“What is common to many is least taken care of, for all men have greater regard for what is their own than what they possess in common with others.”
It’s a pity so many of us discard solutions to problems already solved thousands of years ago. That’s an awful lot of forgetting of history, and of its mistakes which, in this case the (mis)managed forests lobby are trying to get us to repeat.
Throughout history, countless man-made environmental disasters have been committed by governments, or occur on their territory. And, anyone who has ever travelled will know that in countries where private property rights are not respected, environmental disasters often reach biblical proportions. But at least there is no pretence behind the totalitarians’ bulldozers. Try being a private property owner or an environmentalist or both, in North Korea, China or Russia.
Looking at the case of state ‘managed’ forests, we see the same “Tragedy of the Commons” mismanagement from government that we have seen throughout history. We ignore Aristotle’s words to the forests’ detriment.
A positive first step to really protecting forests is to recognise the property rights in them. Few forests were ever “unowned”. Someone owned them; often native peoples have inhabited these forests for hundreds or even thousands of years. Yet expansive governments have exerted ownership over and pillaged these forests, or locked them up for pillage later. If government recognised the original inhabitants of these lands, and their property rights, it would cost government. So, governments don’t want to do that. What we have instead is a plain and simple land grab; the government stealing from the people.
For the original inhabitants who oversaw the well being of the forest for centuries, it is a bitter irony. They lived in and around their forest, acutely aware that the propagation of their centuries old environmentally sustainable traditions were required if their children were to benefit likewise. Sometimes permitting some commercial activities, but with a view to preserving the ecosystem for the next generation. Yet the government refuses to recognize their ownership, thereby preventing them raising capital to manage their asset. Their hitherto well managed forest is viewed with envious eyes from government, who now seeks to “manage” (read pillage and exploit) the forest itself.
It is a similar spin which government adopts when wishing to replace “run down” native forests with “sustainable” plantation forests, which in truth are monocultures, devoid of much of their original diversity and natural flora and fauna. Too easily we accept governments spin words like “sustainable” and “managed” without question. Friends of the Earth International coordinator of the Forest and Biodiversity Program; Isaac Rojas fears “large-scale tree plantations often replace forests and are thus a direct cause of deforestation. Few large-scale tree plantations have been established on degraded land. Case studies show plantation forests have very serious impacts on local populations and the environment. They fail to fulfil the promises of job creation, sustainable development, climate change mitigation and biodiversity protection.”
If the forest is devoid of native title claims to it, rather than claiming the forest as its own, the state should allow individuals to either purchase the land at fair market price, or to homestead that land. By doing this, any purchasers, environmentally and or profit driven, have an economic incentive to care for the forest as best as possible for their purposes as they would have to personally pay true market value for the land they plan to exploit, lest their expensive investment ends up as ‘dead money’ (shareholders and investors loathe waste). This removing of the subsidy of not having to pay fair market price for the land they seek to exploit, that many logging or oil interests receive from the state, would be reflected in a higher price of ‘new paper‘ and oil products, which would adversely affect demand of and therefore number of their operations: sparing even more forests. Again, an incentive government does not have, as Murray Rothbard explains;
“Governments cannot sell the rivers or sell stock in them. Hence, they have no economic incentive to preserve the purity and value of the rivers.”
A happy corollary is; Green groups could also acquire and protect land against others, as many private organisations are attempting now. Indeed, the case of Ravenna Park demonstrates; private owners have protected forests far better than governments, even after government assumes management of the very same forest.
Of course, for such a successful arrangement of private property to remain viable is for people to demand the abolition of the feudal power of Eminent Domain (Compulsory Purchase Orders) the state often retains, which allows it to simply steal people’s land for typically meagre compensation. And, in its place, demand private property rights are inviolable and be rigorously protected.
The cornerstone of a civilised society, a free society, is the recognition and protection of private property rights. As long as the state assumes stewardship of these venerable forests, government agents will continue to mismanage and parcel off what is not really theirs to their familiar political benefactors; lobbyists (if not to the government’s own designs).Conversely, when land is privately owned, it tends to be better cared for. You can see this in the example of public vs. private grazing paddocks; “Public grazing land is in poor condition because each person profits most when their cattle graze heavily. No one bothers to replenish the land, because they can’t profit by it, whereas farmers who own their paddocks ensure their paddocks are grazed in a sustainable fashion as they know they’ll reuse the land, lest their valuable investment becomes worthless. Indeed, well maintained land attracts higher property values, providing additional economic incentive for owners to care for their land.
The solution to the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ problem is to do away with the ‘commons’!” ~Dr Mary Ruwart
This is true of all property, including forests; when people have a vested interest by ownership in that forest, it will usually be tendered for better than the forest under the stewardship of the absent politician with an eye on funding their election campaign, or an unaccountable public bureaucrat.
*Food for thought:
Does the person who lives in a government provided house typically care for that property as attentively as the person who owns their home?
Why would this be different of the people who are provided a state forest to exploit vs. the people who own their forest?
**If you’d like to know more about how we can enjoy freer society, and a cleaner environment, I highly recommend:“The Pollution Solution” ~Dr Mary Ruwart http://www.ruwart.com/environ.lpn.wpd.html
“Libertarian Approach To Climate Change: Privatize!” ~Emily Green