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Scientists say halting deforestation 'just as urgent' as reducing emissions (theguardian.com)
143 points by ciconia 5 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 78 comments





Deforestation is a great issue in developing economies. It's something which must be addressed. What's not mentioned is that human population growth is the main driver of this pressure.

Given our abilities to manage disease and such, more efforts should go into educating women in developing allowing them to become more independent and have more control over their reproduction. When people move from agrarian societies to urban, they don't need more than replacement numbers --but in many developing economies the effort to stall growth is overshadowed by other less effective efforts.

China would not be where it is without the great effort (though hamfistedly implemented) it put into controlling growth --it was only necessary to dampen growth while the country caught up economically and now natural forces are effectively resulting in pop stability (unlike India, for example).


> China would not be where it is without the great effort (though hamfistedly implemented) it put into controlling growth

I would not advocate this authoritarian approach (I'm not saying you are). Part of the solution is what you said earlier, education. But population stabilizes on it's own as a country goes through the Demographic Transition.

See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographic_transition

Or for something more light-hearted: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QsBT5EQt348


The question is whether the population will naturally level out before or after the last old growth rain forests are gone.

We need to empower women in those countries and enable people to make a living in other ways than selling timber and slash-and-burn agriculture. Breeding and selling rare butterflies[1] is one option that I've heard of, but obviously that doesn't scale. I don't find it unreasonable to just pay people for not cutting down rain forests. First world countries have a responsibility here. After all we cut down all our old growth forests and now demand that developing countries don't do the same.

[1] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-kenya-butterflies/kenyans...


People always throw these concepts around as though 'First world countries' is 4 or 5 individual people. I didn't cut down any forest, neither did my family. Perhaps my family trade was training birds in those forests, so I was personally very disadvantaged by cutting them down. So should I have to pay other countries not to cut theirs down now? My point is, these high-level thoughts are theoretically sound but can never be applied to the real world.

If you value intact ecosystems and diversity you should definitely pay for them. You can't just tell poor countries not to exploit the resources that they have and hope they comply. Especially when your country's wealth is build on clear cutting, strip mining, and pollution. Even if you think that the past has nothing to do with you, the simple argument that you have money and like Orangutans and they have nothing but a forest should be enough.

What China did was their only option.

We need to realise that sometimes the "authoritarian approach" is the only option available. There is no other way to put the brakes on steep population growth especially as this is usually linked to culture and education. But education may work 20 years down the line, which is too late for such an issue.

The demographic transition is also besides the point as the issue is to stabilise population at a lower level that it would have done 'naturally'.


The demographic transition is just a theory. UN have already had to adjust population projection upwards as the curves have not followed the theory as close as predicted.

Do you have a reference to this?

https://www.newsecuritybeat.org/2013/08/demographic-transiti...

> fertility decline in Africa has generally proceeded more slowly than in other parts of the world, with several cases of “stalls” and even small fertility increases over time

https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/2...

> While this study looks at lessons from East Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa currently exhibits two unique demographic characteristics. First, it is the only region in the world that is still at a very early stage of the demographic transition. As such, it can learn from other regions that have gone through the same journey to ensure that demographic change paves the way to deeper and more sustainable prosperity. As this book points out, this path is neither easy nor automatic. Success requires actions in differ- ent policy realms that are time-coordinated, adapted to the current level of the demographic transition, and results-driven. The second unique characteristic of the region’s demographic picture is its heterogeneity. While a small number of countries are far along the transition, with fertility rates that are below replacement levels, many others are exhibit- ing surprising delays in the transition in the last 10 years. Some countries are showing very little movement along the natural transition and are stuck at very high fertility rates. These large differences argue for differentiated policies that target different sectors and processes. They also argue for country to country learning and knowledge sharing.


China’s population isn’t stable. Every single Han majority state has below replacement fertility, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong King, Macau and China proper.

The post WW2 history of Taiwan strongly suggests that the one child policy was unnecessary. It was brutal, evil and unnecessary.


China's population doubled in 50 years. It is estimated that the One Child policy prevented 400+ million extra increase.

It's not possible to draw equivalence between Taiwan and the mainland. The mainland's population exploded after WWII. It has more than doubled since 1950.

Using words like 'evil' is emotional, not rational.


Given the issues we can attribute (at least in part) to overpopulation, why would an at-or-above replacement rate be intrinsically more stable?

Being below replacement rate completely destroys the way our taxation and welfare systems are built.

Both rely on having more people contributing taxes than there are leeching off of them.

In the 1 child policy, 1 working person is suddenly responsible for the welfare of 2 retirees.

