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Here is a post asking you to decide.

Lets imagine that in an imaginary place (let’s call it Sumatra) people are cutting down lots of trees. At the same time and in the same place, people in that imaginary place (let’s be specific and call it Riau) are (on average) getting wealthier.

What might the extent of tree cutting in Riau look like? Well, maybe something like this…

sumatra-forest-primary-cover568

Image courtesy of the good folk at mongabay.com here

And the growth in wealth in Riau? Maybe something like this…

20160305_wom975_0Image courtesy of The Economist here

Let’s imagine again that these are facts. Done.

Now let’s try to decide if there is a link between the “cutting down trees” and the “getting wealthy”. I’m assuming you agree there is, although I’m happy to concede that this may not be the only factor influencing these measurements (otherwise known as variables).

Now to the difficult part. Is this relationship, or more specifically the consequential wealth/deforestation outcomes, good or bad? Well, that is largely up to the reader to decide themselves.

Nevertheless, how good or bad it may seem, at least intially, depends significantly on how the stuation is framed, and that depends in part on how the question is asked.

I suspect that if you asked “Is it ok to lose some trees to lift potentially millions of people out of poverty?” then all but the most enthusiastic environmentalist would answer “Yes”, although they may rightly ask what is meant by “some”.

Likewise, I suspect if you asked “Is it ok to make potentially millions of people wealthier if it condemns them and their children to a life of reduced health living in a greatly degraded environment?”. Many would say “no”, but the answer is more complex. There is not only the question of what is meant by “wealthier” and “greatly degraded”, but also a question of immediacy (with the health/economic/environmental consequences potentially not being felt for some time).

There is also the difference that the “wealth” from the first scenario offers financial benefits now and into the future, but the costs are often felt later and require defending by people who are either not present now or unaware of the full range of consequences (in other words there is an information assymetry between what we know now and may know later).

Perhaps the best option is somewhere between those two extremes, but where that place is on the spectrum is up to you, and hopefully the voters of Indonesia, to decide.

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