can be referred to as a commons, a term
used in Garrett Hardins The Tragedy of the Commons. However, as population increases, so does the
rate of deforestation in tropical areas: such as Brazils Amazon forest. Forests are being cut down not
only for timber, but to also create agricultural areas to support the urbanization of developing cities;
therefore, accelerating the release of greenhouse gases. If deforestation continues, drastic climate
changes resulting from global warming will negatively affect agriculture and decrease animal population
and biodiversity. To prevent such consequences, a global initiative that educates about the causes of
deforestation must be applied. In addition, regulations must be set to balance the rate of forest
depletion with forest growth. Most importantly, a global policy must be emphasized since deforestation
of tropical forests stems from issues that are halfway around the globe.
Garrett Hardins The Tragedy of the Commons expresses that without regulation and limitations
of rights, individual interests will overcome the collective interest of the population; thus resulting in the
tragedy of the commons. According to Hardin, a commons is any resources that are shared, resourceful,
often unregulated, and has limited lifetime. Hardins tragedies refer to the conflict between the
individuals interests: utilizing the commons for personal gain; and the collective interest: preserving the
commons for continual benefits. While Hardins tragedies include the pollution of air and water
resources and the exhaustion of national park lands; he stems all these tragedies to overpopulation.
Hardin argues that the freedom to breed is intolerable and that no purely technical solution exists;
therefore, a solution that appeals to the individuals morality is required. Hardin proposes four main
non-technical solutions. Firstly, Hardin states that education of the tragedy would bring about the
willingness to work towards a solution. Secondly, a mutually agreed upon coercive technique would

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provide incentives that promote cooperation in preserving the commons. Thirdly, Hardin suggests
legislated temperance must be enacted to force moderation. And lastly, he believes that individuals
must recognize that limiting the commons is required to preserve it.
The tropical forests, by providing shared resources with limited availability, are a commons, and
as with many of Hardins commons, the tragedy lies in the conflict between the individual and collective
whole. Deforestation has been brought about by the individual interests of meat and soy ranchers who
had pushed more into the Amazon forests, taking down trees to create pastures and fields for their
produce. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), cattle ranching has accounted for 80% of current
deforestation in the Amazon and with cleared cattle pastures, the ease of fire provides further
deforestation. In addition, when soy developers take over cattle ranches, ranchers are forced to push
cattle ranching and deforestation towards new forest areas; thus the Amazon tree line recedes (World
Wildlife Fund). Despite the economic benefits fueling the individual interests of deforestation, climate
change and global warming caused by deforestation has attracted organizations with a collective
interest to preserve the forest.
Multiple organizations have tackled deforestation with technical solutions; however, as Hardin
suggests, technical solutions alone will not alleviate the situation. One such organization is an American
environmental group called The Nature Conservancy. By attempting a technical solution, the group
assisted the Brazilian government in setting up a system in which farms and ranches have their
perimeters recorded on GPSand then plotted to an annually updated satellite database (Walzer, NY
Times). Robert Walzer, a New York Times reporter, reports that while a third of the ranches are owned
by large slaughter houses that will likely cooperate, there are concerns about the majority small ranches
willingness to cooperate with the monitoring program. The success of this technical solution depends
solely on each individuals cooperation; an appeal to their morals is required.

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Instead of monitoring the farmers activities, Ruth Defries, a geographer from Columbia
University, suggests increasing farming productivity through technical means would alleviate
deforestation (Biello, Scientific American). The economic benefits of ranches and farms stem from the
demands for meat and soy from urban areas around the globe. In David Biellos Scientific American
article, Defries explains that in previous decades, deforestation was associated with local farmers
clearing land to grow food for subsistence, however there is now large demands from urban growth,
[causing] agricultural trade and exports [to be] more important drivers [of deforestation] (Biello,
Scientific American). Defries technical solution approach calls for better land management and crop
varieties to increase agriculture supplies to meet the demands. Although deforestation rates have been
gradually decreasing since 2009, provisional statistics from August 2012 to July 2013 shows a sharp 28%
rise of deforestation (BBC). The new rise in deforestation signifies that a technical solution alone will not
solve the issue of deforestation.
In accordance in Biellos argument of urbanization affecting deforestation, Bryan Walsh, a senior
writer for TIME magazine, states that a new science called telecoupling has confirmed that rapid
urbanization affects deforestation; thus bringing forth the tragedy to the global public. Deforestation in
Brazil was once attributed to local farms and ranches, but has recently been accelerated by the rapid
urbanization of cities in the developing world (Walsh, TIME). Telecoupling has linked urbanization and
deforestation - bringing about one of Hardins solution to the tragedy of the commons: education.
DeFries also stated in Walshs article that when the link between soy and deforestation became clear,
consumers and activists in developed nations began putting pressure on the soy industry to stop
planting on clear-cut land (Walsh). The exposed link between soy and deforestation resulted in a
moratorium imposed on recently deforested land which drastically helped reduce deforestation.

