Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Environmentalism vs. Unemployment (and other false dichotomies)

I'd wager a basket of blood diamonds that the logging industry is sponsoring the editorials that bluster with false populism on a regular basis, decrying how the environmental standards of the international community are forcing poverty and unemployment on the poor forest-dwelling citizens, who timber companies are so committed to helping.

After devoting several hundred words to the allegation that Global Witness, an international, environmental organization is only interested in enriching itself via bribery and double-dealing (with the vast leverage that protecting forests must bring them) an allegation that "the Concerned Citizen" seeks to strengthen by pointing out that the honorable government of Cambodia expelled Global Witness (at the end of what must have been a fair and well-considered process)--readers of the "Liberia Journal" are treated to a beautiful and prophetic recommendation: "Finally, 'beware of the eyes of March' and remember always that the forestry sector is vital to our economic recovery program. I am sure that the sooner you put aside all of political differences, close ranks and look at the financial capabilities of the bidders, with the view that the 'future of Liberia is in your hands' the better it would be for scores of your fellow compatriots most of whom are unemployed and depend on a vibrant forestry sector to regain employment and rebuild their shattered lives after many years of war." That's right, regulations be damned, now is the time to cut down more trees in a country without adequate forestry oversight.

Papers that are sympathetic to Global Witness print GW's allegations of corporate non-compliance that discredit potential bidders for the exploitation of Liberia's ecological richness.

The issue is a bizarre inverse echo of the "Progress vs. the Informal Sector" standard that is the rallying cry of wealthy Liberians who support bulldozing small businesses that put food on the table of her poorest citizens. In this case, unemployment is apparently not a factor, nor is the future wellbeing of the families who are displaced by the demolitions and property-seizing: more pressing is the appearance of the street near the business or residence of the newest big wig to start throwing money around.

Sometimes, it's hard to watch the people and corporations at work who see this vulnerable country as a fairly obstacle-free playing field for their profit-making schemes. You'd think there would be some general hesitance to breed the sort of resentment and anger that exacerbates the same ethnic and class divisions that helped fuel Liberia's civil war.

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