environmental business at SWF + UWRF

Final instalment of Stephanie goes to UWRF + SWF! Today we’re talking environmental business, featuring activism, identity and the illegal wildlife trade; and sadly we’re not talking sand piracy.

Previously on Steph goes to Festivals:

In summary of these two panels: these panels didn’t really give me anything new in regards to my environmental activism practice, though it was a good reminder to check how to reframe questions and issues, because often environmental activism isn’t effective because it’s been framed incorrectly, or not correctly enough.

UWRF: Mother Nature

Emmanuela Shinta, Bayu Wirayudha, Panut Hadisiswoyo

I spend most of my time thinking about or engaging in environmental activism, particularly around environmental racism and social justice. Almost all of my work is in Australia, and so it’s always interesting to see how people are doing it in other places (which was the whole point of going to Singapore to do climate art!)

This panel at UWRF mostly discussed on the ground environmental work, and talked around and to a lot of questions.

When people are offered money for their land, how can activists work with them around the concept that accepting offers might not be great for the long term, both for the land and for them? This is particularly an issue in village and small communities that have not been getting a lot of money for their products, or have been forcibly moved away from their subsistence farming and are no longer able to provide for themselves.

Panut turned this question from the moderator back around to look at producers and consumers and the role of government in creating demand for plantations, and how this question is often about the individual farmers and villages, rather than the larger influences that are more the cause for the circumstances.

Emmanuela agreed with this reframing, particularly in regards to environmental degradation and conservation threats in villages and areas. Permission is often given to big companies to slash and burn (with the permission given by one person or group, rather than through consensus), or people secretly engaging in hunting and similar activities that endanger animals. And so threats to conservation occur.

On the ground, people will react and act when they know there’s something wrong – say, that the land is being degraded – and they can act or know they can do something, but when forces beyond your control mean the price of rice falls, and you need to slash and burn to grow more – well, what other option do you have?

This is what makes the voice of people so important, in talking about the problems and solutions on the ground, and also the reframing to look at the role of large players in creating demand. The panelists also looked at environmental degradation in these areas, looking at changing environmental situations where people know something is wrong but can’t do anything about it. Panut highlighted that when you think someone else will deal with it, nothing gets done. This is why we have to build ownership around these issues such as haze, conservation and environmental degradation.

Bayu spoke about poverty and greed as a problem. Poverty can be overcome, but greed is harder; it’s important to support conservation work with an emphasis on the idea that conservation doesn’t have to be negative on livelihoods.

A clueless Australian in the audience asked “have you tried going in to accuse the guilty?” in regards to environmental crimes in these villages and areas. Bayu made it clear that it’s not possible, because if you accuse someone in your village in that way, you basically can’t live in your village anymore. For that sort of on-the-ground accusation to happen, it has to come from people in other villages.

Emmanuela wrapped up this panel with an emphasis on the importance of activism, and that no one can do everything but everyone can do something.

This was a really fun, interesting panel. I wish they’d spoken more about the techniques they use within communities but it was great to hear them speak. Indonesia is often talked around as a critical place in environmental activism (especially around things like haze and palm oil), so it’s excellent to hear local activists speak.

The Truth Behind the Illegal Wildlife Trade in Singapore

Elaine Tan 

This is a nice segue into a panel I attended for the fun of it. The speaker was CEO of WWF-Singapore. I used to work for WWF-China many moons ago (about fifty of them), so this was mostly just to see how Singapore works, as opposed to the biodiversity and illegal trade work we did at WWF-China.

Consumer consciousness has a huge impact on the illegal wildlife trade, unlike other industries where consumer awareness/individual action has less impact. And, you see, here we are, talking about the creation of markets by individuals and how that impacts communities and small areas! People develop a sense of responsibility once they take that consciousness into themselves. An example is the changing cultural resistance to shark fin campaigns. The Chinese Communist Party instituted a banquet ban on shark fin soup as evidence of this cultural change.

In Singapore, it’s difficult to bring that awareness to consumption because Singaporeans have a very low awareness of their impact on the illegal wildlife trade. This is an attitude I encountered a lot in Singapore, the idea that Singapore has no impact on the world because it’s a tiny red dot with no resources and no influence lor, waah.

Singapore is a major transit hub for the illegal wildlife trade, particularly to Europe and China. Singapore is also a major consumer of illegal trade through Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and pets. As a result, Singapore is under increased international scrutiny, in large part because wildlife trade is a part of organised crime. So it’s funny that Singapore is wrong about its influence in this (and in many other things, haha). As a result, WWF has had to change the dialogue to be about other areas of influence to change ideas about what impact Singapore has on the illegal wildlife trade.

Singapore prides itself on being an efficient, effective port, but it’s not great at detecting illegal wildlife passing through SG Ports. WWF-SG has been working with Eu Yen Sang (a chain of health shops) with regards to TCM but it’s more the small underground practitioners that are a problem. The harder it is to catch an animal, the more valuable it is to humans; regardless of education many people still believe this sort of superstition.

The panel at UWRF was about individual action from small communities and reframing that as not only empowering local communities, but reframing the issues to look at the impact of business, consumers and government. In contrast, this panel at SWF was about individual consumers and how individual politics change how we view our impact, and the work being done to change that. It was fun to contrast them!