I am reading parts of the book ‘Deforesting Malaysia’ by Jomo et al. at the moment. In the context of producing palm oil, some companies as well as the government of Malaysia, pay various degrees of lip service to the idea of ‘Sustainable Palm Oil‘. What does this mean? In the book, one of the authors distinguished between two kinds of sustainability. The first would mean producing at a level and in a way that allows this level to be sustained into the future. The second would take into account biodiversity and the wider environmental impact. The author argued that no modern agricultural production methods were sustainable in this second sense.
In the very long term, the neglect of this second form of sustainability could well impact on the production of other commodities, manufactures and services in the region of production of the original commodity (palm oil) if, for example, climate change and soil erosion make such production difficult. A more macro-environmental approach, taking account of wide-ranging externalities, not simply a focus on the narrower production of one particular commodity, while more difficult to analyse and draw clear predictions from, should be taken into account when formulating environmental policy. While the conflict between planetary ecology and economic production is clear, some middle ground could and should be found. Increasingly, the environment needs to be managed and cared for by humanity. To coin a cliche, with knowledge comes responsibility. We are aware of the problems, and it is an imperative to find the solutions.