Indonesia is burning. This is a tragedy. The health consequences for human beings, the devastation of recently pristine and complex ecosystems, rare species of plants and animals pushed ever closer to extinction, the massive carbon emissions as forest and peat go up in smoke. What could be done?
First, we, humanity, need to recognise that protecting rainforests is of critical importance, to preserve climate stability, biodiversity, and human cultures. As George Monbiot makes clear in an excellent article, the role of the media has been, as one might expect, pretty hopeless. The media and politicians need to see this as the important issue that it is.
This year, being an extreme El Nino year, means Indonesia’s dry season is drier than usual. However most years forest fires ravage Indonesia. Both traditional slash and burn agriculture and modern palm oil plantations burn the forest to clear land. Both systems of land use are unsustainable, especially given rising populations and increasing demands for economic development.
Environmentalists have long argued we need to protect the rainforests. There have been some noted successes, for example Costa Rica saw much of its forests destroyed from the 1940’s to the 1980’s, and then has achieved considerable forest regeneration over the last 30 years. One recent local initiative is the Size of Herefordshire project where people in Herefordshire work with the Forest Peoples Programme and an organisation called Cool Earth to protect an area of rainforest in Peru, which is the size of Herefordshire.
I would like to see an area of devastated land regenerated in such a way as to achieve several objectives. As populations grow and the World shrinks almost everyone now wants more than traditional subsistence farming could provide. People want access to good health services, schools and universities, clean water, electricity and a broad range of new opportunities, encompassed by the recently agreed UN Sustainable Development Goals. All this could in theory be provided in these devastated lands, but would require considerable investment, but this would in the long term be a very good use of resources with potentially excellent ecological and economic returns. Ecologically sustainable settled farming systems as pioneered by the Inga Foundation and others, perhaps with the recreation of Terra Preta soils and some of the lessons from the Permaculture movement could be the basis for agriculture more sustainable than either slash and burn or oil palm monocultures. Renewable energy and solar water purification would be at the heart of new urban developments, providing accessible health, education and employment opportunities.
So, please politicians and the media: stop ignoring the devastation, help halt it and support initiatives that seek restoration, economic and ecological renaissance.
Size of Herefordshire http://www.sizeofherefordshire.org/