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Will Private Ownership Save the Environment?

<p>Private individuals, investors and charities are buying up environmentally sensitive land all over the world for preservation, but this article wonders whether this method is really such a good idea.</p>
February 14, 2008, 10am PST | Nate Berg
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"Saving the world's most beautiful and ecologically important places just got much cheaper and easier. Hundreds of websites run by charities, trusts, and individuals now invite people to buy up forest, field and mountain to save it from destruction and climate change at the click of a mouse. And why stop at pennies? The World Land Trust, whose patron is Sir David Attenborough, invites you to buy a whole acre of Indian elephant corridor for £50, or 2,000m2 of the Chaco Pantanal in Brazil for £25. WLT supporters have bought 350,000 acres in Britain since 1989 - an area half the size of Derbyshire."

"If you have really deep pockets, conservation gets even easier. John Eliasch, the Swedish-born businessman chosen by Gordon Brown to be his forest advisor, bought himself 400,000 acres of the Amazon rainforest for £8m in 2006 and now asks supporters to help him buy up tracts of Brazil and Ecuador. His charity, Cool Earth, is asking £70 an acre, and in one year it claims to have bought 32,000 acres - to howls of disapproval from the Brazilian government, which says Eliasch is an "eco-colonialist" and that Brazilians can look after their own forests."

"Conservationists with deep pockets are mostly welcomed in rich countries, such as Britain and the US, because they maintain or increase the market price of land. But in poor countries they are often met with fear and hostility."

"This is hardly surprising. Foreign conservationists have a dreadful record in developing countries. First colonialists took control of countries and communities in order to expropriate their resources, then the conservationists came and did exactly the same thing - this time, in the name of saving the environment. Tens of thousands of people have been evicted in order to establish wildlife parks and other protected areas throughout the developing world. Many people have been forbidden to hunt, cut trees, quarry stone, introduce new plants or in any way threaten the animals or the ecosystem. The land they have lived on for centuries is suddenly recast as an idyllic wildlife sanctuary, with no regard for the realities of the lives of those who live there."

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Published on Wednesday, February 13, 2008 in The Guardian
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