The Political Economy of the Environment
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The Political Economy of the Environment

James K. Boyce

In a provocative and original analysis, James K. Boyce examines the dynamics of environmental degradation in terms of the balances of power between the winners and the losers. He provides evidence that inequalities of power and wealth affect not only the distribution of environmental costs, but also their overall magnitude: greater inequalities result in more environmental degradation. Democratization – movement toward a more equitable distribution of power – therefore is not only a worthwhile objective in its own right, but also an important means toward the social goals of environmental protection and sustainable development.
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Chapter 8: A Squandered Inheritance

James K. Boyce


INTRODUCTION The trees in a forest, like the crops in a field, are products of the soil. However, they differ not only in botanical respects, such as the longer growing period, but also in two important institutional respects. First, unlike crop lands, forests are often in the public domain, posing open-access problems. Second, deforestation, a widespread but not inevitable consequence of timber extraction, gives rise to distinctive external costs, including soil erosion, watershed and climate modifications, and losses of biological diversity, which are not taken into account by the timber extractor. The two are interlinked: insecure and contested rights of access to public resources promote a ‘cutand-run’ ethos in forest management, and the severity of negative externalities increases as a result. This chapter examines the dynamics of deforestation in the Philippines during the rule of President Ferdinand Marcos (1966–1986). During the Marcos era, Philippine export earnings from forestry at times surpassed those from either of the country’s leading export crops, coconut and sugarcane. As in export agriculture, the distribution of gains and losses reflected and reinforced profound inequalities of wealth and power. A small number of powerful individuals appropriated the benefits of public resources, while imposing the costs of negative externalities on others, including future generations of Filipinos. Nominally, 90 percent of the Philippines’ 18.7 million hectares (ha) of uplands, including more than 11 million ha officially classified as timberlands, is publicly owned (Cornista 1985: 1). In practice, however, fewer than 200 individuals controlled...

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