Over the last ten years, China's forests have gone through an incredible feat of environmental engineering. With desertification in the western part of the country sending ever more sky-darkening sandstorms blowing into Beijing and the populated east, the government decided to enact a massive reforestation project.

It's been a resounding success. A new report issued by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations shows that deforestation decreased around the world over the last ten years — a good sign that tree hugging is more fashionable than ever — but China is miles ahead of the pack. Since the year 2000 the country added over 3 million hectares of new forest, an area over twice the size of Connecticut.

Make no mistake, China needs this. They have a huge, impoverished rural population that is not in a position to care much about how conservation or land use with an eye toward the future. These are people struggling to feed themselves, and the nation's track record of being hard on the land reflects that. But it appears their powerful central government is turning things around, which is great news.

Much of the rest of the world wasn't so lucky. Though the rate of loss was down through the aughts compared to the 1990's, we still lost around 7.5 million hectares of forest in Africa and South America alone.

The problem is that forests are still worth more dead than alive.

This is an argument made many, many times before, but the only way this problem gets solved is through economics. We need to turn forests into cash crops by pricing the carbon trees suck up, the water reserves they protect, and the timber they produce (in limited quantities) more competitively with sugar cane, livestock and other products, so people trying to make a living off the land won't look at the forests as something standing in the way of their next meal.

Image: UN FAO (via BBC News)