William Powers has an intriguing editorial in the New York Times today arguing that Bush should help Liberia institute a sort of “Peace for Nature swap, based on the Debt for Nature model in which third world countries receive debt relief for conserving their natural heritage.” The idea is that Liberia has something lots of folks want — intact rain forest — and they desperately need something we can help provide: stability. In exchange for setting its rain forest aside as a United Nations biosphere reserve, Liberia would receive U.N. peacekeeping, electricity and water, and training in new jobs based around ecotourism and limited logging. I think enviros should be skeptical about these schemes, vigilant against their historical tendency to value the rain forest over the long-term health and development of indigenous populations, but this sounds like an excellent plan to me, particularly given the grim alternatives Powers describes. An example of economic development driven by preservation of natural resources rather than exploitation thereof, sitting in the heart of Africa, would be, as Martha Stewart says, a good thing.
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