The Oil Palm

Conservation Equality – Demanding the same from Industrialized Nations as They Demand of Us

Amidst continuous claims from environmental NGOs over deforestation and the impact of agriculture expansion in the developing world, an organization has sought to bring some balance to the debate by suggesting forest conservation be equitable among all countries. The Coalition of Financially Challenged Countries with Lots of Trees (CoFCCLoT) recently issued a statement calling on G8 countries and the EU to commit to reforestation equal to the share of forests developing countries are being asked to preserve by industrialized nations and environmental NGOs.

CoFCCLoT is not a real organization, but the creation of two academics, Erik Meijaard of the University of Queensland and Douglas Sheil of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), who are demonstrating the false choice being offered by environmental activists and their supporters in the West. As they write in their commentary, “Satire can help reveal the flaws inherent in the way we frame, formulate, and impose our views on different situations.”

The basis of their criticism of environmental activism is the dichotomous perspective among policymakers, seeing environmental opportunity in arresting economic development in developing countries, while only seeing cost in doing the same in industrialized countries. As a result, activists and policymakers are turning a blind-eye to the needs of developing communities while claiming to speak for them.

The palm oil industry is a case in point of this belief among environmental NGOs that they know what is best for Malaysian communities than they do for themselves. This patronizing relationship has resulted environmental groups urging Malaysian communities looking to improve their standard of living to reject a crop that have brought schools, medical clinics and commerce to communities throughout the country.

As Meijaard and Sheil conclude in their article in Biotropica exploring this issue, “Our nature-biased views are a strong motivator for conservation action but they can also blind us to alternative perspectives… We need to rethink our judgments and roles in conservation.”