Welfare systems would collapse, unless it was rethought from ground up.


The work has been done. The total number of children being born each year is already falling. The world population will stabilise. We have serious problems but this isn't one of them.

Meanwhile even a country normally viewed as responsible is cutting down ancient forest to get to the coal beneath. Bit of a double whammy. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/oct/09/berlin-startup...

Man, the arguments I've had with Germans about getting rid of nuclear. It's ridiculous. Instead, now we're incredibly reliant on coal and gas because there's no way we can cover our base load, much less 100% of our energy needs, with renewables.

https://www.cleanenergywire.org/sites/default/files/styles/l...

https://www.cleanenergywire.org/sites/default/files/styles/l...

This is incredibly depressing.


There needs to be a word for "environmentalist" vs "enviromentalist who can do math".

Would "a tool" suffice or is that both too harsh and not specific enough?

(Tools are being used for political agenda, often contrary to what they want.)


What are the German arguments against nuclear? They banned it after Fukushima as far as I understand it, despite having totally different geology?

The lack of a permanent storage solution, the lasting radiation even if there were a permanent storage solution, the risk that something might happen in the future with the nuclear waste regardless of storage solution. It all revolves around nuclear waste and the risk of accidents/meltdowns and the consequences.

It's basically all about fear and it tends to override everything else. We have Chernobyl, Fukushima and the media to thank for that. It doesn't help that there are parties in the government that have been trying to sunset nuclear for decades (ironically, the green party).


Yeah, that’s what happens when you shut down all your nuclear power plants. Suddenly you really need coal. It’s very, very cheap if you don’t count the costs of air pollution, the lives lost to people inhaling fine particulates or the cancer from uranium and other isotopes released into the air by burning it.

Coal’s a great deal for a poor industrialising country but that’s not Germany.

Bring back nuclear!


George Monbiot opines that Germany has never been particularly responsible:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/sep/19/world-...


My government (Germany) just "lost" (their feeling, esp. voiced by minister of the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital infrastructure (BMVI) who is from the most conservative coalition partner and sees tougher standards as a problem) on the EU level when they voted for tougher CO2 limits for cars. German governments have always valued the car industry (or any other for that matter) higher.

On the other hand, I'm from East Germany, and the area was a huge dump. very dirty rivers, ash mountains, it was really bad. A few decades later: Mostly paid for by West Germany (due to their still being far less industrial power in the Eat) rivers are actually wonderful. The river through Nuremberg, where I live now, (still?) is dirty and stinks (probably runoff from agriculture) - but the two rivers in East Germany where I used to grow up now have wonderful clean water. The ash mountains were removed, which took thousands of trucks and a few years, there now is new industry in that spot. It is much, MUCH cleaner than before. Similar efforts took place in West Germany in areas where there had been lots of dirty industry and mining. As a student I got to be on an educational tour and was shown a lot of projects, they had achieved incredible improvements in formerly devastated areas.

Also, courts and cities are starting to try to fight pollution by cars, e.g. by placing bans and restrictions on Diesel powered cars, at this point often against the federal government which fears loss of jobs (the great thread from the car industry whenever they are asked to build cleaner cars).

So, good as well as bad in Germany. I think we are way too dependent on the car industry. It's not just the known manufacturers themselves, the amount of directly dependent industry is even bigger. One in seven jobs and ~14% of GDP is in or depends on the car industry (https://www.thelocal.de/20150924/what-the-vw-scandal-means-f...).


If Germany cares about their car industry they'll force ten percent per year drops in ICE sales to force them to compete in electrics.

I agree, it's an image they purposefully built for themselves since the Prussians, but I don't think it's the reality.

they have been responsible for a lot of things tbh ;D you didnt have history lesson?

To my knowledge this has been halted by court order from a state court and they're working on the case. So atm nobody is cutting down the ancient forest. It's also dubious if there is even a lot of coal under there.

They have already cut down about 95 percent of the ancient forest. What people are currently fighting for is but a 200 hectare remnant of over 4000 hectares.

if they keep it up we won't need this coal because the atmosphere will be fire :'D rofl - some people really take it to the next level, i mean one of either, it's a dirty but legit business. both is pushing it hahaha. wonderful world!

Number one cause for amazon deforestation is cattle.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deforestation_of_the_Amazon_ra...

All the more reason to go vegan.


Or just eat chicken

Or don't keep cattle in the rainforest. Not every problem with cattle has to be solved by making an impractical and enormous swing in your life.

Cattle are kept in the rainforest, yes, but the forest cut down for grazing is far outweighed for the forest cut down to groy soy to feed the cattle.

