WWF video linking consumption to deforestation outrages some in China – China Dialogue
Why did a film designed to promote sustainability certification receive such a backlash online, asks Wang Chen
On 21 March, World Forest Day, a short video on conserving global forests sparked angry protests on the Chinese internet, and was taken down by its makers the next day.
The five-minute film was a joint effort by PaperClip, a group which produces educational films, and the WWF. It showed how farming for livestock and soybean is destroying forests in the Amazon region, in an attempt to encourage consumers to choose products certified sustainable. But linking the purchase of meat, eggs and milk by Chinese shoppers with deforestation sparked accusations that it was “insulting China”.
This is not the first time advocacy of environmentally friendly consumption has received a backlash in China. With Chinese markets having an increasing impact on the global environment, efforts to guide sustainable consumption must navigate the fraught terrain of online opinion, rubbing up against nationalism and the “right to development”.
The video was provocatively titled How to Quickly Destroy the World’s Forests. It was first challenged on Bilibili.com, a video streaming site popular with young Chinese people, where Paperclip is well-known as a producer of science and technology content. A video Paperclip published on 2 February, Everything You Need to Know About the Coronavirus, provided detailed and accurate information on the epidemic and was watched over 100 million times. A mere seven weeks later, Paperclip was being attacked on the platform, for a video about protecting forests.
The film starts by describing how human activity has damaged forests over the last two decades. Citing the WWF’s 2015 “Living Forests Report”, it links production of beef and soy to the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. It describes this global chain linking production and consumption as “the most efficient forest-elimination machine” and points out the role of Chinese markets. According to the voiceover: “Brazil can’t cut soybean farming, because it needs to sell to the world’s biggest buyer, China.” The film also discusses other commodities associated with deforestation: “The production, trade and consumption of palm oil, rubber, timber and paper impacts on forests in places including Sumatra and Kalimantan.” Finally, the video suggests opting for products with sustainability certification to avoid becoming inadvertently involved in deforestation.
Within 24 hours, the video had sparked a huge backlash that spread to other social media platforms such as Weibo.
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