The Global Forest Transition as a Human Affair

Claude A. Garcia*, Sini Savilaakso, René W. Verburg, Victoria Gutierrez, Sarah J. Wilson, Cornelia B. Krug, Marieke Sassen, Brian E. Robinson, Hannah Moersberger, Babak Naimi, Jeanine M. Rhemtulla, Hélène Dessard, Valéry Gond, Cédric Vermeulen, Franck Trolliet, Johan Oszwald, Fabien Quétier, Stephan A. Pietsch, Jean François Bastin, Anne DrayMiguel B. Araújo, Jaboury Ghazoul, Patrick O. Waeber

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Forests across the world stand at a crossroads where climate and land-use changes are shaping their future. Despite demonstrations of political will and global efforts, forest loss, fragmentation, and degradation continue unabated. No clear evidence exists to suggest that these initiatives are working. A key reason for this apparent ineffectiveness could lie in the failure to recognize the agency of all stakeholders involved. Landscapes do not happen. We shape them. Forest transitions are social and behavioral before they are ecological. Decision makers need to integrate better representations of people's agency in their mental models. A possible pathway to overcome this barrier involves eliciting mental models behind policy decisions to allow better representation of human agency, changing perspectives to better understand divergent points of view, and refining strategies through explicit theories of change. Games can help decision makers in all of these tasks. Why are we missing our environmental targets? A key reason might be our failure to recognize the agency of people. Landscapes do not happen. We shape them. Forest transitions are the product of the decisions that humans make. A better representation of agency in the mental models of decision makers can overcome this weakness. Making mental models explicit, changing vantage points, and refining strategies could achieve better results than trying to define common visions. Games can help in all of these tasks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)417-428
Number of pages12
JournalOne Earth
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 22 May 2020


  • agency
  • bounded rationality
  • companion modeling
  • decision making
  • epiphany learning
  • forest transition
  • polarization
  • role-playing games
  • sustainable transformation
  • telecoupling
  • theory of change

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