Beef, Palm Oil and Taking Responsibility: A Comment That TheOilPalm Wouldn’t Publish

, scientific adviser, Climate and Energy | April 13, 2017, 3:32 pm EDT
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Back in December, I wrote a blog post about the importance of beef as the largest driver of deforestation. The following month, the Malaysian Palm Oil Council wrote a blog on their site,, arguing that my blog proved that palm oil had been unfairly blamed for deforestation, and demanding an apology. Here’s a comment explaining why they’re wrong:

“When I read the post by the Malaysian Palm Oil Board concerning my blog about the importance of beef as the leading driver of deforestation, I recalled a lesson that I learned many, many years ago. I’m now 67 years old, which means that it has been more than six decades since my parents taught it to me. It was simple: when I did something wrong, I couldn’t excuse it by saying that someone else had done something worse. I had to take responsibility for my own actions, no matter what anyone else did.

As I explained in my original blog, new data shows the large role of beef production, particularly in Latin America, as a cause of tropical deforestation. Does this mean that we no longer need to be concerned about deforestation for oil palm production in Malaysia? Does the climate impact of deforestation in the Amazon mean that the destruction of peat swamps in southeast Asia no longer causes any global warming pollution? Does the threat to jaguars and tapirs in South America somehow protect orangutans and rhinos on the other side of the planet?

Of course not. The threats to the environment, the climate and biodiversity from oil palm production in Malaysia are not diminished in the least by the parallel threats from beef production in the Americas. One does not excuse the other. On the contrary, they combine to make the global danger even worse.

This kind of argument is similar to something we’ve been seeing in recent weeks in Washington, which goes by the name “what-about-ism.” When the new government does something egregious on one issue, instead of defending its actions it responds by attacking its critics on some other issue. For example: the courts have found the current administration’s ban on immigrants from Muslim countries to be unconstitutional—well, what about the previous administration’s deportations of immigrants from Mexico?

Few of us have found this kind of blame-shifting persuasive, and I doubt the Malaysian Palm Oil Board’s arguments about beef will be any more convincing. Environmental destruction in one part of the world doesn’t justify it in any other part of the world, whether it’s larger, smaller, or simply different. The destruction of tropical forests by all the drivers of deforestation—beef, palm oil, soy and timber—is a threat to the climate that we all depend on, and thus to people everywhere.”

You may wonder why this comment is posted here rather than on the MPOC web site to which it’s replying. The answer is, because they wouldn’t post it. I submitted this comment on their blog site on Monday, March 13, in full anticipation that it would be published immediately, and when it wasn’t, I sent a followup message two days later asking what was causing the delay. But it’s now a month later and nothing has happened. The comment hasn’t been posted, nor has there even been the courtesy of a reply. That’s why it’s here.

Posted in: Food and Agriculture, Global Warming, Tropical Forests Tags: , , , ,

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  • BA

    Wondering if the author talked about Msian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) or Msian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) in this article. These two agencies are different.

  • Wong Jowo

    ‘Scientists’ also need to earn a living, and some of unscrupulous ones did just below.
    Sugar Research Foundation paid Harvard scientists in 1967 to skew hence shaped the conclusions on sugar’s possible role in heart disease. The result was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, with no disclosure of the sugar industry funding. History could repeat itself in palm oil industry, looking at the above precedent — defying the prevailing statistics and favorable science facts for oil palm crop.

  • FMN

    Many of my critical comments were not published either in
    Malaysia is the global leader when it comes to forest protection who dominates global edible oil market with least land, while retaining 67.6% forest cover — the fact that there is no single western country (or any other country for that matter) that can exceed these stats to this day is testament that comments that are critical of Malaysia’s palm oil is nothing more than paid mouthpiece by palm oil competitors (whether you’re genuine scientist or otherwise).

  • Robert Hii

    Sounds to me like the MPOC made its point and is happy to leave it at that. Sure this “what about-ism” attitude is no good for fighting climate change globally but as long as industries like beef or soy escape the scrutiny that palm oil undergoes, there is no need for continued discussion.

  • solodoctor

    Thanks, Doug, for sharing your comments to MPOC. Sounds like they have been taking lessons about ‘public relations,’ let alone a true dialogue about issues, from the current administration in DC. Keep up your efforts.