Contrary to the perception of economic activities as polluting and environmentally degrading, Forest Transition Theory (Mansfield et al. 2010) suggests that economic growth may promote environmental recovery. More economically developed countries are more likely to have the financial and technological resources and social motivation to conserve the natural environment. This is supported by figures from the Forestry Commission, which show a 3.5% (95,000 ha) increase in woodland areas in the UK over the past decade.
However, in a recent Geography Compass paper, Mansfield et al. argue that economic development does not cause forest regrowth. Rather, forest regrowth reflects a country’s ability to import forest and agricultural products. The degradation caused by the production of those materials is thus exported elsewhere.
In a recent commentary in the Guardian, Friends of the Earth executive director Andy Atkins gave one example. The UK’s imports animal feed for meat and dairy products. This results in land clearance, particularly in Latin American countries, in order to grow the feed. Forest regrowth in the UK is thus partly reliant on deforestation elsewhere. As Mansfield et al. (2010) argue, environmental recovery and economic growth are themselves due to differences and relationships with other places. This adds additional complexity to how we monitor linkages between economic and environmental change.