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Will the Twain Ever Meet?

Will the Twain Ever Meet?

By Jeff Bradley

Jeff Bradley, a staff writer with Deforestation Watch, has been writing about current affairs for fifteen years. Deforestation Watch was established to drive sustainability mainstream. Striving to be a center of green news, solutions and all things green, we also help corporations looking for green guidance.

In the years since the infamous Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) launched its first ill conceived broadside against palm oil, two broad narratives have emerged to explain the alleged role of palm oil in deforestation. On one side, the palm oil industry, especially in Malaysia has argued that oil palm plantations are planted on legitimate agricultural land and do no more harm to the environment than any of the competing oil seeds such as soy, rapeseed and sunflower. The other side, the environmental NGO’s, not surprisingly, sees the issue as a product of the naked ambition of oil palm companies to ride rough shod over the environment though indiscriminate forest clearing to plant more palm oil, all in the name of corporate profits.

Both views are flawed. Palm oil planters rightly emphasize the role of palm oil plantations in sequestering CO2 and producing oxygen in exchange, at least to an extent that the competing oil seeds are not able to do, but fail to acknowledge that any deforestation even by a neighboring country can have adverse impacts on the environment and biodiversity in the region. The Palm Oil Truth Foundation correctly points out that allegations of palm oil contributing to global warming is probably delusional, or at the very least misconceived. But they fail to see that in Indonesia at least, some of the allegations have some grounding in fact, so much so that even Indonesian growers themselves have recently declared forest lands off limits for palm oil cultivation as there was close to 7 million hectares of cleared and idle suitable for palm oil cultivation in Indonesia.

However, unless environmental organizations like Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth (FOE), Wetlands and Mongabay.com can take a step back and see the proactive and positive steps taken by the palm oil industry to reign in the less disciplined in its community vis a vis sustainable planting practices, they’ll continue to lose ground to a tenacious movement that believes it has both economic realities and right on its side.

At first glance the familiar comparison of the palm oil industry to the western model of wanton destruction of forest land appears reasonable enough. In the view of Deforestation Watch, however, the environmental groups would do well to engage the industry in dialogue to seek innovative solutions.

Of course things need to be done to try and keep a bit of what we still have. The problem is in interpreting the science and balancing legitimate concerns. But environmental issues are complicated and there are often conflicting interests and factors to be weighed such as the development of developing economies and the livelihood of the indigenous people. Deforestation Watch takes the view that we should also consider the responsible environmental measures taken by the Malaysian palm oil industry as well as the strong environmental laws promulgated and vigorously enforced by the Government in Malaysia vis a vis Indonesia before tarring both with the same brush!

Of course, neither environmental extremism nor a lack of self-criticism is a Mongabay monopoly. Nonetheless the benefits for both sides to work together to find workable solutions to this matter cannot be overemphasized.

Ends


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