When you have no idea, you should shut up

12 09 2011

© 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 Phillip 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:

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



11 responses

15 09 2011
Prof. James Priestley

This review is utter rubbish. There were arguments in the reviewed article that were open to criticism but you failed to address them with any scrap of academic rigor. Your attempts at reasoning displayed the same faults of over-exaggeration and evidential paucity for which you criticise the article you review. I would rate this article, but even zero seems to high.

15 09 2011

Just as I expected: an equally bad come-back with absolutely no citable references to support your very juvenile riposte; I thought “how odd from a Harvard Professor?”. Turns out there is no ‘James Priestley’ at Harvard. Sock puppet! Renders said insult impotent, I conclude. Entertaining nonetheless.

8 03 2012
F. Wayne Bell

I’m sure that the addition of palm oil plantations will diversify local economies, but it is not possible to do so without an impact on the environment. I study the effects of forest management on species composition and structural and functional diversity in boreal and northern temperate forests. Havesting and silviculture affect biodiversity. The use of severe, frequent and/or intense treatments such as those used to create palm oil plantations is presumed to decrease all aspects of biodiversity. Evidence that structural diversity is decrease is readily available on the internet. Anyone who googles “palm oil plantations” and views virtually any of the 1.0+ million available images can see for themselves that palm oil plantations are industrial monocultures.
The degree of damage to the environment will demand also on the extent of application. Small localized 10-20 ha plantations will clearly not have the same impact as large scale 10-20 thousand ha plantations. Hence, it think more information about the scale at which these plantations will be deployed would be useful.

15 09 2011
No substitute for primary forest « ConservationBytes.com

[…] ‘oil palm plantations hold just the same amount of biodiversity as primary forests’ [see previous post regarding that shining display of ignorance]. We need to conserve as much remaining primary forest as we can, while striving to regenerate […]

13 09 2011

You agree too much with Lawrence.

13 09 2011

You obviously didn’t read our open letter to Oxley where we address these issues http://conservationbytes.com/2010/10/25/wolves-sheeps-clothing/. I was only hitting Lawrence’s main arguments. Therefore, I disagree with your synopsis.

12 09 2011

Apparently Mr. Lawrence has recently moved to Uni Sydney – I wonder what the story there was? Thesis topic didn’t sit comfortably with the powers that be in the Graduate School of the Environment? I wonder.

12 09 2011
Tony Peacock

Yep, was a dopey article. They published another polemic on kangaroo culling the same day. Im not sure how they justify the “academic rigor” tag.

12 09 2011

Agreed – seems like standards are falling, and it’s not even 1 year old!

12 09 2011
Tom Keen

Great rebuttal. I just posted the link to this article in the comments section of The Conversation article, with a small, civil comment – hopefully it makes it past moderation. (I’ve tried this before on another media outlet’s website, to no avail unfortunately).

12 09 2011

Well, they [THE LOLSTRALIAN] didn’t entertain our rebuttal, so no surprises. Surprised though that The Conversation published that nonsense.

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