Enlarge (credit: Kate Evans for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR))
We’re trashing the world not because it’s fun, but because it pays to do so. People respond to financial incentives.
So, how do you provide an incentive to stop trashing the world? One idea is to use cold, hard cash.
If people earn more by not trashing, the thinking goes, the incentive flips: it suddenly pays to conserve.

Based on this idea, a trial program in Uganda paid landowners to preserve the forest on their land and tracked the results.
It turned out not to be so simple—people don’t always neatly do what they’re supposed to. What if these landowners were already concerned about deforestation and were already preserving their land? You’ve just forked out quite a bit to pay for something that was already going to happen. Or what if they just cut down trees elsewhere instead? Figuring out whether the benefits of the program are worth the cost requires collecting a lot of data.
A paper in Science this week reports on the results, which are encouraging: deforestation slowed to about half the previous rate, and it looks as though people didn’t just shift their forest clearing elsewhere.

The program benefits seem to have outweighed the costs, whichever way you slice it.
In other words, money provides a great incentive to preserve habitats, which is great news for climate change efforts.
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