The Darker Side of Green

Kristen Lyons and Peter Westoby

International science has revealed what many of us felt − 2014 was the hottest year on record. This was not just a blip. NASA also reported that the 10 hottest years have occurred since 1998, pointing to a pattern of sustained global temperature rise.1 In this climate change world some are pinning hopes on a Richard Branston style 'gaia capitalism', where markets for ecosystem services, combined with a grab bag of techno-fixes (including geo-engineering), will let us trade and tweak our way out of the crisis.2

The global carbon market – including Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) and related projects – are amongst this market hype. In late 2014, Friends of the Earth (FoE) International launched 'The Great REDD Gamble', outlining the social, environmental and economic limits of REDD projects.3 On the basis of their analysis, FoE International joins many other NGOs in taking a 'No Redd' position. Instead, the report outlines support for community forest management, and recognising the value of local ecological knowledge.

Our research, 'The Darker Side of Green', published by the Oakland Institute in November 2014, adds to the research documenting the costs of REDD type projects.4 In our analysis of the largest plantation forestry company operating on the African continent, Green Resources, we document what we call the 'carbon violence' on which establishing forestry plantations rely.

In our Ugandan study, we document the extent to which communities have historically relied on land now licensed to the company in Central Forest Reserves for livelihood activities, including grazing animals, cultivating food crops, and accessing sites of cultural significance. They have now been constrained and/or denied access to this land. The outcomes of this are profound, forcing peasant farming families to the margins of existence.

In this context, communities are forced to engage in more marginal livelihood activities: such as moving grazing animals into wetlands, riparian and other ecologically sensitive zones and moving crop cultivation onto step and rocky slopes the company doesn't plant trees.

If you are looking to engage further on this issue, check out the website for some options, but also look out for the work of the National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE, This NGO, a FoE International affiliate group, is beginning to explore the opportunities for extending their community activist education model, known as 'sustainability schools', into villages affected by Green Resources. Sustainability schools are the basis of a broad range of environmental campaigns NAPE is engaged in Uganda, including campaigns related to large scale dams, oil and biofuels.

With on-going collaboration with NAPE, we look forward to sharing more soon about the opportunities and outcomes for sustainability schools related to REDD type projects in Uganda.


1. Goldenberg, S. (2015) 2014 officially the hottest year on record. The Guardian. Available at

2. Klein, N. (2014) This Changes Everything. Allen Lane, London.

3. Friends of the Earth International (2014) The Great REDD Gamble. Time to ditch risky REDD for community-based approaches that are effective, ethical and equitable.

4. Lyons, K., Richards, C. and Westoby, P. (2014) The Darker Side of Green. Plantation Forestry and Carbon Violence in Uganda. Oakland Institute, Oakland, California.

From Chain Reaction #123, April 2015, national magazine of Friends of the Earth, Australia,