Absolutism is unnecessary, two people eating half as much beef is just as impactful as one of two people going vegan.

I don't think eating less meat is impractical, certainly not specifically just eating less beef, by far the most environmentally impactful one.


Or don't keep cattle in the rainforest.

Should the opportunity to do so ever arise, I’ll make a note not to do that. In the meantime, as I am not a cattle farmer, I’ll continue to not eat meat.


I wish that we didn't keep getting headlines containing phrases like "scientists say this" "according to scientists" and so on. I mean, how much does it hurt to be specific? Sometimes it just turns out to be a single grad student or something like that. The article doesn't even say who they are but even "A group of 40 scientists signed a statement saying.." would be an improvement.

Whatever happened with the idea of using drones to plant 1 billion trees?

I was in Iceland earlier this year - a country largely devoid of trees. There aren’t any because the Vikings chopped them all down. Despite the cold - however - they do grow there albeit much slower then elsewhere.

In any case, it seems to me we could be seeding a lot of barren locations so they’ll become forests within 20 years.


Sheep.

They’ve tried and sheep tend to eat all the saplings. Unlike in other places the sheep are not penned in, they’re free to roam which means any area you want to try and re-forest in a fairly hostile environment to begin with has to be expensively fenced off until they get to a fairly good size.


Perhaps the solution should also involve drones?

Can’t fence in the sheep? Fence in the trees.

Or bring in wolves.

The shepherds farm the sheep, it might be an idea to ask them to stop it.


It's a lot harder to build a fence with a drone than to airdrop a sapling.

Could have shepherd drones to go with the tree-planting drones.

> using drones to plant 1 billion trees?

sigh, more tech. Personally I think humans owe a debt of a little elbow grease here and sitting on the sidelines with a remote control seems a bit soulless and detached. Dirt under your fingernails will teach you a lot.

> a country largely devoid of trees.

Forests need to bootstrap entire ecosystems, a process that can take thousands of years. It'd be like trying to load an OS off an encrypted DVD into RAM and just jumping to it. It needs to be booted in the right way.

(https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/10/20/climate/icela...)



Dirt under your fingernails doesn't scale. If it did, it'd have happened already. We need solutions, not attachment.

Clearly deforestation scaled. We need people to realize they are part of this and it is not some videogame.

> Clearly deforestation scaled.

Yes, exactly my point. How do you want to fight something that clearly scales with something that doesn't scale?

> We need people to realize they are part of this and it is not some videogame.

Clearly that doesn't happen. Thinking it somehow magically will happen now is IMO foolish. Instead of hoping and arguing for emotional attachment with planting trees, we should be thinking of real solutions, like drones.

Standing in the way of technology is exactly what will kill us, relying on humans has never worked out. Just like with German nuclear power plants (or their lack of, which caused another deforestation in pursuit of coal).


Ok, we're clearly on totally different pages, so let me take another try at this.

> fight something that clearly scales

My point was actually to refute the implied point that something that relies on manual labor doesn't scale. Industrial logging has got nothing on all those centuries of busy little humans. Deforestation scaled without tech. The Vikings had little but axes to deforest Iceland, just time. It's been the same everywhere people have gone, no matter what century or what tech they had available: cut down the trees faster than they can grow back. You can see it everywhere from North America to Easter Island to New Zealand. Same story. Over and over. Nowadays, a lot of deforestation in Africa is literally slash and burn: machetes and fire. We have to stop deforestation, clearly, because it is easier than reforestation.

Reforestation is going to take time, no two ways about it.

> Thinking it somehow magically will happen now is IMO foolish

This is exactly my point. Sitting behind a keyboard and dreaming about billions of trees being planted by drones is the magical thinking. No matter how close you think these drones are to reality, this just simply does not exist, no one is funding this, and no one is building or running this. On the contrary, going out and planting a tree is literally something that you can do today, and people do by the thousands and millions every year. At a time when we need to actually do something, the loudest voices are techno-utopians who are literally telling people to sit down, the drones will take care of it.

> Standing in the way of technology is exactly what will kill us

This is why we are completely different pages. Technology is manifestly what is killing us, from global CO2 to enabling deforestation to overfishing to pesticides. Technology is prima facie the reason this planet is threatened by our existence. Technology is what has allowed humans to multiply from ~1.5 billion people in 1900 to 7.5 billion today and reach into every corner of the planet to exploit every kind of resource that happens to be profitable in the global economy.

And when someone points this out, well, bring on the downvotes.

