One of the main arguments some people make against conserving nature is that doing so stands in the way of economic growth. Natural habitats are often seen as useless and “unproductive” (in the words of Brazil’s President Bolsonaro) – frivolous luxuries preserved for the enjoyment of a privileged few. Why leave a forest intact when it could be logged or converted to cropland? Why deprive local people of profits when there’s money to be made?

We conservationists have known for decades that this is a ruinously short-sighted point of view – countless disasters, from the American dustbowl of the 1930s to the Sierra Leone mudslide of 2017, have shown that once trees have been felled or cropland expanded, the land is less able to purify

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