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Deforestation as a tragedy of the commons (Humanities)

Posted by Zareen in Humanities 9 on Thursday, May 2nd, 2013 at 4:14 pm

Tragedy of the commons: Deforestation

    Is a forest someone’s private property? Can the government claim ownership over the atmosphere or the ocean? Who owns the ozone layer, or the Grand Canyon? The answer to that is, nobody. They are called global commons. Global commons are natural resources which do not have any property rights and the public is free to utilize these commons without having to worry about being convicted of any crimes because it does not belong to anyone, it belongs to the Earth. There are also national commons, which are things like preserved rainforests or beaches that belong to the public in a certain country.

A lot of times, a tragedy of the commons has occured. A tragedy of the commons is when the overexploitation and depletion of natural resources present in a global commons occurs. The implications of a tragedy of the commons are usually devastating, and on a global scale. This means that if a tragedy of a global commons occurs, it may affect the entire world or a region of it. Common examples of these tragedies include tuna overfishing, shark finning, overhunting and also deforestation.

China is one of the largest nations in the world with a population of more than a billion people. With such a large population, their demand for products that are made by depleting the resources of global commons is more than triple the amount of demand a country like Indonesia would possess. In my opinion, China’s government should enforce stricter rules and further educate the nation’s citizens on the impact of  overutilization of natural resources and improper use  of global commons. If the demand for products made out of natural resources in China decreases, it will significantly reduce the impact on the rest of the world because one-seventh of the world’s population is in China and so their decisions create a huge impact on the rest of the world.

Deforestation is the act of clearing a forest by removing trees, usually to use the timber to create products that meet the demands of humans. In markets, there is supply and demand. The law of demand indicates that the higher the price, the lower the demand and this is because consumers simply do not like the idea of paying more for a certain item as they lose more money. The law of supply indicates that the higher the price, the more a firm is willing to supply. This is because if they would like to sell more products at a higher price, since it gives them more income.

It is evident that the demand for timber products is very high, since people are immensely dependent on commodities made from timber such as paper and furniture. Although there are other alternatives to wood such as cotton fibers, wood is still the best material to use because it is economical and long-lasting.

Firms supplying these wood products only consider marginal private costs hence placing an equilibrium price that is much lower than it’s supposed to be. These firms do not include the marginal social costs, such as global warming, and their low prices increase demand.

What are the overlooked marginal social costs that impact the Earth? Obviously there’s global warming, habitat loss of forest animals which leads to extinction, and climate change. In fact, the world’s rain forests could completely vanish in a hundred years at the current rate of deforestation (National Geographic). According to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), a leading green group, 32 million acres of tropical rainforest were cut down each year between 2000 and 2009—and the pace of deforestation is only increasing (Scientific American). Moreover, rainforests harbor about half of the species on Earth. Some of these species’ can only survive in the rainforest so if deforestation continues to occur at this rate, more and more animals will go extinct.

Believe it or not, animals are not the only ones who suffer from one of the most extreme implications of deforestation namely, death. Indigenous people or local villagers suffer from deforestation because the forest is their habitat. They feel an inseparable link to the forest because it is their very basis of survival (UNEP). Therefore, they treat the forest as some sort of deity and consider it to be very sinful to waste the resources given by the forest. However, more and more forests are being cleared out. The result of this is the extinction of a number of native tribes in various countries around the world. On average, eight Indian tribes go extinct due to deforestation. Moreover, the number of natives living in the forest has significantly decreased from approximately ten million to less than two hundred thousand in the time span of five centuries. (ThinkQuest)

This is why deforestation is regarded as a tragedy of the commons. Since the forest is a global commons, firms can easily exploit and deplete it’s main resource, timber, in order to meet the demands of their consumers and also gain a higher income. Although members of the society usually regards forests as a national commons, the implications and effects of deforestation are on a global scale as it is diminishing entire specie and rainforests all around the world.

It’s indisputable that deforestation is an exceedingly alarming global issue that has been overlooked for the past few decades. Sure, everyone would say “Plant more trees!” or “Stop wasting paper”, but how many of those people actually do so? The colossal issue humans are facing at the moment is that they do not realize how easy it is to stop deforestation.

Discontinuing the act of clear-cutting forests is a facile way of preventing deforestation which is undoubtedly very effective. However firms would relinquish this alteration because they will have less wood supplied. This is where the law of supply applies because with less supply, the price will be higher which lowers demand. Firms will have less if there is low demand. Moreover, a surplus will be supplied if less consumers buy wood products.

Another way to combat the ongoing deforestation problem is to lower the demand. I believe that this is the best solution because the probability of firms including marginal social costs when setting a price is very low, and it is also quite difficult to actually calculate the marginal social costs. How can we lower the demand? Well, first of all the public should be strongly encouraged to consider other alternatives to timber. For example, instead of buying a wooden cupboard, a consumer can opt for a metal cupboard instead. In addition, consumers should be educated and made aware of the marginal social costs their habits are contributing to. Also, consumers should be strongly encouraged to stop wasting their materials and get into the habit of recycling and reusing materials.

Currently, more campaigns are being started to encourage people to stop deforestation. The organizations who are campaigning include Greenpeace, FERN, Care2 and a vast number of others (Google). The messages spread through these campaigns are usually to encourage people to stop wasting products made from timber such as paper, for example. These NGOs also encourage companies and suppliers to stop clear cutting forests, ensuring that there are more trees being planted than trees being felled and to not illegally cut down trees in preserved forests.

To conclude, deforestation is still a threatening global issue and so we all have to unite and find solutions to stop it. Maybe we can’t stop firms from cutting trees because of the high demand for timber, but we can alter our lifestyles a little by not wasting products made out of timber. Furthermore, firms should also avoid clear-cutting forests because it take a long time to replace all those felled trees. Therefore, there must be a balance between environmental stewardship and human prosperity.


Forest Learning. <http://www.forestlearning.edu.au/australian-forests/wood-production-process/products>.

Central Intelligence Agency. Web. <http://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ch.htm>.

“Project Rainforest – Loss of Native Peoples .” ThinkQuest : Library. Web. <http://library.thinkquest.org/26252/evaluate/9.htm>.

“Deforestation Facts, Deforestation Information, Effects of Deforestation – National Geographic.” Environment Facts, Environment Science, Global Warming, Natural Disasters, Ecosystems, Green Living – National Geographic. Web. <http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/deforestation-overview/>.

“Deforestation and Its Extreme Effect on Global Warming: Scientific American.” Science News, Articles and Information | Scientific American. Web. <http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=deforestation-and-global-warming>.

“Tropical Deforestation : Feature Articles.” NASA Earth Observatory : Home. Web. <http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/Deforestation/>.

“Tragedy of the commons – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.”Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Web. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragedy_of_the_commons>.

A source or two may not be listed here. This is because that source was either a pdf document or a website that was uncitable. However, all works cited have been recognized in in-text citations.

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