By Rhett Butler   |  Last updated July 22, 2012
More than half of rainforest deforestation today is caused by commercial interests: logging, cattle ranching, industrial agriculture, mining, power generation and energy production. With few exceptions, these activities degrade the long-term health of rainforest ecosystems and, in so doing, deplete natural assets.

Historically natural capital loss was rarely accounted. Today that is changing to a degree, but in many countries environmental degradation is still a secondary or tertiary factor in land use decisions. As such, tropical governments often subsidize short-term gains with little thought to the long-term consequences — natural resources are mined without consideration of future harvests.

In promoting raw resource extraction over stewardship of their unique natural assets, governments may be ignoring the best path for future economic growth. Wealth collected from extractive industries—essentially rent earned not from hard work or ingenuity, but from the particular qualities of the land—is not necessarily a solid foundation for an economy. Leveraging natural assets, like traditional knowledge, biodiversity and services afforded by ecosystems, can contribute to the long-term health of an economy, spurring the development of new technology and industries.

The Corporate Sector

Saving rainforests will hinge partly on finding ways for companies to remain profitable without devastating the environment. If we value forests, these industries will need to provide jobs that save the environment and not destroy it. We cannot reasonably expect local people to shun employment with these companies if they are the only form of work available to feed, house, and clothe their families.

There are many challenges facing industries that exploit forest resources, and difficult decisions and compromises will have to be made. These challenges stem from the differing opinions of the value of forest products and the services that forests provide. Developers must find a means to satisfy the growing demand for forest products and resources, while protecting forests and the environmental services they provide.

Preparation of cloves in Madagascar
Preparation of cloves in Madagascar. (Photo by R. Butler)

Review questions:

  • Why is it important to promote sustainable use of forest resources?
  • Why are extractive industries like logging generally not the best for long-term economic growth?

Other versions of this page

spanish | french | portuguese | chinese | japanese

Continued / Next: Secondary Forest Products