Hounding international school, students over anti-palm oil display not the way to win hearts and minds

Where oil palms grow, forests cannot. There is no altering this equation. — Reuters pic
Where oil palms grow, forests cannot. There is no altering this equation. — Reuters pic

COMMENTARY, July 4 — Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok openly berated an international school for allowing its students to put on a performance critical of palm oil.

More worrying, however, is the Education Ministry saying it will investigate the same school for “spreading propaganda” over the incident.

Kok asserted that she is upset because some international schools allegedly refuse to listen to the local palm oil industry’s side of the issue.

Does she mean she would not have lashed out at them if they put on the performance after listening to this? We will never know now.

What we do know is that Kok stressed today the need to be open-minded in the matter.

So, just as Kok is entitled to her view that palm oil can be sustainable, the students and teachers are equally entitled to their position otherwise.

Some people may accept some deforestation. Others may want none at all. Neither view is invalid.

Kok must realise that while she disagrees with the international school and students’ position about palm oil, she has avenues at her disposal — with magnitudes greater reach than the school — to provide her counterpoint.

The minister is understandably obligated to defend palm oil. She also graciously said she was not denying the environmental damage that cultivation has wrought in the past.

However, she must accept that there are sections of the country and the world that are no longer comfortable with the harm, however limited, that must occur in order for commercially viable cultivation to take place.

Where oil palms grow, forests cannot. There is no altering this equation.

Just as the country is trying to move away from plastics, some among us are trying to refrain from other products that may also result in environmental damage.

For instance, we may choose electric vehicles over those consuming fossil fuels.

If the students put on a performance decrying the pollution from cars, planes and trains, will they also be attacked for harming Malaysia’s image as an oil-producing nation?

As the world population grows and climate change continues, sustainability will become an ever-pressing issue that countries everywhere must confront.

Malaysia is no exception and Kok must accept that some will take a harsher view of commodities such as palm oil under her purview than she would prefer.

The writer Dale Carnegie once said, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”

Instead of changing the teachers and students’ minds, it is now likely that the minister has created a cohort that will never be sympathetic to palm oil and its woes.

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