Tuesday, March 03, 2009

One of Gabon's Natural Preserves Under Threat (with Bonus Racist Colonialist Terminology from the New York Times)

There's a lot that's disturbing about this article: the threat to Gabon's (allegedly) nationally-protected forests and the damming of one of its more impressive waterfalls; the ways in which reliance upon oil for the nation's income are threatening the environment as president Omar Bongo promotes iron ore mining; the fact that Bongo has been president since 1967 (forty years!); the expectation that ecotourism will be your economic salvation without any of the extremely complex and involved infrastructural development and planning the ecotourism industry requires; the extremely understaffed park rangers, who in no way could protect much of the park when they are only 15 people. All of these are very serious issues, and I have very little hope for Gabon on this issue, especially given the economic straits it is facing and the general disregard the Chinese seem to be showing for the environment in this case (which, unfortunately, has been all too common a theme among development projects).

I also realize it's probably one of the least important aspects of the article, but the New York Times' editors most certainly should have done a better job editing Polgreen's report. Gabon is coming off bad enough as it is; there's no need to use words like "wily" to describe president Bongo, and passages like "In neighboring countries, impoverished hordes have razed and burned their forests to plant crops and make charcoal. They have slaughtered the gorillas, elephants, chimpanzees and hippos in jungles for meat. But the Gabonese flocked to cities, living in comparative splendor," while perhaps factually correct, also rely on some of the poorest choices of words to describe residents of Africa (or anywhere else) in sweeping generalities. Unfortunately, talking to people who are quite familiar with the Times' reports on Africa, this is about par for the course.