Activism at Its Best: Greenpeace’s Push to Stop the Pulping of Rain Forests

Feb 8, 2013 Posted by

forests
By ANDREW C. REVKIN

There’s much about 20th-century-style environmentalism that doesn’t work in this era. Demonizing Big Coal or Big Oil in climate campaigns gives a pass to those of us filling up our gas tanks or relying on electricity at home.

But there are plenty of situations where in-your-face activism has a role. A case in point has been environmental campaigns against companies pressing into Asia’s last rain forest frontiers. A headline is sometimes enough to convey a big development, and that was the case earlier this week with this news release from Indonesia’s largest paper and pulp company: “Asia Pulp & Paper Group (APP) Commits to an Immediate Halt to All Natural Forest Clearance.”

The list of bullet points was equally impressive, including:

• Suspension of natural forest clearance which applies to all suppliers
• Protection of all forests, including those on peatland
• Adoption of international best practice for rights of indigenous peoples and local communities
• Independent monitoring by NGOs

The move followed intensifying pressure from Greenpeace and other environmental groups, which had exposed destructive practices starting with a 2010 report, “Pulping the Planet.”

A news story in The Times provides more background.

Greenpeace and its allies applied pressure in two ways: illuminating what was happening in forest refuges for Southeast Asia’s imperiled orangutans and tigers but also identifying which paper users — brands as big as Xerox and Adidas — were contributing to the destruction.

Here’s some past footage from the group showing the impact of the paper business on forests and the wildlife in harm’s way:

Now Greenpeace has sent a letter to the chief executive of Asia Pacific Resources International, the second biggest pulp producer in the region, seeking a similar commitment. I’ll report back if there’s a response.

The announced shift by Asian Pulp and Paper is great, although it’ll be vital to keep track on the ground, of course.

In parts of Southeast Asia, on-the-ground examination of industry practices can be dangerous work, whether done by local campaigners or journalists.

There’ve been times when I’ve decried Greenpeace tactics, as in the destruction of a government-funded test of a genetically modified wheat variety in Australia  in 2011.

But in this case, I think the effort deserves a round of applause.

In a powerful song, Bruce Cockburn once decried the 20th-century “cut and move on” pattern of resource extraction, asking, “If a tree falls in a forest, does anybody hear?”

In the 21st century, thanks to those tracking and exposing forest practices, good or bad, the answer is almost always yes.

Here’s that tune:

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