Tech is like violence. If it's not working, you just need to use more. I know people don't want to process this, but this is where we are. Catastrophic overshoot. And the loudest voices are calling for more tech and more scaling. God forbid someone suggest manual labor, working with our hands, and thinking seriously about how we've seriously, seriously fucked up.


> My point was actually to refute the implied point that something that relies on manual labor doesn't scale.

That was not my point at all. My point was that there is zero economical demand for reforestation, you're not going to convince masses to plant enough trees. There is clear demand for deforestation, be it coal underneath, wood itself or a place to live.

Yes, we need to stop deforestation, I did not say anything against that at all. Let's not see the world as black or white.

> No matter how close you think these drones are to reality, this just simply does not exist, no one is funding this, and no one is building or running this.

That is a problem we should solve, on top of others - like stopping deforestation.

> On the contrary, going out and planting a tree is literally something that you can do today, and people do by the thousands and millions every year.

And yet we're here talking about the problem that it's not nearly enough.

> Technology is prima facie the reason this planet is threatened by our existence.

Definitely. There is a huge demand for the ease of living technology offers. People are never going to let that be and live more frugally, never. That's why we need better technology - technology that can solve problems we've done and technology that is more clean.

> God forbid someone suggest manual labor, working with our hands, and thinking seriously about how we've seriously, seriously fucked up.

I agree with you but this is never going to happen. You're not going to convince masses about this, ever. Almost no one on the global scale is going to happily let go of their easy lives, much less do any significant manual labor. We need a solution that doesn't involve manual labor of tens of millions of people. And, to be honest, I find the expectation that people will think about their mistakes naive - I don't think they will even admit a mistake.


The problem in Brazil is not so much that it's now barren as that it's now somebody's farm.

I sometimes wonder about the right of a country to use rapid deforestation / dirty energy as a way to development.

100-200 years ago, every modern developed economy did the same and cemented their positions as dominant economies. There is no question that these countries have been the majority contributors to climate change over the last 2 centuries.

Morally speaking, are underdeveloped countries not entitled to the same. Why should they use more expensive and cleaner fuel as payment for a problem that's not their fault ?

I see the fault in my own argument, which is that we are all on this together and massive collective action is the only recourse we have.

But, the perceived injustice faced by underveloped countries is probably not misplaced.

The onus is certainly on the west to take an initiative.


The onus is definitely on the existing developed nations to persuade developing nations not to deforest.

That likely means paying to protect the forests, and also to encourage the kind of economic development that would have happened with deforestation as well. All of the timber logistics and processing industry, as well as the agriculture that would develop in the cleared lands is compelling. Certainly maintaining pristine forests employs some people and could promote tourism (depending on access issues), but that doesn't really compare.

But developing countries also crave independence and self-sufficiency, so it must be done with a light touch.


If you want to take direct action join the Woodland Trust https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/membership/

We are actually out there planting trees like it’s going out of fashion


Sure. The greater problem is how do we achieve that. With a growing population, deforestation has become necessary to meet agricultural and accommodation needs of humans. As sad as it sounds, people need food and shelter.

The problem boils down to controlling population and also handling population. If people want to keep buying new houses, there is more demand for deforestation. The agricultural demand for deforestation increases with the amount of food wastage we observe these days. Such incremental improvements in lifestyle could help us save forests.


> With a growing population, deforestation has become necessary to meet agricultural and accommodation needs of humans. As sad as it sounds, people need food and shelter.

One of the main reasons deforestation is happening is because arable that was once fertile has become less and less productive, due to modern agricultural techniques (plowing, monoculture, fungicides, pesticides, synthetic fertilizers) and extreme weather causing erosion. It's really a vicious cycle - the more humanity (ab)uses Earth's resources, the poorer the yield, the more extreme the weather, leading to growing resource use. By some estimates, a third of arable land has already been lost in the last 40 years [1].

But deforestation is not necessary to increasing food production. On the contrary, as the article explains, it is a major stumbling block to bringing C02 emissions under control, and stopping the vicious cycle of

The answer to food production is more responsible agricultural practices, that cultivate soil quality and mixed cultures in order to increase yields. At the same time, humanity can definitely cut back on its food waste [2].

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/dec/02/arable-l... [2] https://ec.europa.eu/food/safety/food_waste_en


No it does not boil down to population. That is a false believe that people have been pushing since the 60s and has been proven wrong over and over again.

Its equally false that deforestation has to do with food wastage. And the 'solution' is not 'incremental improvements in lifestyle".

In the west forest and the wild are actually coming back, even while we have food waste and "bad" lifestyle. Evidence shows that with 'modern' methods actually uses less land and gives you higher yields.

