How Georgism can be the answer to environmental degradation

The Amazon rainforest has been burning for three weeks. This is devastating the lives of indigenous communities and the wildlife that inhabit this fundamental ecosystem of the earth. On Monday, the smoke covered the skies of Brazil’s biggest city, Sau Paulo, blocking out the sun of a city that is over 2700km (1700 miles) away. The Amazon is often referred to as the planet’s lungs, producing 20% of the oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere. The fact it has taken up to three weeks for the news of the fires to reach the West has been cause for concern to the public and many have taken to Twitter to express their sadness, anger, and disbelief, as seen below.

Indeed, it is important to identify the role of President Bolsonaro in enabling such catastrophic deforestation, which begun immediately after he took office in January with his assault on Amazon rainforest protections through the transference of regulations and creation of new indigenous reserves to the agriculture ministry. The agricultural ministry is controlled by the powerful agribusiness lobby and led indigenous spokespersons to highlight such an event as a symbolic concession to farming interests at a time when deforestation is rising again.

Such a statement has unfortunately been proven correct by data from the National Institute for Space Research, whom have reported the number of fires in Brazil this year is has increased by 84% than over the same period in 2018.

Nevertheless, it is time for more pragmatism in addressing environmental degradation. Calls to organise demonstrations and other forms of virtue signalling from the left simply aren’t good enough. Environmental disaster is here and now, calls to defeat capitalism are not. Capitalism is deeply ingrained into the global order, therefore to create a new global order takes time which we simply do not have at our disposal. Instead, I argue we must invoke the ideals of Georgism.

Georgist economic theory posits that whilst individuals should own the value they produce themselves, economic value derived from land should belong equally to all members of society because the resources of the land should be free for all to benefit from. Policy proposals that incorporate this are eco-taxes which tax polluters. This would include deforestation by farmers. In Georgist terms, this is a land-value tax which discourages waste. Therefore, for a land mass as large as the Amazon, which provides up to 20% of global oxygen, any attempts to deforest would see a huge financial burden placed on the individuals and businesses that seek to do so.

Although the majority of deforestation in the Amazon is illegal, the actions of President Bolsonaro in weakening the power of government agencies responsible for protecting the rainforest, implicate him as an enabler and as someone who doesn’t take climate concerns seriously. This is most recently evident in his dismissal of former head of agency and physicist Ricardo Magnus Osório Galvão, for releasing a report highlighting the alarming rate of Amazonian deforestation in Brazil.

However,  international sanctions on states which do not adhere to an international standard of land-value tax would demand much more action. This would make the continuity of such economically damaging activities politically nonviable. Therefore, this is a possible route to success in saving the environment from leaders such as Bolsonaro, whom seek to bypass the importance of protecting the environment in their pursuit of development.

If, and it’s a big if, the international community and world leaders can come together to implement a global, Georgist land-value tax, it would go a long way in beginning to reduce pollution and other damaging activities to our environment.

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