Saturday, March 27, 2010

Balancing Environment and Development

Note: I write this post in conjunction with the Earth Hour.

I am a person who is concerned with global warming, pollution, conservation of wildlife and forest, and other environmental issues. But at the same time, I am wary of environmentalists, for many of them are extremists.

I have been criticized by an environmentalist when I said I would not stop eating apple imported from other country. This same guy also saw air travel as an evil, and he was exhilarated when several airlines went bankrupt in 2008. (Never mind that many people lost their jobs.) And then there are these radicals from Sea Shepherd who attacked Japanese whalers with acid. But seriously, for any environmental program to succeed, we must balance it with development. You can’t talk to hungry people about nature.

National Geographic author Mel White certainly understand the importance of balancing environment with development. He expressed his utilitarian view in his article Borneo’s Moment of Truth (Nov 2008 issue). Here is the excerpt:

Here is another dream. Along a dirt road in southern Borneo stands a one-room wooden house, with a few banana trees in the yard and a small vegetable garden in back. Beside the house a man kneels, washing a Yamaha Jupiter Z motorbike. It’s red, and it shines in the hot sun as the man rinses off the soap.

The man’s name is, let’s say, Pak Wang. With his new motorbike he can go to the closest village in a few minutes, instead of walking nearly an hour along the road. In the village he can meet his friends, buy things, go to the little karaoke bar, and watch television in his uncle’s restaurant. He can feel part of the world.

Pak Wang wants a mobile phone. Most of his friends have one, and if he had one it would be easier for him to make plans with them, to know where they will be on Sunday night, to meet the pretty woman named Unita who sells fruit at a street stand in town.

So, here is the message to the world. If we want to protect the forests of Borneo, to preserve a substantial part of its stupendous bio-diversity, to make sure that orangutans have places to make their nightly nests and hornbills have fruit to eat and flying frogs have trees to live in, there’s only one way to do it. We need to find a way for Pak Wang to buy his mobile phone. And, after he marries the pretty fruit-seller, a way for them to keep their children healthy and send them to school. A way that offers them a better future without having to turn their forests into plantations of oil palm or the sterile pits of strip mines.

And we need to do it while there’s still something left to protect.


  1. Some people know about it but they just choose to ignore it. :/

  2. I agree that some environmentalists can be extreme. There's no need for people to view airlines as an evil thing.

    It's all about balance between utilisation and conservation.

  3. Interesting,

    Re: Cell phone in the village, no cell phone, how to have coverage?