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Global Ethics Corner: Forest Preservation

September 4, 2009

The world's tropical and old-growth forests are a major part of humanity's biological inheritance. They provide beauty, sustenance, and irreplaceable ecological needs such as carbon sequestration, watershed protection, and rich, uncatalogued biodiversity.

When timber companies, agribusiness, or subsistence farmers clear-cut these forests for furniture, livestock, or crops, the true loss and cost is rarely factored into the products.

The Forest Stewardship Council labels and certifies wood products that are harvested sustainably. Yet illegal logging continues to feed consumer demand.

The United Nations proposes a fund to pay developing countries for maintaining their forests. This program would lock carbon dioxide in the trees and ecosystems and compensate poor countries for not exploiting their timber. Norway contributed, and others may join if forests are included in a new climate treaty.

There is also a major question of environmental justice, of indigenous rights. Forest-dwelling tribes have inhabited their lands for centuries without "owning" them. What is their entitlement?

How do we put value on the forests as an indispensable element of our survival? Can we balance market mechanisms and regulations, consumption and sustainability? What do you think?

By Evan O'Neil

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