Europe today is way less farmed far less then in the middle ages, forest are growing in Germany, Britain. Wild animals wolfs, bears and so on are coming back to Europe.

The problem is poverty, low productivity, bad institutions and misaligned intensives for central governments compared to the people living close to the woods. And the solution is for the government and society there to change these things, not westerns eating more leftovers rather then throwing it away.


"with a growing population of cows..." Might be more accurate really. We could feed ten billion occasional meatand dairy eaters much more easily than five billion Americans.

vertical agriculture

What about preventing new births and drone controlling every pristine forest with multiple task-forces ready to jet there when the bad boys try to touch it ? While vertical agriculture might in some measure work - it’s ugly AF

Ironically in the first world we have reforestation and the wild reclaiming more and more land. While in the third world more and more forest are cut.

In a capitalist economy, why would anyone maintain a forest? Unless you get enough direct personal benefit, or someone else is paying you enough, you wouldn't.

This isn't a failure of capitalism; this is capitalism.


I have my own little forest. I do get personal enjoyment out of it everyday. But I also feel an enormous obligation to protect it as precious habitat for the critters who live there as their habitat all around my woods slowly shrinks and they run out of places to go. I am, in particular, very protective of my box turtle population (quarantined one girl this summer to [successfully!] stop another outbreak of a virus that killed over a dozen turtles last summer) and would like to see if my family is willing to plant some large patches of butterfly weed to let run wild in our hay field, especially since the drop in non-monarch butterflies this year compared to last is distressing to me. (It was a good year for monarchs, though.) When I'm in charge and get to call the shots, I want to let nature reclaim the fields entirely.

I do it because if I don't, who will? It's priceless to me that I am privileged enough to have this .5 sq mi plot of undeveloped land to call mine, I feel a sense of responsibility to care for it. If I was a millionaire, I'd absolutely buy up undeveloped land just to let it sit and run wild. I fantasize about it all the time.


Because not maintaining it is too expensive after you pay for the externalities. Which you must, of course, in any reasonable regime.

Not in Q4.

Thus the "reasonable" bit.

The countries that are most capitalistic actually have a situation where the woods are coming back. Massive forests are growing all over Europe and North America because we don't need to cut them down and farm them like we did in the middle ages.

Deforestation is mostly a problem in poor society, with bad institutions, governments not caring or understanding the problems faced by the people who deforests and are thus unable to find a reasonable way to manage forest resources.

> In a capitalist economy, why would anyone maintain a forest?

Go back in history and you will see how false that is. Forest have been maintained for profit for 1000s of years. Some for forestry, others for hunting, some for human enjoyment, some for tourism.

In fact forests today or usually less managed then historically, forest all over Europe were not eradicated completely precisely because they could be exploited for wood over time, and thus were maintained.


'Why?' Do you only do something for personal benefit or payment? I doubt it and neither do most of the rest of us.

Socialism is where property is communally or governmentally owned and treated as a free resource and the evidence shows us that resources are inevitably overused with little regard for future consequences.

Driving through Romania and other countries in Eastern Europe after 1989 provided ample illustration of the above. The comparison was stark and pitiful.


In a capitalist economy, why would anyone maintain a forest?

Because you own the forest and want it to keep producing income?

That said, a non-capitalist model would probably work better, since implementing the full capitalist solution (by allowing people to sue polluters, who harm them and their property) is politically infeasible.


Pristine rainforest produces very little income compared to cleared land that can be used for agriculture.

Sorry, I edited the post later.

Why can't a few billionaires of the world buy up a large % of the rainforests? Seriously. Besides the fact that they would rather let their wealth sit in a hedge fund, I mean.

Because that would only get them paper. Trees are poached even when offically off limit and enforcement carries its own problems - especially with the optics involved. Even if they started on the rental foreign aid model they would rapidly wind up in trouble via Morton's forks. Government engaged in travesties (even worse if done in defense of the tree subsidies) or becomes a dictatorship - do you stop the cash flow? Not to mention the money infamously usually fails to be distributed equitably driving the desperately poor to make more short term decisions.

Was that a deliberate pun? :)

Talking about that, how can a small group plant trees (with seeds) ? Is it subtle and complex ? or is it possible to do on a hike ?


"By protecting and restoring forests, the world would achieve 18% of the emissions mitigation needed by 2030 to avoid runaway climate change"

So no, it could NOT "really be as simple as saving trees".


We changed the url from https://www.motherjones.com/environment/2018/10/science-says... to its original source. Bonus: a non-baity title.



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