This week’s Sunday Times has an interesting article about “green colonialism” – a businessman called Johan Eliasch has bought 400,000 acres of the Amazon to protect it from being cut down. While on the face of it this seems to be a bit of positive news, upon further inspection it seems to be a bit fishy.

First of all, Eliasch bought the area of forest from a logging company. Why did they own it? Probably because the Brazilian government was too greedy and sold it to them cheap to be clear-cut. I would be amazed if they didn’t make a huge profit on it.

Secondly, Eliasch has “invited scientists to search his segment of the Amazon for wildlife and plants that may have beneficial extracts for medicine”. It’ll come as no surprise that anything they find will be patented and exploited for a huge markup.

Thirdly, the point is made that buying forests might be a good investment for insurance companies. That’s correct, but not for the reasons Eliasch is claiming. As the area of forest reduces and (hopefully) stricter environmental controls are brought in, the price of tropical hardwood will go up. When timber is worth more than its weight in gold, the far-sighted people who bought thousands of hectares of pristine rainforest will be laughing all the way to the bank.

Finally, this approach to conservation may be a bit unhelpful. It legitimises companies’ claims to areas of land which should belong to the public, makes it seem as though the only way to prevent logging is to do it on the companies’ terms and fosters the opinion that only the rich can make any difference.

Eliasch also lent £2.6 million to the Conservative party this week. How many trees is that?

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