We Can Influence Government Policies
Almost everywhere one looks, there is evidence that government policies are being shaped, at least in part, by environmental priorities. It is sometimes a tug-of-war with those who wish to exploit land and natural resources -- but still, great progress has been made.
For example, in the battle to reduce illegal logging, three major timber consumers -- the United States, the European Union, and Australia -- have enacted tough laws that put the burden of responsibility on timber-purchasing corporations to ensure they are buying only legally harvested wood and wood products (ALERT was active in pushing through the Australian legislation and I briefed the Australian Parliament on the benefits of the illegal logging bill).
These laws are having a real impact. A report by the respected UK think-tank Chatham House estimated that, globally, illegal logging has fallen by 22 percent since 2002. Especially impressive gains have been made in nations such as Indonesia and Cameroon, where illegal logging was rampant, and where it has now dropped by 50 to 75 percent.
I conclude with a final example. In 2001 an international research team I led published a paper in Science that showed what the Brazilian Amazon could look like 20 years in the future if the government proceeded with its scheme to build US$40 billion in new roads, dams, power lines, gas lines, and other infrastructure that would criss-cross the basin.
The paper went viral, and was featured on newspaper headlines across the world. Brazil came under tremendous international pressure, and there was also a huge outcry among many Brazilians worried about the future of their Amazon. The media storm lasted for many months, and I did literally hundreds of interviews and testified before Brazil's Congress and the U.S. Embassy about the proposed projects.
As a result of the hue and cry, the Brazilian Government eventually conducted a very thorough review of the projects, involving eleven different Ministries, and concluded that a number of them should be cancelled. In the end many of the projects did proceed, but only after important mitigation measures -- such as the establishment of new protected areas along planned road routes -- were put into place. These measures have helped to reduce the waves of deforestation and land speculation that often follow road-building in remote wilderness areas.