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With activists moratoriums pressuring for the reduction of deforestation, cattle companies are
also using educative techniques to reduce deforestation. Richard George, a writer for Greenpeace,
states that in 2009 the three main cattle companies in the Amazon agreed to stop buying cattle from
farms that used deforested pastures. To further tackle the issue, companies are now performing supply
chain audits to track where their cattle were raised, ensuring that none of them are a result of
deforested land; however, until 2013 this audit process has never been standardized or made public
(George, Greenpeace). This public exposure to the tracking of cattle in the Amazon provides consumers
with a way to keep an eye on these slaughterhouses. Making such processes public provides an
educative solution to the deforestation by motivating the public to avoid buying from companies
associated with deforested land. In addition, this provides an incentive for companies to actively ensure
that their cattle come from non-deforested areas.
Similarly to the cattle companies supply chain audits, the Forest Legality Alliance was formed
with the aim to educate the public while working with wood importers to avoid illegally sourcing their
timber (Maron, Scientific American). Although cattle ranches and soy farms have been the main
contributor to deforestation, illegal logging has had continuous effects on the increasing rate of
deforestation. The illegal timber trade exposure is another educative attempt at a solution to
deforestation. By exposing the illegal timber trades, consumers in the developed urban areas are
discouraged from purchasing from illegal sources, thus eliminating the demand for illegal timber which
reduces deforestation.
With increasing demands for soy and cattle products in the U.S. urban areas, the reduction of
domestic supplies indirectly increases deforestation; however, incentives brought about by legislations
could slow down domestic supply reductions. When developed countries decide to shift food production
abroad, a wave of deforestation stimulates new demand of agricultural farming (Borrell, Scientific

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American). Scientists believed that the introduction of biofuels with its government incentives and
market demands could force farmers to switch from food production to biofuels; thus reducing the
domestic supply of food and increasing demands for imports. The technical term indirect land-use
change associates emission costs to biofuel farming due to it indirectly driving deforestation oversees
(Borrell, Scientific American). With biofuel production linking to the emissions of greenhouse gasses
from deforestation, many companies are reverting to the cap-and-trade system to control their
emissions. The cap-and-trade system a form of legislated temperance - puts a cap on the amount of
emissions produced in the various different industries while allowing the trading of emissions quotas
between companies under emission limits and ones that are over (Environmental Defense Fund). This
emissions restriction and the indirect land-use change policy provide incentives against the shift from
food agriculture to biofuel farming and thus remove reasons for increase deforestation in tropical areas.
Similarly to the cap-and-trade system, the United Nations REDD program incentivizes
developed countries to reduce deforestation through a mutual coercive means. The UN-REDD program
lets developed countries pay tropical countries to keep their forest standing, in exchange for the
carbon sequestered by the trees (Walsh, TIME). Since fallen trees release carbon dioxide, the program
assists developed countries in reaching emissions goals by paying tropical countries to reduce
deforestation. This global mutually agreed upon coercive technique provides funding for under-funded
anti-deforestation programs through countries needing to meet emission regulations. This program
demonstrates Hardins idea of mutual coercion where people agree to a form of forced cooperation to
limit the depletion of the commons. In this case, the developing countries, with their need to meet
emissions goals, are cooperating with developing tropical countries to keep their forests standing.
With emissions goals as great incentives for the reduction of deforestation, domestic
agricultural losses due to the imports of goods from deforested land provides further motivation. The

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National Farmers Union and Avoided Deforestation Partners found that deforestation oversees has
actually caused U.S. farms to lose billions of dollars when foreign produce farmed from deforested land
flood the market, undercutting domestic goods (Maron, Scientific American). The economic losses
provide incentives for the U.S. to reduce deforestation through global programs such as UN-REDD. Dina
Maron, a writer for Scientific American, reports if deforestation were eliminated by 2030, soybeanproducing states like Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Indiana and Nebraska could expect to gain as much as
$7.7 billion in increased revenue, while beef-producing states like Texas could gain up to $10 billion in
increased revenue (Maron, Scientific American). This economic incentive provides additional
motivation in supporting forest conservation programs which lower the global deforestation levels.
With the deforestation of tropical forests still an evident issue, many of the solutions presented
above could work to alleviate the problem. As discussed, the purely technical solution of adding satellite
monitoring and better land management could not alone reduce the problem of deforestation.
However, with the added help from educating the agricultural industry responsible for the
deforestation, educating the public and consumers of the link between urbanization and deforestation,
and exposing the trails for illegal timber supplies, the key drivers of deforestation could be regulated or
stopped. In addition, regulations that introduces legislative temperance and mutual coercive techniques
such as the cap-and-trade system and the UN-REDD program also provide global incentives for
developed countries to lend a hand in helping other countries fund the prevention of deforestation and
nurture the deforested land back to good health. Educating the global population on the tragedy and
providing global incentives are keys in conserving many of the few tropical forests that are left; thus
reducing greenhouse gas emissions, bring about climate balance, and bring back animal populations and
biodiversity in the tropical forests.

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BBC, November 15, 2013, Brazil Says Amazon Deforestation Rose 28% in a Year: BBC.
Biello, David, February 08, 2010, City Dwellers Driver Deforestation in 21st Centrury: Scientific American.
Borrell, Brendan, June 25, 2009, Biofuel Showdown: Should Domestic Ethanol Producers Pay for
Deforestation Abroad?: Scientific American.
Environmental Defense Fund, Date Unknown, How Cap and Trade
George, Richard, December 17, 2013, Brazilian Slaughterhouses Take Step in Right Direction:
Maron, Dina F., May 27, 2010, Earning Billions for U.S. Farmers by Stopping Global Deforestation:
Scientific American. []
Walzer, Robert P., November 16, 2009, Reducing Deforestation (and
) in Brazil: The New York Times.
Walsh, Bryan, February 23, 2011, The New Science of Telecoupling Shows Just How Connected the
World Is For Better and For Worse: Time. []
World Wildlife Fund, Date Unknown, Unsustainable Cattle Ranching.