A dramatic new advertising campaign by US-based NGO Conservation International (CI) depicting the destruction of tropical rainforests as being like diseased human lungs could serve to further deepen confusion about the causes of deforestation.
The advertisement, which is the latest offering in CI’s high-profile ‘Lost There – Felt Here’ campaign, could lead the public to believe that poor farmers in tropical countries are to blame for deforestation.
CI’s new ‘lungs’ advert, the latest in a campaign which has already featured filmstar Harrison Ford in appeals to stop the destruction of rainforests, says that “When rainforests are slashed and burned, it effects every one of us” – thus giving the impression that it is ‘slash-and-burn’ susbistence farmers that are solely responsible for rainforest loss.
In fact figures used by the World Bank show that, at most, only two-fifths of the destruction of forests worldwide is due to ‘small scale agriculture and shifting cultivation’. The Bank’s head of environment, Warren Evans, recently acknowledged that the figure for ‘rainforest’ destroyed by slash and burn farming would be considerably less than 40%. The Bank’s figures show that more forest worldwide is destroyed by commercial agriculture, cattle ranching and industrial logging.
CI’s advertising campaign will no doubt serve to increase public awareness of the importance of protecting tropical rainforests in order to prevent climate change, which can only be welcomed. But there is a risk that such careless wording will serve to reinforce wrong impressions about the real culprits, and encourage the wrong policy responses as a result. There is already a strong tendency to ‘blame the poor’ for deforestation, and REDD-Monitor has already reported that weak analysis by organisations such as the Woods Hole Research Centre could result in traditional and sustainable ‘forest-fallow’ or ‘rotational’ farmers being wrongly accused of causing deforestation.