This article was originally published on Jstor Daily.
“As climate change looms, economists and scientists continue to seek ways to reduce the release of carbon into the atmosphere. There is a lot of research into ways we can preserve our modern way of life while reducing carbon emissions, especially in the already-developed world. Sometimes a low-tech approach is overlooked: conserving forests. Keeping a forest standing keeps a lot of carbon from entering the atmosphere in the first place (not to mention further carbon storage through photosynthesis and tree growth).
If limiting carbon is the goal, it is clearly in the global interest to keep forests standing. But for locals, the value depends on the opportunity cost of keeping the forest intact vs. exploitation. At the local level, income from ecotourism and sustainable forestry products often net higher income than slash-and-burn agriculture. Industrial scale logging, on the other hand, is far more profitable at the national level. Industrial logging is not good for local residents, however, in part since it deprives locals of the opportunity to profit from the forest individually.