I read a frightful statistic recently: industrial logging in Sarawak (one of the Malaysian bits of Borneo) has apparently left just 5 per cent of the province’s forest unlogged or converted to palm-oil plantations. This was the figure being thrown about by (mainly Western) environmentalists, who had turned their all-consuming rage on the British television presenter Ben Fogle for having made one of his profoundly informative, educational and entertaining programmes there and failed to mention this wanton destruction.
As it turns out, the zealots’ claims are pure chicanery – as anyone prepared to do a little digging will discover – but before turning factual fire on them, a few points. First, silviculture – the management of forests – is one of the world’s oldest and most sustainable industries, and had not deforestation occurred across swathes of Europe, Western civilisation could not have thrived. Yes, parts of Sarawak’s “primary” forest will disappear but that doesn’t mean much: “primary” means virgin forest untouched by human hand, so doesn’t include areas that have been cyclically felled for centuries. Furthermore, where there is a timber industry there is always replanting.
And lo, here is what the Fogle-haters fail to mention: by 2020, 70 per cent of Sarawak will remain covered in trees, which – if it were a country – would leave it among the world’s 15 most forested.
The Malaysian authorities are not the environmental hoodlums millenarian green guardians would have us believe. They merely wish their nation to prosper; in short, to develop. Those who would deny them that are to be deplored.
This article was published in the South China Morning Post’s Post Magazine