The rapid and aggressive conversion of Indonesia’s forests to industrial plantations of oil palm, acacia, and eucalyptus are bringing untold destruction to Indonesia’s ecosystems. Greenpeace estimates that years of slashing and burning peat land to clear forest for oil palms has turned Indonesia into a “carbon bomb”. Guido van der Werf reckons that emissions from three weeks of this year’s fires surpassed Germany’s total annual carbon output .
Every dry season in Indonesia usually means that it is fire season. And that means haze, greenhouse gas emissions, and lingering smog. Thankfully these conditions start to dispel every October.
However, this October the heavy smog did not recede as yet more lands were cleared which left fires raging across rural Indonesia. Now Indonesia is burning, literally up in flames, with people dying due to smog from forest and land fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra. More than 500,000 cases of acute respiratory tract infections have been reported since July 1st.
On October 26th Indonesia’s President, Joko Widodo left his state visit to the USA to handle the forest fires crisis , which has become one of the worst in memory. With the onset of this year’s rainy season delayed by the “El Niño” weather cycle, it could be a month or more before all flames are doused. Already neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore have been engulfed by the toxic haze.
Hell has descended over a vast tract of Earth. As George Monbiot describes it: “the air has turned ochre: visibility in some cities has been reduced to 30 metres ”. What is more, Indonesia’s overpowering forest fires are threatening one third of the global population of orangutans.
Kudos to the Guardian, the Economist , Scientific American, and other publications for highlighting these atrocities as crimes against humanity . Our global dependency on palm oil is coming at a horrendous environmental cost – to a third of the world’s orangutans and already the respiratory systems of some half million Indonesians.
Sutopo Puro Nugroho, the spokesperson for the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) has acknowledged that for months 43 million people on the two islands have been inhaling toxic fumes. Yet, he admitted, the number of unrecorded cases was likely much higher. “This is a crime against humanity of extraordinary proportions,” he said. “But now is not the time to point fingers but to focus on how we can deal with this quickly.”