Where The Party At? – Serdang Royals Debate Series #2

Posted on March 15, 2010

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Where The Party At? – Serdang Royals Debate Series #2
As posted on http://upmserdangroyals.wordpress.com
Sabrina Zaini

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It was a cool and calm Thursday night. Yunus and I met them near the Serumpun Foodcourt where, already, the seeds of antagonism had began to sprout within. Seemingly harmless from the first glance, like the roti canai made by the mamak outside your school, Atiq and Shafiq of UiTM with the help of Yunus, gave the SR team that were up to debate in the second installment of the UPM Serdang Royals Debate Series a good, unsettlling churn in their stomachs.

The motion for that night was, ‘THW pay rainforest countries to cut their rate of deforestation’. As soon as the motion was announced, the SR team, comprising of Daniel, Keeren and Luqman, gave each other conspiratorial looks. Was it because Daniel and Keeren always had gay tendencies and they were thinking of seducing Luqman? That part we would never know, but a tamer guess would be that they felt a certain edge over our guests as they were all very familiar with environmental topics such as the motion, being from the faculty of Forestry (minus Daniel). This sense of superiority emanated itself from the speeches of both Keeren and Luqman (SR took government) which was riddled with technicalities that the audience was hardpressed to understand. Seeing this (perhaps not understanding much themselves), the guest team which comprised of Atiq, Syafiq and Yunus prodded at Keeren’s prime minister speech with very simple, very basic questions: How is it going to work, and who’s going to make it work?

Keeren’s introduction of ‘Forest Certification’ and ‘products from certified forests’ was a genius idea for the market of green-friendly countries like Germany, Switzerland and the States, countries which were willing to pay more for products that were less damaging for the environment. The mechanism hinged on the supply and demand curve of an exclusive market, in which the high cost margin is balanced by an equally high profit margin. We see a working example of this in the art industry, where the market is based on a very limited network between nouveau vogue artists and upper-class clients with highly disposable budgets. Similarly, this is a concept applied in many tourist souvenier industries which depends on overpricing authentic souveniers to make profit. These industries are relatively healthy ones as they are supported by tourists who want to get ‘the real thing’. Therein also, lies the trouble in the SR team’s proposal.

What if a tourist doesn’t care if he doesn’t get the ‘real thing’? The guest team banked on this as their main rebuttal against the government’s case. They pointed out that there were loopholes in the mechanism which didn’t guarantee that a rainforest country would gain revenue only from the sustainable portion of their forests. What was stopping them from using the leftover forest to sell to countries which didn’t care if their products were green or not? Even if they risked rendering their Forest Certification hypocritical and losing their market base, they still had these other ‘non-premium’ countries to sell to. And these, by aggregate, could match the profit gained from the exclusive market of ‘premium’ countries (the term ‘premium’ and ‘non-premium’ kept bouncing back and forth).

At the end of the debate, I was pretty much confused about which side should get the win. On the one hand, the SR team was pretty convincing (albeit a little long-winded on the technicalities) as advocates of sustainable forestry. On the other hand, they didn’t engage with the opposition’s point on the restrictions on the economic sovereignity of a country. The dynamic duo from UiTM plus one Yunus were formidable as the opposition- perhaps owing to the fact that between them, the years of debating experience they had would have numbered greater than the years I’ve walked/crawled on this earth- poking numerous holes in the government’s case. So who did I choose to give the win?

I did not choose anybody.

Instead, we opened up the floor to questions from the audience. Sure, it sounds like I’m chickening out but hey, this is a good practice. Encouraging questions, inviting the audience to participate in the debate is surely in tandem with the goals of the Debate Series. ‘To promote a debating culture in the universtiy’; this is not an easy feat. In a university which has been traditionally rooted in Malay debates, encouraging the students to venture out into English debate has proven harder than we thought. And this, in spite of the really cool poster Aqila made too.

Special thanks to Badr Consult Sdn. Bhd. for their contribution to the SRDS.

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