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