I’m sure you’ve played this game: If you could donate an insane amount of money to one cause – what would that be?

I had this conversation years ago with a friend. I opted for education in Africa, he went for the rainforest. His point being that this benefitted every living soul and creature and not just humankind.

Fair point. What kept milling though my mind was: How? Over the years I thought about this on several occasions. And kept running in circles.

Let’s say that you have 100 bln or so to spend. You could buy a huge part of the rainforest in Brazil or Zaire. But from that point onwards it really is your problem. How do you protect this? Build a fence around it? Monitor it? The costs would be huge. Or worse, who’s to say that you wont get some new government who would simply nationalize it again?

I mean we all benefit from these trees. Who are we to judge and proclaim that these countries can’t cut them?

It’s a Push solution. So how to turn this into Pull?

Then it hit me. Why don’t we rent it? I mean we all benefit from these trees. Who are we to judge and proclaim that these countries can’t cut them? They want progress too and wood is big business. After all, coming from Europe myself, we are quite the hypocrite to claim this. I’m from Holland an a few hundred years ago this entire place was a forest. We’ve cut it all.

I had to get over the fact that we don’t have a right as Dutch people to the rainforest. The Brazilians have every right to cut it. It’s theirs. Now I’m not saying this is wise but it is their right. Like it or not.

So I understand why Brazil or Gabon do not spend endless resources on getting rid of illegal woodcutting. What’s really in it for them?

I think that every Brazilian would love to keep breathing too. They would like to keep the forest around just us much as we do. Keeping the forest is what we need – The purpose is clear. Now let’s make sure that Brazil also wants this – make it desirable. This always makes the perfect proposition in my view.

At first I had some ethical objections to this. What if this government of the country we are dealing with does not comply to our democratic standards?

So let’s pay them for not cutting.  We calculate what the national income of this (illegal) industry is, and every year we pay this amount plus 15 or 20% or so directly to the government.

At first I had some ethical objections to this. What if this government of the country we are dealing with does not comply to our democratic standards?

But then in fact I realized that this should be more or less irrelevant to the cause.  The idea is to keep the rainforest. Give sufficient incentive to a government each year will get them into action mode. We could of course put in incentives for them to invest these funds in restoring forests and giving people jobs that they lost because they can’t cut trees any longer.

The outfit you need to make this work is fairly basic. Through satellite modeling and monitoring we should pretty accurately see if the forest diminished or not. Did it decrease? then no rent this year. Your problem.

If it is still there, we pay up.

 This is now about trees, but it could be applied to preservation of anything – rent wildlife in Africa, clean air or whales…

The question arises where you would get the money? If enough people really care about this  then that should materialize. Every year billions are donated to NGO’s for human rights, relief or nature protection. Would this cause not be as great?

It’s just an idea and I’m not sure if this would work in practice for trees. Perhaps it only triggers things as –  rebelling forces who now frantically start cutting trees, just to make sure that their government does not get the annual rent.

But the idea itself stands. This is now about trees, but it could be applied to preservation of anything – rent wildlife in Africa, clean air or whales… Rent it, make it worth their while and we can stop pushing.