No loss of tropical forests?

I’m very cautious when issues become popular. Our culture will rush to fashion. Politicians and marketers will tilt into the crowd. Mistakes will increase. For example, while building a low impact sustainable future is necessary and will greatly enrich us, premature corn ethanol policies may soon embarrass us.

And the trumpeting for a green future is too often rhetoric, crafted to raise attention rather than explore details. For example, even well-intentioned groups such as the Rainforest Action Network or the World Wildlife Fund persistently raise the alarm about deforestation saying we raze tropical forests, but one of the world’s leading experts on tropical deforestation at the University of Leeds reports that the decline of tropical forests cannot be backed up by hard evidence.

“Every few years we get a new estimate of the annual rate of tropical deforestation. They always seem to show that these marvelous forests have only a short time left. Unfortunately, everybody assumes that deforestation is happening and fails to look at the bigger picture – what is happening to forest area as a whole.”

“The errors and inconsistencies I have discovered in the area data raise too many questions to provide convincing support for the accepted picture of tropical forest decline over the last 40 years.”

Despite the large errors attached to present estimates, the lack of apparent decline in tropical moist forest area suggests that deforestation is being offset by natural reforestation at a higher rate than previously thought.

I support both the Rainforest Action Network and particularly the World Wildlife Fund. These are brave, prescient and witty folks that helped carve our awareness while pioneering difficult projects and inventing new economics. Frankly, I’m posting this to encourage fact checking. We’ll need it.

Ed Ring at EcoWorld is a number cruncher, rare and important. Here’s his current take on rainforests:

(1) The mainstream press is beginning to see – rather late in the game – that the subsidized market for biofuel has unleashed catastrophic rainforest destruction, and (2) Yet again it is apparent that the journalistic value of “fact checking” does not extend to quantitative data – and that value is needed now more than ever.

It’s clear there’s more argument than agreement, fewer facts than beliefs. It’s important to have government’s cooperation to deliver facts, to repudiate foolish laissez-faire experiments, and to end game theory population management. We need to invigorate mere leadership and the facts are part of that