Destruction of tropical forests driven by corporate greed

August 6th, 2008 - 4:17 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Aug 6 (IANS) The sharp increase in deforestation by the corporate world is also providing environmentalists with clear targets that can be pressurised to be more responsive to ecological concerns, according to a study. Hence, the shift from poverty-driven to industry-driven deforestation also offers new opportunities for conservation, according to William Laurance of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Panama, co-author of the study.

“Rather than being dominated by rural farmers, tropical deforestation is increasingly driven by major industries - especially large-scale farming, mining, and logging,” said Laurance. “Although this trend is pretty scary, it’s also much easier to target a handful of global corporations than many millions of poor farmers.”

The United Nations estimates that some 33 million acres of tropical forest are destroyed each year; but these numbers mask a transition from mostly subsistence-driven to mostly corporate-driven forest destruction, said R.A. Butler and Laurance, both co-authors.

A global financial market and a worldwide commodity boom are creating conditions ripe for corporate exploitation of the environment. Surging demand for grain, driven by the thirst for biofuels and rising standards of living in developing countries, is also fuelling this trend.

“Green groups are learning to use public boycotts and embarrassment to target the corporate bad guys,” said Butler. “And it works - we’re already seeing the global soy, palm oil, and timber industries beginning to change their approach. They’re realising they can’t run roughshod over the environment - it’s just too risky for them.”

“In addition, some massive financial firms, including Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, and Bank of America, have altered their lending practices after coming under fire from environmentalists,” said Butler.

“Environmental groups are using carrots as well as sticks,” said Laurance. “Many multinational corporations are developing greener products because they’re more profitable. For example, the market for eco-friendly timber products is expected to be worth tens of billions of dollars in the US by 2010.”

These findings will appear in the September issue of the Trends in Ecology & Evolution.

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