: : If it is true, I am prepared to argue that levelling the rain forests for beef production is more valuable than keeping them for some other purpose.
: Depends on what the 'other purpose' is. The megaflora produce a significant chunk of the world's oxygen, as well as acting as stabilisers on world and local climate. Without the megafloras' effect on climate, the atmospheric warming caused by industrial society is greatly accelerated; in addition, tropical forests serve as 'carbon sinks' - they absorb carbon dioxide and thus keep the most common greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere.
Well, of course the science behind global warming theory is highly suspect, accepted by only a very small (but, oh so very vocal) minority of meteorologists and, even if one accepts it, one still has to prove that global warming would be a bad thing.
: For example, the Indonesian peat bogs and rainforests in Kalimantan contain enough stored carbon to increase the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide by an estimated 16%; putting this carbon back into the atmosphere causes an accelerated rate of global warming and thus increases the repair bill caused by extreme weather events like the flooding of Mozambique and Hurricane Mitch.
It has simply not been proven that global warming even happens as a result of human activity, nor has it been proven that global warming (assuming it exists in spite of the plain evidence that, in fact, the globe has been cooling) was the cause of flooding and hurricanes. This is a purely ideologically motivated assertion given a ring of authority by your use of scientific-sounding buzzwords. You should be ashamed.
: As such, the benefit of making a quick buck in the short term can be outweighed by the cost of cleaning up the consequences.
: In addition, a comparatively small amount of people benefit from cattle ranching; but nearly everyone suffers either directly or indirectly from the environmental cost of such activities; floods and mudslides don't limit themselves to hitting cattle ranchers.
Floods and mudslides are the direct result of cattle ranching? Please show me the evidence. Seriously, I will happily go read anything you'll point me towards.
And also, only a small minority benefits from cattle ranching? Um... what?? Last I checked, the world had not yet converted to vegetarianism.
: The benefits are private; but the costs are public.
: Part of the problem lies in the idea that humans can ever 'own' land; the whole idea that parts of the Earth can be 'private property' is fundamentally unsound; as you can't really assign any meaningful criteria of 'ownership' to a tract of land.
Why on earth not? We seem to have done so fairly well since, oh, the beginning of history. Problem is, the criteria of ownership has usually been unjust, it being assigned to kings and the like based on appeals to religion, etc.