A land value tax won’t save the amazon rainforest: Instead we should look to indigenous communities to lead the way

Recently, an article published on this site by one of my colleagues attempted to revive the concept of a land value tax (or Georgism) as the answer to environmental degradation, specifically the tragic and rapid destruction of the amazon rainforest.

This tax is supposedly an excellent counter to the “demonstrations and other forms of virtue signalling from the left”. Although I agree that demonstrations in the UK will do very little, I wholeheartedly disagree that free market reform policies, like a land value tax, will be either implementable or have any effect in combating what is essentially a market driven process. It’s neither pragmatic nor possible. Instead there is a far more practical and proven method to protect the rain-forest already at play and it lies in the inherent power of indigenous communities.

To address the proposal of a land value tax, which i will preface, is not an idea without merit in specific contexts, such as urban and suburban plots of land but in this context it has significant barriers to its implementation.

Firstly, the concepts of a land value tax and the eco-tax mentioned in the article are two fundamentally different financial tools and in order to implement them in concert you have to radically alter the idea of a land value tax from a 100% (or near 100% tax) to one that is adjustable depending on the land that is being taxed. The reason for this is that the tax relies on the market determining the “highest and best use which can be obtained” for the land itself, which contradicts the need to value land in the rainforest as inherently useful in it’s current “undeveloped” state, to prevent further deforestation. Deforestation which is done to clear land to meet market demand from developed, so called ‘western nations’, for meat, soy and other practices like mining. The system of a land value tax ultimately pushes for the development of open land and has the potential for the premature release of farmland for development.

Secondly, there have only been a few instances of land value taxes being implemented with varying degrees of success and often not in the true (Georgian) sense of the idea. Furthermore, these reforms in ‘developing’ nations have led to an “exacerbation of the concentration of wealth”. In addition to this, the method of using international sanctions to enforce this tax has the potential to harm those very communities who’s land has been taken in the first place.

It’s within these communities that a practical and implementable way in which to improve the situation in the amazon can be found. It revolves around recognising the inherent power held by the many diverse indigenous communities of the amazon rain-forest. These individuals have been resisting colonial and then imperialist forces for many generations. Instead of using a theoretical concept of a global common ownership of land which can then be used to levy taxes, instead the international community should directly demand and support indigenous claims to the right over the land they live on.

By listening to the leaders from the amazon itself, those individuals and communities who are and have always been at the front line of a battle with state-backed corporate land grabs, we can formulate the best way, as an international bloc, to support, bolster, and work with them in saving the rainforest.

Many lands that are mandated by the government for indigenous use are still legally owned by the government itself. This is where many of the illegal activities associated with agribusiness are occurring. Bolsonaro, the Brazilian President, has been targeting these very indigenous groups, freezing the demarcation of new indigenous land and stripping the national indigenous foundation, known as Funai, of its powers. This is exactly what must be stopped and soon. It’s widely held that supporting indigenous land rights is a key process in preventing deforestation and destruction. It has been show that in some cases it can reduce forest fire incidents by 16% compared to areas that are simply ‘protected’ without land rights. This makes sense because these communities have been successfully and actively managing the rain-forest for countless generations. Initial reports from the world bank state that: “it will cost far less to save carbon by recognising forest community rights rather than relying on the future money markets”. Furthermore, one report outlined that it would cost £2 per hectare to recognise indigenous land rights.

Compared to a cut and paste tax requiring hoards of land valuers, this is a method that is both steeped in history and has already been implemented and measured. It’s ethical, anti-imperialist, and efficient. The World Resource Institute showed in their research that: “securing community forest tenure is a low-cost, high-benefit investment that benefits communities, countries, and global society”. However, this will not be the only way we can quickly and decisively stop the destruction of the rain forest. Perhaps an Eco-tax in some form and other international methods of pressure will be key in this collective endeavour, but this should always be fronted and led by those communities who live and resist within the amazon rain-forest itself.

For virtue signalling flag wavers, here are some ways you can help below:

Support the rainforest action network working directly with indigenous communities

Follow and support resistance on the ground and indigenous groups

Choose alternatives and pressure your own government