September 23, 2019


No, We Are Not Running Out of Forests (Alexander C. R. Hammond, 9/23/19, Human Progress)

[L]ightly more than 31 per cent of the world is covered in forest. The world does continue to lose forest area, but consider the rate and location of this loss. According to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the annual rate of deforestation has more than halved since the 1990s. Between 2010 and 2015, the world has gained 4.3 million hectares of forest per year, while losing 7.6 million hectares of forest per year. That accounts for a net decrease of 0.08 percent of forest area each year.


Some argue this data is faulty, because the FAO defines forest area as including natural forests and tree plantations. But that criticism is illegitimate. The FAO makes it clear that "93 per cent of global forest area, or 3.7 billion hectares in 2015," was natural forest. Natural forest area decreased at an average rate of 6.5 million hectares per year over the last five years, a reduction from 10.6 million hectares per year in the 1990s. Put differently, natural forest loss is declining by 0.059 percent per year and is heading towards zero.


The reason why most people labor under a misapprehension about the state of the world's forests is that news stories often ignore afforestation. In about half of the world, there is net reforestation and, as Matt Ridley puts it, this isn't happening despite economic development, but because of it.


The world's richest regions, such as North America and Europe, are not only increasing their forest area. They have more forests than they did prior to industrialization. The United Kingdom, for example, has more than tripled its forest area since 1919. The UK will soon reach forest levels equal to those registered in the Domesday Book, almost a thousand years ago.


It is not just rich nations that are experiencing net reforestation. The "Environmental Kuznets curve" is an economic notion that suggests that economic development initially leads to environmental deterioration, but after a period of economic growth that degradation begins to reverse.


Once nations hit, what Ridley dubs the "forest transition," or approximately $4,500 GDP per capita, forest areas begin to increase. China, Russia, India, Vietnam and Bangladesh are just some of the nations that have hit this forest transition phase and are experiencing net afforestation.


Poor people can't afford to care about the environment very much, because other priorities - such as survival - are more important. If that means that a rare animal must be killed and eaten, so be it. "The environment is a luxury good," says Tim Worstall of the Adam Smith Institute, "it's something we spend more of our income upon, as incomes rise."


A recent study from the University of Helsinki highlights that between 1990 and 2015, annual forest area grew in high and mid-income nations by 1.31 per cent and 0.5 per cent respectively, while decreasing by 0.72 per cent in 22 low income countries.

Posted by at September 23, 2019 12:00 AM