Indonesia’s fires crisis has been dubbed the biggest global environmental disaster of the 21st century. Shockingly, these fires are man-made and greatly linked to the palm oil industry.
Approximately 40 million people have been affected in Indonesia and bordering countries by the toxic haze created by fires raging through Indonesian rainforest and peatland. Many more people are affected if you count the cancelled or delayed flights and on a scarier level, the whole globe who will suffer the effects of climate change this has no doubt added to immensely.
Erik Meijaard of Jakarta Globe asserts:
“I think what might help to garner action both locally and globally is to call this year’s fire and haze disaster what it really is: the biggest environmental crime of the 21st century. BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010 looks relatively benign compared to Indonesia’s 2015 fire crisis. And that spill was one heck of a disaster!”
Meijaard may be right in considering it a crime, not just a disaster. Setting fire to land is shockingly perfectly legal in Indonesia – however, threatening the lives of millions of people, endangering wildlife (such as the beloved orangutan) and destroying protected rainforests very much count as criminal acts.
Links to the palm oil industry
Data from the World Resources Institute in September revealed that of the hundreds of fires burning in Sumatra, almost half have been linked to the industrial manipulation of the landscape for palm oil plantation development.
Spokesperson for the Indonesian Palm Oil Producers Association, Joko Supriyono has defended these claims, stating that companies that burned on planted concessions would be “burning our own assets”. “We have no motive and reason to burn the land,” he added. Yeah….right… Well it’s kind of obvious they wouldn’t want to burn down their own plantations. Starting new ones however….
The illegal practice of slash and burn culling is something that has been happening for decades. Using fire to clear land is about 10 times cheaper than mechanical land clearing. Cleared land is more valuable than uncleared land, and then land with palm oil plantations is about double the value of cleared land. Indonesian, Malaysian and Singaporean palm oil companies reaped in revenues of $25.8 billion AUD in 2014. From 2009 to 2014, palm oil production in Indonesia has increased from 19 million tonnes to around 32 million tonnes. Considering these stats, players that benefit from palm oil production probably don’t give a toss about the environmental destruction, or are just blinded by the haze of riches.
Things MUST change
The first major change that needs to take place is for a complete STOP to plantation development on peatlands and natural forest and to make mass slash and burn deforestation methods illegal. There needs to be tighter enforcements on companies that exploit protected rainforests and wildlife and there is a crucial need for big brands to stop investing in greasy palm oil companies that refuse to change. Lastly, consumers need to demand sustainably sourced palm oil. The world’s insatiable demand for palm oil creates huge wealth for companies that favour environmentally disastrous palm oil practices. So let’s shift our demand to companies investing in conflict-free palm oil.
This is an issue that needs to be prioritised on the UN Paris climate conference agenda in December this year. Get amongst the #stopthehaze hashtag for more info on this crisis.
- Jakarta Globe
- 1 Million Women
- The Guardian
- The Sydney Morning Herald
- Straits Times
A New Leaf Project is optimistic that making simple changes in our everyday can go a long way to helping put a stop to the dependency on unsustainable palm oil. Follow A New Leaf Project for inspiration on how you can make conscious consuming and sustainable living a project in your life.
By Chelsea W | A New Leaf Project