Tropical forests store carbon that regulates the global climate. They provide clean water to farms. They shelter a dizzying range of unique plants and animals, and are a source of life-saving medicines. These services are enjoyed by people all over the world, for which they are sent no invoice and pay no bill. But the value that forests provide directly to local people, in the form of hunting, wood collection, and so forth, is often less than the value of cattle or crops. So for many local people, deforesting for agriculture is more profitable than leaving the forest standing.
International payments for forests’ carbon could change such calculations, making land more valuable as a forest than as agriculture (as explained eloquently by Lykke Andersen at 1:53 of The REDD Dilemma ). This concept is often described as “making forests worth more alive than dead.”
But forests don’t make zoning decisions, wield chainsaws, set fires, or plant crops. People do these things. So perhaps “making forest worth more alive than dead” has a corollary: “making people more prosperous with forests than without.” After all, what good is increasing forests’ value through carbon payments if people aren’t better off as a result?