What Has Deforestation Wrought?
Environmentalists have long been arguing against deforestation. So, what are the effects of deforestation in India? Is it right to cut down the trees? According to the Centre for Global Development, the immediate carbon emissions from deforestation is 165 tonnes of carbon per hectare. This may as well be true, but the case of environmentalists is weak. As 19th Century French economists Leon Wolowski and Emile Levasseur pointed out, ordered woods are not a natural phenomenon. It is human labour that makes untrodden forests regularly ordered woods. Without human beings, there wouldn't be ordered woods.
Much of the problems associated with deforestation has to do with government ownership of forests. In American West and Canada, for example, forests are owned by the Federal Government, but leased to private timber companies. So, private timber companies do not have many rights over the forests, except the right to use it. So, they use it to the hilt. They do not have much of an incentive to replant trees. This does not happen in some parts of Europe where private ownership of forests is more common. Private owners of forests make sure that trees are replanted because trees are a potential source of revenue. So, the complaint that timber resources are being destroyed is less common in parts of the world where private ownership is permitted. Private owners take conservation more seriously. This is not because they are environmentalists, but because of self-interest.
Public forests, even when they are not leased to private companies, are likely to be destroyed and not maintained well. When no one owns a forest, it becomes everybody's property. Private timber companies even use modern scientific methods to cut and reforest trees in a way that the future supply is good.
This is true of even grassland. When no one owns ranch land, sheep and cattle owners get entangled in irresolvable conflicts over who owns a certain parcel of land. So, cattle and sheep owners allowed animals to use up the grass as quickly as possible because they did not own the land. This was what led to overgrazing of land even in the most prosperous parts of the world. This did not lead to overgrazing of land, but also to conflicts among sheep and cattle owners in which they killed each other's animals.
Having said this, the fact remains that forest cover is rising in almost every country on which data is available. This is true even in countries like China which is heavily populated and rapidly urbanising. Even in countries like Peru where forest cover has declined, this did not lead to crisis, like environmentalists predicted. For example, this did not lead to wildlife extinction. Even in India, forest cover has been rising, as counterintuitive as this may seem. Why is forest cover rising? To begin with, we have better fire control programs today. So, the likelihood of forests being destroyed because of fire is lower. Contrary to what environmentalists say, we do plant trees. This is true even in India, where forest cover has significantly risen in the past 15 years. Other forestry measures are pretty good, too.
It is true that if human beings did not exist, much of India would have been a forest. But this does not prove much. There is no good reason to think that forests are more important than human beings are. Without cutting down trees, we would not have been able to build houses and office spaces for over 1,250 million people. Building office spaces for India's workforce would not have been possible either. There is no good reason that the aesthetic preferences of environmentalists should take precedence over all these needs. Without deforestation, we would have been just a few people living in the forest at near starvation level. There is also no proof that housing and office space takes a large chunk of India's land. Real estate development is not a major hindrance to the growth of forests. More importantly, how useful are forests if people are not allowed to use it?