Land cleared in Indonesia for a palm oil plantation, photo: H Dragon/Creative Commons
Confirming what previous studies have shown, new research from the Union of Concerned Scientists shows that the main threats to tropical forests are no longer from smallholder subsistence farmers but global demand for food commodity crops, livestock and timber. In other words, as Mongabay puts it, it's no longer poverty driving deforestation but profit.Report co-author Doug Boucher:
Not that long ago the conventional wisdom was that deforestation was do to farmers clearing land for crops they needed for food or wood they needed for fuel. Everyone thought the forests were declining because rural populations were growing, but that's just not the case anymore.
Today the report says, large global businesses trading in palm oil, beef, and timber are the main causes of deforestation.
The Root of the Problem: What's Driving Tropical Deforestation Today? notes that the global trend toward greater urbanisation, towards greater consumption of processed foods and greater consumption of beef will only increase threats to tropical forests.
Boucher describes the companies responsible for deforestation as highly mobile and the market being like a balloon, "If you squeeze in one place, there will always be pressure for it to move and pop up in another place."
That is, it's worth noting, if the demand for beef and processed foods continues to increase and the global trend towards greater consumption of meat isn't reversed--something easily done through personal lifestyle choices.
All told UCS estimates that deforestation is responsible for 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Other studies have shown that if there was a widespread movement towards vegetarian diets or simply eating meat at historically normal levels, like what they were 50-60 years ago in the US and Europe, the costs of mitigating and adapting to climate change could be reduced by up to 70%.