The Month of Truth

November is normally a delightful, optimistic month in our part of the world, with winter still a novelty and Christmas just round the corner.

This November is a different story. Not because the continuum of world horrors are any worse or more numerous than they ever have been, but because these horrors have intruded on our own bubble. Paris is playing the role of the world’s bifocals on extreme global issues: it has experienced extreme terrorism in one of the region’s most devastating attacks on Friday and is, additionally, preparing to hold the biggest Climate Change conference since Copenhagen 2009 at the end of this month. Now, it may seem inappropriate to relate tree-hugger business to Friday’s tragedy to paint the whole month as, all in all, a dark one but, if we zoom into the current headline of environmental news, we can agree that it’s quite the contrary.

Paris talks

Citizens of Indonesia have, for many years, been used to the sight of mega-flames incinerating hectares of forestry as an annual spectacle. The fumes from the fires have been an accepted addition to the atmosphere for rural families and, now that this season has seen Indonesia’s worst since 1997, Malaysia’s getting their share of the smog due to the scale of the phenomenon. This has resulted in school closures in the neighbouring country due to the major health implications of polluted air, but this does not half compare to what is actually being faced within Indonesia itself. In fact, the scale of the forest fires and smog had provoked the preparation, back in October, of child evacuation on ferries and warships to protect the younger generation from the crisis. So what figures have we got to grapple with the scope of this environmental concern?

malay smog

Firstly, there is the loss of vegetal resources, plus the reparation costs for such losses and destructions, which is costing a worrying 4% of Indonesia’s GDP. This is particularly impacting the southern island, around the regions of Kalimantan & Sumatra, where the economy as well as the population’s health is at risk. Secondly, focusing deeper into the forests themselves, which are of course rich natural habitats, Friends of the Earth and WALHI (Indonesian Forum for the Environment) have had to intervene in saving the precious lives of orangutans. The two organisations have been a success in their projects, to dab down the gloom-doom image of this crisis, yet even rescued animals have had to face extreme conditions of malnourishment and traumatisation during their struggles in their dwindling habitat. The third effect of these fires brings us back to respiratory health concerns, where spreading fumes have caused 19 deaths and that is excluding 500, 000 cases of related illness. This points researchers in the direction to predict the premature deaths of 100,000 people.

These forest fires are not the most natural disasters either, nor are the humans behind it causing a series of foolish accidents. Indonesian citizens and inhabitant animals are suffering at the hands of their own economy which is, of course, part of the global economy. It is a large, poorly-thought-through business model that is encouraging not only mega palm-oil and paper corporations but also local farmers to each burn strips of forests. Their reasons: because this method, according to reports, is 75% cheaper than more eco-friendly ones, as moisture is additionally drained from the ecosystem by some serious digging. We are therefore looking at an accumulation of greedy suppliers and families on more desperate incomes all jumping onto the semi-suicidal bandwagon that represents the type of anti-eco destruction experts have been concerned about for decades, prompting the world for an apparent (in some cases) 2020 or (in other cases) 2050 deadline to clean up our mess. This mess is occurring at a high speed for Indonesians now and the locals are feeling the impacts on their health as well as the more abstract ideas of global warming that we are all globally subject to feel one day.

As little media attention as this catastrophe has had over the last few months or, for that matter, few decades, the West are not staying aloof. For example, there are many appeals run by the likes of Greenpeace to contribute to the stemming of the fires. Also, the Paris Talks have been unintentionally scheduled during this amplified period so that, though environmental devastations are not new if we considered the decades the droughts, storms and processes of deforestation that have upset many communities and countries worldwide, Indonesia’s own recent incidents, even despite their own lack of media attention, have highlighted the intensity of such devastations. Furthermore, the timing of the fires can be stuck up as a post-it in the grander scheme of things.

Paris is likely to remain in quite a sensitive state as it grapples with its global responsibilities on the world stage, responding to its personal attack in human matters, and hosting a decider on the natural state of the planet itself. Although these talks are arranged to draw up economic and scientific solutions, it is worth noting that experts do declare strong links between unstable climates and mass violence; the world is heating up, metaphorically and literally, regarding the Indonesian fires and the global warming recordings. This November can be seen as a month of understanding and realisation of the scale of our world’s Apocalyptic pockets, because these forest fires are terrifying examples of what human beings and other creatures have to suffer. The talks are not just tree-hugger pleasers – they’re one of our planet’s last hopes.

Indonesian veterinarian Yenni Saraswati, top center, of Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) examines the condition of an injured orangutan found by environmental activists at a palm oil plantation in Rimba Sawang village, Aceh province, Indonesia, Thursday, March 1, 2012. Indonesia has lost half of its rain forests in the last half century putting the remaining 50,000 to 60,000 orangutans live in scattered, degraded forests in frequent, and often deadly, conflict with humans. (AP Photo/Binsar Bakkara)


Tom Shacklock



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