The fires in Indonesia burn rainforest trees that have grown and fed and housed orangutans for decades or centuries, and peat that has stored carbon for centuries or millennia. George Monbiot sums up the recent conflagrationary disaster in Indonesia that Southeast Asia has been breathing:
A great tract of Earth is on fire and threatened species are being driven out of their habitats. This is a crime against humanity and nature.
It is hard to convey the scale of this inferno, but here’s a comparison that might help: it is currently producing more carbon dioxide than the US economy. And in three weeks the fires have released more CO2 than the annual emissions of Germany.
It’s not just the trees that are burning. It is the land itself. Much of the forest sits on great domes of peat. When the fires penetrate the earth, they smoulder for weeks, sometimes months, releasing clouds of methane, carbon monoxide, ozone and exotic gases such as ammonium cyanide. The plumes extend for hundreds of miles, causing diplomatic conflicts with neighbouring countries.
Though Joko Widodo seems to want to stop the burning, his reach is limited. His government’s policies are contradictory: among them are new subsidies for palm oil production that make further burning almost inevitable. Some plantation companies, prompted by their customers, have promised to stop destroying the rainforest. Government officials have responded angrily, arguing that such restraint impedes the country’s development. That smoke blotting out the nation, which has already cost it some $30bn? That, apparently, is development.
I was asked to deliver a talk to the School of Arts, Design and Media at Nanyang Technological University last week. As I was preparing, I recorded a rehearsal version of the talk and posted that on YouTube:
This version cut off the bottoms of the slides, which included some important source links and some other information. That information is visible in this PDF: MM talk to ADM Sept 2015 v4
SAVING WHAT MATTERS: TAKING SUSTAINABILITY PERSONALLY
Dr. Merrill will discuss her research on rainforest apes, how these experiences moulded her views on sustainability, and how everyone’s choices shape the future. She will share her adventures watching bonobos (Pan paniscus) in central Congo, and orangutans (Pongo abelii) in northern Sumatra. She will talk about some of the threats to these endangered primates, and how they connect to the decisions people in Singapore and all over the world make about what to buy and do. She will show why these actions and choices have repercussions that are relevant to the well-being of current and future generations of people everywhere. She will provide examples of how we can make better choices, and explain how these choices can have greater effects because of the way humans have evolved to learn.
And yet another sad but important recent article related to my upcoming talk, this time on the Leuser Ecosystem (where I studied orangutans at Suaq Balimbing and Ketambe research sites in 1999-2000) and the palm oil producer (PT. Aloer Timur) who is encroaching on its lowland forests.
A report produced by Greenomics Indonesia presents evidence from spatial monitoring and field observations that documents the clearing of High Carbon Stock (HCS) forests in a PT. Aloer Timur concession located inside the Leuser Ecosystem. RAN confirmed this destruction in June 2015. At the end of June, Greenomics released another report with photographic evidence showing PT. Aloer Timur had still been bulldozing HCS forests as of June 24, 2015.
“Right now, huge swaths of vital forest habitat in Indonesia are being cut, cleared and burnt to the ground to make way for industrial-scale palm oil plantations. These illegal operations produce a cheap supply of palm oil to a voracious international market that is growing at an exponential rate. Demand for this vegetable oil has sky-rocketed in the past decade as palm oil companies have managed to keep consumers in the dark about the hideous crimes being committed against humanity, endangered creatures and the planet.
I hope I have managed to impart even a sliver of the exceptional uniqueness and immense beauty that is embodied by this special place. Only then can one begin to fully understand the weight of loss that is sustained with every single fallen tree. Yet the true measure of this problem extends far beyond the initial insult of deforestation and spreads like a virus into lives of hundreds of innocent people and animals alike. ” ~Heather Rally
Note especially Michelle Desilets’ comment: “May I suggest readers have a look at campaigns by groups such as the Rainforest Action Network and the Union of Concerned Scientists to urge manufacturers and retailers to source only deforestation-free, conflict-free Certified Sustainable Palm Oil.” This problem is so big and so pervasive that a handful of us tree-huggers refusing Oreos is going to barely make a dent – the companies involved won’t budge without a large, organized push. So by all means, reduce your complicity, but don’t forget to organize and collaborate for maximum effect.
More logging in Leuser – ouch! At least the Gunung Leuser National Park officials seem to have given an appropriate response. Here’s hoping those conservation drones can catch more illegal loggers before they do much damage.
The ConservationDrones Asia Team and the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) flew two separate missions over a part of the Gunung Leuser National Park (Indonesia) between two time periods barely a few months apart. In these two drone images you can see clear evidence of illegal logging within the national park. The loggers even left a strip of forest on the river bank to conceal the patch of logged forest from view. These images were given to park officials who subsequently acted to stop the logging activities.
Now one of those gizmos I so wished for is a reality: small aircraft with cameras that can get above the canopy to see what’s going on up there from a much better vantage than on the ground. And a colleague and friend, Serge Wich, who worked in Zaire and then on Sumatra at roughly the same time as I did (but always much more skillfully and proficiently over much longer timeframes), got some support from National Geographic to set the things up. Here’s some video of my buddy Serge Wich talking to Nat Geo reporters:
Visiting Mongabay.com/Mongabay.org is always an emotional roller-coaster. The reporting is great, and what they have to say is… often not so great. The latest news out of Indonesia (especially Sumatra) is a typically mixed bag.