Environment Magazine

When You Have No Idea, You Should Shut up

Posted on the 12 September 2011 by Bradshaw
When you have no idea, you should shut up

© Taren McCallan-Moore

Last week, The Conversation published a particularly wonderful example of uninformed drivel that requires a little bit of a reality injection.

Like our good friend, the Destroyer of Forests (a.k.a. Alan Oxley), a new pro-deforestation, pro-development cheerleader on the scene, a certain Philip Lawrence apparently undertaking a PhD entitled ‘Ecological Modernization of the Indonesian Economy: A Political, Cultural and Historical Economic Study‘ at Macquarie University in Sydney (The Conversation mistakenly attributes him to the University of Sydney, unless of course, he’s moved recently), has royally stuck his foot in it with respect to the dangers of oil palm in South-East Asia.

Mr. Lawrence runs an interestingly titled blog ‘Eco Logical Strategies‘, especially considering there is nothing whatsoever regarding ‘ecology’ on the site, and this ignorance comes forth in a wonderful array of verbal spew in his latest Conversation piece. He’s also a consultant for one of the most destructive forces in Indonesia – Asia Pulp and Paper – a company with a more depressive environmental track record than the likes of Monsanto, General Electric and BP combined. That preface of conflict of interest now explained, I will now expose Mr. Lawrence for the wolf in sheep’s clothing he really is.

Banging the development and anti-poverty drum like Oxley, albeit with much less panache and linguistic flourish, Mr. Lawrence boldly claims, without a shred of evidence, that “There is ample peer-reviewed research that is supportive of the palm oil industry in Indonesia.”

Excuse me? Supportive of just what component of the palm oil industry, Mr. Lawrence? Would that be that it makes a shit-load of cash for a preciously small component of Indonesian (and foreign) society? Let’s just look at the peer-reviewed literature, shall we?

Oil palm is the single-most destructive practice in the South-East Asian environment, an area with the world’s which can boast some of the greatest endemic biodiversity. With classic greenwashes, the industry claims (but has been refuted time and time again) that:

  • palm oil plantations are safe for tropical biodiversity – They are most definitely not (see Fitzherbert et al. 2008Koh & Wilcove 2008, Brüle & Eltz 2009, Danielson et al. 2009, Venter et al. 2009). In two days’ time too, a paper of ours will be coming out in Nature showing how primary forest cannot be replaced by any other type of forest, and oil palm is one of the worst [I will post something here on that early Thursday morning]
  • oil palm is planted forest – It is not, either in terms of the amount of carbon it sequesters (see also here) or the biodiversity it supports (see above and Edwards et al. 2010).
  • native forest conversion no longer occurs – An outright lie (Chazdon 2008, Butler 2008)
The rest of the document is a jumbled diatribe which basically claims that oil palm is the only way to alleviate poverty in countries like Indonesia. What utter bullshit.

As we discussed in our open letter last year, we expose the fallacy of such an unsubstantiated assumption:

“… frequently invoke “poverty alleviation” as a key justification for their advocacy of oil palm expansion and forest exploitation in developing nations, and it is true that these sectors do offer significant local employment. Yet forest loss and degradation also have important societal costs. There are many examples in which local or indigenous communities in the tropics have suffered from large-scale forest loss and disruption, have had their traditional land rights compromised, or have gained minimal economic benefits from the exploitation of their land and timber resources (Laurance et al. 2010; Colchester 2010). Such costs are frequently ignored in the arguments…”

Like the fallacy of the environmental Kuznets’ curve which attempts to justify wealth accumulation as a means to bring down environmental damage (we demonstrated last year that the idea is nothing but an economist’s pipe-dream), there is no demonstration whatsoever that oil palm is ultimately ‘good’ for countries like Indonesia.

It destroys forests, destroys livelihoods, destroys biodiversity and lines the pockets of the fat cats as they laugh their way to the bank.

How much does Asian Pulp and Paper pay you, Mr. Lawrence?

CJA Bradshaw

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