Forestry Tasmania sounds like a local rather than a future environmental issue but it is a great example of what the future will bring — a shift from a world where resources are there to be exploited to one where resources are used so as to get the best out of them.
First some background.
There are 7 billion people in the world and most of them live with a specific economic view. They understand that they need money.
Certainly some are able to grow their own food, fetch water from the well and construct their own homes but even the 3 billion people who rely on subsistence agriculture need funds for schooling, health and consumer goods. It is increasingly they way of things.
And it is not just a western issue. Mobile phone uptake across Africa was the fastest on the world.
This growing global reliance on commerce for goods and services has influenced the perception of natural capital. Resources need to be used in order to keep the economic machinery running. Questions are asked if natural resources are left in reserve or conserved for non-use value.
This is a view of the world from the 1980’s when excess was as noteworthy as big hair and shoulder pads. That was three decades ago, today we are far more sophisticated.
Perhaps sophistication is not the right description.
Here is what the Australian prime minister proposes to do with 74,000 ha of Tasmanian forest currently under a World Heritage listing…
“We have quite enough national parks, we have quite enough locked-up forests already. In fact, in an important respect, we have too much locked-up forest.”
Better then to use tax payers money to realise the commercial benefits from this natural asset. The PMs justification was the assumption that such a reservoir of natural capital should create wealth or, in more politically corrects speech, “jobs” at once leveraging another assumption that forestry is a major industry in Tasmania.
Ask Alloporus tries not to be overly political and presents this infographic from the Australian Institute, an independent economic, social and environmental think tank based in Canberra, to highlight the future environmental issue.
The forestry Tasmania industry provides around 1,200 jobs — less than 0.5 per cent of total employment in Tasmania and accounts for just 2% of GSP [the state scale equivalent of GDP] and half of that comes from plantations.
In other words the economic output from forestry Tasmania fails to match the expense to use the resource. This would be true even before the opportunity cost and non-use values of the forest are considered — not least in the tourists who would visit an unlogged world heritage forest but not a de-listed logged one.
As you can imagine the politicking is raucous.
The future environmental issue that this forestry Tasmania example illustrates so well is the politics of natural capital.
All around the world we have competing political ideologies. Democracy has homogenized this in most countries to one of two main choices.
One ideology requires the use of natural capital [convert the trees to wealth] and another that expects to protect the capital asset [keep the trees and find the wealth elsewhere].
The capitalist exploitation paradigm where the market is free and unfettered is one that comes from a bountiful endless world of natural capital just waiting to be made into wealth — just imagine the dinner conversation at Downton Abbey in the 1900’s when old money was fanning out around the world to convert forests to plantations.
Then there is the socialist paradigm where everyone should have the right to work, a fair wage and a gut feel that the market is the enemy for creating extreme wealth for a privileged few — this is the conversation in the pub on the corner in any city in any decade until pubs were replaced by wine bars.
Obviously both these worldviews are simplistic. In reality the variants on the main themes can keep many a University department busy with research for generations. In modern times wealth creation has reached enough of the population for this political divide to converge. In many countries the right and left side of politics walk the same pavement on one side of the road and only argue about morals.
The point for environmental issues is that neither view, however nuanced, will cope with over population to feed, clothe or house 7 billion+ effectively.
Rampant resource use simply uses up the natural capital without regard for how that capital is renewed. Shackle the market and too many go hungry.
Normally the pragmatic solution would be the middle ground. In this case the market to mobilise assets and create wealth with some safeguards to ensure fair conditions for all alongside some environmental protection.
Except we have already converged on something like this solution in nations from Australia to Zambia.
And we are not really that happy with it. The middle ground rarely persists in politics or ideology because humans are too fond of the alternate view. We thrive on extremes.
Pragmatology for this, the most fundamental of all environmental issues, is that extremes will be the way forward. Not of market freedom or socialist uniformity but of a period of control to raise awareness.
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