Contrasting communications of sustainability science in the media coverage of palm oil agriculture on tropical peatlands in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore

Liu, Felicia H. M. and Ganesan, Vignaa and Smith, Thomas E. L. (2020) Contrasting communications of sustainability science in the media coverage of palm oil agriculture on tropical peatlands in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE & POLICY, 114. pp. 162-169. ISSN 14629011, DOI

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This article analyses the denialist narratives of the negative environmental impact of oil palm plantations on tropical peat by the media of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. Specifically, we focus on media coverage of the 2016 International Peat Congress, where scientifically misleading claims that it is sustainable to develop oil palm plantations on tropical peatlands were made. We found that media reporting of the denialist narrative is more prevalent than that of the peer-reviewed science consensus-view that plantations on tropical peat could cause excessive greenhouse gas emissions and enhance the risk of fires. Four mutually complementary narratives were used by Indonesian and Malaysian media to construe denialism, which closely resemble the four climate denialist narratives identified by Elsasser And Dunlap (2!)13). These denialist narratives draw heavily upon information advocated by divergent knowledge communities (Gokkiein 2(16) and appeal to a nationalist sentiment of `us' - palm oil-producing developing countries - and `them' - western developed countries producing research critical of the industry. The Malaysian press has most extensively deployed this nationalistic sentiment, whereas the Singaporean media has not actively endorsed or rejected any of the denialist narratives. Our findings suggests that media representation of the issue is a reflection of an amalgamation of economic, diplomatic and nationalistic concerns, determined by political, socio-cultural nuances specific to each country. Importantly, our article alerts to the continuation of unsustainable practices as justified by the media to the public, and that the prevalence of these denialist narratives constitute a significant obstacle in resolving pressing issues such as transboundary haze, biodiversity loss, and land-use change related greenhouse gas emissions in Southeast Asia.

Item Type: Article
Funders: King's College London Centre for Doctoral Studies, King’s College London Centre for Doctoral Studies (Grant No. 2017/2018), Malaysian Federal Government, Sarawak State government, University of Malaya Equitable Society Research Cluster, Economic and Social Research Council (Grant No. GC003B-17SBS), National University of Singapore
Uncontrolled Keywords: Palm oil; Tropical peatlands; Sustainable agriculture; Divergent knowledge; Science communications; Southeast Asia
Subjects: S Agriculture > S Agriculture (General)
Divisions: Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences > Department of International & Strategic Studies
Depositing User: Ms Zaharah Ramly
Date Deposited: 28 Dec 2023 07:55
Last Modified: 28 Dec 2023 07:55

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