Friday, October 24, 2008

Another Blow to the Amazon Rainforest? You Decide.

One of the couplets in the Robert Burn’s poem, Ode to a Mouse, goes "The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men, gang aft agley" (original verse). Remember, Burns was an 18th century Scotsman. The drawl must have been as thick as the fogs out on the moors.

That couplet has since been transformed into the less-colorful adage of today: The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. This meaning that no matter how much preparation, how many checks, how much research, how many prototypes, how much anything goes into the planning of a project; you must always plan for the unexpected. Or, as my good friend, Murphy, once said: “If anything can go wrong, it will!”

This seems to be the case here. The idea seemed like sheer genius – a conservation coup – a feather with sparkles in everyone’s cap. Why not determine the dollar value of a set area of the rainforest by placing a price on the rainfall it produces plus all the other “services”, and then sell these parcels of land off to rich philanthropists with green leanings?

Canopy Capital, a London-based investment house, came up with the plan and persuaded 10 wealthy individuals to buy into the “ecosystem services” of Guyana’s Iwokrama Reserve. At this time, the Iwokrama Reserve is a heavily-forested ecological and visual delight. The plan would appear to be working.

The thinking behind this plan is very simple and straightforward. Trees must be worth more standing up, living, cleaning air and being trees than they are chopped down. Giving them a “utility value” is one way of showing the value of unpaid services they provide to us and what we would be losing if we continue the deforestation.

"How can it be that Google's services are worth billions; but, those from the entire world's rainforests amount to nothing?" Canopy Capital's director, Hylton Philipson, is fond of saying.

What services do the trees provide? Climate regulation; biodiversity maintenance; water storage; traditional herbs and medicines; edible fruits and nuts; air oxygenation and filtration; undiscovered species; undiscovered peoples(?); undiscovered plants; and, who knows what else.

In recent years, governments across the region have bought into ecotourism, forest certification, biodiversity offsets and carbon emission trading.

“Market-based mechanisms appeal because they appear a win-win,” says Ronnie Hall, coordinator for Global Forest Coalition, an international coalition of environmental groups.

"Governments don't have to dip into the public purse so much, and private investors think they can make a profit out of it … It's very skewed. In the end, it's all become about money", she says.

Maybe I’m the one that’s skewed; but, it seems very simple to me. The rainforests are in South America and should be under the control of the country they lie in. Can you imagine the reaction if another country tried to tell the USA or Canada what to do with their lands?

The countries they lie in are very poor with very few resources other than the forests and the land they stand on. The people are mainly poor, uneducated, unskilled manual laborers working for starvation wages, if that. Many of these people clear the land to feed their families. The logging is done to support their families. I don’t know about you; but, there is very little I wouldn’t do to feed my children.

If we want the forests to remain as they are, we should PAY the countries involved a fair rate. We can’t tell them to stop the activities that is providing the food for the mouths of their families for another day and not replace it with something else.

In Canada, I know if agricultural watchdogs don’t want a farmer to produce this year, the proposal is made to him – but he is paid the same amount of money not to produce as he would have made producing. We would not expect the farmer to watch his family suffer because he is accommodating our request in the use of his land.

The same should apply in South American rainforests.
More on this tomorrow. Big, big issue!!

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